Going into the 1986 season, the Angels felt good about their team. After finishing second in the AL West, one game behind the eventual World Champion Kansas City Royals, the Angels were poised to make a run for the title again. The trade deadline acquisitions of Don Sutton, John Candelaria, and George Hendrick were all still under contract with Angels. Future Hall of Famer Rod Carew retired that winter and a young first baseman who was tearing up the Puerto Rican League was the favorite to win the starting job at first. Wally Joyner did just that and became the face of the franchise as the season began, hitting 20 home runs in the first half and turning the Big A into “Wally World.” Joyner’s youthful appearance was a welcome addition to the grizzled veterans that included Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich, Bob Boone, Brian Downing, Doug DeCinces, and Sutton among others.
I was a 14-year-old, a passionate Angels fan that had a father and brother who loved the club as well. This is my personal account and eye-witness highlights and memories from a magical season.
This started in Palm Springs that March as we traveled to watch a weekend series between the Angels and Oakland Athletics. We witnessed a show when we arrived for batting practice and saw Jose Canseco, Dave Kingman, Reggie Jackson, and Wally Joyner put on a show. Canseco carried that into the game with a monster shot that was the longest I remember seeing hit at that ballpark. Joyner did not disappoint as he hit a home run of his own as a sign of things to come. Canseco would narrowly beat Joyner for AL Rookie of the Year honors. Side note, Joyner received more AL MVP votes than Canseco which always kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
On June 18, 1986, we headed to the Big A to watch Don Sutton face the Texas Rangers as he was sitting at 299 career wins. Our hope was to witness history and Sutton did not disappoint that night. Sutton limited the Rangers to three hits in a 5-1 complete-game victory, celebrating the event on the field with his teammates, friends, and family who resided in nearby Laguna Hills at the time. I was able to witness Rod Carew’s 3,000th hit the year prior after missing Reggie Jackson’s 500th home run by a couple games earlier in the year.
As the Angels continued to fire on all cylinders, we went to as many weekend games as possible. Friday, August 30th was no exception. The Angels hosted the Detroit Tigers and were getting crushed. I don’t think anybody really thought the Halos had a chance trailing 12-5 with one out in the bottom of the ninth.
But here’s how magical this season was for the Halos.
Light-hitting shortstop Dick Schofield would complete the most remarkable of comebacks. Schofield led the inning off with a single and later scored. By the time he came up to bat again, the bases were loaded, with two outs, and Tigers closer Willie Hernandez was on the mound with a 12-9 lead just two years removed from his MVP and Cy Young season. Schofield hit a grand slam to left field and the Angels won 13-12. Amazing.
The Angels’ lead grew in the AL West in September, and we continued to go to more games. On September 19, we witnessed another bit of history. Chicago’s Joe Cowley threw a no-hitter against the Angels in the White Sox 7-1 victory over the Angels. I never liked seeing the Angels lose, but this is still the only MLB no-hitter I’ve witnessed in person in my lifetime.
Then came the climax of the season for me.
33 years today, on Friday, Sept. 26th, my father grabbed three tickets in Section 135 down the right-field line. My dad loved that section as he was a row short of catching Jackson’s 498th home run in that section the previous year and liked watching the Angels’ bullpen right there at the time. We also knew what could happen that night as the Angels faced the Texas Rangers, a win shy of clinching their third AL West championship in franchise history.
As the game progressed and the Angels gained the lead and held it into the late innings the energy in the park was incredible. By the time Donnie Moore came into pitch the ninth inning with an 8-3 lead, a group began to gather around the short outfield wall and walls in foul territory. By the time the eventual third batter of the inning came to the plate, a group of hundreds around the park were straddling the wall, sitting on top of it.
Then, it happened.
Moore struck out Geno Petralli and my body went over the wall with hundreds of other Angels fans. As I charged towards the infield through the Angels’ outfield, I noticed Angels reliever Terry Forster running right beside me to celebrate with his team. I thought for a second about grabbing his cap but thought better of it. Later, when watching a recorded version of the celebration, I noticed Forster entered the clubhouse with his cap still on his head, unlike many of his teammates.
September 26, 1986 #33YearsAgo
I was there on the field. Anybody else?https://t.co/NQbiIuSnxd
— Halo Life ⚾ (@_HaloLife) September 25, 2019
The Angels’ faithful celebrated on the field at the Big A that night after the players were in their clubhouse celebrating. I recall it being about five to ten minutes on the diamond celebrating as Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You” blared through the stadium speakers. Little did we know this would be the pinnacle of that glorious season.
The final Angels game I attended was Game 4 of the ALCS as Don Sutton and the Angels defeated Roger Clemens and the Red Sox in dramatic extra-inning fashion courtesy of Bobby Grich walk-off single. The win moved them a game away from reaching their first ever World Series. We had no idea what was going to happen the next day when everything changed. The rest, as they say, is history as the Angels had to wait another 16 years to play another post game series and eventually win their first and only World Series title.
Still, the Summer of ‘86 and the memories created by the California Angels are some of my greatest memories as a fan of the team. It was hard to appreciate all the great memories of this season for so many years as the ending was so very heartbreaking. I hope I’m not alone in being able to now look back and remember the wonderful memories of 1986.