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Rivalry? You Must Be Joking

Lines of Battle

October 19, 2002|Shawn Hubler | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- The first pitch of the World Series has yet to be thrown, but the requisite zingers are flying. The mayor of Anaheim wants to see Willie Brown in mouse ears. The San Francisco Chronicle has sent a team of correspondents in search of Downtown Disney's soul.

Did they find it? Need you ask? If it wasn't clear when the Giants' manager referred to Orange County as "southern L.A.," we're getting the message: Now is the time for all good Californians to dust off their North-South fighting words.

But as the San Francisco Giants and the Anaheim Angels face off starting today, the old Norcal-versus-Socal rivalry has never felt less relevant. The jokes have been good, but real rancor has been almost impossible to muster.

"We don't have a natural rivalry with the Angels," San Francisco Mayor Brown acknowledged this week, despite a wisecrack or two about the lamentable paucity of "E-ticket rides" in his city. Asked for a comparison of the two places, he smilingly sidestepped: "I don't know enough about Anaheim."

From the moment the playoffs ended in an all-California World Series, the battle lines were said to be clear. Two Californias: Orange County conservatives versus Bay Area liberals. Tract homes versus Victorians. Surf Nazis versus Ferlinghetti. No Doubt versus Deadheads.

But as the two places strain to find hard feelings for each other, they keep tripping over their common ground: Both are international destinations. Both rely heavily on tourism, and both have paid dearly for it, post-9/11. Both are just glad, in this downer of an economy, that sports fans will be spending their World Series dollars on this coast. And to the extent that either buys into the concept of two Californias, they do so in just one way: Both are dedicated to the proposition of not being Los Angeles.

"L.A. turned in one generation from the land of dreams to the land of nightmares," said Robert K. Dornan, the colorful conservative who for 13 years represented Orange County in Congress and who now hosts a talk radio show in suburban Virginia. "People fled to Orange County to get away from the crime and the instability and the rioting.

"For four decades, Anaheim had to watch the power and the glory of the Dodgers and play second banana. With this miracle of the Angels finally getting to World Series heaven, we'd always hoped it would happen with the Dodgers. Just to say, 'You're not the big shots. We're the real Southern Californians, not stolen from Brooklyn. We're not second-class citizens.' "

When Orange County broke away from L.A.County in the late 1880s, it was, even then, because Los Angeles felt "just too big," says state librarian and USC history professor Kevin Starr. As decades passed and orange groves turned to suburbs, it remained a repository for disaffected Angelenos and anti-L.A. trash talk.

"I wouldn't go up to Los Angeles to see Jesus Christ rassle a bear," native Orange County historian Jim Sleeper said as recently as 1990. And in the last decade, Orange County has come into its own as a civic and economic power.

Anaheim, once a grape-growing co-op for German farmers, now has a population of 328,000, two major theme parks and the state's largest convention center. But the county's old sentiments still color its feelings about its northern neighbor.

"If L.A. had won the pennant, there'd have been a riot," Angels fan Marvin Hora told Associated Press as he waited to buy souvenirs at the stadium in Anaheim this week. "Here, everybody had a good time and then we went home."

San Francisco and Orange County lack that history, however, so their relationship isn't as emotional or well-defined. Theoretically, people in both places say, they know how they should feel -- as left- and right-wing hotbeds, they should loathe each other -- but they just don't.

Janice Billings, superintendent of Anaheim Union High School District and a resident of the county since the mid-1960s, said that when the city of St. Francis is mentioned, words such as "cosmopolitan" and "sophisticated" spring to mind.

Peter Buffa, the former mayor of Costa Mesa, knows the old chestnuts -- San Francisco is "either this whacked-out place run by the 'Brown brothers' -- Willie in San Francisco and Jerry in Oakland -- or Sodom by the Sea," he said, laughing. But contempt is hard to sustain because, "there are all these connections."

"The father of Jeff Kent, the Giants' second baseman, was a police lieutenant in Costa Mesa when I was mayor," he said. "Then there's the fact that the managers for both teams used to be with the Dodgers. There are all these tremendous relationships that go all over California."

And not just on sports teams. "Anyone who's in any way successful is now statewide in California," Starr points out. Tech companies in Palo Alto have clients in San Diego; developers in the Inland Empire lobby lawmakers in Sacramento.

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