LA Angels’ Stadium Situation: Anaheim Deserves The Angels

After years of back and forth between the LA Angels organization and the City of Anaheim, Angels owner Arte Moreno seeks to settle the Angels’ stadium situation once and for all. Will Arte enter Los Angeles County to attempt to further grab the market? And would that be the right move?

Before Friday, the last time I was at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, it was called Edison International Field. The year was 1998, I was eleven years old, and the famous hats at the stadium’s main gate were blue, with the “winged A” logo that will forever link the Angels, Anaheim, and the Walt Disney Company.

The stadium’s freshly-completed remodel had mostly undone the damage done to the facility’s aesthetics and views by the 1970s arrival of the Los Angeles Rams, who departed after the 1994 season for St. Louis. The upgraded ballpark was a hit with fans, and to the City of Anaheim, who agreed with the Walt Disney Company on the renovations in exchange for a lease through 2031, with an opt out following the 2016 season.

Time marched on, life took me away from Southern California, and 2016 came and went. Though the Angels remained in Anaheim, the search for a new stadium has stretched, sometimes publicly, outside of Anaheim, to places such as Tustin, and most recently, Long Beach. The news about the Angels’ stadium situation had intrigued me, because the last time I went, the remodel was fresh, the team was still firmly committed to Anaheim, Gene Autry was alive, and these were Disney’s Anaheim Angels.

It was time to go back, primarily to take in Angels baseball, but in the back of my mind was the identity of the Angels and their fans. The very identity of this team has confused fans and been a joke around sports media ever since Arte Moreno first rolled out the name “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim”. It’s a question whose answer is rooted in history, and can only be answered by the next move the franchise makes.

But first, let’s go back a bit ourselves.

The Angels’ name is taken from the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. Originally the Seraphs in 1892, from 1901 until their final season of 1957, the Los Angeles Angels represented the City of Angels in high level professional baseball, as the PCL for a time carried an “Open” classification, considered a level above AAA, and for a time it was believed the PCL would become the third major league, joining the American and National leagues. This dream was dashed when the Dodgers conspired to move west, taking the cash-strapped Giants with them.

The Angels, for years owned by candy magnate and Chicago Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley, were sold in late 1956 to the Brooklyn Dodgers. This gave the Dodgers the rights to Los Angeles, and also the Angels’ cap logo, which to this day lives on in Dodger blue and white. It also sealed the fate of the minor league Angels, who would move to Spokane for the 1958 season, abandoning Wrigley Field, their aging ballpark on East 42d, which, at the time of its opening in 1925, was considered superior to many Major League parks.

Angelenos would now get their pro baseball fix with the National League Dodgers, who were setting up temporary shop at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, ill-suited for baseball, but having the capacity and amenities for the large crowds Major League Baseball in the Southland promised to draw.

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Gene Autry would lead an ownership group to acquire the Los Angeles American League franchise for the 1961 season. As conditions for creating the franchise, the new Los Angeles Angels had agreements in place to play one year at Wrigley Field, bringing together the history of the original Angels with the new entry, and a four year deal to play at Dodger Stadium, which was due to be completed for the 1962 season.

Autry was smart enough, thankfully for Angels fans, not to sign any extensions to the Dodger Stadium agreement. The Dodgers of the early 1960s were legendary, both in popularity and success. The Angels, an expansion team playing in the same stadium as said legendary club, struggled in what they called Chavez Ravine for Angels home games. The Angels began to look for a home of their own, and in the 1960s climate of Dodgers glory, they knew they would most likely have to look past their namesake city to do so.

Ironically enough, Gene Autry would look to Long Beach. The waterfront city was amenable to the idea of Angels baseball being played in town, but had insisted to Autry the team be called the Long Beach Angels. Autry declined, and as the search continued, an Angels shareholder and board member would make a suggestion: Walt Disney got the Angels in touch with the City of Anaheim.

Anaheim had accelerated its postwar boom from sleepy agricultural suburb to boomtown by making the deal to be the home of Disneyland, and was now ready to add professional baseball. The city made no ask that the Angels change their name, and could promise a state of the art facility, publicly funded, and ready in time for 1966, just as the Angels’ lease with the Dodgers expired. The deal was made, and late in the 1965 season, the Los Angeles Angels became the California Angels, preparing for their new home approximately half an hour’s drive from LA.

Anaheim Stadium, as it was first called, was a quality home for baseball, but unfortunately not quality baseball, and by the time the Angels would finally win the American League West in 1979, the stadium was on its way into an extensive remodel and expansion to house the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. The Angels’ ballpark lost its views of the San Gabriel Mountains, in exchange for Anaheim briefly gaining football.

Thankfully, the Rams would move on, and Disney, the new owners, would make the agreement with the city to remodel the stadium, at a 70% cost to Disney (whose Imagineering subsidiary would manage the remodel) in exchange for the Angels operating the newly redone stadium. As part of the deal, Disney readily changed the name of the team to the Anaheim Angels, rooting the team in the city that houses Disney, Disneyland, and Disney’s other sports property, the then-Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

After the Anaheim Angels won the 2002 World Series, Disney would begin divesting its sports teams, selling the Angels to a group led by Arte Moreno. In 2005, Moreno, whose ownership group would give the franchise the business name Angels Baseball, would famously change the club’s official name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, an attempt to grab a larger share of the market they share with the Dodgers, while still honoring the terms of the lease with Anaheim. In 2016, these terms expired, and the team became the Los Angeles Angels, just as the search for their next home intensified.

Which brings us back to the present.

This era of Angels baseball has been a curious one. In a nod to the California Angels era, the current uniform set has a cap with a halo-adorned A, and the jerseys, whether home, away, or alternate, say “Angels”. A sleeve patch says “Angels Baseball”. For observers outside of the franchise’s media umbrella, they see the team as the Los Angeles Angels, whether they agree with it or not. But as I would learn in my return to the Big A, that’s not the case inside the organization.

The Angels are the only franchise in American major sports I’ve seen take the field to a PA announcer introducing them without the full name of the franchise being used. They are “The Angels”. Or “Your Angels”. Sponsors are “The Official Tire of Angels Baseball” or “Official Soft Drink of the Angels”. Inside Angel Stadium, in writing or in words, Los Angeles, Anaheim, California, they are not spoken. For a franchise so adamant about changing their name and sparking an attempt to further chip into the Dodgers’ market, the words “Los Angeles” sure are not spoken in any official capacity.

Arrive at Angel Stadium, and you’ll find culture, if not identity. The Angels in their aging Anaheim home have still been one of the top clubs in attendance over the past 15 years. And despite a history of navy blue flanked with red, you will find a sea of red. Bright, anti-Dodger blue, red. The Angels have succeeded in creating a visual identity, if not a team identity. These Angels, wherever they end up, will remain red.

The stadium itself has held up well, especially for its age, where fans are concerned. Compared to the Oakland Coliseum, a similarly-aged facility, the Angels’ desire to leave is not one of necessity, as it is for the rival Athletics. Where the A’s are financially starved and need to draw fans back, the Angels draw fans, but want better, and also much better amenities for the players and staff.

And therein lies the rub for Anaheim city officials. Being the city who, in the 1960s gave the Angels a safe haven from their terrible days being the Dodgers’ tenants, who then remodeled said home into an excellent baseball-only facility in the late 1990s, it certainly rubs them the wrong way to hear less than 20 years later the stadium is insufficient. Calls for Anaheim to not back down, not cave in to a billionaire sports owners and his desires is more than reasonable.

What should give those same officials pause, however, is while the Angels have called Anaheim home for over 50 years now, they are no longer owned by the man who brokered the deal, or by the town’s largest employer with a nearby resort. The club is owned by Arturo Moreno, a businessman whose permanent residence is Phoenix, who has no ties to Anaheim, and who’s made practically every business move since he bought the team with his eye on the Los Angeles market.

In Major League Baseball’s eyes, the Angels and Dodgers share the Los Angeles media market, a sprawling list of zip codes from Orange County all the way to my residence in Paso Robles. Wherever you can see or hear a Dodgers game, you can do the same for the Angels. This is where the California Angels name actually made sense. Sure, the team played its games in Anaheim, but to someone in Bakersfield, Anaheim may not have much attachment to them. It was with this logic Moreno decided to bring back the Los Angeles Angels name.

Moreno is a very private man and compared to many sports franchises, the Angels operate quietly. It’s difficult to assume Moreno’s full motives with the Angels name, future, and stadium situation. Flirtations with Long Beach could be just a leverage play on Anaheim to make a new stadium happen, or, if you strictly follow the pattern of the Angels under Moreno, it could be the next step in the return of the Los Angeles Angels, who would be able to fully embrace their current name, should they play in Los Angeles County.

I won’t speak on the economics of the deal, because realistically, both cities can do it, and Moreno can make it happen on his own if he so chooses. I will speak to what I saw Friday, though, and how I feel about it.

This sea of red, loud, proud, and in large numbers, is, according to information captured from social media likes and ticket sales, primarily from Orange County, and the 91 freeway corridor headed east. The San Gabriel River is a fairly solid barrier between Angels and Dodgers fans. And while, like any two-team market, there are fans of both teams everywhere, this sea of red hails primarily from this area. Sure, if the Angels moved, and were successful, they could fight more for LA. But would they lose Orange County?

The next step for the Angels will decide their identity. I can only hope it’s one that embraces the history of the franchise. Before the game, the PA began to play “Calling All Angels” by Train, and a video played of the franchise’s memorable moments over the years. Save for brief clips of Steve Bilko, the club’s 1961 slugger in Wrigley Field, and Jim Fregosi from his playing days, the entire rest of the three minute video takes place in an era the club played at Angel Stadium.

Knowing the beautiful green field which had caught my eye as it always does, same as when I was a child, was the same Darin Erstad caught the last out on, Nolan Ryan threw no-hitters on, Rod Carew got his 3,000th hit on, it gives this team a connection to their history many teams no longer have.

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Even if Angel Stadium does meet its end, I can only hope the Angels remember that before Anaheim, the Angels were homeless. For five years, the club went from delapidated Wrigley Field to being tenants of the rival Dodgers. Anaheim gave them a home, and has been generous with those terms since. I couldn’t help during the game Friday night to think “This is the Angels’ home.”

And when Mike Trout came to bat with a runner on the eighth inning, and took a changeup 428 feet into the California Spectacular in center field, the moment was singular, the best player in the game showing why he is precisely that, but it was also the sublime, as the ball split the night sky like a rocket, the player who had said in his press conference following signing his contract extension, “I want to bring a championship back to Anaheim.”, had done the heroic yet again, another highlight reel moment in Anaheim for these Angels. The sea of red thundered its approval on a perfect Southern California night. This is Angels baseball in Anaheim on a Friday night.

Let the Angels be champions with Mike Trout. He deserves it. Let the Angels have a name they’re proud of, one they will take the field to. And let the Angels have a home for many years more. They deserve it.

Just let that home be Anaheim. They deserve it.

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