Summer is almost here, and in addition to a slew of games against NL West teams, that means it’s time for a Freeway Series with the Anaheim Angels who lay an arbitrary claim to Los Angeles. OK, it didn’t take me long to make fun of their name, but we’ll get to that later.
Arriving in Southern California only three years apart, the Dodgers and Angels have shaped baseball in the region with generations of renowned players, while playing in what are now two of the oldest stadiums in the majors. As far as interleague rivalries go, it’s one that doesn’t really have much on-field bitterness (save for one surreal moment in 1999). Still, there’s a lot between these two to explore.
Being in different leagues, the history of the Dodgers and Angels battling it out on the field is limited to interleague play’s beginning in 1997. In 120 games, it’s the Halos who currently hold the head-to-head advantage 66-54.
Given how little interleague comprises the regular season, it’s hard to point to any of these games as particularly crucial. One of the most memorable moments the Angels and Dodgers created was an especially ridiculous one. Just over 20 years ago exactly on June 5, 1999, a seemingly innocuous daytime contest at Dodger Stadium turned ugly out of nowhere.
In the bottom of the fifth, Chan Ho Park was at the plate facing Angels pitcher Tim Belcher. Park laid down a bunt that was fielded by Belcher, who tagged him out. However, Belcher held on to Park while telling him to go back to the dugout. An incensed Park then threw a punch, followed by a ridiculous drop kick as both dugouts cleared. He was suspended for a week and fined $3,000 for his actions.
A much better highlight from a Korean Dodgers pitcher came 14 years later. It was against the Angels that this year’s Cy Young favorite, Hyun-Jin Ryu, pitched his first major league complete-game shutout in May 2013. It was an early indication of the MLB-best form he’s currently displaying in 2019.
At the present moment, the Dodgers and Angels have traded with one another 13 times. The first was in May 1961 when the Halos bought pitcher Art Fowler.
Without a doubt, the most seismic trade was the seven-player swap of November 1972. The Angels parted ways with Ken McMullen and Andy Messersmith in exchange for Frank Robinson, Bill Singer, Mike Strahler, Bobby Valentine, and Billy Garbarkewitz. The Dodgers have made many bad trades, and this is definitely one of them. Messersmith did excel in Los Angeles, leading the pitching staff of the 1974 World Series team. But dealing Robinson, one of the greatest and most esteemed position players the game will ever know, is a tough one to justify.
The most recent was in December 2014. As part of the dizzying blitz of moves he made to overhaul the team, Andrew Friedman acquired a package of players from the Marlins that included pitching prospect Andrew Heaney. Heaney was immediately flipped to the Angels to get veteran infielder Howie Kendrick.
Kendrick did solidly in 2015 and 2016 for Los Angeles, helping win then-franchise record third and fourth consecutive division titles. Heaney, when not injured, has been a mixed bag in Anaheim. Especially with the spoils of this year’s starting rotation, it’s a trade that worked out on all fronts.
Most interleague feuds are coronated by at least one World Series faceoff, such as White Sox-Cubs (1906), Giants-Athletics (1989), and Mets-Yankees (2000). With no World Series clashes (at least yet), Dodgers vs. Angels is an interleague rivalry that’s defined more by territorial prominence than on-field victories.
It all started in 1961. Just three years after the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958, the Angels commenced operation as an expansion franchise. With the Dodgers at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Angels took up residence five minutes away at Wrigley Field, the former home of the minor league L.A. Angels. That proximity became even closer in 1962, when the Angels became tenants of the new Dodger Stadium for three years. In 1966, the Halos settled into their own home at Anaheim Stadium, while rechristening themselves the California Angels.
The most flagrant move in recent times to challenge the Dodgers’ grip on Los Angeles baseball was in 2005. Owner Arturo Moreno officially rechristened the Anaheim Angels as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This name change has been mocked inside and out since 2005, and rightly so. To start, the Angels not only don’t play in Los Angeles, but they’re not even in Los Angeles County. Many in Anaheim felt it was a betrayal of the city, even leading to a lawsuit that was later dismissed.
A rather tenuous rationale in favor of the name change is that the franchise started in L.A. One could point to the similar case of the NFL’s New York Jets and New York Giants playing their home games in East Rutherford, New Jersey. But those teams at least started out playing in New York City proper for a long period of time. The Angels only had five seasons in Los Angeles before moving to their current park in Anaheim in 1966. They didn’t even have any real success in L.A. either, not reaching the postseason until 1979.
More recently, the Angels stonewalled what could have been a huge minor league baseball move for the Dodgers. Los Angeles wanted a single-A franchise to play in the San Fernando Valley, at a proposed 7,000-seat stadium in Woodland Hills that would replace the Promenade shopping center. Many officials in the area, and in MiLB and MLB, loved the idea. But Moreno would have none of it, and the plan was dismissed.
The Dodgers, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, and MLB officials wanted a minor league team in the San Fernando Valley. But the owner of the Angels squashed it.
— Javier Panzar ? (@jpanzar) May 17, 2019
Jabs at their name aside, there is one bragging right that Angels fans can claim. That is having won a more recent World Series title in 2002. Hopefully this point is only relevant for a few more months, but at this moment, it has to be conceded.
Kershaw vs. Trout
For the past five years, Dodgers vs. Angels has taken on a special flavor as the match-up of the greatest pitcher of this generation vs. its greatest position player. It’s also a display of baseball at is classiest, as both players are heralded for their humility, off-field charity, they have been regarded among the faces of MLB, and rightly so.
The first time these modern titans squared off was 2014, a perfect beginning. That was the season they won their respective league’s MVP awards, and led their teams to the postseason (although neither made it out of the division series). Trout won this first round, going 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored in 3 at-bats.
Since then, however, Kershaw has gotten him out every time they’ve faced off in 2015, 2016 and 2018 (save for 3 walks). Collectively, the advantage goes to Kershaw at the moment. Trout currently has just a .154 average against the GOAT, and has yet to manage a single home run or RBI off of him.
The only way the vitality of Kershaw pitching to Trout will truly reach the masses, of course, is them meeting in the World Series. At this moment, that seems like an increasingly distant possibility. The Angels are once again mucking their way through another disappointing season, and don’t look like a force that can challenge the Astros for AL West supremacy anytime soon.
On the Dodgers’ side, while they are built to contend for years to come, Kershaw’s time in that window is limited. He’s past age 30 and, while still capable of winning starts, is not the modern-day Koufax of years past. With Walker Buehler ever ascendant and young prospects like Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin in the pipeline, he only has so long left in the rotation, lest he justify another player-friendly contract.
We may never get to see the best of both sides of the ball duke it out in the Fall Classic. But in the event that it does happen, it would be a watershed moment in baseball history.