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Anesis and the L.A. Angels

January 29, 2006|John Thorn | JOHN THORN is the author, most recently, of "Treasures of the Baseball Hall of Fame" and editor of "Total Baseball."

I AM A BASEBALL historian, an occupation that, by custom and usage, is not generally accepted by those whose professions are either baseball or history. Nevertheless, this month I was called to testify as an expert witness in Orange County at the behest of the city of Anaheim in its suit against Angels Baseball, which owns the team known since last year as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

I had been thinking about the subject for a while, even before I was asked to testify, and I had found myself preoccupied with the question of how sports teams had come by their names. In thinking about it, I naturally started with my hometown's teams.

In New York baseball, the Highlanders became the Yankees and the Gothams became the Giants. The Mets were named for the Metropolitans, a baseball club name going all the way back to 1857. Brooklyn's Trolley Dodgers of 1883 (so named because fans crossing from the trolley to the ballpark had to be watchful for cars arriving by intersecting lines) became Superbas and then Robins and then switched back to Dodgers. What the Dodgers have been dodging in Los Angeles since their arrival in 1958 is unclear to me.

Now, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have sidled up to the Dodgers with a dizzying construction, a linguistic conundrum that leaves one scratching one's head. Is it merely clumsy and oxymoronic? If so, then English teachers should be the ones up in arms, not the city of Anaheim. Or is it a devilishly clever coinage that, by anticipating media behavior, secures for the Angel baseball club a new home designation of Los Angeles while depriving Anaheim of rights it believes it bargained for in good faith? Those are issues for trial.

The owner of the team formerly known as the Anaheim Angels, Arte Moreno, has revealed himself to be not only a shrewd businessman but a linguistic strategist of the first order. By adding "Los Angeles" to the elements already in the name -- Anaheim and Angels -- he may surf on the presumed benefits of attaching to a larger metropolitan area, with a presumably more lucrative media profile.

The official team position on the new name is that it reflects the large radius from which it draws fans. Furthermore, it has been suggested in the media that the name honors the team's roots because the expansion franchise commenced play in 1961 in the ballpark of the former Pacific Coast League Los Angeles Angels. But the franchise has been located in Anaheim since 1966.

An equivalent "honoring" of a vacated city might be the "Brooklyn Dodgers of Los Angeles." And even that name might not be as mystifying as the Los Angeles Lakers' honoring of Minnesota, the "land of 10,000 lakes," or the Utah Jazz honoring New Orleans.

By bumping "Anaheim" to the caboose position of their new name, the Angels appear to have brilliantly anticipated that the media would inevitably truncate the team's cognomen to "Los Angeles Angels." This has already happened. Short team nicknames such as Yanks or Sox or Cubs or Bums were born a century ago largely of headline writers' desperation to squeeze character count. Things may not have changed much. "Los Angeles Angels" and "LAA" were commonly seen last season where one formerly saw "Anaheim Angels" and "ANA."

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim appeared to be a new species of naming, not inadvertently redundant: the packing of a term with so much information that editors could be counted on to trim, with the cut coming from the end.

I ran through my whole list of rhetorical devices, from alliteration to zeugma, and could find nothing that quite fit the Moreno Stratagem. Oxymoron came close, but a subterranean level of common sense or humor is discernible in "jumbo shrimp" or "adult male" that is not evident in "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim."

And then I found it. Anesis: a figure of addition that occurs when a concluding sentence, clause or phrase is added to a statement that purposely diminishes the effect of what has been previously stated. A neat example of the device is the 1925 Rodgers and Hart lyric, "We'll have Manhattan ... the Bronx and Staten Island too."

Does attaching a new city to a ball club that hasn't moved out of its old one confer a new reality upon it? Abraham Lincoln once was asked, "If we called a dog's tail a leg, how many legs would a dog have?" His reply: "Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."

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