By Bruce Amspacher
hese are the glory days for the Anaheim Angels, with a world championship under their belt, a roster full of talent and a future bursting with unlimited potential. It took more than four decades to achieve this ultimate goal, though, and the road to the top was rough, raucous, rewarding and sometimes a little rowdy.
"We were a wild bunch in the early days," says Paul Schaal, a former Angel who signed for a $4,000 bonus and $400 a month to play "for the hometown team" in 1961.
Schaal was a highly-touted baseball prospect in high school and led his Compton, California, team to a state championship before turning pro. "When I wasn't signed directly out of school I thought my dreams of playing professional ball were over," Schaal related, "but a couple of scouts from the Mets and the Angels saw me playing a few months later and things began to happen."
It was scout Pete Peterson of the Angels who asked Schaal if he'd like to come to a workout. "I made a few plays and banged out a few hits and they made me an offer. The original proposal was for a $3,000 bonus and $300 a month. My dad told them that I couldn't live on that and negotiated them up to a $4,000 bonus and $400 a month. As though I could actually live on $400 a month," Schaal added with a laugh.
The first stop was with the Angels—the Quad-City Angels in Davenport, Iowa, that is. After the first year with that Class D team Schaal was promoted to Class A ball with the San Jose Bees. By 1964 he was with the Hawaiian Islanders under the tutelage of Bob Lemon, the former Cleveland Indians pitching great. Near the end of the 1964 season he was in the majors for a 17-game stint. They were known as the Los Angeles Angels in Schaal's first year, and even though he saw extremely limited action they knew they had a winner.
"I was the most nervous 21-year-old kid you ever saw," Schaal said. "I was finally in the big leagues and I was playing with a bunch of wild men. There was Jimmy Piersall, Jim Fregosi, Dean Chance, Bo Belinsky—I think Albie Pearson was the only player on the team who wasn't a serious drinker and carouser."
New team name, new man at the hot corner.
In 1965 the LA Angels became the California Angels and Schaal became a regular, playing in 155 games at third base. The mega-star of the team was Chance, who had posted eleven shutouts the previous year, including six wins by 1-0 scores.
Was Dean Chance the best pitcher you ever had as a teammate? "I played with Nolan Ryan," Schaal answered, ending that part of the discussion immediately. Then, he continued: "Chance was really good, of course, and Steve Busby was great. Busby pitched two no-hitters in one season when I was with the Kansas City Royals. There's no telling what he could have accomplished if he hadn't torn his rotator cuff."
First baseball card? How about half a card!
Schaal's first baseball card was the 1965 Topps "Angels Rookies" #517. He shares the billing with Jackie Warner, who didn't appear in a major league game until 1966.
"The 1965 Topps is Schaal's most popular card," says Clay Hill, a renowned expert on 1960s-era sportscards from Sportscards Plus in Laguna Niguel, California. "That's because it's his rookie card, of course. The second-most popular is the '67 Topps because the card is so pretty."
Hill said that the Schaal rookie card is valued at $90 in PSA Mint-9. "The card comes real nice, with white borders, no bleeding, no print snow or other problems." So far seven examples have been certified in Mint-9, but the elusive Mint-10 has yet to show up.
"I don't remember what I was paid to be on the card," Schaal said, "but I know that it wasn't much. I do remember that for my Louisville Slugger contract I was paid a set of golf clubs. And that was for a lifetime contract!"
Making ends meet in the early days.
Today a player of Schaal's caliber makes an average of $4.34 million a year plus expenses, endorsement fees, performance bonuses, appearance gratuities and other perks. Was that kind of money flying around in the 1960s and '70s?
"For three years I played winter ball to make ends meet. Don't get me wrong. I wanted to play ball and I loved it, but it was far from the rich man's game that it is today. The worst off-season job that I took was selling cars. I only sold three and two of those were to my relatives," Schaal recalled, laughing at the memory.
"You're doing a great job, kid!"'
Ewing Kaufman of the Royals and Gene Autry of the Angels were the two best owners in baseball at the time, according to Schaal, and he had the good fortune to play for both of them. What was Autry like? "He was a wonderful guy," Schaal answered. "He was always coming in the clubhouse and giving encouragement. I don't think he ever called me by name, but he'd walk by in his cowboy hat, give me a big smile and say, 'You're doing a great job, kid!'"
Change of venue and a breakout year.
In the expansion draft of 1969 the Kansas City Royals picked up Schaal, but he clashed with manager Charles Moreskonich (better known as Charlie Metro). "Charlie said to the press that I'd never be an every-day player. It ticked me off but it also inspired me," Schaal said.
How inspired was he? Schaal went out and set what was then a team record for consecutive games played. Not only did he play in every game in 1971, he had one of the best OBP [on-base-percentages] in the American League, was second in the league in doubles, batted 30 points above his career batting average, slugged 68 points above his career slugging percentage and hit double digits in the home run column.
Charlie Metro was no longer the manager, but the kid who'd "never be an every-day player" was playing every day and playing the best baseball of his life.
Who was the best of the era?
Who was the best player that Schaal played against in his career? The answer might surprise you. "Tony Oliva," Schaal answered. "If his knees hadn't given out on him he would've been one of the all-time greats. He could hit for average, hit with power to all fields, run, field, and throw with the best of them. The man had no weaknesses in his game."
At one of the Angels' pre-game meetings they were discussing how to get Oliva out. Someone suggested pitching him low and away, because "You can get anyone out by pitching him low and away."
"There's no way in hell I'm gonna pitch Oliva low and away," Dean Chance snapped. "He'll hit a line drive back up the middle and take my head off!"
When it comes to best hitters among his teammates, Schaal chose Lou Piniella. "By the time George Brett came up I was back with the Angels," Schaal explained, "so he was never my teammate. I picked Piniella because he was the toughest competitor imaginable and he could hit .300 anywhere. If he went 3-for-4 he'd be furious because he didn't get a hit the other time. He was—and still is—a tremendous student of the game. I'd also pick Fregosi and Amos Otis as two other outstanding hitters."
Schaal also added Cookie Rojas to his list of ultra-tough competitors. "One time when Cookie was new with the team he was flipped by a fastball at his head. Now in those days guys didn't get upset if you pitched them inside like they do today, but if you flipped someone then retaliation was mandatory. Our pitcher didn't retaliate and Cookie blew up. He slammed the door in the clubhouse and held a team meeting and laid down the law. He was a leader from the start. He would've made a great manager," Schaal said.
Hey, Doc, how about an adjustment?
Today Paul Schaal heads the Schaal Wellness Center in Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. While chiropractic care has been his livelihood for the past 26 years, the eleven seasons of major league baseball still hold prominence in his store of memories.
"I'm really proud of my years as a major leaguer," Schaal said. "It was a wonderful time that I'll treasure forever."
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