Slingshot: Arte Moreno Can't Make the Angels Great Again
By 1989, my baseball allegiance belonged firmly with the California Angels. During one game that summer, before the Midsummer Classic came to town, the smell of roasted peanuts wafted through Anaheim Stadium between the intermittent roars of the crowd. A voice echoed from a loudspeaker announcing that Oakland Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley took the mound.
I knew the Angels didn't have much hope after that; Eckersley notched another save at my team's expense.
But that was the first lesson the Angels imparted to me: learn to enjoy losing. I was too young to remember the historic collapse in 1986 when Angels pitcher Donnie Moore gave up a two-run blast to Dave Henderson in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series; the Red Sox went on to defeat the Angels in seven games on their way to the World Series.
Years later, Moore died of suicide, a fate forever intertwined with his playoff performance.
My own occasion for Halo heartbreak arrived a decade later in 1995. The Angels blew a 13-game lead in the American League West to the Seattle Mariners. The two teams squared off in a tie-breaking game. Despite a strong pitching start from Mark Langston, the Angels took a late inning pounding on their way to losing 9-1.
That's as close to the playoffs as the Angels got from 1987 to 2001. Suffering sure did build character, but didn't remain unrequited for much longer. The end of the drought came with an unexpected World Series championship in 2002. I tailgated at Game 7 and joined the raucous celebration on State College Boulevard, one of the most jubilant moments in Anaheim's history.
And then came Arte Moreno, a billionaire Republican from Tucson.
Arriving in Anaheim with deep pockets, Moreno became the first Mexican-American to own a major league sports franchise when he bought the Angels from Disney. In the early goings, Moreno lowered beer prices and signed Vladimir Guerrero.
So far, so good.
But it didn't take long for Moreno to turn heel, draining all the civic pride from the World Series win by renaming the team the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, weaseling through a loophole in the 1996 stadium lease that traded millions in taxpayer subsidies for keeping the city in the team name. The Angels became a laughingstock, and, for once, it had nothing to do with their subpar play.
Still, I went to games and watched the Halos enjoy mostly winning seasons--as folks sported "We are not LA" shirts in the stands in defiance of the new owner.
Moreno didn't re-sign Vlad and soon followed with his growing penchant for flashy free agent signings that failed to return the Angels to the promised land: Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson (The trade for Vernon Wells? Let's forget that whole fiasco).
In 2013, the Angels owner's villainous reputation took a new turn. Anaheim explored a framework offering 155-acres around Angel Stadium up to Moreno to commercially develop for a buck per year rent. Negotiations dragged on; Moreno threw a tantrum by flirting with a possible move to Tustin but the Halos stayed put. Now Moreno's close to finalizing a deal giving him ownership of the stadium and the land surrounding it for $150 million, shaving off $170 million for affordable housing and seven acres of parkland.
Angel heroes from my childhood like Chuck Finley and Mark Langston appeared at AstroTurf rallies in support of the deal with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.
But even all that wasn't the nail in the coffin.
With a coronavirus pandemic raging, Moreno joined Donald Trump last week for an indoors Latinos for Trump "roundtable" rally in Phoenix, Arizona. The president did his usual car salesman hype in introducing Moreno, who had to admit the Halos stunk in a pandemic-shortened season before offering his endorsement for four more years of MAGA mania.
"It's necessary to focus on today and the future," Moreno said, "and it's very necessary to vote for President Trump."
To take the stage in front of a largely anti-masker crowd during a public health crisis is sadistic. To stump for Trump as a prominent Mexican-American even though everyday raza are dying from coronavirus at higher rates without a care from the president is to be a shameless rally monkey.
Moreno made a practice of staying mum on anything Latino-related for years but broke that spell in the worst way by becoming an all-star vendido.
The Angels of my youth taught me to stick with a team, even as the losses pile up year after year. Moreno's ownership of the Angels goes to show that winning isn't everything--that is, if the Halos ever return to the Fall Classic under his helm.
Should that occasion arrive, count this lifelong Angels fan out.
- Gabriel San Román
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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina
America found itself in the middle of a "Crockett Craze" in 1955. A catchy tune, "The Ballad of Davey Crockett," debuted on ABC's program Disneyland the year before and stuck around everyone's head when a miniseries followed. Disney's promotional machine turned the slave-owning, Indian-killing frontiersman slain at the Alamo into a merchandising phenomenon. Lalo Guerrero, the late father of Chicano Music, heard some Mexican children in his neighborhood humming the Crockett tune when he got an idea to pen "Pancho Lopez," a Spanish spinoff. Al Sherman, a Los Angeles-based record distributor, liked the song so much so that he suggested that if Guerrero recorded an English-language version, it'd be a crossover hit. Sherman was right! Guerrero's whistling intro was followed by the tall tale of Pancho Lopez, from his birth in Mexico to becoming "King of Olvera Street." "Born in Chihuahua in 1903, on a serape out under a tree," Guerrero sang, "he was so fat he could almost not see, he could eat 12 tacos when he was only three!"
The parody tune was a smash, selling more than half-a-million copies. Olvera Street made Guerrero king for a day. He performed the song during an Aug. 2, 1955 fiesta thrown in his honor at the plaza with radio disc jockeys and hundreds of adoring fans among the crowd.
But the surprise hit didn't secure the proper permissions needed to spoof the tune.
Walt Disney, himself, later called Guerrero to his Burbank office. The copyright infringement issue came up right away, but Disney offered Guerrero and his Discos Real label partners an out: split the profits from the song and no legal action would be taken.
Disney and Discos Real inked a contract that also brought a lesser known song, "Mickey Mouse Mambo," into the world. Guerrero used his share of the profits to open an East Los Angeles nightclub, ushering in a new era of his storied career.
Following last week's Slingshot on the smear campaign against Brea Olinda Unified School Board member Keri Kropke, I hit the city with a public records request of my own. Specifically, I asked for the digital audio recorder files of Sergeant Robert Haefner from the June 30 Black Lives Matter protest in Brea; Kropke attended the action where Haefner claimed she used profane language against him.
Brea's document dump of police files on Kropke included an internal memo by Captain David Dickinson outlining, in part, Haefner's allegation. It also provided audio files from ten officers, but not from Haefner. Reviewing his audio from that day could substantiate or disprove the claims of the internal memo.
Curious omission, then, no?
In response to my digging a little deeper, Lieutenant Philip Rodriguez made statements that appear false or misleading.
"The City has reviewed its files," wrote Rodriguez, "and has determined that any and all digital audio recordings from Brea Police Officers’ individual digital audio recorders, including those of Sgt. Haefner and Sgt. Celmer, obtained at the June 30 protest, were uploaded to a City dropbox site."
None of the officer files are labeled "Haefner."
"We are unaware of any specific portion of any of the recordings that accurately conform to your description," Rodriguez added. "However, it is possible that you may be able discern the specific comments and conversation you reference."
My description was just a recounting of the department's own internal memo. There's no sense in seeking a needle in a haystack, when the needle isn't in it to begin with.
I reiterated my records request once more. Sgt. Haefner's digital audio recorder files shouldn't be hard to hand over directly to me. But, so far, I've received no response.
Why? Does Brea PD have something to hide?
Lead image: From my boyhood baseball card collection / Photo by Gabriel San Roman