Former Angels manager Gene Mauch used to call his home in Palm Springs “God’s waiting room,” the place retired people go before they die.
The Angels, in the same sense, could be called the “God’s waiting room” of baseball, the place were aging players have historically gone to cash a last check on their way out of the big leagues.
I’ve always maintained that an alien dropped down from outer space, if handed the all-time rosters of major leagues clubs, would conclude the Angels were the greatest franchise in history of human kind.
Consider the list of players who have adorned the halo: Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, Dave Winfield, Dave Parker, Bo Jackson, Dave Kingman, Ricky Henderson, Bobby Bonds, Bert Campaneris, Vada Pinson, Tommy Davis, Willie Davis, Hoyt Wilhelm.
An all-time starting pitching rotation would be a choice among Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton, Luis Tiant, Jim Maloney, Bert Blyleven, Fernando Valenzuela, Frank Tanana, Tommy John and Mike Cuellar.
The fact remains, though, that many of these star players came to the Angels at the end of a long road. The Angels have employed several future Hall of Fame players, yet not one has gone into the hall AS an Angel.
Most sputter into Anaheim on an empty tank of career gas. Cuellar was a four-time, 20-game winner in Baltimore but went 0-1, with an 18.90 ERA, in his last big league season with the Angels (1977).
Tiant won 229 career games–his final TWO with the Halos in 1982. Fernando Valenzuela, the great Dodger, washed up with the Angels in 1991. Rickey Henderson, in 1997, batted .183 for the Angels and Dave Kingman, in 1977, clobbered only two of his career 442 homers with our heroes.
Reggie Jackson hit career home run No. 500 with the Angels but all of his important ones for Oakland A’s and the New York Yankees.
Which brings us to Friday’s signing of 31-year-old Tim Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award winner coming off hip surgery.
He is already the perfect Angel. You may ask: why will this be any different?
The pessimism that permeates through most veteran Angel fans suggests Lincecum will last just long enough to pick up a few paychecks.
Yet, this charity-case signing may be different for two reasons. First, the injury-depleted Angels have nothing to lose (but money) in taking a chance on Lincecum. Few will blame management if this experiment fails.
Second, I have an inside take as to why Lincecum’s hip injury is not the “degenerative” type described by ESPN.com on Friday.
As the Angels were considering Lincecum’s signing, I looked deeper into his hip issue wondering if it was the same condition that impacted my youngest son, Joey.
In 2014, as a freshman pitcher at Willamette University in Oregon, he missed his entire season with a mysterious hip injury that took months to diagnose.
The hip pain, he says, robbed him of at least five mph on his fastball.
It was finally determined to be an impingement known as FAI (Femoral Acetabular Impingement), a condition where the femur bone does not have full range of motion in the socket and ends up tearing the labrum.
My son had FAI in BOTH hips and had two surgeries, six months apart, in 2015. We searched high and low for the right doctor and zeroed in on Jason Snibbe, out of Cedars Sinai in Beverly Hills. Snibbe is an expert in the hip field who successfully performed the same procedure on former L.A. Kings star Jarret Stoll.
The good news about the surgery is that it fixes the problem.
“I haven’t thrown yet,” Joey Dufresne said Friday, “but sometimes I feel like I haven’t even had surgery, it feels so normal.”
Joey transferred to the University of San Francisco this year in the hope of someday getting a walk-on tryout with the Dons’ baseball team.
I researched Lincecum’s surgery and discovered he had the same FAI procedure in September of 2015. Lincecum’s surgery was performed by Marc Philippon, a pioneer in the FAI procedure, who says his hip problem is not degenerative.
In fact, Dr. Snibbe mentored under Philippon, who performed the same surgery on New York Yankees’ star Alex Rodriguez.
Intimate understanding of the injury gives us hope the Angels’ gamble on another aging, injured player, could pay off this time.
“He was probably pitching with it for a while,” Joey Dufresne said of Lincecum’s FAI injury. “And he was once one of the best pitchers in the league.”
A lifelong Angels’ fan, Joey, can’t wait to see Lincecum on the mound.
But if it doesn’t work out, Lincecum can join the limping legends who have passed through God’s training room at Angels’ stadium, the last stop on their way to the bank, and then the golf course.