Of Witches, Hexes, and Plain Bad Luck: The Reputed Curse of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
This article was published in the 2011 The National Pastime.
From the mid-1970s until the Angels won the World Series in 2002, frequent stories of an Angels “curse” or “jinx” appeared in the local and national media. Typically blamed on a rumor that Anaheim Stadium was built on a Native American burial ground, the curse persists to the present day despite the fact that several of the victims of the curse pre-dated the move to Anaheim in 1966. Tim Mead, the Angels’ media relations director, researched the claim in the 1990s and found no evidence indicating a burial ground.1
The first reference to the Angels jinx in The Sporting News was an article by Dick Miller in March 1976, spurred by Nolan Ryan’s arm troubles, which had limited him to 28 starts in 1975.2 The curse had not been mentioned at all when Bruce Heinbechner became the third Angels player to die in March 1974, but when Mike Miley died in January 1977, Harry Dalton, then the Angels’ general manager, said it was “the first thing I thought of,” placing the first mention of the curse in this time frame.3
The deaths have always been the cornerstone of the Angels curse. Since 1960, 32 major-league players have died while on a major-league roster or within a year of their last game. The Angels are typically linked with seven of those deaths (five of those by 1978), more than 20 percent of the total. The only other team to have lost even three players in that time frame is the Cleveland Indians with three, and two of those died in the same boating accident in Florida in 1993. The Angels have lost three players in midseason and another late in spring training.
Naturally the curse was extended to include the postseason, when the Angels became the first team to blow a 2–0 lead in a best-of-five series in 1982, losing the last three games to the Milwaukee Brewers. In game five of the 1986 ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, the Angels were one pitch away from their first World Series appearance, up three games to one, with a 5–4 lead with two outs in the ninth, when Dave Henderson hit a 2–2 pitch to put the Sox on top with a two-run shot. The Sox went on to win that game and the next two to take the series before succumbing to their own curse and losing the World Series.
The Angels have also suffered numerous late-season collapses, the most devastating coming in 1995, when the Angels had to win their last five games to force a one-game playoff (which they lost) after holding an 11-game lead for the division as late as August 9 and a 10-game lead for the wild card on August 3.
The curse has even been extended to players who previously played for the Angels. Despite playing four years with the Reds after leaving the Angels, Jim McGlothlin, who died of cancer at 32 in 1975, is almost always mentioned. Even Ed Kirkpatrick, who was paralyzed in a car accident in 1981, is frequently mentioned, despite playing his last game with the Angels in 1968 and spending the bulk of his career with the Royals and Pirates before leaving the majors in 1977. Yet Fritz Brickell, who was the Angels’ starting shortstop on Opening Day in 1961 and died of cancer at 30 in 1965, is never mentioned in an Angels curse article (until now).
Angels’ family members are also mentioned. Ina Autry, wife of owner Gene Autry, met her unexpected death in 1980.4 John Candelaria’s son died in 1985 after a swimming pool accident left him in a coma for 11 months.5 In 1996 Rod Carew’s 18-year-old daughter lost her battle with leukemia.6
Attempts have been made to counter the curse. During a team slump in 1977, Dick Miller, a reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, called Louise Huebner, “head of the Magic Circle of 4,000 witches nationwide, the largest coven in America.”7 She gave Magic Circle medals to owner Gene Autry, general manager Dalton, and the players just before they played the Yankees on August 3.
The Angels won six straight games before Huebner had a change of heart, saying, “Some of the players were very insulting. I wasn’t too thrilled being involved with them. I felt I shouldn’t have used the energy of the Magic Circle, because the Angels were not sincere and honest. They didn’t participate or give anything back. I’m not Mary Poppins. I don’t have to help anybody. So I just pulled out. I put the Curse back on.”8
Around 2000, “two shamanistic women” gave little figurines to the players to protect them.9 And late in the 2002 season, the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California, reported that a local tribe had “blessed the ballpark themselves before this season began.”10 When the Angels won the World Series that year, the stories of an Angels curse or jinx pretty much disappeared. But the deaths of pitcher Nick Adenhart and veteran coach and scout Preston Gomez in 2009 and the 2010 freak injury to first baseman Kendrys Morales, have resurrected those stories. Many web sites offered curse chronologies after Adenhart’s death, and the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register have both revisited the club’s unusual history of calamities. Over time, some of the stories have grown beyond their original incidents. A single mistake in one story will propagate over time. The following represent—and clarify and correct errors in—the most prominent and unusual injuries in Angels history.
The earliest named victim of the curse is usually Johnny James, acquired by the Angels on May 8, 1961. In his 1976 article Miller wrote, “James tried to break off a sharp curve one night at Wrigley Field and heard a bone in his arm crack. INCREDIBLY, his arm had been broken making the pitch and his career was over.”11 The mention of Wrigley Field (Los Angeles) places the incident in 1961, while other references to James have usually pegged the injury to his last pitching appearance in 1961 in Chicago.12 James did not pitch the last two weeks of the season, though he did pinch run twice, and teammate Dan Ardell does not recall any word of James breaking his arm. Early 1962 articles show James in spring training and trying to make the team. The April 4 issue of The Sporting News reported, “Jim Donohue and Johnny James have looked particularly sharp on the hill. The latter was laid up a few days with arm trouble but is all right again.”13 There are references to further injuries, but no broken arm. James pitched 21 games in the minors in 1962. In 1963 Baseball Digest reported, “Before a sore arm last year prompted his demotion and posed a threat to his future, Johnny James, the Angels’ ex- Yankee, was one of the brightest pitching prospects.”14
Outfielder Ken Hunt broke his collarbone while swinging a bat in the on-deck circle late in spring training in 1962.15 Originally diagnosed with a strained arm, Hunt continued to play through part of spring training.16 He was not placed on the disabled list until May, playing six games, three as a pinch hitter (striking out twice) and three as a pinch runner. He returned to action in September, playing three games at first and pinch-hitting three times.17
During batting practice in August 1962, veteran pitcher Art Fowler was hit by a line drive while in left field, leaving a four-inch cut running “above and to the side of the eye” and requiring eight stitches.18 He gradually lost most of the sight in his left eye.19 Ken McBride missed much of the last six weeks of the 1962 season after discovering that he had cracked a rib from a bout of pleurisy.20 McBride was an All-Star pitcher in 1963, but according to Miller, McBride was later in an automobile accident and suffered whiplash injuries, causing him to lose effectiveness in 1964.21 This condition was not diagnosed until years later.
While not mentioned in curse articles, reliever Bob Lee’s superb rookie season ended prematurely on September 11, 1964, when he broke two bones in his hand slugging a heckling sailor who reached into the bullpen at Fenway Park.22 The incident did not seem to have a lasting effect, perhaps saving Lee from being a part of normal curse lore.
In 1964, the Angels signed “two of the most highly sought-after players in the country.”23 But outfielder Rick Reichardt suffered kidney failure and had one kidney removed in 1966, while catcher Tom Egan lost some of the sight in his left eye when Earl Wilson beaned him in 1969.
The first Angels player to die while on the active roster was rookie Dick Wantz, who had pitched one inning for the Angels in April 1965, when he went on the disabled list, suffering from headaches. First diagnosed as a virus, a brain tumor was then discovered. Wantz did not survive the operation to remove the tumor, dying on May 13.24
Pitcher Jack Hamilton cracked a rib wrestling with George Brunet before a game in late 1968, according to Miller.25 Contemporary accounts have him pulling a muscle in his side in May, with X-rays negative. He was outrighted to Seattle in early July.
Minnie Rojas was a top reliever for the club in 1966-1968, with a record of 23–16, 43 saves, and a 3.00 ERA. Many curse-related articles, starting with Dick Miller’s The Sporting News obituary of Mike Miley (see below), have reported that Rojas was paralyzed in a car crash in 1968; however, he appeared in 12 Triple-A games in 1969. The crash actually occurred on April 1, 1970. Accounts of the crash said Rojas was “reported to have been trying to re-enter baseball” after having his career “cut short by arm trouble.”26 He was listed as 31 in the news article about the crash, but is currently listed as being five years older than originally reported.
Infielder Chico Ruiz died in a car accident in February 1972 after playing for the Angels in 1971. Usually credited as an Angels curse victim, he had signed with the Kansas City Royals prior to his death.27
Shortstop Bobby Valentine suffered a compound fracture of his right leg when he crashed into the out-field wall while filling in for Ken Berry in center field on May 17, 1973.28
Reliever Bruce Heinbechner never played in a regular season game in the majors, but had apparently made the opening day roster when he was killed in a two-car crash while returning to the Angels’ spring training hotel in Palm Springs on March 10, 1974.29
In 1974, Rudy May threw four shutouts in his first six starts. According to Miller’s 1976 curse article, one night, “[while] walking in the dark and carrying a tray, he tripped over his pet dog. May’s and the Angels’ season were ruined by a broken wrist and dislocated elbow.”30 There are inconsistencies in this story.31May threw four shutouts in his first six starts the year before, in 1973. However, his longest distance between starts in that season was 14 days, at the end of June and early July (spanning the All-Star break). His ERA continued to rise after that, but there is no time gap consistent with a broken wrist.32The following season he was used primarily in relief until he was traded to the Yankees in midseason, also with no large gaps in service.
Shortstop Mike Miley received $80,000 as the Angels’ top pick in the 1974 amateur draft, passing up his senior year as quarterback at LSU in the process. He died in a single-car automobile accident on January 6, 1977.33
Newly signed infielder Bobby Grich herniated a disk in his back while lifting an air-conditioning unit at his apartment on February 14, 1977, causing him to miss most of spring training and eventually leading to season-ending back surgery in July.34 A more conventional injury to Joe Rudi, signed during the same offseason, is often lumped in with this one.
Outfielder Lyman Bostock signed with the Angels in 1977 as a free agent after hitting .336 for the Minnesota Twins. On August 23, 1978, as he rode in a car in Chicago, he was shot and killed by the estranged husband of one of the passengers in the car.35Pitcher Jim Barr broke his hand punching a toilet at a party celebrating the Angels’ first division championship in 1979, causing him to miss the playoffs.36
First baseman Wally Joyner missed the end of the 1986 Championship Series with a staph infection in his leg.37
In 1989 reliever Donnie Moore had been released by the Angels and the Royals and was out of baseball when he committed suicide after shooting his wife, who survived.38 He is almost always mentioned as an Angels curse victim, partially because the suicide is usually traced to the Dave Henderson home run he gave up in the 1986 playoffs.
On March 16, 1992, pitcher Matt Keough was sitting on the bench at Scottsdale Memorial Stadium when a foul ball off the bat of the first batter of the game hit him in the head. The injury ended his attempted comeback and nearly his life.39 Coach Deron Johnson died of lung cancer at the age of 53 on April 23, 1992.40
On May 21, 1992, an Angels team bus crashed in New Jersey during a road trip. Several members of the team were injured.41 Infielder Bobby Rose was the only player placed on the disabled list, with a sprained ankle. First baseman Alvin Davis bruised a kidney, and first baseman Lee Stevens had some soreness in his arms and ribs.42 Among those hospitalized were Davis, athletic trainer Ned Bergert, with a minor concussion and bruised kidney, and traveling secretary Frank Sims, with bruised ribs. Bullpen coach Rick Turner required 26 stitches for a cut below his left armpit.43 Manager Buck Rodgers was also hospitalized with elbow, knee, and rib injuries, causing him to miss more than half the season.
Infielder Rex Hudler was 16-for-30, with 3 homers in his last 9 games in May 1994, raising his average to .406, when he was injured during batting practice. Manager Marcel Lachemann and Hudler “were gathering balls in the outfield when they saw one lone ball in between them. They looked at one another, and took off running for it. Hudler was there first, and when he reached to pick the ball up, Lachemann jokingly lunged at it with his fungo bat. The bat bounced off the turf and hit Hudler’s right ankle. Hudler then dove to avoid the bat, tumbled onto the turf, and landed on his right shoulder.”44 Returning after seven- teen days on the disabled list, he went 11-for-60 the rest of the season, ending at .298.
Shortstop Gary DiSarcina tore a ligament in his thumb while sliding into second base on August 3, 1995, causing him to miss most of the rest of the season and the Angels’ historic collapse.45
Pitcher Chuck Finley opened the 1997 season on the disabled list after a flung bat broke an orbital bone during spring training; later that season Finley went on the DL again when he slipped and injured his wrist while backing up home plate.46
DiSarcina missed half of the 1999 season after breaking his arm when a fungo bat swung by coach George Hendrick accidentally hit him.47 He hit .229 in 81 games after his return, his lowest average since becoming a regular, and then played 12 games in 2000 before having rotator cuff surgery, which ultimately ended his ca- reer at the age of 32.48
Newly signed free agent first baseman Mo Vaughn slipped and fell trying to catch a pop fly in the visitors’ dugout in his first regular season game with the Angels in 1999, wrenching his ankle.49 While he only missed the minimum 15 days, Vaughn was never the player the Angels originally expected, though some of that may have been park effect. More conventional injuries to Jim Edmonds and Tim Salmon followed shortly.
In May 2000 in the second inning of a game against the Texas Rangers, pitcher Kent Mercker suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on the mound at Edison Field in Anaheim.50 He returned in August, but that season and the following one were largely lost. He came back and had several fine seasons, starting with Colorado in 2002, last pitching in the majors with Cincinnati in 2008.
Outfielder Garret Anderson was limited to three games in the 2007 American League Division Series against the Red Sox due to pink eye. He was 2-for-9.51 Preston Gomez, assistant to the general manager, special assignment scout, and spring training instructor, died at age 86 on January 13, 2009 from injuries suffered when he was hit by a truck at a Blythe, California gas station nine months earlier.52
Hours after pitching six scoreless innings against the Oakland A’s in his first start of the season on April 8, 2009, young pitcher Nick Adenhart was a passenger in a car hit by an alleged drunk driver. He and two companions were killed, prompting the creation of a memorial shrine in front of the stadium, which remained for the entire season.
Announcer Rory Markas died suddenly January 4, 2010, at the age of 54. He had been a radio announcer with the Angels for eight years and was going to move to the television booth for the upcoming season.
First baseman and clean-up hitter Kendrys Morales hit a walk-off grand slam on May 29, 2010, but broke his leg jumping into the crowd of players at home plate, causing him to miss the rest of the season and all of 2011. He was hitting .290 with 11 homers in 51 games.
So the Angels have had more than their share of deaths and perhaps more of their share of unusual injuries, along with a normal share of “normal” injuries. This has caused a fair amount of embellishment by the media over the years, and while the discussion has calmed down, a couple more weird injuries like Morales’s may prompt more stories in the Southern California press about the Angels’ curse.
STEPHEN RONEY is a lifelong Angels fan, starting when they actually played in Los Angeles. He has been a SABR member since 1984 and the president of the Allan Roth Chapter since 1999. He currently lives in southern Orange County, California and works as a computer programmer in Irvine.
- 1. Bradley, Mickey and Gordon, Dan, Haunted Baseball, Lyons Press, 2007, 253.
- 2. Dick Miller, “Angels’ Pitchers Seem Hexed; Long History of Staff Jinxes,” The Sporting News, 27 March 1976, 36.
- 3. Dick Miller, “Death Robs Miley of Great Dream,” The Sporting News, 29 January 1977.
- 4. Gallagher, Danny, Angels’ Halo Haunted, Scoop Press, 1998, 31.
- 5. Gallagher, Danny, Angels’ Halo Haunted, Scoop Press, 1998, 31.
- 6. Gallagher, Danny, Angels’ Halo Haunted, Scoop Press, 1998, 31.
- 7. John B. Holway, “The Angels’ Witch,” adapted from Baseball Astrologer and Other Weird Tales, 2000. http://baseballguru.com/jholway/analysisjholway33.html.
- 8. John B. Holway, “The Angels’ Witch,” adapted from Baseball Astrologer and Other Weird Tales, 2000. http://baseballguru.com/jholway/analysisjholway33.html.
- 9. Bradley, Mickey and Gordon, Dan, Haunted Baseball, Lyons Press, 2007, 254.
- 10. Chris Suellentrop, “The Anaheim Angels: The worst team you’ve never heard of,” 18 October 2002, www.slate.com/id/2072685.
- 11. Dick Miller, “Angels’ Pitchers Seem Hexed; Long History of Staff Jinxes,” The Sporting News, 27 March 1976, 36.
- 12. Retrosheet.org.
- 13. “Angel Dyer-y,” The Sporting News, 4 April 1962, 30.
- 14. Libby, Bill, “Why Not Batters as Hitting Coaches?” Baseball Digest, March 1963, 78.
- 15. Bradley, Mickey and Gordon, Dan, Haunted Baseball, Lyons Press, 2007, 254.
- 16. Newhan, Ross, “‘Mystery Injury’ Hits Hunt,” Long Beach Press-Telegram, 2 April 1962, C-2.
- 17. Retrosheet.org.
- 18. Newhan, Ross, “Fly-in-Eye Injured Fowler OK,” Long Beach Press-Telegram, 7 August 1962, C-1.
- 19. Newhan, Ross, The Anaheim Angels: A Complete History, Hyperion, 2000, 63–4.
- 20. Newhan, Ross, The Anaheim Angels: A Complete History, Hyperion, 2000, 64.
- 21. Dick Miller, “Angels’ Pitchers Seem Hexed; Long History of Staff Jinxes,” The Sporting News, 27 March 1976, 36.
- 22. Snyder, John, Angels Journal, Clerisy Press, 2010, 88.
- 23. Dick Miller, “Angels’ Pitchers Seem Hexed; Long History of Staff Jinxes,” The Sporting News, 27 March 1976, 36.
- 24. Angels’ Dick Wantz Succumbs to Brain Tumor,” Los Angeles Times, 15 May 1965, A1.
- 25. Dick Miller, “Angels’ Pitchers Seem Hexed; Long History of Staff Jinxes,” The Sporting News, March 27, 1976, 36.
- 26. “Minnie Rojas Injured, 2 Children Die in Crash,” The Sporting News, 18 April 1970, 38.
- 27. Snyder, John, Angels Journal, Clerisy Press, 2010, 88.
- 28. Dick Miller, “Angels’ Pitchers Seem Hexed; Long History of Staff Jinxes,” The Sporting News, 27 March 1976, 36.
- 29. “A pitcher lost, but hardly forgotten,” Long Beach Press-Telegram, 12 March 1974.
- 30. Dick Miller, “Angels’ Pitchers Seem Hexed; Long History of Staff Jinxes,” The Sporting News, 27 March 1976, 36.
- 31. “Minnie Rojas Injured, 2 Children Die in Crash,” The Sporting News, 18 April 1970, 38.
- 32. Retrosheet.org.
- 33. Dick Miller, “Death Robs Miley of Great Dream,” The Sporting News, 29 January 1977.
- 34. Newhan, Ross, The Anaheim Angels: A Complete History, Hyperion, 2000, 163–4.
- 35. Gallagher, Danny, Angels’ Halo Haunted, Scoop Press, 1998, 8–11.
- 36. Gallagher, Danny, Angels’ Halo Haunted, Scoop Press, 1998, 30.
- 37. Dufresne, Chris, “The Hex Files,” Los Angeles Times, 27 May 1999.
- 38. Gallagher, Danny, Angels’ Halo Haunted, Scoop Press, 1998, 1–7.
- 39. Gallagher, Danny, Angels’ Halo Haunted, Scoop Press, 1998, 27.
- 40. Snyder, John, Angels Journal, Clerisy Press, 2010, 220.
- 41. Snyder, John, Angels Journal, Clerisy Press, 2010, 221.
- 42. Elliott, Helene, “Young Angels Growing Up Fast,” Los Angeles Times, 26 May 1992, C-1
- 43. Gallagher, Danny, Angels’ Halo Haunted, Scoop Press, 1998, 17–20.
- 44. Nightengale, Bob, “Loss Isn’t Their Only Setback,” Los Angeles Times, 31 May 1994, C-1.
- 45. Weyler, John, “DiSarcina Is Angels’ Biggest Loss,” Los Angeles Times, 5 August 1995, C-1.
- 46. Dufresne, Chris, “The Hex Files,” Los Angeles Times, 27 May 1999.
- 47. Bradley, Mickey and Gordon, Dan, Haunted Baseball, Lyons Press, 2007, 252.
- 48. DiGiovanna, Mike, “DiSarcina’s Agent Optimistic After Meeting,” Los Angeles Times, 14 September 2000, D-1.
- 49. Dufresne, Chris, “The Hex Files,” Los Angeles Times, 27 May 1999.
- 50. Bradley, Mickey and Gordon, Dan, Haunted Baseball, Lyons Press, 2007, 252.
- 51. Woke, Dan, “The unlucky history of the Angels,” Orange County Register, 3 June 2010, http://www.ocregister.com/sports/history-251698-angels-unlucky.html?pic=3.
- 52. DiGiovanna, Mike, “Preston Gomez, 1922–2009; Angels consultant spent 64 years in pro baseball,” Los Angeles Times, 14 January 2009, B-6.