TEMPE, Ariz. -- The California Angels became the first team to take the field in baseball's ersatz exhibition season last night, and their 1995 replacement debut was not without a little added pressure.
It was tough enough to play test pilot for Major League Baseball's replacement scheme, but to do it against a top-quality major college program was a potential disaster in the making.
The Angels took on Arizona State University before a crowd of 2,100 in a benefit game at Tempe Diablo Stadium, no doubt aware that a significant portion of the baseball-loving public was hoping that the alternative Angels would prove that replacement ball was not even up to college caliber.
Didn't happen. The artificial Angels hammered the Sun Devils, 13-5, much to the relief of the Angels front office and the architects of replacement ball. There were some ragged moments -- and the replacements got a break when ASU coach Pat Murphy held back his top pitchers for an upcoming collegiate series -- but it was not a major organizational embarrassment.
"I don't think anybody is trying to say that this is major-league baseball," Angels manager Marcel Lachemann said, "because major-league baseball is played by major-league players and these aren't major-league players. But they have worked hard and made a commitment. Not everybody is happy about the commitment that they have made, but you have to respect them for making it."
Lachemann, like most of the coaches and managers in this situation, has mixed feelings about starting his first full season as Angels manager with a team of strikebreakers.
The Angels organization has taken a very serious approach to the construction of its replacement squad. But did it succeed in putting together a team that can replicate major-league baseball? There was one observer yesterday who didn't think so.
"Nobody's going to watch that," Murphy told a reporter. "It's A-ball and it's going to ruin the game."
Major League management observers were less critical, but they have a rooting interest in a hard-line labor strategy that some believe is an attempt to break the players union.
New York Mets advance scout Harry Minor also was in the crowd, though it wasn't clear what a National League guy was doing scouting an American League replacement team. It turned out that he was scouting the whole situation.
"Joe [Mets GM Joe McIllvaine] just wants to know everything that's happening, even the reaction of the crowd," Minor said. "We don't know what to expect. You have to put a representative team on the field and hope to play around .500 until things get settled."
The Angels are doing better than that. For at least a day, they are the best team in baseball and they are averaging 13 runs a game. Designated hitter Joel Smith -- last seen playing his fifth season at Class A -- hit a bomb to left in the seventh inning to become the major-league leader in exhibition home runs.
Who could ask for more than that?