Will Leitch will be previewing/musing on every baseball team each weekday until the start of the season. You can pre-order his book and follow him on Twitter. Today: The Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim.
Arte Moreno, one of the quieter, most important owners in Major League Baseball, bought the Anaheim Angels in 2003 for $184 million. His aim was clear from the get-go: to make the Angels the team of the greater metropolitan area. You might not like his work-around of the "have to keep Anaheim in the team name" provision — essentially, he was counting on the sporting press to be too lazy and/or pressed for space to type out the full "Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim" name in every single story, a fully safe bet — but it's difficult to argue that he isn't getting close.
That $184 million price tag seems like a lot to us, us sad peasants who didn't make hundreds of millions of dollars from freaking billboards, but the current value of the Angels, according to Forbes, is $509 million. That's the sixth most valuable franchise in all of baseball. That's two spots behind the Dodgers, at $722 million, a team purchased by Frank McCourt, a year after Moreno bought the Angels, for $355 million. That's the same Frank McCourt going through a nasty, ugly divorce that's keeping the team from spending money and making everyone wonder just how much of that $355 million McCourt could really speak for in the first place.
On the field, the Angels have reaped the benefits of investment. They've made the playoffs six of the last eight years, with only one losing season (and one World Series title) in that time. A franchise that was once known only for pain and its inability to grab a ring for Gene Autry has been turned around in a fairly short amount of time. All it needed was one guy with a plan, and plenty of cash to execute it. The Angels haven't passed the Dodgers yet ... at least not among the generation that currently has the money. But they turned it around fast. The Angels are, essentially, the Braves or the Cardinals of the American League: a class organization that competes every year, whether or not they win a World Series. The Dodgers have had some success in recent years, but it feels more perilous, less stable.
Each of our two-team metropolitan areas have clear delineations between teams: one, the most popular older brother; one the plucky but underloved younger sister. Yankees over Mets, Cubs over White Sox, Giants over A's. This has been the way we have accepted and discussed each of these teams. Obviously, every team has passionate devotees, but in each geographical location, a just-got-here, "hey, look, a baseball game, I've heard about these!" bandwagon "fan" has a clear choice they always fall back on: being a fan of the "second" team requires more effort. A good friend of mine here in New York, a Mets fan, jokes about how most of the time he goes to a bar in Manhattan during the summer, he has to ask them to turn on the Mets game; the Yankees game is usually occupying all three TVs. That's what I mean. The default team.
The default team in Los Angeles is the Dodgers. For now. But the Angels are making their move. They are succeeding. The ground can shift. All it takes is the right owner and the right approach. Who would you rather have owning your team right now: a baseball-obsessive, mustachioed Vietnam vet who has vowed to take over the city, or a Boston real estate developer with less money than everybody thought, hanging on to his half of his estate for dear life? Someday, you might have to ask someone at an LA sports bar to turn on the Dodgers game.