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Transition Should Be Smoother Than Last

Uhlich and Mead, front-office survivors of Tavares' big cutbacks under Disney, don't expect Moreno to make sweeping changes.

May 16, 2003|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

Arturo Moreno is paying $183.5 million to purchase the Angels from the Walt Disney Co., but the deal, much to the relief of current employees, does not appear to have come with an ax.

Moreno made it clear Thursday that Kevin Uhlich, senior vice president of business operations, and General Manager Bill Stoneman will keep their jobs, and that there will be no sweeping changes to the front office, a stark contrast to the fear and uncertainty that gripped the Angels when Disney bought the team from the Autry family in 1996.

"Arte's position is, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water," Uhlich said by phone from New York on Thursday after Moreno's purchase was unanimously approved by Major League Baseball owners.

"This team won the World Series last year, and we're leading all of baseball in average home attendance this season. There are things we can do to grow, and he's going to help us achieve our goals.... But there aren't going to be any major changes out of the chute."

That wasn't the case back in 1996 when Disney, led by iron-fisted executive Tony Tavares, bought a 25% share of the Angels and assumed control of the team.

Over the next year or so, while cheerleaders and Dixieland bands paraded on top of the dugouts and Disney haggled with the City of Anaheim over a stadium lease agreement that threatened to kill its deal to buy the team, every one of the 50 or so Angel front-office employees were interviewed by department heads with Disney's Mighty Ducks hockey team.

Roughly 35 of those employees, including Angel President Richard Brown, chief financial officer Ron Shirley and vice president of civic affairs Tom Seeberg, were fired, as Disney moved to consolidate the operations staffs of their baseball and hockey teams.

"It was very uncomfortable, no one had answers, there was a lot of anxiety because people didn't know what was going on," said Tim Mead, the vice president of communications who has been with the Angels for 24 years. "The deal was on, the deal was off, then it was back on. There was a sense that there would be change.

"There were a lot unknowns back then, but now, I can't think of anyone who has any anxiety. Kevin and Bill have passed the message to department heads that there will be some adjustments, but [Moreno] is going to let the people in place run the club.

"He doesn't have an entourage of people with him. No one had to interview with him. He's only talked to Kevin and Bill, and the fact that he has a trust factor with them is soothing to the other staff members."

Uhlich, the vice president of stadium operations when Disney took over, was one of the fortunate ones in 1996. He was tabbed by Tavares to head the transition team and survived the takeover, which was completed when Disney purchased the remaining interest of the team after Gene Autry's death in 1998.

"People were in limbo for a long time," said Uhlich, who has been with the Angels for 28 years. "It was pretty clear to everyone that the new model of business was to try to operate on a lean staff. Disney had a good staff running the Ducks and thought it could take it all on. Down the road, they'll even admit that was a fatal mistake.

"Tony said it was like the guppy swallowing the shark. They didn't realize how much was involved with baseball, how much went into off-season planning. We never got ahead of the game. It was something that looked good on paper, but in reality, they eventually realized they had to have separate staffs."

Disney's front-office merger created staffs filled with overworked and frazzled employees, and several executives from both teams resigned in frustration.

Tavares eventually resigned on Jan. 4, 2002. In his wake the Angels hired some 25 front-office employees, and Disney went back to running its hockey and baseball teams with separate staffs in most departments.

"The nice part about Arte [buying the Angels] is he's not coming in from a standing start -- he's had experience in the game, unlike Disney when they bought the club," Uhlich said. "Arte has been involved on the minor league and major league level, he understands the problems and nuances of baseball, and there shouldn't be that much of a learning curve.

"In that respect, he should be really good. He also has an addiction to winning. He'll operate the team like a business, but he's also very competitive, and I think the fans will love that part of him. I think this will be a good marriage. It will be a good experience for both fans and the front office."

And that could mean good things for the baseball team.

"I think anybody coming into a franchise has to be concerned with winning," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's a huge investment, a huge risk, to own a professional sports franchise.

"I would imagine [Moreno] is going to have a special interest in keeping the club as a winner. I haven't met him yet, but I'm sure he's going to have a vision for this organization. Hopefully, it's us still moving ahead in a positive direction."

Scioscia played for the Dodgers when the O'Malley family owned the team and has spent three-plus years in Anaheim managing for a corporate owner. Will there be any difference now that the Angels have gone back to family-type ownership?

"Down on the playing field, and with what we do on a daily basis, I don't know if it changes that much," Scioscia said. "If ownership will give you the opportunity to achieve and you have the talent on the field, your job is really to make sure they play to their potential and work hard. I don't know if that changes whether it's a corporation or an individual owning the team."


Staff writer Ben Bolch contributed to this story.

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