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News Archive: 2007

Here is an article from Bill Burt of Gloucester Daily Times Online.

Mrs. Autry Always an Angel at Heart
Posted October 5, 2007

BOSTON - As far as Jackie Autry is concerned, Bill Buckner has nothing on Dave Henderson.

She was with her famed husband and then-California Angels owner Gene Autry that fateful afternoon in Anaheim when the Sox came back from a two-run deficit in the ninth inning, while trailing in the American League Championship Series, 3-1, thanks to Henderson's game-tying, two-run homer.

Instead of celebrating, with the champagne on ice in the home clubhouse, the Angels had to fly back to Boston for two more games, both convincing Red Sox victories (10-4 and 8-1).

"After that loss (in Game 5), Gene and I went to the Marriott bar near the stadium for drinks. That was a tough, tough loss to take," Mrs. Autry said, standing in front of the Angels dugout about 90 minutes before last night's opener between the Sox and Angels in the American League Division Series.

"Don't mention that name, Dave Henderson. It conjures up bad memories for me."

She can laugh at it now, just like New Englanders can fluff off the most famous gaffe in Boston sports history, the ball that got "through Buckner" in the 1986 World Series. Like the Sox did in 2004, the Angels exorcised all demons with their stunning World Series win over the San Francisco Giants in seven games in 2002.

The one problem is Mrs. Autry's husband was not around for the feat, having passed away in 1998, two years after selling the team to Disney.

For all you youngsters out there, Gene Autry was a TV and movie star, known as the "Singing Cowboy." He hobnobbed with the biggest stars in America for six decades beginning in the 1930s, including baseball players.

"The funny thing is baseball players like Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio loved Gene," said Mrs. Autry, who became Gene's second wife in 1981, more than a year after the passing of his first wife, Ina May.

"But he felt the same way," said Mrs. Autry. "I think he would have swapped places with them. He loved baseball and really liked talking about the game."

Mr. Autry was the Angels original owner in 1961. His original intent was to be involved in the broadcast rights of the team, but when two potential bidders couldn't agree on minority ownership, Autry stepped in and made a bid.

While the team was his pride and joy, wins were not easy to come by in his reign.

The Angels made the playoffs in 1979, 1982 and 1986.

In fact, four years before the Henderson named haunted the Autry household, it was the Milwaukee Brewers, who overcame a 2-0 deficit in the 1982 ALCS to beat the Angels three straight games, advancing to the World Series.

"Can you believe we couldn't beat the Brewers once in three games?" she asked rhetorically. "That one hurt. But the loss to the Red Sox really hurt because the old cowboy was finally going to get to the World Series. At least it appeared that way ... until Dave Henderson."

Jackie Autry's interest in the Angels and the team has survived nine years after her husband died. When the team was sold, she was given a suite at Angel Stadium for life.

But she wasn't just an owner's wife in Anaheim. In the early 1990s, the former banker took control of the finances of the team. In fact, she was as much behind the sale of the team to Disney as anyone.

"Free agency was too much of a strain," she said. "We were losing money and weren't going to be able to compete. It was time."

Major League Baseball didn't let the Autry name die with her husband. In 1999, she was named honorary president of the American League, a position she still holds today.

When the Angels finally won it all in 2002, the American League president was there on podium. But she was there for a different reason, holding her deceased husband's famed cowboy hat.

"There was a patch of Gene on the (playoff) uniforms," said Mrs. Autry. "Tim Salmon later told me he took the patch off and put it in his back pocket, for good luck. I really believe he was up there looking down over that team. It meant so much."

Saturday, coincidentally, would have been Gene Autry's 100th birthday, a day she celebrated with family and friends.

"He used to always say to me, 'You'll never forget me, will you, will you?' I would tell, 'No, I could never forget you,'" she said. "Well, he died on my birthday (in 1998). I think he did that on purpose."

Jackie Autry's 67th birthday was on Monday, nine years to the day when her husband died. She spent most of the day traveling from Los Angeles to Boston for this series.

"I could have gone to Cleveland for the Yankees series or here," she said with a smile. "Which place did you think I would choose?"

As for the Angels' chances against the Red Sox, Mrs. Autry is realistic.

"I'd like our chances if we weren't so banged up," she said. "But with the old cowboy up there looking down, anything could happen."

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