09/10/08 11:20 PM ET
Angels enjoy well-earned party
Halos revel in division title during wild clubhouse celebration
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Cutting loose in true "Animal House" fashion late Wednesday afternoon for close to an hour after clinching the American League West title for the fourth time in five years and seventh time in franchise history, the Angels were wildly out of character.
Normally reserved and professional, taking their cue from distinguished veterans such as Garret Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey and Chone Figgins, the Angels acted like a bunch of college kids on spring break.
Led by goggled ringleader Torii Hunter, calling himself Michael Phelps as he danced "The Swim" across the clubhouse floor littered with champagne corks, crushed beer cans and pieces of ice, this team partied like it was 1999 -- or, more accurately, 2002.
"People would think this gets old -- but it never does," gushed Hunter, the club's gifted and charismatic center fielder. "I've been in some celebrations in Minnesota, and this one ranks right up there with any of them.
"We've got a 17-game lead or whatever, why celebrate like this? Because we've worked hard for it.
"Everybody's swimming, dancing, going crazy. And it's lasting a long time. These guys are awesome. They don't want to go home."
Nobody was spared the traditional dousing, from general manager Tony Reagins and manager Mike Scioscia on down through the publicity staff and clubhouse attendants.
And nobody was more thoroughly drenched than Hunter -- who began a round of dancing with chants by players for others - "Tex!" and "Junior!" and "Vladdy!" -- ringing out from the ring surrounding the featured performer.
|"Everybody's swimming, dancing, going crazy. And it's lasting a long time. These guys are awesome. They don't want to go home."|
|-- Torii Hunter|
It was Reagins, replacing Bill Stoneman in the GM chair, who pulled off a pair of major moves in the space of one dramatic and pivotal November week.
First, he acquired starting pitcher Jon Garland for shortstop Orlando Cabrera -- a move that looked like genius when Lackey and Kelvim Escobar were shut down during Spring Training. Escobar never made it back with his labrum tear, undergoing surgery, but the rotation became a major plus, with Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders emerging as All-Stars in concert with Lackey, Jered Weaver and Garland.
Next, out of nowhere, Reagins sealed the five-year, $90 million deal for free-agent outfielder Hunter. The seven-time Gold Glove center fielder brought power, defense and leadership to a club that expired in three games at the hands of eventual champion Boston in the AL Division Series last October.
Finally, two days before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Reagins landed the big bat to align with Guerrero when he sent Casey Kotchman and Minor League pitcher Steve Marek to Atlanta for Mark Teixeira.
"I've been around baseball, talking to a lot of guys," Hunter said. "They'd love to be here. This is the place to be."
Retaining Teixeira will be a challenge, but Reagins hinted that the Angels would go all out to keep the first baseman when he becomes a free agent this winter.
"Bringing him in added to our vision long-term," Reagins said.
Reagins wanted Hunter not only for his superlative skills but also for his presence, his character. He figured the club could use some toughness, and few athletes bring more of that to the table than the man from Pine Bluff, Ark.
"You see how much passion he has for the game," Reagins said. "He's going to play hurt, give it everything he has. In the clubhouse, he's definitely made a difference. Tough? He has a beautiful smile, but there's a tough undertone there in Torii Hunter."
There's also, clearly, a party animal in that package.
"This is the first step," Hunter was saying, taking a break from the dancing and shouting and hugging. "You've got to win the division before you get a chance to go in the playoffs.
"We're enjoying this -- it's hard to imagine a better party. But we'll get back focused on baseball tomorrow. We need to get home-field advantage. We've got a lot of things to work for.
"This is a one-day thing."
As flings go, they don't get much wilder.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.