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Anaheim or L.A.: Which Is Baseball's City of Angels?

November 19, 2004|Mike Anton and Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writers

For years, Inglewood was proud to be the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, while Anaheim happily hosted the Los Angeles Rams. The New York Giants and Jets play in New Jersey -- and no one seems to care.

But Arte Moreno's proposal to turn back the clock and rename his Anaheim Angels the Los Angeles Angels -- despite its nearly four decades in Orange County -- has struck a nerve, outraging many fans of the team and prompting both cities to oppose the change.

For Moreno and Anaheim, the dispute revolves around branding and economics: Moreno wants to draw from the largest possible fan base, which could translate into millions in added television revenue each year. Anaheim, with a population similar to that of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, wants to be seen as a major city, a regional hub of commerce and entertainment.

The Anaheim City Council has threatened to sue Moreno for breaching his stadium contract, which calls for the team to bear the city's name.

And in a backhanded gesture of support for Anaheim's position, the Los Angeles City Council this week approved a nonbinding resolution that only the Dodgers deserve the Los Angeles name. Los Angeles City Council President Alex Padilla on Wednesday called the move "disrespectful" and accused the Angels of trying to "capitalize upon our good name for their benefit."

But for many Orange County fans, who make up about two-thirds of the team's 22,000 season-ticket holders, the question goes deeper, touching on cultural issues that have long divided the Southland's suburbs from its behemoth central city.

While not of one mind, for many the debate taps into feelings of regional pride, a sense that Orange County is a metropolis unto itself -- and, perhaps more importantly, an age-old antipathy toward Los Angeles.

"Just about everybody I've talked to is against it," said Chuck Richter, 34, of Mission Viejo, who says he has received a flood of e-mails about the name change to his unofficial Angels fan website www.angelswin.com.

"What everyone says is: 'We're not L.A. This is Orange County.'

If anyone has conducted a poll on the subject, they've kept the results to themselves. But those whose business is assessing fan sentiment say the reaction has been highly critical. The "McDonnell-Douglas Show," which airs on Angel flagship station KSPN (710 AM), for example, gauged public opinion on Moreno's plan last week for an hour. Eighteen of the 20 people who called opposed the name change, said Dave Vassegh, the show's producer.

"One guy called in and told Moreno he could raise the beer prices again if he didn't change the name," Vassegh said.

One could look at this rift as the latest chapter in a feud dating back to 1889, when Orange County broke away from Los Angeles County over that most enduring of American complaints: taxation without adequate attention.

Los Angeles eventually grew up, became cosmopolitan, diverse, an economic powerhouse. Orange County remained the little sibling, politically conservative, slow to change, largely white. Some outsiders derided what went on behind the Orange Curtain. Many inside its folds resented that.

"We don't want to be the poor-stepchild to Los Angeles," said John Christopoulos of Rancho Santa Margarita. "We used to be, but now we've got our own economy, our own lives and we should be able to stand on our own two feet."

Disneyland put Orange County on the national map in 1955, and big-time sports arrived when Gene Autry moved his Los Angeles Angels south in 1966. Through the decades, Orange County became urbanized and demographically diverse. More recently, it has earned its own national identity with the television show "The O.C."

The Angels' World Series championship in 2002, coming after decades of disappointment, seemed to many fans an announcement of Orange County's arrival as a major league sports area. Michael I. Miyamoto, a cardiologist from Mission Viejo and an Angels season-ticket holder, said he feels as though he has been used by Moreno.

"After all the tough times, they finally have some success, win a World Series and have an MVP, and now they want to go big-time because Los Angeles has more mass appeal?" Miyamoto, 38, said. "They're going Hollywood. It's sort of like a struggling young actor who dumps his first wife after he becomes famous and then marries a glamorous model."

But even the beloved Autry -- who, like Moreno, was a shrewd marketer -- had no interest in his Angels bearing the name of the city in which it plays. When he moved the team from Los Angeles to Orange County, he called it the California Angels; Anaheim civic leaders, grateful to have the team at all, sucked it up.

It took three decades -- and $30 million in city money for a 1997 stadium renovation sought by then-owner Disney -- for Anaheim to get its name on the team.

Albert Perez, a Little League director in Santa Ana and longtime Angels fan, said he is offended by Moreno's marketing strategy.

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