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Anaheim Relied on Unwritten Agreement

Onetime city manager testifies that former Disney sports chief Tavares 'never equivocated' from using city in team name.

January 24, 2006|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

The city of Anaheim relied on an unwritten agreement from a Disney executive in failing to insist upon lease language that would have prevented the Angels from adding Los Angeles to their name, former Anaheim city manager Jim Ruth testified Monday.

Ruth, the city's lead negotiator in the 1996 lease talks with Disney, said the two sides "never once" discussed the possibility of identifying the Angels with any place besides Anaheim. Former Disney sports chief Tony Tavares, the company's lead negotiator, is expected to offer similar testimony today.

The city claims the team's new name -- the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- violates the purpose of a lease provision requiring the team name to "include the name Anaheim therein."

Tavares "never equivocated" about featuring Anaheim in the team name, Ruth said, but demanded flexible lease language so Disney Chairman Michael Eisner could select the name Anaheim Angels or Angels of Anaheim, or drop Angels for another nickname.

But the city did not ask that the lease limit the name options accordingly, Ruth said under questioning from Angel attorney George Stephan.

No major league team ever had used a two-city name, Ruth said, and Tavares had "consistently and constantly" promised the city during negotiations of the "tremendous exposure" it would receive with its name on the team.

"After all those negotiations and all that commitment, I was willing to give him the flexibility," Ruth said. "I believed we were getting what we bargained for."

In the final month of negotiations, Disney rejected a draft restricting the team name to "Anaheim Angels," a decision Ruth called "certainly a surprise." But, in the weeks between that rejection and the City Council's approval of the lease, he said Disney generated public support for the deal by preparing and distributing a letter -- on the letterhead of former owner Gene Autry -- that included the sentence, "Disney will rename the team the Anaheim Angels."

Said Ruth: "I took that as a promise and a commitment."

However, that letter is not included in the lease. Neither, Ruth acknowledged, is a promise for the Angels to feature Anaheim or exclude other places from the team name, although he said he believes the disputed lease language "included that intent."

Stephan cited seven major objectives the city negotiators had accomplished in the lease, including retention of the Angels, preservation of development rights surrounding the stadium, renovation of the stadium without new taxes and agreement that the team would assume financial liability for ballpark operations.

"I guess they didn't get the name of the team they wanted?" Stephan asked. "That's not so bad, is it?"

Tavares, now president of the Washington Nationals, is testifying via excerpts of his deposition. Under California law, an out-of-state witness cannot be compelled to appear in person.

Eisner appears on the list of potential witnesses but is not expected to testify. His deposition was not taken, and to this point neither side has issued a subpoena for him to appear. Negotiators on both sides are scheduled to testify today and Wednesday. Angel owner Arte Moreno is expected to testify next week.

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