By Gustavo Arrelano:
Dear Arte: Congratulations! It has been a decade since you donned a sombrero during a press conference announcing you were buying the Anaheim Angels, thereby becoming the first Latino majority owner of a professional-sports franchise. That was the last time you emphasized your Hispanic roots, insisting ever since that people treat you as a sports owner, period.
Well, you've succeeded. No one thinks of you as a Latino owner anymore; instead, we think of you as a pendejo owner. Oh, wait: That's too Mexi for you, so let's just call you a bad owner, m'kay?
Your Halos stink, on pace for a losing record and a fourth straight year without a playoff berth. The dashing CEO who once roamed Angels Stadium asking people, Ed Koch-like, how he was doing, who knew what players to sign, who confidently manned a team to such heights that Forbesnamed him baseball's best boss as recently as 2009 is gone; in his place now is a recluse in charge of a franchise named this year by Forbesas baseball's worst team for the money—and that dishonor happened before this underachieving flop of a season weighed down by the bloated contracts of past-their-prime superstars Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
In a way, Orange County should be grateful to you; after all, that fans are upset at the Angels' play on the field is a stunning accomplishment, given the Halos' tenure in Anaheim before its improbable 2002 World Series championship was one long string of laughers broken up by occasional winning seasons that ended with epic collapses. But you're now at a crossroads that will inevitably involve usted—sorry, you—screwing us over even worse than when you affixed that ridiculous "Los Angeles" in front of your team's name. Last week, the Anaheim City Council approved a motion to extend your deadline from 2016 to 2019 to decide whether you're going to keep your franchise in that city or move it away. It's also exploring a deal that would make you foot the bill for a new baseball stadium (or renovate the current one, the second-oldest in the American League after Fenway Park); in exchange, you can make like Robert Moses and lease 150 empty acres surrounding the stadium for a buck per year, keeping all tax revenue from any future developments. Oh, and also? The council is proposing to allow you to drop any references to Anaheim in the team's name.
Now, I'm not sure if this gift of public funds is your idea or the council's (more on those pendejos—and they definitely are pendejos—in a bit). But that you're even considering this exposes you once and for all for what you really are: a carpetbagger with no care for Orange County whatsoever, with loyalty only to your pocketbook. And while that puts you in the heartless realm of your fellow OC billionaire Don Bren, we don't need another Georgia Frontiere. So I write to ask: Spare us the coming will-he-or-won't-he tango and get outta here. You don't deserve us, and we sure as hell don't want you.
No one knew you, Arte, when it was announced in 2003 you had bought the Angels. All that was known about you was that you were of Mexican heritage, you were born in Tucson but made your billions in the billboard business, you wanted to drop beer prices in your first official action as owner, and you wanted to win. We liked you, liked your signing of baseball's best free agents—Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colón and Orlando Cabrera—in 2004, your first full year owning the team. And then, in the beginning of 2005, you blew away all that goodwill by insisting on renaming the team the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
That should've been our first clue of your true self, but you were able to skate through unscathed because the team on the field was a winner, logging only one losing season between 2005 and 2012 (with the only black mark a not-bad 80-82 record in 2010). Then the relish slowly started falling off the hot dog, exposing the grand sham you had constructed. It started with your insistence on signing even more free agents instead of developing a farm system—and the mercenaries you brought in were mostly laughers: Gary Matthews Jr., Hamilton and the disappointment that is Pujols, a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, sure, but one already on a downward trajectory and whose health has deteriorated so much that his season ended early this year. By acquiring Pujols, you alienated longtime center fielder Torii Hunter, whom you signed during your successful years and who left (he claims) because you suddenly became a penny-pincher; Hunter is having a career year in Detroit, by the way.
Want proof of your megalomania? Although you've stopped wandering the stadium, you emerged from your private box this year to talk to the press, insisting you're spending money because you want to win so badly. But a blistering CBS Sports piece last month blew away that charade, reporting that you had fired nearly 40 employees from across the team, have "one of the leanest game-day staffs in all of baseball" and "gouge hours" from underlings. Even worse? You make them wear those gawd-awful red polo shirts that resemble castaways from a Warehouse Shoe Sale store.
And now, you've got an opportunity to make untold riches by developing the land around Angels Stadium. Where you see a business opportunity, I see an open sore; this is land the current City Council, made up of sycophants of Orange County's Dark Lord, Curt Pringle, see as a piggy bank upon which their wholesale pillaging of city coffers can continue. You're walking into a trap; the council members want you to develop the land to make them look good, so they're making an offer you can refuse but most likely won't. By accepting it, you're going to incur the wrath of Anaheim's Latino yaktivists, who'll protest underneath those ridiculous mega-hats in front of the stadium for years to come. They already think you're a vendido because you don't make explicit overtures to them (signing a bunch of Dominicans doesn't count, in their mind) or didn't comment on your home state of Arizona's noxious Senate Bill 1070. That's fine. But to become a recipient of corporate welfare, in this day and age of a watchful public eye? Beware—beware.
Orange County doesn't need hucksters running its sports teams anymore. It wants stability from them—look across the 57 freeway, where fellow billionaire Henry Samueli has established a model NHL franchise in the Anaheim Ducks, allowing smarter minds to develop the team from within and sign free agents only when needed. So just go. Vamoose.Vaya con Dios. Anaheim will survive. Get out of the city, out of Orange County, and over to the Inland Empire or Las Vegas or some other yokel 'burb that won't mind your pendejo ass.