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Honor Thy Father | Arte Moreno/FATHER: Arturo Moreno
Sr.

Generosity and work ethic were the gifts that helped turn his son into a billionaire owner

Father's Day might be just another holiday for some, but John Wooden, Vin Scully, Anita DeFrantz and Arte Moreno all were strongly influenced by their dads. Here, they recall the men who helped make them what they became.

June 18, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Years before Arte Moreno became a baseball owner, his dad acted like one.

The late Arturo Moreno, who ran a modest print shop and raised 11 children in a two-bedroom house in Tucson, kept such close tabs on his favorite teams, it was as if he had a stake in them.

"He walked around with the box scores in his hand," his son recalled. "He always knew who was doing what, who pitched, who made the errors, who was doing a crummy job."

The elder Moreno died at 89 eight years ago, so he wasn't around to see his oldest son and namesake buy the Angels in 2003, becoming the first Mexican American to own a U.S. major league sports franchise. Yet, while Arte was building his billboard-advertising empire, one that eventually made him a billionaire, father and son kept in touch daily.

They didn't always see eye to eye. Arte was a child of the '60s, a Vietnam veteran who called his dad "the Mexican Archie Bunker." The elder Moreno, his family joked, was ambidextrous -- he could drink a beer or work the TV remote with each hand.

"His big exercise every day was to go out and pick up the sports page off the lawn," Arte said. "Sometimes, he'd get the mail."

Moreno said it was his mother, Mary, who never took a break. She never had that luxury, not in a house so cramped that the five boys slept in two bunk beds on an enclosed porch so that the six daughters were able to sleep inside.

"In a Mexican family, the dad's king," Moreno said. "Everybody else sort of does the work. I used to always say my dad was on full-ride scholarship. My mom did everything for him."

Only later did the younger Moreno begin to appreciate what his dad had taught him. Arturo Moreno was a generous man, refusing to charge when he printed the church bulletin, for instance, or wedding invitations for family friends. A strict father, he packed all 11 kids in the station wagon for church every Sunday, and insisted that when they did a job, they did it well. The Morenos also insisted that their children speak English at home.

"I always felt I was just a little step ahead in school of my friends that really struggled with the language," Moreno said.

Arte, now 346th on Forbes magazine's list of the 400 richest Americans, learned to work sweeping the floor of his father's shop.

Arturo Elias Moreno -- his son is Arturo Ricardo Moreno -- was a first-generation American born in Tucson, where his father owned the city's Spanish-language newspaper.

He was one of five children, and he played some semipro baseball in the early 1900s before taking over his father's business. It was a proud living, though meager.

He was a bachelor until his mid-30s, when he met Mary, a 25-year-old widow with a young daughter. Arturo and Mary were married, and had 10 more children, some less than a year apart.

"We had one in every grade," said Arte. "So if I was in eighth grade, someone was in seventh, sixth, fifth, fourth, all the way down."

The family has stayed close. When Mary died unexpectedly of diabetes complications about a decade ago -- "She went on a walk, sat down on a bench and basically fell asleep," Arte said -- the daughters took care of Arturo for the last few years of his life.

During those years, Arte and his dad grew even closer. Every night, as he drove home from work, Arte called Arturo just to chat about the day. They went to ballgames and to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. They dissected the game, debated the merits of players, made up for the time they'd lost butting heads during Arte's teenage years.

Now, Moreno treasures those memories.

"I tell my friends all the time, that if you've got an extra hour with your dad, to sit down and grab a beer or talk about baseball or whatever, take it," he said. "Because one day you'll wish you had that extra hour."

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