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Dan Shaughnessy

Historically, Angels’ hopes usually nixed

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / October 6, 2009

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ANGEL STADIUM, ANAHEIM, Calif. - This was Nixon’s ballpark.

No, not Trot, you silly.

Richard Nixon. Tricky Dick. The awkward man with the sweaty upper lip. The guy who strolled the beach wearing wing tips.

Thirty years ago, when the Angels made their first run in the playoffs (vs. the Orioles), Nixon was the ball club’s First Fan. The president-in-exile’s San Clemente home was only 35 miles from the venue then known as Anaheim Stadium. Nixon was a friend of Angels owner Gene Autry. He represented the conservative values of Orange County. He loved baseball. And he was an Angels season ticket-holder who went to at least 20 games during the 1979 season. He didn’t seem to be bothered that the Angels had a pitcher named Dave (don’t call me David) Frost.

There were no Frost-Nixon interviews when Nixon visited the Angels clubhouse. There was just the sight of Bobby Grich pouring champagne on the former president’s head after the Angels clinched the division in 1979. At home playoff games against the Orioles, Nixon sat behind a banner that read, “Never give up’’.

“He really knew baseball and he really knew the players,’’ said John Moynihan, stadium press box director, who has been with the Angels for 50 seasons. “He’d go into the clubhouse with Mr. Autry and he knew who the players were, even if they weren’t wearing their uniform top. I remember Donnie Moore came over and asked me, ‘How does Mr. Nixon know my name?’ ’’

There were special Nixon Rules at the Big A. Spectators were not allowed to wear Nixon masks.

“You never knew who was behind those masks, so the city passed a rule that you could not wear a Nixon mask into the stadium,’’ said Moynihan.

This week the Red Sox will open their annual (fourth time since 2004) first-round playoff series with the Angels. Before the first pitch is thrown, the Globe’s staff of crack baseball writers will dissect and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of both ball clubs.

I’m here to tell you about some of the stuff that happened to the Red Sox at Nixon’s favorite ballpark.

The stadium by the 57 Freeway opened in 1966 and hosted the 1967 All-Star Game that lasted 15 innings. Yaz went 3 for 4 in that game. Tony Conigliaro went 0 for 6. It was just a month before Tony C. was hit in the head by Angels righthander Jack Hamilton.

The Red Sox came to California for the 1986 American League Championship Series, a seven-game stunner that triggered Boston’s odd dominance of Anaheim in October.

Sammy Davis Jr. sang the national anthem before Game 3 in California. The Angels won that night, then again the next night to take a 3-1 series lead. On a splendid Sunday afternoon, 64,223 fans, none wearing Nixon masks, stood in anticipation of the Angels’ first pennant when California took a 5-2 lead into the ninth inning of Game 5. It was going to be Gene Mauch’s first pennant.

Bill Buckner (whatever happened to that guy?) started Boston’s rally with a one-armed single in the top of the ninth. Then came a two-run homer by Don Baylor. With a man aboard, Moore was summoned to face Dave Henderson and Hendu cracked a two-run homer to left-center. The Sox wound up winning, 7-6.

Everybody knew Donnie Moore’s name after that game.

Today the ballpark with the distinct Disney Flavor is the happiest place on earth for Red Sox Nation. Since Henderson’s homer, the Sox are 12-1 in the playoffs against the Angels. Including the Hendu game, the Sox have won six straight playoff contests in the Big A.

It was here in 2004 that Johnny Damon first called his teammates “idiots.’’ That was the same day Curt Schilling (Nixon would have loved Schill) beat the Halos, 9-3, in Game 1. The Sox routed the Angels again, 8-3, the next day with Pedro Martinez picking up the win.

In 2007, the Sox humiliated the Angels in three straight, winning the clincher in Anaheim by a score of 9-1. The Sox outscored the Halos, 19-4 in the sweep. It would have reminded Nixon of his 1972 rout of George McGovern.

Last year, the Angels went 8-1 against the Sox during the regular season, then choked in two home playoff games against Boston. In Game 1, John Lackey threw a cookie fastball (home run) to Jason Bay after twice fanning Bay on breaking pitches. Vlad Guerrero ran the Angels out of an inning. In two home playoff losses, the Angels stranded 20 base runners. Nineteen of their 20 hits were singles. Lackey ripped his own hitters.

There you have it, Sox fans. Thunder Stix and the Rally Monkey have no impact on visitors from Boston. In 2009, the Red Sox own the ballpark that Richard Nixon called home. You can come here and feel safe. You can even wear a Nixon mask.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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