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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Torii Hunter, Albert Pujols nearly fought during Angels team meeting

Torii Hunter Albert PujolsTorii Hunter wanted to fight Albert Pujols during a Los Angeles Angels team meeting last season, according to a report.

Scott Miller at CBS Sports has a lengthy article full of strong reporting about the Angels. The article touches on the influence of Angels owner Arte Moreno, and casts the owner as a meddling, negative influence when it comes to building the team. But the real highlight is a story about Hunter and Pujols getting into it last season when the Angels were in a tough stretch.

According to Miller, the Angels had just badly lost three games to the Tampa Bay Rays in August (they were swept in that four-game series), and they called a team meeting following the third loss, a 10-8 defeat on Aug. 19 in which they blew an 8-0 lead. The previous game, the Angels lost 12-3 as Jered Weaver was pounded. Weaver got upset with a teammate for missing a ball during that outing. The next day, C.J. Wilson apparently was chirping in the Angels’ dugout about the hitters struggling, and Torii Hunter had to tell him to pipe down. With all the tension between teammates, a meeting was called following the 10-8 loss.

Miller says veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins called the meeting, but the players couldn’t decide on the format. Pujols apparently wanted it to include the coaches, while Hawkins thought it should just be between the players. During the meeting, Pujols supposedly called out Weaver for showing up a teammate on Friday. He then turned his attention to Hunter for the incident in the dugout with Wilson on Saturday. Hunter reportedly became livid with Pujols.

Here’s Miller’s description of what ensued:

What Pujols did not know at the time was that Wilson and Hunter already had made amends, with the pitcher apologizing to the outfielder for overstepping his bounds in the dugout immediately following the game.

“Albert, you’d better get your facts straight,” a seething Hunter told Pujols.

Pujols said something back, and Hunter jumped him for being a bad teammate and pouting all season whenever he failed to get hits in a game, even in games the Angels won … and now he was going to call others out?

“Shut up, Torii,” Pujols snapped.

It was then that Hunter, from across the clubhouse, lost it and charged Pujols. Hawkins and outfielder Vernon Wells had to restrain him.

Miller says Hunter tried going after Pujols a second time later in the meeting and had to be restrained again. Miller also reports that the incident was similar to something that happened between Hunter and Justin Morneau, who were teammates on the Minnesota Twins. According to Miller, Hunter once punched Morneau in the jaw because the first baseman was not being a good teammate early in his career. The two later bonded.

And even though the near fight between Pujols and Hunter reeks of dysfunction, keep in mind that the Angels went 27-13 after that meeting and finished 89-73, which is the same record the pennant-winning Detroit Tigers had.

Aside from the information about the fight, Miller’s article contains many more details about the team.

Miller’s article seems to place responsibility for the Albert Pujols signing on Moreno. It also suggests the Angels’ baseball department wanted to focus on bringing back Zack Greinke last offseason, while Moreno told them to focus on Josh Hamilton.

Then, there is another bombshell: Miller says Moreno was so upset over losing Adrian Beltre to the Texas Rangers before the 2011 season, he threatened to fire GM Tony Reagins if Reagins did not pull off a trade for Vernon Wells. The Wells trade is considered one of the worst in recent baseball history, but Moreno wanted the declining outfielder after manager Mike Scioscia supposedly signed off on the deal.

Miller even raises the possibility that the Angels will not be able to re-sign emerging superstar Mike Trout because of all their big contracts.

As an Angels fan, I have several thoughts on the report.

One, I remember that Rays series like it was last week, and reliving the frustration of it is extraordinarily difficult. That’s where I felt like the season was lost. But teammates nearly getting into it isn’t all that uncommon, and the team did play well later in the season, so I don’t think the meeting was a negative factor for the Angels.

Two, I think it is possible that the fight played a role in the Angels’ surprising lack of interest in retaining Hunter, who had a fantastic 2012 season.

Three, I’m guessing the source for most of the stories in the article is GM Jerry DiPoto. Reports have said either Scioscia or DiPoto will be gone after the year. Moreno loves Scioscia, so I’m figuring DiPoto will be fired. If you read the entire article, you’ll notice that the blame for nearly every bad move is ascribed to Moreno, who is portrayed as a meddling, interfering owner. There is no talk about DiPoto bungling the Ryan Madson and Joe Blanton signings, or how he whiffed on the Zack Greinke and Chris Ianetta trades. The only bad moves brought up are the ones Arte supposedly influenced. Why would that be done? So that DiPoto looks better to everyone else for when he needs to go out looking for a new job, while the mess that is the Angels appears to be all Moreno’s fault.

Four, the way the Greinke/Hamilton signing is described does not reflect reality. The Angels tried very hard to re-sign Greinke and made that a top priority. They only gave up when the Los Angeles Dodgers went to another stratosphere with their contract offer for the pitcher, who signed a six-year, $147 million deal with the club. It was only after the Angels could not bring back Greinke that Arte may have directed the GM to sign Hamilton to the big deal.

Lastly, there is no way on earth the Angels will lose Mike Trout. No way. Sure, they have a lot of money owed to players, but they will not let Trout go. That’s just a silly notion to raise.

So yes, I’m convinced DiPoto/DiPoto’s people provided a lot of the information in the story in order to make him look less responsible for the Angels’ failures. The Angels have two large contracts that look terrible right now, and those are on Moreno. It would be great if the team could press the reset button the way the Boston Red Sox did last year and dump all the contracts to someone else, but that is unrealistic. Instead, they’ll just have to hope that Hamilton turns it around next year, and that Pujols will too after recovering from his foot injury. Then, maybe it will be time to realize throwing money at the problem with long-term contracts won’t help. And maybe Moreno will learn to let his baseball people run the team instead of stepping in and demanding certain signings.



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