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Good riddance to Angels owner Arte Moreno

When Arte Moreno bought the Anaheim Angels in 2003, I immediately paid attention.

It was a little hard not to when the billboard billionaire handed out giant red sombreros emblazoned with the team’s Big A branding, then donned one himself at his first press conference .

The massive hat was symbolic in multiple ways. It celebrated Moreno’s Mexican American heritage and his status as the first majority Latino owner of a major professional sports franchise. It showed that Moreno was approaching his purchase not as a money man but as a fan. At that same press conference, he announced his first official decision – lowering beer prices at Angel Stadium.

His choice of hat was also a promise. On the right head a sombrero is a beautiful thing, the insignia of the heroes and heroines of Mexican song and film. The men and women who understand her story carry her weight with pride and respect.

On the wrong person, it makes the wearer look like a jester.

Moreno carried it well at first.

He signed future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero and ace Bartolo Colón in 2004, while lowering ticket prices. He drew nationwide ridicule for renaming his team the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but fans mostly forgave him because the Halos became something they had never been before — winners.

As a lifelong Anaheim native and Orange Countian who attended several Angels games each year during my teenage years but never became a bona fide fan, I watched what Moreno was creating with hope. My generation of cousins ​​grew up almost exclusively Dodgers fans because we never saw each other in the Angels. It wasn’t even necessarily a Latin thing. For us, the Dodgers have been a model of success from the broadcast booth to the field. Angels weren’t, and who wants to associate with losers?

But Moreno had a hell of a personal story — a Mexican kid from the Tucson neighborhood who bought a professional sports franchise, nabbed some of the game’s biggest stars (who happened to be Latinos) and made it into the national pastime. He offered something you rarely see from sports owners: inspiration. And if a Mexican could find respect in a notoriously racist place like Orange County, maybe my homeland could improve.

I started going to the stadium again as an adult and started supporting the team. Moreno was a constant presence in the stands, wandering around like former New York Mayor Ed Koch as he asked fans if he was doing a good job. The Dodgers spent their years in the wilderness under owner Frank McCourt. There was a real chance that the next generation of my cousins ​​would wear Angels red instead of Dodgers blue.

And then, as quickly as Moreno became one of the best owners in baseball, he became one of the worst.

The dark side of the sombrero caught up with him.

There were hints of this turning point early on, when Moreno told my colleague Bill Shaikin that he didn’t feel responsible for helping Latinos into his rarefied world.

“I’ve always tried to open doors for anyone – male, female, black, green, brown, whatever,” he said then. “I’m not going to say, ‘I’m here now and we have to self-isolate,’ when what we’ve been trying to do in America is open the door for everyone.”

I also don’t believe in race-based affirmative action. But if you’re not going to give people a step forward, then you better bring the best. Instead, Moreno opened the doors to misfires that, like Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage, turned the team into a laughingstock.

He ignored baseball scouts and loaded the team with massive contracts for high-priced players who, unsurprisingly, underperformed. When the Halos got lucky with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani — baseball’s best and most exciting player, respectively — Moreno suddenly turned tight and didn’t surround them with a competitive team.

As his team floundered through the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Moreno appeared with Donald Trump at a Latinos for Trump luncheon in Phoenix and told the crowd that it was “very necessary” to vote for Trump.

Even more embarrassing, Moreno allowed his front office to run increasingly ridiculous promotional events. Snuggies costumes. Retro 70s Weekend. Four distinct Ohtani memorabilia giveaways this year. On Cinco de Mayo in 2015, more than 25,000 fans set a Guinness World Record for the most people wearing a… sombrero simultaneously.

Thankfully, Moreno announced this week that he was exploring selling the Halos after nearly 20 years of ownership.

“Throughout this process,” he said via a press release, “we will continue to manage the franchise in the best interest of our fans, employees, players and business partners.”

It would be the first time in years that Moreno would put all of our interests first.

He was incredibly lucky to be a transformational owner and rather choked up, just like his team notoriously does. His colorblind wishes have come true: no one considers him a Latino owner anymore. The Latinos never kissed it nor the Halos. Everyone considers him a bad owner, period.

So what happened?

Everyone points to 2012 as the beginning of the end. It was then that he signed a 10-year contract with St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols, as the star’s career began to decline. Instead of learning his lesson, Moreno doubled down and continued to sign former players like Josh Hamilton, Tim Lincecum and Anthony Rendon. None succeeded.

Arte Moreno, on the left, presents Albert Pujols in 2011 during a press conference in front of the Angel Stadium.

(Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

2012 was also the year downtown Anaheim burned down following protests against police brutality. The mini-riots exposed the inequalities of the Latino-majority city to the world and showed that a civic leader was desperately needed to step up and offer hope.

This leader could have been Moreno. He never said a word. Instead, he began searching for a new stadium under threat of moving the Halos, a move that upended Anaheim politics.

In 2013, the city council approved a deal that would lease the parking lots around Angel Stadium to Moreno for a dollar a year while allowing him to keep all revenue from whatever he decided to develop – ostensibly to fund construction. of a new baseball stadium. Citizen uproar ended that deal, but keeping the Angels in Anaheim became a campaign board over which Republican board members hoisted their sails — and into which Moreno cynically blew hot air.

In 2019, a new council agreed to sell Angel Stadium and its surrounding parking lots to a company owned by Moreno for a whopping $150 million in cash and promises by Moreno to build affordable housing and a park. The case was so shady that California Atty. General Rob Bonta fined Anaheim $96 million earlier this year for violating the state’s public land use law, while an Orange County grand jury report found lambasted the council for “treason”.[ing] its constituents. »

As a fitting coda, the FBI announced a massive investigation earlier this summer alleging that a “cabal” was secretly running Anaheim and using its influence to get the city council to rush into the sale of Angel Stadium. It has already led to the resignation of Mayor Harry Sidhu, who, according to an FBI affidavit, passed on secret information to the angels and approached an unnamed team leader for an illegal $1 million campaign donation. The board then voted to cancel the Angel Stadium deal. True to form, Moreno’s company first pushed to sell before experiencing a rare moment of savvy and backing off.

Good riddance, Arte Moreno. You could have been someone, in an area that really needed it. Instead, you leave my beloved Anaheim in political ruins and the angels a joke. May you take your sombrero of shame as you step out of here.

Los Angeles Times

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