Retired numbers: Los Angeles Angels

We can all agree on one thing: L.A. will eventually pull No. 27 from active duty

It’s time to begin our promised club-by-club roundup of baseball’s retired numbers, starting with the first team in the alphabetical order of nicknames.

The Angels have held retirement ceremonies for five uniforms during their 60 seasons in the American League, perfectly matching the number of names the franchise has carried.

So here’s our rundown for the team respectively known as the Los Angeles Angels, California Angels, Anaheim Angels, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and — coming full circle as of 2016 — once again the Los Angeles Angels.

We’ll check in with another team every couple of weeks — first reviewing the uniform numbers it has already retired, then winnowing through the possible candidates for future honors.

Angels’ numbers already retired

No. 11 Jim Fregosi was the team’s first star. The Angels called up the 19-year-old shortstop in 1961, their inaugural season. He became a regular by 1963, going on to qualify for six All-Star teams as an Angel.

Gene Autry was the franchise’s founding owner. The actor/singer, who owned a Los Angeles radio station, hoped to secure the broadcasting rights to Angels games in 1961. The negotiations advanced beyond his intentions, and he ended up with the team itself. Autry was assigned No. 26 at his retirement ceremony, symbolizing his status as an indispensable “26th man” in the era of 25-player rosters.

No. 29 Rod Carew and No. 30 Nolan Ryan, of course, were Hall of Fame icons who achieved much of their fame elsewhere. Infielder Carew ripped 2,085 of his 3,053 hits for the Twins, compared to 968 for the Angels. Pitcher Ryan won 138 games for the Angels to go along with 186 for the Astros, Rangers, and Mets.

No. 50 Jimmie Reese might be the one head-scratcher on the franchise’s wall of honor. Reese played three years as a second baseman with the Yankees and Cardinals in the early 1930s, long before the major leagues arrived in Los Angeles. But it was his 22 years as an elderly coach with the Angels that made him a beloved figure in Southern California.

Angels’ candidates for retired numbers

Let’s start with the obvious choice.

There is absolutely no doubt that the Angels will retire No. 27 someday, probably a decade or so from now. Center fielder Mike Trout is only 29 years old, yet he already ranks as the Angels’ all-time leader in wins above replacement (73.7) and home runs (300). He also holds the franchise’s career marks for on-base average (.418) and slugging percentage (.583). Cooperstown is undoubtedly in his future.

If Trout wore some other number, a case could still be made for retiring No. 27 in honor of Vladimir Guerrero, who entered the Hall of Fame in 2018 as an Angel, the franchise’s first official representative there. The free-swinging right fielder opted to wear an Angels cap on his plaque, even though he played more games for Montreal than for Anaheim/Los Angeles (1,004 to 846).

Yet it’s important to remember that the Angels assigned No. 27 to reserve outfielder Mike Ryan as soon as Guerrero left for Texas after the 2009 season. It’s obvious that no serious thought was given to retiring the uniform at that time. Trout took the number from Ryan a year later, complicating the situation.

One of Trout’s current teammates, first baseman/designated hitter Albert Pujols, could be in line to have his No. 5 retired whenever he hangs up his spikes. The St. Louis version of Pujols (445 homers, .328 batting average) was clearly superior to his closing act in Los Angeles (214, .257), but the Angels still might decide to salute his longevity and the overall excellence of his Hall of Fame career.

There seems to be a vague amount of interest in Anaheim about honoring No. 15 Tim Salmon, who sits fourth on the Angels’ all-time WAR list at 40.6, trailing only Trout, Chuck Finley, and Fregosi. The right fielder was an Angel throughout his career, playing 1,672 games for the franchise between 1992 and 2006. Salmon’s No. 15 hasn’t been retired — not officially — but it’s worth noting that it hasn’t been assigned to any other Angel in the past 14 years. A sign, perhaps, of a move to come?

The other four players on our list of candidates all deserve consideration, though they seem unlikely to be rewarded by the Angels with retirement ceremonies. Let’s consider them in numerical order:

  • Some experts contend that No. 4 Bobby Grich deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. But the second baseman drew less than 3% of the possible votes in the 1992 election, triggering his removal from subsequent ballots.

  • No. 5 Brian Downing spent 13 seasons with the Angels from 1978 to 1990, splitting time as a catcher, outfielder, and designated hitter. He’s fourth in franchise history with 222 home runs, but he’s also stuck with the same number as Pujols, who probably would be honored first.

  • No. 16 Garret Anderson was cursed with an unusually low profile, making only three All-Star teams, despite being a solid outfielder who batted above .300 in six different seasons. It’s somewhat surprising to learn that Anderson remains the all-time leader in several statistical categories for the Angels, including games (2,013), runs (1,024), hits (2,368), and doubles (489).

  • No. 31 Chuck Finley posted 165 victories in an Angels uniform. That’s the most of any pitcher in franchise history, surpassing Ryan by 27. But Hall of Fame voters weren’t impressed, giving Finley a minuscule 0.2% of the vote in his only appearance on the ballot.

The outlook

Trout is a lock, of course. He will either be honored by the Angels on his own or as a tag-team entry with Guerrero. Salmon and Pujols have a chance of getting their numbers retired, though Salmon’s legend is fading with time, as is Pujols’s performance. Everybody else faces steep odds in Anaheim.