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The Inside Track | J.A. Adande

This Team Can Separate the Men From the Joys

April 13, 2002|J.A. Adande

We take time to offer a much-needed hug and a pat on the back to Angel fans.

Does anyone have it worse? Not only do they suffer, they get ridiculed.

Being an Angel fan means long waits with little reward.

Being an Angel fan means hearing ex-players, from Mo Vaughn to Damion Easley, calling you out for your lax attitude.

Being an Angel fan means sighing and admitting ... they're right.

"They're totally telling the truth," said Bill Schaeffer, a 25-year-old sitting in the fourth row behind the Angels' dugout. "We're too quiet. We need to get more into the game."

Schaeffer's gear dates two logo changes, including a T-shirt and cap with the periwinkle blue and winged A, and the "CA" from earlier in the 1990s. Shaeffer attends 20-30 games a year, a figure he gives almost apologetically.

"But I read about them all the time on the newspaper and Internet, [and follow] on radio and TV," he adds, as if he must account for the time he doesn't come to the park.

Should Angel fans need to justify themselves? Shouldn't the team have to account for itself for not giving its faithful even one trip to the World Series since its inception in 1961?

There's no need to recap every struggle over the years. All you need to know is that the first chapter of Ross Newhan's "The Anaheim Angels: A Complete History" is titled, "The Parade of Agony."

At least the Cubs, Red Sox and Indians made it to the World Series at some point in the 20th century. And Boston and Cleveland went as recently as the 1990s. Their fans are characterized as long-suffering. Angel fans are just lame.

Consider Easley's recent comments to the Detroit News.

"I came from Anaheim, where fans kind of sat on their hands," said Easley, who played for the Angels from 1992-96. "Even when you did well, it was like, 'That's great.'

"But you didn't feel like there was that community support. You never got the sense they were behind you."

Easley said he feels the support when he runs into people at the store or restaurant in Detroit.

But it isn't there at the ballpark.

The Tigers averaged only 24,016 fans a game last season and finished more than 80,000 fans behind the Angels in the attendance rankings (with one fewer home game).

In fact, 10 teams drew fewer fans than the 2,000,917 who went to Edison Field last season.

From 1982 to 1987--when the stadium seated 65,000 and in a stretch that included two division championships--the Angels drew between 2.4 million and 2.8 million fans every year.

But Newsday's Jon Heyman called Anaheim "a baseball wasteland if there ever was one."

And Vaughn moaned about how much he missed "the attitude" of the East Coast, so he went back there for less money.

I gave Seattle Mariner outfielder Mark McLemore, who played the first five years of his career in Anaheim, a chance to share his thoughts on Angel fans.

"Ooh, I would rather not go there," he said. "I would rather not go there. I'll pass on that question."

No love.

I gave season-ticket holder Greg Jacobs a chance to respond, to let those critical, evil ballplayers have it. He shrugged it off.

"It's their prerogative," Jacobs, 31, said. "They can say what they want."

He'll keep coming out to the ballpark, as he has since he was 10. He'll come regardless of how he's characterized, or how bad the team is.

"It's a great place to relax and have a beer and watch the game being played," he said.

It's their money. If all they want to do after buying their tickets is chill at the ballpark, that's fine with me.

Does anybody have it worse than the Orange County sports fan?

The Rams went to the Super Bowl before they moved to Anaheim, and became exciting champions after they moved to St. Louis. They didn't do anything to deserve better support in the last few years before they left.

The Mighty Ducks have given them one playoff run. That's it.

The Clippers teased the county by playing a few home games there every year, and fans packed the Pond, even though the team wasn't good.

But Donald Sterling wouldn't commit, and now one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA plays all its home games at Staples Center.

"We're kind of almost like second-class citizens down here," Schaeffer said.

He acknowledges, though, "There is a difference between the East Coast and the West Coast. You can see it when the Yankees are here. Their fans are more vocal than we are. We need to be that way."

But what's the price of passion? Ask Wally Joyner if he preferred to play in Anaheim or Yankee Stadium, where a knife once landed in front of him as he was running off the field.

Fans in Orange County never booed Santa Claus--or, even worse, Destiny's Child--the way they did in Philly.

Easley's Detroit fans helped usher in the era of riot "celebrations" by starting fires and overturning cars after the Tigers had won the World Series in 1984.

There are many words you could use to describe Angel fans, but "disgrace" isn't one of them.

"We might not have many of them, but the ones we do have, I think are fantastic," Angel outfielder Darin Erstad said. "There's a group of about 10,000 to 12,000 of them that are real loyal. I wish there was more, but the ones that we have are great."

Do intense fans make a difference for players?

"I've never had to be motivated by crowd noise or anything," Erstad said. "So I guess I've never even thought about that."

I guess he's in the right place.

*

J.A. Adande can be reached at: j.a.adande@latimes.com.

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