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A work of Arte

Angels owner sets example with anti-drug stance

Posted: Wednesday March 14, 2007 4:56PM; Updated: Wednesday March 14, 2007 11:56PM
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Arte Moreno has owned the Angels since '03.
Arte Moreno has owned the Angels since '03.
Kirby Lee/WireImage.com
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Let's hear it for Arte Moreno, our new favorite sports owner. We've taken a liking to Moreno, not just because he reduced the exorbitant beer prices at Angels games when he bought the team a few years ago or lowered the cost of team gear at the ballpark so that parents didn't have to take out a second mortgage to buy their kid a cap. Although moves like that are more than enough to make us forgive him for saddling his club with an official name -- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- that's almost as long as this column.

No, the reason Arte Moreno is our favorite multi-millionaire is because of his common sense, hard-line stance on the cloud of drug suspicion hovering over his expensive new outfielder, Gary Matthews Jr. SI reported recently that government investigators had obtained documents showing that Matthews, who signed a five-year, $50 million contract with the Angels over the offseason, had ordered and been sent a shipment of Human Growth Hormone in 2004.

"At the appropriate time, I will address the matter," Matthews said after the report surfaced. That's usually another way of saying, "I'm going to keep my mouth shut and hope my lawyers can make this all go away." More often than not, that strategy works, but apparently not when you work for Moreno. The Angels owner has made it clear that he's not exactly thrilled at having spent a fortune on a ballplayer who may be a drug cheat, and he wants some answers. (He finally got some on Wednesday as Matthews released a statement denying the use of HGH.) Moreno says he wants this whole thing resolved by Opening Day. You get the distinct impression he's not going to put up with a long, drawn-out Barry Bonds-like drama over this.

That is why you have to love Moreno. Hardly anyone ever comes off looking good in this depressing saga of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Everyone from commissioner Bud Selig on down seems to hide behind platitudes and vague comments like Matthews'. It's as if the entire baseball world has lawyered up like a cop show suspect. But here comes Moreno, one of the few owners with the stones to actually stand up and act like a boss. He's not saying that Matthews is guilty of anything (and indeed, the outfielder hasn't been charged with any crime) but he is saying that as the man who signs the checks, he deserves an explanation. He didn't pay $50 million to run a guy out there who's going to bring negative attention to his team.

There were rumblings that Moreno was going to look into voiding the outfielder's contract. He probably doesn't have a legal leg to stand on there, and the Players Association would no doubt declare war if he tried it, but we love the sentiment, anyway. It lets Matthews know that the Angels aren't going to be one of those franchises that covers its eyes, ears and mouth at the possibility of performance-enhancing drug use by its players.

When is the last time you saw a baseball executive take this kind of a stand? It surely hasn't come from Peter Magowan and the Giants, who have been walking on eggshells around Bonds for years. We didn't hear George Steinbrenner demanding an explanation from Jason Giambi, or anyone from the Cubs organization putting the pressure on Sammy Sosa to clear up the rumors that surrounded him. Owners usually get very quiet in these situations, afraid of upsetting their million-dollar investments. There's no telling what the true story is regarding Matthews and the HGH, but one thing is clear: Baseball could use a few more Arte Morenos in the owners' suites.