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Moreno engages in some frank talk

October 06, 2010|BILL PLASCHKE

The tone was strange. The words were foreign. The call to action was almost unrecognizable.

Did I really just hear what I thought I heard?

Did the owner of an underachieving Los Angeles major league baseball team just tell me that he was angry, disappointed, and would spend whatever it took to return his team to the playoffs?

"Yes," Arte Moreno said Tuesday. "That's how I feel. That's what I'll do."

At that point in the phone conversation, I was so disoriented, I fanned myself with a large wad of Dodger divorce papers, wiped my brow with Dodger Stadium rent checks, and briefly rested my head upon a padded Dodger Dream Foundation salary.

Then I got back on the line with the owner of the Angels.

"If you want to continue to perform at the highest level, you have to keep building the business," Moreno said. "And that's what I intend to do."

So that's what competitive integrity sounds like. So that's how the steward of a public trust behaves.

"We know where our weaknesses are, we know where we are thin, we know where we have to go to market," Moreno said. "It's going to cost money, but our fans need to know what we're committed to winning."

So at the end of this lost season, apparently all is not lost. Into the wake of Dodgers owner Frank McCourt's spectacular summer embarrassment has stepped Moreno, whose team finished the year with an identical record but a far different mission statement.

While McCourt fights to legally keep the Dodgers while refusing to comment on their play, Moreno steps forward to be accountable.

While McCourt's lieutenant Ned Colletti faces the media with no answers about how much money he can spend, Moreno steps forward to promise to spend whatever is necessary.

Oh, yeah, and he is now also on record saying that absurdly cheap promotion of four tickets, four hot dogs and four sodas for $44 is coming back.

"I love that thing," he said. "Because our fans love that thing."

After a season finale in which McCourt was loudly booed by his fans, Moreno is showing why he is continually cheered.

The similarities in the two owners' on-field accomplishments are eerie. But the difference in their behavior, accounting for the difference in their perception, is astounding.

Both the Angels and Dodgers finished at 80-82 this year. In seven full years for both owners, Moreno has led his team to one more playoff berth -- 5-4 -- but both teams have appeared in two league championship series and neither has advanced to a World Series.

The owners have been pretty comparable. Yet there has been no comparison at all.

Since his odd financial treatment of the team has been made public in divorce courts, McCourt's credibility has been so tattered that few fans still believe he is trying to win. However, seemingly everyone feels Moreno is trying to win, given his eighth-ranked payroll, consistent free-agent signings, excellent fan treatment, and interviews like the one he gave me Tuesday.

One guys tests our faith in the sport, while the other guy consistently restores it.

"You're not in the playoffs, you're not a happy person," Moreno said. "I just don't like losing, and we're going to make adjustments."

Those adjustments have already begun, with respected scouting director Eddie Bane being fired despite signing the likes of Jered Weaver and Kendry Morales. More changes are coming. Moreno does not sit still.

"We're trying to improve how we operate, from the baseball side," he said. "We were thin this year. We didn't have the depth we needed. Everything starts with how we draft and how we develop, and we will do a better job of that."

The Angels need an outfielder who can create runs. Moreno said he hopes to buy one. The Angels need another offensive threat, perhaps at third base or catcher. Moreno said he's on it. The Angels probably need another bullpen arm. Moreno is there.

"Championship teams develop their players like we have, we know that," he said. "But sometimes when the prospects aren't there, you have to bridge that area, and I'm willing to do that."

He said that after revenue sharing the Angels will lose money this year. Yet he said that's not going to stop him from spending it.

"The fans need to see that we are doing something," he said. "And it's not just on the field. Are the bathrooms clean? Does the women's bathroom have enough paper? Do we have enough ice?"

Do the women's bathrooms have enough paper? Did an owner of a major league team just openly wonder that?

There has been talk that Moreno spent the second half of the season unusually avoiding the media. He allows that because he was so upset, he was being very careful.

"Am I going to go down to talk to the press and say I'm mad?" he said. "I was always taught that you wash your dirty laundry at home. Yes, we want to communicate to the fans, but in this case, the fans can see what's going on."

Indeed they can, and with this view, they can be reassured. At least one baseball team in town still has a legitimate owner, and that owner still vows to keep trying, and Arte Moreno can call me any time he wants.

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bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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