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Arte Moreno takes pulse of Angels fans and gets it racing

BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Signing Pujols isn't about money to the Angels' owner, it's about winning and excitement.

December 10, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
  • Angels owner Arte Moreno and newly acquired slugger Albert Pujols field questions from the media during a news conference on Saturday at Angel Stadium.
Angels owner Arte Moreno and newly acquired slugger Albert Pujols field… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

The boss was calling. John Carpino, the Angels' president, picked up.

Arte Moreno's question: What would you think about us signing Albert Pujols?

This was a few days before Thanksgiving. Carpino caught his breath, then asked Moreno for a couple of hours to run the numbers. The Angels never had signed a guy for $100 million. Pujols would cost more than twice as much.

"No," Moreno said. "What do you think our fans would think?"

That's a no-brainer. The Angels were in it to win it.

"I'm a marketing guy," Moreno said Saturday, after the Angels unwrapped Pujols before a crowd estimated at 4,200 at Angel Stadium. "I just thought, 'What does it mean to our fans to bring a player of this caliber here?'

"That's when all of a sudden, all of your objectivity and budgets and everything go out the window, and you start saying, 'Can you really get this player?' "

Moreno has owned the Angels for nine seasons, most of them pretty good. Yet he never had won a bidding war for a free agent, and his team never has won a World Series. If one leads to the other, why not?

This is not about hurting the feelings of other owners, some of whom feel betrayed because Moreno reportedly criticized baseball's free spenders during the collective bargaining negotiations.

Let's be serious. If Moreno didn't spend $254 million on Pujols, would that keep the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox from spending in the future, and from beating the Angels in October?

"Basically, we have no debt on the team," Moreno said. "Our revenue streams are good. We can afford to make this deal."

The Angels have a new television deal with Fox, a 17-year extension that guarantees them between $2 billion and $2.5 billion. The Angels also spoke with Time Warner Cable about what could have been a more lucrative contract.

The Dodgers have $599 million in debt, their investment banker testified Thursday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. They will get a new owner soon, and a massive television deal of their own.

Yet Moreno did not sign Pujols in a preemptive strike against the revival of the Dodgers, or in another bid to capture the hearts and wallets of Los Angeles.

The mayor honored with a front-row seat at Saturday's news conference? The mayor of Anaheim.

The Boys & Girls Club to which Moreno donated $1 million, with no announcement? The one in Anaheim.

"Obviously, I've had my battles about names," Moreno said. "That's business. But the reality is, we do a lot of stuff in the community, and we don't try to honk our horn about it."

The Angels don't need billboards on every corner in L.A. any more. They have sold 3 million tickets every year since Moreno got here. They outdrew the Dodgers last year.

"As you guys have let everybody know about a million times," Moreno said to reporters Saturday, "we didn't make the playoffs."

They never dethroned the Dodgers because they never got to the World Series. In the eight years in which Moreno owned the Angels and Frank McCourt owned the Dodgers, each team went to the league championship series twice, and no further.

The Angels are well aware that Pujols will be 41 in the last year of the contract, and that his performance is likely to decline. If they could have signed him for five years, they would have.

When the Angels traded for Vernon Wells last winter, they heard all about how the $70 million they took on would restrict their financial flexibility. The trade was a disaster on the field, but it did not stop Moreno from subsequently spending $416.5 million on Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver.

This isn't about bang for the buck. This is about the World Series.

The money should take care of itself. By 2016, when the Fox extension fully kicks in, the Angels should be well on their way to a new ballpark, or a freshly renovated one. The cost of a World Series flag there? Priceless.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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