Monday, January 31, 2005

City of Anaheim Officially Nuts

In today's edition of the LA Times it was reported that the city of Anaheim is urging citizens to "support the Angels". Apparently the City Council felt this vote-of-confidence for the Halos was necessary due to the colossal success of their campaign to block the hometown baseball club from changing their name to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim instead of the more geographically specific ‘Anaheim Angels’. As a reality check for the officials there in the heart of Citrus Country the Halo Herald is proud to present a quick re-cap:

1. Angels change their name because marketing themselves as 'Anaheim' is akin to American Airlines deciding to sell tickets as Arkansas Air. Yee Haw.

2. City of Anaheim spends $200,000 + to fight the name change and is staring down the barrel at (according to the Times story) a $1,000,000 legal bill to take the Angels to trial. Result so far: nada.

3. Angels get more free publicity this off-season than when they signed Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar and Vladimir Guerrero last year. Thanks City of Anaheim!

4. Sheepish City Council, having stirred-up virtually no one (save a few angry internet bloggers and some limited-intelligence media types trying to score a quick quip at the Angels expense ---" hey, whats up with those Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- how lame!") start their public retreat by asking fans, who were going to support the team anyway, to come on out and support the boys. After all, the players had nothing to do with this "misguided marketing scheme". Oh, and we want to make sure we get Mr. Moreno's $25,000 check to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce this year!

The Chicken-Littles-of-Anaheim decried the name change as a sure sign of the coming economic apocalypse. "It's confusing" they cried. As if fans, suddenly frozen with indecision, could not find there way to Anaheim to watch a game. What it looks like is a massive case of insecurity that Orange County should be long-over. It has been decades since LA (the city) has been even remotely significant either economically or culturally when compared the entire Southern California region. The sprawling Southland, from Hollywood to Anaheim to Riverside has grown into a massive media market known outside California collectively as "Los Angeles". Sorry Anaheim, LA was here first so they get the glory of having their name represent an entire region. That's life and that's marketing.

But now the light of day is beginning to shine on the futile and costly fight the city decided to wage against their own team and they are going to start retreating. First by encouraging fans to support the team and no doubt next telling them to please NOT burn their Rally Monkeys in effigy. I wonder if they considered the possibility that Mr. Moreno may want to financially back some other candidates in their run for City Council? Or perhaps they were afraid that if the Angels were to win it all again someday they may not be able to bask in the reflected glory to prop-up their own fledgling political ambitions. The good news for all is that this story is now officially entering the final stage where the City Council will back-off (in their own bumbling and comical way) and the Angels can concentrate on winning on the diamond instead of in court.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Weaver Ready to Exchange 49er Brown & Gold for Angel Red?

Richard over at the Pearly Gates has a post that will point you to someone else who has some unnamed sources that Jared Weaver is about to officially join the Halos. 'Bout freaking time. As a Long Beach State alumni I am fairly stoked about this potential signing for both the Angels and my illustrious alma mater. Especially since the proverbial bloom is off the rose of our previous top major league alumni. The bizarre tale of Long Beach State athletics is fodder for another post (hell, probably enough for another blog). But suffice it to say that in the strange world of CSULB, Weaver not signing at all and returning to school would not have surprised me all that much. I will look forward to reading when this story becomes fact. By the way, The Dirtbags crushed Arizona State today to take two of three. Damn, wish I was there to see it.

Likely Weaver will not be seen anywhere near Anaheim until 2006 at the earliest. But many Angel fans will no doubt hope for a Prioresque rise to the majors this season. Along with that possibility is the potential for damaging a young arm unaccustomed to the workload of a major league season. Just ask Cub fans if they wish Dusty Baker had given the Prior kid a few less starts instead of seeing him pitch until his arm almost fell off in 2003 leading to an injury plagued '04. Of course some of the blame for that has to fall squarely on Prior's agent and El Diablo incarnate himself, Scott Boras. The deal that he bargained for no doubt made Baker, and the Cubs, feel like they needed immediate production from the youngster to justify his huge salary. But let's be clear, Mike Scioscia is no Dusty Baker (thank God) and protects his pitchers as much as any manager in baseball. Not to mention the fact that while Weaver will earn millions, it should not be anywhere close to Prior's $10.5 million for five seasons. The Angels have their starting five in place now and will, if needed, add another pitcher via trade or utilize arms already in-house (Scot Shields, Ervin Santana, etc) for spot starts before turning to Weaver.

In any case, the depth that Jared Weaver brings to the Angels minor league system and the hope for Halo pitching in 2006 & beyond should be enough to keep Angel fans contented until he is ready.

But it does lead one to think about who the odd man out would be should Weaver springboard through the minors and be able to make an impact with the Halos in '05.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Texas Rangers To Win it All in 2007 under Manager Rex Hudler?

Could the Texas Rangers hire Rex Hudler to be their manager in 2006 and then watch as Hud "excitedly" leads his team to their first World Series Championship? Well history would suggest that this improbable scenario is, at the very least, possible. On January 21st the Rangers extended the contract of Manager Buck Showalter in a move sure to hasten his eventual firing. You see, nothing is as certain or predictable in this world than the managing career pattern of one Mr. William Nathanial "Buck" Showalter. Here is the typical Showalter pattern for managing a baseball team:

1. Inherit underperforming team and have a mediocre first season.
2. Surprise the world with a great second season, win awards, get contract extension, blah, blah, blah.
3. Watch helplessly as the team backslides and then turns on their hard-driving, control-freak manager resulting in firing or forced evac.
4. Next season, watch that same team rebound and win the World Series under some former-broadcaster hired as their new "player friendly" manager.

Seem implausible? Exhibit A: The 1992 - 96 New York Yankees. The team that featured Don Mattingly, Paul O'Neil, Wade Boggs, a youngster named Bernie Williams and Jim Abbott when he threw a no-hitter against Cleveland in '93. Well, that team sucked. But that was the dark era for the AL East and after winning 76 games in '92 and then climbing to 88 wins and a second place finish in '93 the Yanks were due to begin their backslide. But in the strike-shortened '94 campaign the Yankees won their division with 70 wins (they were on pace for a 100 win season) before being dispatched in the first-round by Seattle. Showalter wins the 1994 Manager of the Year award. It was not until the following season that the Yankees fell back to second place with 79 wins and hard-luck Buck leaves the Big Apple. Of course, the Empire then hired former Angels broadcaster Joe Torre and won the Series in '96 (and ’98 & 2000).

Exhibit B: The 1998 - 2001 Diamondbacks. The expansion D-Backs hire Showalter as their first coach and he leads them to a 65-97 record their first year. But in year two, with the newly acquired Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre & Angel-to-be Steve Finley, Arizona shocks the world by winning 100 games and the NL West before being quickly dispatched in the first round by the Mets. The dreaded year-three backslide appears in 2000 and the D-Backs win just 85 games and fire Showalter. According to the Buck-obsessed webmaster Jeff Henn at ('All Things Buck') this was due to Showalter shepherding "a team decimated by injuries,” and poor Buck was”a victim of clubhouse backstabbing and conspiratorial drum-banging by the media in Phoenix." Yes, that Phoenix media machine is a fierce animal. Particularly after Showalter had it so easy dealing with the pussycats in New York. Of course, Arizona hires Bob Brenley and wins the Series in 2001.

So here we are in the midst of Buck's next nightmare with the 2003 - 2006 Texas Rangers. After winning 71 games in '03 the Rangers shock the baseball world by staying in contention until the last week of the '04 campaign and win 89 games. Showalter wins the 2004 Manager of the Year Award. So it would follow that the Rangers could follow the Yankees example and win the AL West in '05 before starting their inevitable backslide (the other two Showalter teams both won their divisions before the real backslide began) or they could simply follow the D-Backs on the three-year cycle and backslide this season. I suspect if it going to be one or the other the Rangers will likely win the division this year, fire Buck next season and then win it all in 2007.

What is it about Showalter that allows him to take teams to the edge of greatness before he self-destructs as a manager and some other guy gets the glory of a World Series Championship? Or in Torre’s case, several World Championships and untold millions in endorsement money. While it would be easy (and amusing) to assume Showalter was some nut-job who simply melted down just prior to achieving his life's ultimate goal, the facts do not necessarily bear that out. Both earlier managerial experiences ended badly for Buck and have led some to assume he is simply a head-strong guy with really bad timing. With the Yankees, Showalter was forced out by Steinbrenner after refusing to fire two of his coaches following an exciting first-round playoff loss to the Mariners. Let's face it, a team can only have so many detail-obsessed egomaniacs and in New York, Big George is king. So Buck, not surprisingly, loses that battle of wills and an emerging dynasty was handed over on a sliver platter to Torre.

The expansion Diamondbacks approached with an offer of carte blanche control and that appealed to Showalter's inner-Steinbrenner and D-Backs owner Jerry Colangelo probably knew his young squad would need some discipline. But as Uncle Ben wisely counseled Peter Parker "With great power comes great responsibility". Part and parcel of that responsibility for major league managers is to coddle and nurture young multi-millionaires and that was clearly not Buck's style. As Henn points out in the 'Buck' section of under 'Notable': "Showalter is known as a stern disciplinarian and strong leader and once handed out a 300-page organizational manual to the players his first year in Arizona." You know ball players just can't get enough of 300-page organizational manuals. I think we can safely draw the conclusion that Buck is not a "player's manager". Hard to imagine there might be some "clubhouse backstabbing" going on in Phoenix, what with all that light reading available.

Can the pattern be broken, with Showalter staying on as manager AND the Rangers winning? Well anything is possible but unless Showalter is able to demonstrate a heretofore unseen ability to adapt with his team it would seem highly unlikely. The reason Showalter is so successful early in his tenures probably has a lot to do with his stern disposition and strict rules. The teams that Showalter has inherited are all similar in that they were losers for a number of years (or in the D-Backs case were expected to be) and were populated by a collection of young players and veteran castoffs. Younger players respond to verbal whippings and pressure while the veterans were probably more tolerant to Buck because they either needed to hang-on and finish out their contracts or were unwanted elsewhere. Players accept the limitations set by Showalter such as no music in the clubhouse, the banning of earrings, beards goatees or laziness because they want to win. They buy-in to the program because nothing else has worked but internally they also feel that once things are turned around then they will be treated with more respect and given more liberties. But this is where Buck seems to lose his team. This unspoken contract between player and manager does not really exist, at least to Showalter, and a rift begins. He continues to press and manage the same despite the changing atmosphere of the teams’ clubhouse. Suddenly players are feeling intense pressure to perform not just from their manager but from ownership, the fans and the press. Showalter continues to push the concept of team but in the real world, players see their names singled out in print. They hear the fans getting on them, not the team as a whole. Suddenly perspectives change and bitterness erupts. But when the expectations are raised and the handling of emerging superstars transforms managers from drill instructors to quasi-diplomats, then the true abilities of a manager are revealed. The true test to Showalter's abilities was not 2004 when he was awarded Manager of the Year for taking a low-expectations ball club and making them competitive. No, the true test will come in 2005 when every other team is ready for you and expecting a battle. Where you have to cool tempers in the clubhouse when expectations are not being met and players are feeling defensive and picked-upon. When a five game losing streak has teammates questioning one another and wondering why they are putting up playing in a toxic atmosphere of intolerance from their manager when they could play for a manager like Joe Torre or Mike Scioscia. When the players start counting the days left on their contract, this is when a great manager will be revealed for bringing them back into the fold. For understanding that at some point it becomes ineffective to disillusion your players any more and a more supportive manager is what they need. This is when Buck gets fired and Rex should get by his phone.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Guerrero New Video Game Coverboy

Things appear to be going according to plan for Vladimir Guerrero. At least, his financial planner's plan. Item 1: Go to a big market team. Item 2: Win League MVP Award. Item 3: Let that endorsement jack start rolling in.

Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. announced yesterday that they have signed Vladimir Guerrero to grace the cover of their MLB 2006 videogame due to hit stores in spring 2005. Unfortunately it will be exclusively for the Playstation. I don't know if my wife will let me buy a third video game system but it's worth a shot...

Lou Merloni Is Newest Angel

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (better get use to it) announced the signing of veteran utility infielder Lou Merloni to a one-year minor league contract on January 21st. Merloni will be a non-roster invitee to Spring Training but figures to be a good bet to make the squad based on Manager Mike Scioscia's penchant for veteran depth on his bench. Last season Merloni hit .289 with 4 HR and 28 RBI in 71 games with Cleveland. His career numbers include a .273 average with 14 HR and 123 RBI.

Merloni figures to come off the bench to face lefties who he punished with a .327 average and all four of his HR's in 2004. In his career, Merloni hits .280 against southpaws. Over the past three years Merloni has enjoyed tremendous success as a pinch-hitter, racking-up a .381 average (8 for 21 with 4 BB & 5 k). Lou could also see some time at DH against lefties. Merloni is a slick-fielding utility man who played second, third and left field for the Tribe in 2004 but spent most of his time at first (42 games). The versatile player will no doubt give Mike Scioscia more options late in games should he feel the need for either a pinch-hitter or a defensive replacement for either rookie third baseman Dallas MacPherson or the occasionally erratic Chone Figgins.

Merloni also provides the Angels with some veteran leadership in the infield where only catcher Bengie Molina and first baseman Darin Erstad have started for more than one season. Though before 2004 Erstad last played first regularly in 1997 and split time between first and the outfield the following two seasons. Starting second baseman Adam Kennedy is expected to miss at least the first couple months of the season which leaves the Halos with a rookie third baseman, defacto-rookie second baseman in Chone Figgins and the newly acquired Orlando Cabrera at short. Having Merloni available to help mentor the youngsters, pinch-hit and make the occasional spot start at second and third should give Scioscia tremendous added flexibility.

But what does this mean for those other infielders hoping to make the 25-man roster? Well, for Maicer Izturis, one of the prospects acquired in the Jose Guillen deal it likely means a a prolonged stay in Salt Lake City unless he absolutely tears-it-up in Tempe this Spring. This was a destination he was probably heading for even before the Angels signed Merloni due to his inexperience. Robb Quinlan would seem to be a lock to make the big club after hitting .344 in 56 games last season before tearing an oblique muscle against Tampa Bay last August. The Quinlan/MacPherson battle for third could be far more intriguing than most fans think. If that wasn't enough, Cuban defectee and newly halo'ed Kendry Morales also plays a little third base. One of the reasons the Angels felt so comfortable letting Troy Glaus walk was that they don't just have one potential 3rd base phenom, they have three and one of them has already been, to an extent, big league tested. Casey Kotchman would also seem like a natural to backup Darin Erstad though Merloni can play there as well. That would leave Kendry Morales and Izturis as the likely odd-men out of the infield. At least early in the season and with the caveat that a great spring could earn them a spot on the big club.

The Angels also have Alberto Callaspo, a 21 year-old second baseman who hit .285 with 6 HR and 48 RBI in 135 games with AA Arkansas. He is likely slated to return to Arkansas this season. Callaspo is from Maracay, Venezuela. Apparently the Angels are trying to even things up on the roster between Dominicans and Venezuelans.

Player Note: Merloni was the player the Boston Red Sox elected to hang on to when they released SS David Eckstein in 2000, enabling the Angels to sign Eck. The circle-of-life Halo style.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Report: LA Doesn't Want Angels

Boo Freakin' Hoo. It seems the City Council of LA filed a brief in support of the Anaheim lawsuit against the Angels name change. There point of contention is that is is "improper for the Angels to use the name of a city in which they do not play or pay taxes." Yeah, certainly no precedent for that is there? Just a few names off the top of my head:

Dallas Cowboys (Irvin and soon to be Arlington)
Tampa Bay Devil Rays (St. Pete)
NY Giants (East Rutherford, NJ)
NY Jets (East Rutherford, NJ)
Washington Redskins (Landover, MD)

And who can forget those lovable losers, the LA Rams.

Get your egos in check LA, this has nothing to do with your crime-addled city. As I have written innumerable times before, it is about encompassing the entire Southland as a market and not being, as Arte Moreno put it, pigeon-holed as a small market team by a city (Anaheim) that represents less than 3% of the population of that market.

Culver City Angels? Hmmm

Noted LA Times columnist J.A. Adande sums up the Angels name change and inexplicable fan outrage in an article in today's edition of the Times by stating "there's only one way to make it all work: win". Duh. Kind of like spending $40 million on TV advertising to promote the release of Willy Wonka and then saying "well, it better be good or the advertising won't matter". Yes Mr. Obvious, I think that is a basic premise of business. The advertising can assist getting you movie patrons on opening weekend or baseball fans in April. But if the product sucks, don't look for them to return.

However, Adande does make a good point with this comment: "If Arte Moreno is going to play with the big boys and act like a big-market team, then he loses the lone privilege that comes with being small-market — the absence of pressure." The Angels have enjoyed living in the protective bubble of the OC where losing seasons are quickly forgotten when their fans' attention is breezily diverted to surfing, sunning and road rage. Not that the Dodgers have had it so tough down the freeway. I don't recall anyone calling for Dodger executive heads to roll as they endured a 15 year dry patch without a playoff victory that was finally snapped with a by going 1-4 last postseason (one more win than the Halos). Ok, maybe the villagers did mention a casual disdain for Kevin Malone but the Sheriff really was an idiot who would have been drawn and quartered New York. So Southern California is a bubble unto itself. Look what Kobe Bryant and the Lakers had to do to undermine the good name of that franchise. An alledged rape, trade of one of the best players in team history (arguably), insulting a future hall-of-famer so he can not return and insuring that their team will be a .500 club for the foreseeable future since no other NBA star players want to play with Kobe. Then you have the built-in disadvantage in that every other team in the league circles the Lakers date on their calendar in anticipation of getting their shot at Kobe. So J.A., point taken but please do not mistake So Cal for New York, Boston or St. Louis. Fans from other parts of the country continually make the mistake that those of us residing in the southwest are "bandwagoners" or "fair-weather fans" but the truth is, we have lives and options. We have a multitude of diversions on which to spend our discretionary income so the Angels, Dodgers and Padres are not just competing with one another for fans, they are competing with the beach, mountains, biking, hiking, Disneyland, Vegas, golfing and dozens of other activities that Southern California's climate affords us April - October. How does an owner insulate himself from the inevitable down years when the fans decide to Rollerblade instead of catching a ball game? They get guaranteed revenue from TV & radio contracts. This is an area where the Angels are extremely vulnerable financially and there is no quantifiable reason why.

A look at the numbers shows that very little separates the Angels in Dodgers in terms of their ability to draw fans in person and over the airwaves. Last year the Angels and Dodgers BOTH drew over 3.3 million fans (The Dodgers actually drew 112,606 more fans, but at least part of the difference can be attributed to Dodger Stadium's larger capacity of 10,950 seats over Angel Stadium) proving that two good teams can coexist and prosper in a market the size of the Southland. But as I have stated before, it is the big TV money they are after. John Carpino, Angels VP of Sales & Marketing stated in Adande's article, "More than anything, I'm trying to build a fan base throughout the area, because it really benefits my television and radio partners." True, but it also benefits you Johnny when it comes times to re-up those contracts. There are also the lucrative contracts with Fox Sports and DirecTV so fans like me can cough up over a hundred bucks a season to watch Fox Sports broadcasts of Angel games that LA fans get for free. Then they have the gall to still show the commercials despite the fact that I am paying for this. C'mon, at least show Steve Physioc picking his nose or Rex Hudler waxing poetic during the breaks. On top of that there's the $15 a month I pay to watch the Angels on the internet (for the 10% of games that DirecTV does not show). But the only way Halo management is going to demand and receive a bigger portion of the TV revenue pie is to prove that their product appeals to the 14.6 million people across Southern California and not just the 332,000 in Anaheim. It is the perception of being a large market team that is important here. The Angels and Dodgers are within 5% of one-another in both attendence and TV Ratings yet Channel 9 gives the Blue Crew $10 million annually while having offered the Angels just $5.5 per year. A name change does not solve this for the Angels but it is the first step towards branding the team across Southern California so that those the Angels must bargain with can not refer to them as "small market" and pay them accordingly.

Which brings us back to the original point, if the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim do not win and make consistant appearances in the post-season for many years to come they will not be able to build the brand and fan assoication they need to draw bigger media contracts. Likewise, fans will not care what the team is called so long as they can continue to associate themselves with a winner. Or as Carpino put it: "If you're winning, you could be the Culver City Angels".

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Angels Sign Washburn, Molina & Shields to Avoid Arbitration

Fresh on the heels of yesterday's signing of arbitration eligible outfielder Jeff DaVanon, the Angels agreed to terms with their three remaining arbitration eligible players. Here is the Angels official announcement:

The Angels agreed to terms on 2005 contracts with left-handed starter Jarrod Washburn, reliever Scot Shields and catcher Jose Molina on Tuesday.

Washburn, 30, was 11-8 with a 4.64 ERA in an injury-shortened
2004 season. His career winning percentage of .578 (67-49) is second-best in franchise history.

Shields, 29, posted an 8-2 record with four saves and a 3.33 ERA in 60 games last season. Among AL relievers, Shields ranked first in innings pitched and third in strikeouts.

Molina, 29, batted .261 with 25 RBIs in 73 games in 2004.
He set career-bests in all offensive categories and threw out an AL best 45-percent of potential basestealers.

Terms were not disclosed by the Angels.

Quick Analysis:

Washburn - I don't care what is career winning percentage is, he compiled most of those from 2000 - 2002 when he went 32-16. Since then JW has gone 21 - 23 and looked fairly shoddy doing it. If Scioscia believes Washburn can once again be an 18-6 pitcher with an ERA south of 4 then he should keep him. But if they were willing (as rumor had it) to give Washburn his outright release if they signed Matt Clement, then it does not sound like anyone is particularly high on him.

Shields - Absolutely key player if the Angels hope to repeat in the AL West. In his three years with the Angels Shields has compiled an 18-11 record with a sparkling 2.81 ERA and strikes out 2.43 batters for everyone he walks. But it is Shields versatility that makes him exceptionally valuable to the Halos. Shields can work in a set-up role, pitch long relief, short relief, close and give you an occassional spot start.

Molina (Jose) - Quality backup catcher who became Bartolo Colon's personal pitcher for awhile last season before brother Bengie made a point late in the season to catch him. Jose took advantage of his brother's injury woes last season, appearing in a career high 73 games while hitting .261 with 3 HR's, 25 rbi's and 4 stolen bases.

Molina is a quality backup backstop but how many catchers can this team carry? Until Jeff Mathis proves he has the mettle to compete in the big leagues the Angels have no choice but to keep both Molina brothers on the roster. If Jose could develop some plate dicipline he might evolve into an everyday catcher for the Angels or some other team.

Monday, January 17, 2005

DaVanon Inks One-Year-Deal for $950k is reporting that Angels reserve outfielder Jeff DaVanon avoided abritration this week by agreeing to a one-year deal with L.A. of A. reported to be worth $950,000. The deal has additional bonus money slated for DaVanon if he reaches a prescribed number of plate appearances or games played. 350 plate appearances or 110 games played earns him $30,000, 400 appearances or 120 games nets $20,000 more and if he makes it to bat 450 times or plays in 130 games then DaVanon would collect another $20,000 for a total of $70,000. Last Season DaVanon played in 108 games and hit .277 with 7 HR, 43 RBI and 17 SB.

A quality signing for the Angels that gives them some much needed proven depth at all three outfield positions where current starters include a 41-year-old, an arthritic and an MVP who could, on any given swing, torque his back into two months on the DL. In addition to DaVanon the Halos have Juan Rivera slated as the other backup outfielder and either player could step-in and start when necessary.

DaVanon missed arbitration eligibility last season by just a few days of service and was forced to play the 2004 season at just above the major league minimum. So it was fitting that DaVanon sucked it up, did not complain and now is rewarded with a 300% raise.

Friday, January 14, 2005

What a Shock, LA Times: "McCourt No Fan of Angels' Name"

In a statement only slightly more jarring than Peter Angelos' opposing the Expos move just 35 miles from Camden Yards was the LA Times article today in which Frank McCourt let it be known he preferred the team based in Orange County be known as "Anaheim Angels". With his manical Eddie Haskel smile painted across his face, McCourt stated "But I know that true Angelenos really know who their team is, and they bleed Dodger blue."

Which begs the question, does he really think the Halos are making a play to steal Dodger fans? I doubt he is quite that naive but it is amazing how he underestimates the intelligence of Southern California baseball fans. McCourt lost out in his bid to buy the Angels and had to mortgage the fillings in his teeth to pay the steep premium for the Blue Crew. For that premium he was rewarded with a $10 million local TV contract from Channel 9 after they had offered the Angels $5.5 million for essentially the same package with similar ratings in '04. Why the disparity? The only reason is that KCAL believes they can get more money from advertisers who believe the LA Dodgers have more cachet than the Anaheim Angels. It's a free-market and kudos to the Dodgers for being able to hoist that much jack from channel 9. But McCourt sees the writing on the wall. The Angels are clearly a threat, not to take away die-hard Dodger fans, but to the Dodgers inflated TV revenues. Arte Moreno's plan is now in motion and step one was the name change. It really does not matter all that much if the name even sticks, people are already associating the Angels with Los Angeles just by arguing the name. Moreno has the money to keep his team competitive for the next ten years and to market them aggressively all over Southern California. Meanwhile McCourt will keep smiling and make quotes like "The true Angelenos, the true fans, are not going to be persuaded by or alter their behavior based on some marketing campaign," Really? Then why are people spending all that money on TV advertising to fund the Dodger broadcasts if they did not think their 30 seconds might change some minds and buying habits? Wake up Frankie, you are in a high-stakes marketing game against a man who made his fortune that way. No doubt McCourt feels Los Angeles was seeded to him by virtue of the Dodgers price tag and the 'LA' on their caps. But the feisty Moreno is not content (as the Autry's and Mousketeers were) to stay safely behind the Orange Curtain, taking those wedge of fans between LA & San Diego Counties. No, Moreno & Company will be staking claim to Orange & LA counties as well as San Bernadino, Riverside and eventually San Diego.

Here in Arizona we got a first-hand peek at the type of cut-throat marketing Moreno is capable of. He put together a deal with Goodyear, a town on the western fringe of the Phoenix metro, to build a new Spring Training complex for the Angels and gave the city of Tempe notice that they would be leaving. After several months of wrangling Tempe kicked in $20 million in stadium improvements and Moreno signed a new 20 year lease. This was the equivalent of choosing Huntington Beach over Yucaipa. A no-brainer but Moreno still out-maneuvered the Tempe City Council and he will likely get the better of Anaheim as well.

Angels Scouting Report

Richard over on Pearly Gates is posting his pre-Spring Training scouting report. Pretty good stuff that I will comment more on as time permits.

He also has a pretty damn funny take on, of all things, the Democrats Southern Caucus which he caught on C-Span. Makes me wonder how bored I would have to be to (a.) Turn on C-Span and (b.) Keep from tearing a thumb ligament as I madly clicked the remote in an attempt to flee the Democrats Southern Caucus.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Diamondbacks New Host of "G-Force" Curse

Last season the Angels, in a dark alliance with Fox Sports West & Channel 9, tried desperately to compel Halo fans into accepting "G-Force" as the hip new catch-phrase in the Angel lexicon. But despite the forced enthusiasm from Steve Physioc (and rolled-eyed apathy from Rex Hudler) the titular nom de blume for the heart of the Angels batting order crumbled early as three of the four "G-Forcers" were felled by bizarre circumstances. The first "G-Man" to go down was Garrett Anderson who signed a $40 million extension, largely on the reputation of being an iron man who never missed time on the DL and then promptly came down with arthritis in his chest. When was the last time a top-flight athlete in his prime came down with arthritis? In his chest? Then Troy Glaus, the second G-Man, tore the labrum in his shoulder and despite continuing to hit well while injured, elected to have surgury that wiped out the better part of three fourths of his season. This was done ostensibly so Glaus would be available to the Angels in the post-season but likely had more to do with being healed in time to woo another team into giving him the big bucks. As it turned out, Glaus is no dummy. The third member of the G-Force almost made it the entire season. But Jose Guillen went down in flames in a late season run-in with Mike Scioscia that resulted in his suspension for the remainder of the regular season and the post-season. In hindsight it appears that Guillen may have been a silent cancer in the clubhouse all year that only festered and became visible to the public in September. That left just one member of the G-Force to escape the season unscathed, Vladimir Guererro. Not only was Guerrero unscathed, he was the American League MVP.

So what does the "new" three man G-Force of Troy Glaus, Luis Gonzalez & Shawn Green have to look forward to in 2005? If the Angels 2004 is any indication 2 of the 3 will have forgettable seasons and whoever survives will be the NL MVP. Luis Gonzalez seems the most likely D-Back to get injured early followed by Troy Glaus and his gimpy shoulder. The final G-Force member will be Shaun Green who, like Vlad Guerrerro, seemed to be the most fragile coming off an injury the season before but miraculously emerge as the league MVP come November.

But, as Dennis Miller would say, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

January Deals Being Finalized

Baseball fans in New York will be rewarded with two new superstars hitting their metropolis this week, lefty pitcher Randy Johnson is joining the Yankees while outfielder Carlos Beltran becomes a member of the crosstown Mets. In other news the Dodgers will send outfielder Shawn Green (and $10 million) to the Diamondbacks and will add right-hander Derek Lowe to their rotation that already includes a bevy of 3rd string starters including Jeff Weaver, Kaz Ishii and Odalis Perez.

Quick analysis:

Randy Johnson Deal. Yankees, obviously, get better with Johnson in the short-term. But he remains a health risk at 41 years old with virtually no cartilage in his right knee and a notoriously gimpy back. The two injuries are interrelated and Johnson has been able to manage the knee problem- and by extension, the back problem- via gel injections into his knee. Will Johnson help the Yankees repeat as AL East Champion? Yes, but not appreciably more than Javier Vasquez probably could have. Randy Johnson was purchased for one purpose and one purpose only: Beat Curt Schilling in the playoffs. Of course, if they can pitch Johnson against Johann Santana, Bartolo Colon or any other AL ace on the way, so much the better. But if RJ goes 10 - 14 with a 4.55 ERA (highly unlikely) but still beats Schilling in the ALCS, he will be worth every penny to Steinbrenner and the rest of the Yankee faithful.

Carlos Betran Deal. Statistically the Mets will be better with Betran taking over for Mike Cameron who hit a sparse .231 in 2004 but did club 30 HR's for New York. With Cameron injured until late April or May due to surgury on his left wrist, this deal fills an immediate hole. But the Mets may have to move Cameron and his $7 million annual salary (signed through '06) to free-up some cash and a likely trade partner, according to the Arizona Republic, are the Diamondbacks. After trading Steve Finley last season to the Dodgers, the D-Backs found out how valuable a defensive centerfielder is as Randy Johnson saw game after game slip away due to shoddy defense and poor run support. Cameron would seem to be a good fit for Arizona, particularly if they could sway the Mets into paying a portion of his salary.

But does this deal push the Mets past the Braves? Doesn't this happen virtually every year? Atlanta retools on the cheap and the Mets bring in some high-pricied talent and somehow Bobby Cox wins the division and the Mets are left scratching their collective heads. In my opinion Pedro Martinez + Carlos Beltran looks a whole lot like Chan Ho Park + Alex Rodriguez for the Texas Rangers circa 2000 and that did not turn out so good for Texas. Pedro seemed destined for long stays on the DL while Betran puts up big numbers in a futile bid to carry the franchise on his back. Eventually Martinez will retire and Beltran will be traded, probably to the Yankees.

Shawn Green Deal. For the money, this might be the best deal of the big three. If you consider that Green's disappointing numbers in LA ended around the All-Star Break last season when, according to sources who are suppose to know, Green was finally feeling fully recovered from a shoulder injury. If that is indeed fact and Green puts up his historically gaudy numbers at Bank One (soon to be Chase Manhattan) Ballpark then the D-Backs have added some considerable punch to their line-up with a projected three through five batting order of Troy Glaus, Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green. All three had significant injuries over the past couple of years but if this MASH unit gels and produces, the D-Backs could be back in the mix in the uber-weak NL West in 2005.

How will all this affect the Angels? Well, it makes going through New York tougher and it is hard to imagine a team that the Big Unit has been harder on than the Halos. During his stint with the Mariners he routinely shut-down the Angels and made an indelible mark in Anaheim/LAoA of fans by winning a one-game playoff for the AL West title in 1995 after the Angels folded down the stretch, blowing a 10 1/2 game lead. Sorry to bring that up, but at least I didn't say the words "Dave Henderson". Whoops. Anyway, this move was not designed to really affect the Angels unless they face the Yankees in the post-season. Then you have to hope Johnson loses his knee gel or Colon becomes the dominant pitcher we glimpsed on occassion last season.

Beltran stays out of the AL so that is a good thing and the Green deal also has no affect unless you have a vivid imagine that pits either the Mets or D-Backs against the Angels in the World Series.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Big Fish by Any Other Name...

For his part, Tim Salmon apparently could care less what the major league team that plays in Anaheim calls itself so long as they remain 'The Angels'. In an LA Times article, Salmon makes the point "From Arte's standpoint, if he feels he can get a better TV contract and put a better product on the field … as a fan, that's what you'd want, isn't it?" Amen brother. Just put the best team possible on the field and whatever you call the team, the people will come and plunk down the bucks to see them!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Vitriol Greets Halos' New Moniker Proving Moreno is an Advertising Genius

Talk about whipping up a hornets nest. Angel fans, bloggers and beat-writers have been quick to join the Anaheim and Los Angeles City Councils in brutalizing owner Arte Moreno for changing the team name from Anaheim Angels to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. A name so clunky it makes one long for the heady days of "Edison International Field of Anaheim" or even" The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim". I must admit that at first blush I too thought the name was silly and more than a mouthful. But after seeing the flood of publicity, on the same day the Randy Johnson trade came through, I know now that Arte Moreno is an advertising genius. Remember, there is no bad publicity and the Angels name, Los Angeles and all, has been everywhere from Sports Center to local news to national radio programs. Everyone has an opinion on this and whether you love the name or hate it, you are talking about it and the team. That is exactly what Moreno had in mind. Since so many stupid people seem to be coming out of the woodwork on this issue, let me hit a few quick points.

1. For those of you out there calling Moreno an idiot, how many millions of dollars have you earned in the advertising business? Yeah, I thought so. I know he earned his fortune in billboards but last time I checked, that was advertising. Make your peace with the fact that for most people out there, Moreno is smarter than you.

2. Hey LA City Council, shut the hell up. Don't you worthless politicians have anything better to do than write resolutions condemning what a baseball team in Anaheim calls itself? If you really want to be proactive why did you allow the Clippers into LA in the first place? Where was your hysteria when the Rams moved to Anaheim and continued to call themselves the LA Rams? I am sure the NFL is taking careful notes on how you treat a winning sports franchise that would ENHANCE your city's lousy image. 'What, the AL West Division Champions want to associate with LA? Never!' We all know the Angels could care less about the city of Los Angeles per se, it is the larger multi-county area known as 'the Southland' whose media base that Moreno and the Angels crave. Los Angeles is bigger than one city or even one county, particularly from an advertising point-of-view.

3. Hey Anaheim City Council, are you trying to see if you can force a second major sports team to bolt town? Face it, Anaheim sucks as a name to associate with. Even Disney refuses to utilize the Anaheim name whenever they can avoid it. Disneyland Park CALIFORNIA (not Anaheim) is the preferred name for the Happiest Place on Harbor Blvd. After decades of letting their city rot from beneath them, now the Anaheim City Council wants to protect the good name of Anaheim. The last time I checked, once you leave the hallowed halls of Disney you better have a good grasp of the Spanish language and a Taser.

4. Crybabies who think the name is too long should keep in mind that the Angels are counting on people thinking the name is too long. Fans will shorten it to "LA" and the old-style LA (with a halo over the A) caps will become the rage. Once Angel fans get over themselves and realize they can severely irritate Dodger fans simply by saying "LA Angels" they will take to the name with wild abandon.

5. To the "geographically confused" who think the name is far too complex, I must ask if you workout at LA Fitness in Phoenix, is it still LA Fitness? That is SO confusing. How about LA Style hair products used in Des Moine? Oh - my - God, you are totally bending my mind!

My advice to the Halo faithful is to embrace the name as it seems to really irritate everybody else and that can be a very good thing. The more counter-culture something is the quicker it will be embraced. First by surfers, gang-bangers and the those strange kids who dress all in black, but eventually the masses. Just like Raiders gear, OP cord shorts and the NBA. Tell the kids its bad for them and they will run with it. Don't think so? How much free publicity have the Angels gotten in the first two days? Court dates? Bring 'em on -- more pub on Court TV. Enraged politicians? Always good for a sound bite on the news. Of course, if the Angels don't win then all bets are off. People still want to associate with a winner and with the noted exception of the Chicago Cubs, winning equals profit. Will the Angels win in '05? More on that tomorrow.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Giant Egos Ravaging Northeast

With the Johnson/Vasquez trade dominating all baseball headlines it has made for some interesting reading. Reading the quote from the blow-hards in New York and Boston, you would think that this trade affects only their two teams --- and the Red Sox are not even involved. Yet a headline on was entitled Red Sox React to Unit Trade where it quickly becomes apparent to the reader that the World Series title will go to either the Yankees or BoSox. Most of us have known for years that sports writers, and baseball writers in particular, have a massive east-coast bias. Everything is reported through the prism of how it affects, in order, The Yankees, Red Sox or Mets. Then comes everyone else with the Angels generally referred to as "that aberration from 2002".

Now don't get me wrong I sort of enjoy this pomposity and thanks to the internet we can get our team news ourselves, not having to wait for Peter Gammons to hopefully mention the Angels in a blurb somewhere. Take for instance the quote from Curt Schilling where he tries to actually paint the Red Sox as "the underdogs" in 2005. The second highest payroll in baseball and they are "underdogs". Curt, buddy, c'mon. Maybe the Sox are at a slight "disadvantage" in that their payroll is only $50 million or so over the Major League average instead of $140 million dollar gulf between the Yankees and the "average" team. No Curt, a team with a $125 million plus payroll is not an underdog for that look to the east in Milwaukee and their $27 million dollar payroll. Now that is a massive underdog.

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