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Heavenly Chance for Angels

November 11, 2001

The conclusion of the season has turned the attention of the baseball world west, both off the field as well as on. As the Arizona Diamondbacks became the youngest expansion team to win a World Series, baseball owners were in Chicago considering a league contraction that indirectly could affect the future in Anaheim.

Arizona's quick rise after only four seasons of competition only emphasizes fan frustration with the Angels. In their 40 years in the league, they have never even made it to the "fall classic." But the Angels have a long association with Orange County, beginning with Gene Autry's decision to plant home plate in the middle of an orange grove in 1966. However the ownership picture shakes out in a new alignment, it is important that Orange County have a strong franchise. The Angels are one of the very few identifiable institutions, like Disneyland, that give this sprawling suburb of subdivisions, malls and office parks a sense of place and unity.

The Yankees' comeback victories in New York lifted the spirits of the city. And the Diamondbacks' come-from-behind victory to bring the city and state its first world championship gave a much younger community a cohesiveness. Orange County can use the unity and excitement that a contending team can generate.

The Walt Disney Co. and the city of Anaheim have a long relationship of mutual convenience in building the resort and entertainment industry as the crucial part the local economy. But now Disney is headed for the exit ramp, no longer interested in running the franchise. The community deserves a team ownership committed to winning and staying.

Owners last week approved a plan to drop two teams but released no details. A plan floated earlier would have the Florida Marlins' owner, John Henry, buying the Angels from the Walt Disney Co., along with the elimination of two teams, most likely the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos.

The Angels last week were proceeding as if they would continue with Disney ownership in 2002. They say they remain open to offers, but however the ownership question is resolved, the Anaheim franchise longs for certainty and commitment.

Disney's decision to buy the franchise five years ago made sense as part of a strategy to bolster its investment in Anaheim. Since that time, the opening of Disney's California Adventure has added yet another attraction to Disneyland and hockey's Mighty Ducks. Disney brought some pizazz, making a day at the park a fun experience. And the renovation of Anaheim Stadium gave Orange County the modern baseball-only facility it deserved.

But it has also been clear that Disney has primarily seen its baseball investment as a business decision, designed to shore up the entire synergy of its business interests in Orange County and Southern California. It announced that it was looking to sell the team, and made it clear that its investment had been done with a limited purpose.

Though the team has made some high-priced investments in players, it never has managed to convey a sense of serious purpose about doing what it takes to bring a winner to Anaheim.

For fans, one of the few constants in a changing picture has been that ticket prices have continued to go up. Amid the uncertainty about the ownership, the club announced this month yet another round of increases for the 2002 season. There is every reason to believe that the following of fans in Orange County and surrounding suburbs will support a strong contender.

Taking a strictly parochial view of contraction, if the Angels come out of it with new committed ownership, it would be a big plus for the team's patient followers and breathe new life into a team that season after season winds up just playing out the schedule.

What prospects for the future. New owner. New players. New life. Play ball!

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