Party's Just Getting Started (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday July 10, 2007 11:58AM; Updated: Tuesday July 10, 2007 11:58AM
A manager who makes big leaguers run laps? An owner who cuts beer prices and who routinely checks the cleanliness of the Angels Stadium bathrooms, each staffed by an attendant? Players hell-bent on flying from first to third instead of relying on the three-run homer? (Good thing, too: At week's end the Angels had been waiting 540 at bats since their last three-run dinger.) And a team that wins, turns a nice profit, plays in perfect weather and pays top dollar, with Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez widely rumored to be the next free agent to come under its spell? No wonder Moreno, sipping a beer and munching peanuts from a third base field box, could smile even as his club was losing 14-9 last Friday at Yankee Stadium.
"In baseball terms we're just getting this toward second base," says Moreno, 60, who in May 2003 purchased the franchise for $184 million -- or $476 million less than the Boston Red Sox had gone for only a year earlier -- and immediately began operating it as a big-market club spending big-market money. (According to Forbes, the Angels are now worth $431 million.) "This is just the start of the process."
For reasons ranging from increased revenue sharing and a crackdown on performance-enhancing drugs, the game has changed in this century. Few teams have played it better in the season's first half than the slash-and-dash Angels. Los Angeles reached the All-Star break in first place in the AL West at 53-35 (the best record in franchise history after 88 games), and the team's profile bodes well for the second half.
With solid starting pitching (the 42 wins from L.A.'s rotation are second only to the Red Sox') and a balanced, creative offense reminiscent of National League baseball, the Angels can not only stay out of prolonged slumps but also marshal the preferred weaponry for postseason play. And stocked with players in or entering their prime -- shortstop Orlando Cabrera and centerfielder Gary Matthews Jr. are the oldest every-day players, at 32 -- the Angels have the look of recent champions. Only four regular players (DHs excluded) among the past five title winners were 33 or older halfway through the season: Tim Salmon, 33, of the 2002 Angels; Bill Mueller, 33, of the '04 Red Sox; and Jim Edmonds, 36, and So Taguchi, 37, of the '06 Cardinals.
"The one commodity they have that everybody wants is pitching," says an American League G.M. "But what they also have now is an owner who wants to win. I mean, really wants to win. All owners would like to win, but at the end of the day there are only about four franchises where the driving force is an owner who, from the minute he wakes up, is all about whether he wins or loses that day. I would put the Yankees, Boston, Detroit and the Angels in that class."
Arte Moreno is the oldest of 11 children, the son of a Tucson printer. As a child, Arte furtively listened to World Series games on a transistor radio in school, rooted for the Yankees and second baseman Bobby Richardson, and, until the Morenos could afford their own TV, walked to a neighbor's house to watch Game of the Week on Saturday afternoons. Moreno grew up to be a billionaire, largely through his outdoor advertising business. He purchased a minority stake in the Arizona Diamondbacks, but when he was rebuffed in his bid to turn it into the controlling interest in 2001, he turned his sights on the Anaheim Angels, purchasing them from Disney in '03.