I am a former sports editor and currently serve as a historian with the Society of American Baseball Research and manage a valet operation.
Who Are the Greatest Los Angeles Angels Players of All Time?
While it took time for the Los Angeles Angels to finally achieve some success, when considering their entire history, they’ve been a fruitful franchise. From three division titles between 1979 and ‘86 to seven more postseason appearances since 2002, the Angels have built teams with solid cores and used them for years and years. To do that, a team must have star players, and the Angels have had plenty of them. In this article, I’ll spotlight the 10 best players in Angels history.
Many players have the credentials needed to be included on the list, so I added a handful of honorable-mention candidates after the top 10, as well as some frequently asked questions. The criteria used to develop this list included:
- Legacy Honors (Hall of Fame, retired number, etc.)
- Single-Season Honors (MVP, All-Star, etc.)
- On-Field Success (league leader, playoff appearances, records, etc.)
- Longevity (years with the Angels, percentage of career with the Angels, etc.)
Only games played with the Angels are factored into these selections, so while Hall of Famer Dave Winfield would be a great choice on a list about the San Diego Padres, his year and a half with the Angels won’t make the cut here.
Note: All statistics and records included in this article are as of the end of the 2020 MLB season. Resources such as the team media guide, Baseball-Reference, and Stathead were used to help compile this list.
10. Vladimir Guerrero (2004–09)
- Postseason Appearances: 2004–05 and 2007–09
- All-Star Selections: 2004–07
- Accolades: Hall of Fame (2018), MVP (2004), and Silver Slugger (2004–07)
One of the biggest free-agent acquisitions in Angels history was Vladimir Guerrero, who signed a five-year, $70 million deal before the 2004 season. That deal paid dividends throughout his career in Los Angeles. Guerrero was the American League MVP in 2004, leading the Angels to the first of five postseason appearances during his tenure. That season, his .337 average was the highest in franchise history for a right-handed hitter and third-highest ever with the Angels. During his six seasons, Guerrero hit a franchise-record .319 with 173 home runs and 616 RBI, and he became the first player to don an Angels cap on his Hall of Fame plaque when he was inducted in 2018.
9. Brian Downing (1978–90)
- Postseason Appearances: 1979, ‘82, and ‘86
- All-Star Selections: 1979
After coming to California from the White Sox, Brain Downing played a vital role in getting the Angels into the playoffs for the first time. He posted a career-high .326 average and made his only All-Star team in 1979, leading California to its first West Division championship (he later helped the Angels into the postseason in 1982 and ‘86). In 1982, he hit 28 home runs and did not commit an error in 158 games in left field, and in ‘86, he drove in a career-high 95 runs. The following year, he led off seven games with a home run on his way to a career-high 29 longballs. When he left the Angels after the 1990 season, he was the franchise leader in games (1,661), at-bats (5,854), runs (889), hits (1,588), doubles (282), home runs (222), and RBI (846). He still ranks in the top five in each category.
8. Mike Witt (1981–90)
- Postseason Appearances: 1982 and ‘86
- All-Star Selections: 1986–87
Mike Witt was the youngster on the veteran-laden Angels teams of the early 1980s, and he undoubtedly learned from those elder statesmen as he developed into a star in his own right. Witt was a key pitcher in two postseasons for the Angels, threw a perfect game against the Rangers in 1984, and combined with Mark Langston for a no-hitter in 1990. His 314 appearances were a franchise record at the end of his tenure (now seventh), while Witt’s 109 wins (fourth), 1,283 strikeouts (fourth), and 70 complete games (third) also rank highly in team history. Witt’s best season came in 1986 when he went 18–10 with a career-high 208 strikeouts to lead the Angels to the West Division championship. In the ALCS, Witt pitched a complete game in Game 1 and took a hard-luck loss in Game 5. The Angels were one strike away from making the World Series before the Red Sox rallied from a 3–1 deficit.
7. Tim Salmon (1992–2004, ‘06)
- Postseason Appearances: 2002
- Accolades: Rookie of the Year (1993) and Silver Slugger (1995)
Tim Salmon burst onto the scene in 1993 with 31 home runs to win top rookie honors in the American League, and he continued on to spend his entire career with the Angels as one of the most popular players in franchise history. Salmon’s best season came in 1995 when he hit a career-best .330 with 34 home runs and 105 RBI. He is perhaps best remembered for his exploits during the 2002 World Series, when he hit two home runs in Game 2 and hit .346 in a seven-game victory over the Giants. Salmon retired in 2006 as the all-time franchise leader in home runs (299), which has since been surpassed by Mike Trout. He remains in the top three in team history in many other offensive categories.
6. Bobby Grich (1977–86)
- Postseason Appearances: 1979, ‘82, and ‘86
- All-Star Selections: 1979–80 and ‘82
- Accolades: Silver Slugger (1981)
One of the many gritty veterans who helped lead the 1986 Angels within a game of the World Series, Bobby Grich was a popular figure during the franchise’s first run of success. He and Brian Downing are the only two players who were on each of the first three West Division champion teams, though Grich hit just .192 in his 15 playoff games with the Angels. He retired following the 1986 ALCS after 10 seasons in California and remains the longest-tenured second baseman in team history. In 1985, he set a since-broken Major League record with a .997 fielding percentage in 116 games at second base. In Angels history, Grich ranks within the top 10 in numerous offensive categories after posting a .269 average with 154 home runs, 557 RBI, and 601 runs. His best offensive output came during the strike-shortened 1981 season when he tied for the league lead with 22 home runs (first second baseman to lead a league in homers since 1901) and hit a career-best .304.
5. Chuck Finley (1986–99)
- Postseason Appearances: 1986
- All-Star Selections: 1989–90 and 1994–95
Chuck Finley was a dependable starter for the Angels throughout the late 1980s and ‘90s, piling up 165 wins and 2,151 strikeouts over 14 seasons. As the fourth overall selection in the 1985 draft, Finley wasted no time moving up the ranks. He made his Major League debut on May 29, 1986, and remained with the club all the way through the postseason (he allowed one hit over two innings of relief in three games of that year’s ALCS). From 1989 to ‘91, he was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, with a 52–27 win-loss record on top of a 2.93 ERA and 504 strikeouts. His best season came in 1990 when he finished 18–9 with a 2.40 ERA and 177 strikeouts. Finley is the franchise leader in career innings (2,675), wins (165), and losses (140). He is second to Nolan Ryan in strikeouts.
4. Garret Anderson (1994–2008)
- Postseason Appearances: 2002, 2004–05, and 2007–08
- All-Star Selections: 2002, ‘03, and ‘05
- Accolades: Silver Slugger (2002–03) and All-Star Game MVP (‘03)
From his first full season in 1995 to his final year with the Angels in 2008, Garret Anderson ranked highly among all players in baseball with 489 doubles (2nd), 2,363 hits (3rd), and 1,291 RBI (8th). He also hit .296 (45th) in 2,008 games (4th). In 2002, he had a huge season to help the Angels win their only World Series championship. He led the AL with 56 doubles while hitting .306 with 29 home runs and 123 RBI to finish fourth in MVP voting. In the following season, he led the league in doubles again (49) and became the 10th player in team history to hit three home runs in a game. He holds several franchise records including single-game RBI (10 in 2007), hitting streak (28 games in 1998), postseason at-bats (147), postseason RBI (22), and overall career records in games (2,013), hits (2,368), runs (1,024), doubles (489), and RBI (1,292).
3. Jim Fregosi (1961–71)
- All-Star Selections: 1964, 1966–70
- Accolades: Gold Glove (1967) and Angels No. 11 Retried (1998)
A slick shortstop who spent 11 seasons with the Angels, Jim Fregosi was the team’s first star and left as the franchise leader in every major offensive category. Despite coming to the Angels as their 17th of 30 picks in the 1960 Expansion Draft, Fregosi hit .268 in 1,429 games, along with 115 home runs, 546 RBI, and 691 runs. His 70 triples remain a team record. He was extraordinarily dependable, playing at least 147 games each season from 1963 to ‘70. In 1964, Fregosi became the youngest player in American League history to hit for the cycle (he was surpassed in 1997 by Alex Rodriguez, but the Angels re-claimed the record in 2013 with Mike Trout). He hit for the cycle again in 1968, and he remains the only player in team history with two cycles. Fregosi was traded to the Mets in 1971 in a deal which brought Nolan Ryan to the Angels. He returned to California as manager in 1979 and promptly led the team to its first postseason berth.
2. Nolan Ryan (1972–79)
- Postseason Appearances: 1979
- All-Star Selections: 1972–73, ‘75, ‘77, and ‘79
- Accolades: Hall of Fame (1999) and Angels No. 30 Retired (1992)
Nolan Ryan became a superstar in California, hurling four no-hitters and six one-hitters during an eight-year stay with the Angels. He led the AL in strikeouts in seven of those eight seasons, including a career-high 383 in 1973 (which is also the most in a season for a pitcher since 1886). Ryan holds the top five single-season strikeout marks in team history, and he also had 19 strikeouts in a game four times (though three came when he pitched more than nine innings). During his tenure with the Angels, Ryan went 138–121 with 2,416 strikeouts and a 3.07 ERA, which is the second-best mark in team history. His 156 complete games are a franchise record, and he won seven straight complete games in 1973. His 22 wins in 1974 are tied for the franchise record, and he won at least 19 games four times with the Angels.
1. Mike Trout (2011–present)
- Postseason Appearances: 2014
- All-Star Selections: 2012–19
- Accolades: MVP (2014, ‘16, and ‘19); Rookie of the Year (2012); All-Star Game MVP (2014–15); and Silver Slugger (2012–16 and 2018–20)
Mike Trout has been touted as the best player in baseball for several seasons and has the numbers to back up the claim. Trout has won three MVPs in his first 10 seasons and has finished in the top five of voting every year since his first full season in 2012. He is already approaching several career offensive marks in the Angels’ record book, and with a contract that runs for another decade, he likely will finish well above any other player in team history. Through 2020, his career totals include a .304 average, 302 home runs (team record), 798 RBI, 944 runs, and 201 steals. Trout also holds a .994 fielding percentage in 1,094 games in center field, which is eighth all-time since 1901.
Who Is the Greatest Angels Player?
The Los Angeles Angels have a large contingent of players with similar accolades, but Mike Trout and Nolan Ryan stand out above the rest as the top two players in franchise history. In the 1970s, Ryan was the most dominant strikeout pitcher in all of baseball, and in the 2010s, Trout was one of the best all-around players the game has seen. I’ve given the edge to Trout because he contributes in more than one facet of the game, but by the time his career ends, it’s likely there won’t be any reasonable argument to rank him anywhere except the top of this list.
While the top players in Angels history are listed above, I’ve also included a handful of other players deserving of some attention.
Rod Carew (1979–85)
Rod Carew played out the final seven years of his Hall of Fame career with the Angels and was still a productive hitter. He made the All-Star team six times in California, and his .314 batting average is second in team history, though he only averaged 119 games per season. Carew was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991, and his No. 29 is retired by the Angels.
Jered Weaver (2006–16)
Jered Weaver was a three-time All-Star who finished in the top five of Cy Young voting each of those seasons. He compiled a 150–93 record in 11 seasons with the Angels and struck out 1,598 batters. Weaver twice led the AL in victories, including 20 in 2012. He pitched in four different postseasons and went 2–1 with a 2.60 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 27⅔ innings.
Darin Erstad (1996–2006)
Darin Erstad is best remembered for his 2000 season when he led the American League with 240 hits on the way to a .355 average (an Angels single-season record), which was his only year hitting over .300. He was a two-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, and won one Silver Slugger during his time with the Angels. He hit .286 with 114 home runs, 279 doubles, and 818 runs in 11 seasons in California. His .997 fielding percentage as a center fielder is the best mark in baseball history (since 1901).
Troy Glaus (1998–2004)
Troy Glaus displayed some prodigious power early in his career, but injuries derailed his chances at becoming the greatest slugger in Angels history. Glaus holds the franchise record for single-season home runs (47 in 2000) and also hit 41 in 2001. He was a three-time All-Star and won two Silver Sluggers during his seven-year tenure with the Angels. He slugged 182 home runs but hit just .253.
Below are some frequently asked questions and other trivia about the Angels.
How Many Angels Are in the Hall of Fame?
There are 14 players who spent time with the Angels enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Vladimir Guerrero is the only player wearing an Angels cap on his plaque.
Who Has Hit the Most Home Runs in Angels History?
MIke Trout is the all-time home run leader for the Angels. Through 2020, he has hit 302 home runs. He surpassed Tim Salmon’s record of 299 on Sept. 5, 2020.
How Many Times Have the Angels Made the Postseason?
The Angels have made 10 postseason appearances, including a World Series championship in 2002. They’ve won the AL West Division in nine of those seasons, oddly enough qualifying for the 2002 postseason as a wild card.
© 2021 Andrew Harner
CJ Kelly from the PNW on March 21, 2021:
Thorough list. It's amazing how many greats they had. Bobby Grich is so often forgotten.
What's remarkable about the latest version of the Angels: 2 future Hall of Famers for nearly a decade, and no post season wins at all. Only one time in the playoffs, I think? In this era, that is a very sorry record.