Good riddance to Angels owner Arte Moreno

When Arte Moreno bought the Anaheim Angels in 2003, I immediately paid attention.

It was kinda hard not to when the billboard billionaire presented with giant red sombreros emblazoned with the team’s Big A brandingthen put one on himself at his first press conference.

The massive hat was symbolic in multiple ways. It celebrated Moreno’s Mexican-American heritage and his status as the first Latino majority owner of a major professional sports franchise. It showed that Moreno was approaching his purchase not as a money man but as a fan. At that same press conference, he announced his first official decision – drop in beer prices at Angel Stadium.

His choice of hat was also a promise. On the right head a sombrero is a beautiful thing, the insignia of the heroes and heroines of Mexican song and film. The men and women who understand her story carry her weight with pride and respect.

On the wrong person, it makes the wearer look like a jester.

Moreno carried it well at first.

He signed the future Vladimir Guerrero Hall of Fame and have Bartolo Colon in 2004, while lowering ticket prices. He drew ridicule across the country for rename his team the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheimbut fans mostly forgave him because the Halos became something they had never been before – winners.

As a lifelong Anaheim native and Orange Countian who attended several Angels games each year during my teenage years but never became a bona fide fan, I watched what Moreno was creating with hope. My generation of cousins ​​grew up almost exclusively Dodgers fans because we never saw each other in the Angels. It wasn’t even necessarily a Latin thing. For us, the Dodgers were a model of success since the broadcast booth to field. Angels weren’t, and who wants to associate with losers?

But Moreno had a hell of a personal story — a Mexican kid from the Tucson neighborhood who bought a professional sports franchise, nabbed some of the game’s biggest stars (who happened to be Latinos) and made it into the national pastime. He offered something you rarely see from sports owners: inspiration. And if a Mexican could find respect in a notoriously racist place like Orange County, maybe my homeland could improve.

I started going to the stadium again as an adult and started supporting the team. Moreno was a constant presence in the stands, wandering around like former New York Mayor Ed Koch as he asked fans if he was doing a good job. The Dodgers spent their years in the desert under the owner Frank McCourt. There was a real chance that the next generation of my cousins ​​would wear Angels red instead of Dodgers blue.

And then, as quickly as Moreno became one of the best owners in baseball, he became one of the worst.

The dark side of the sombrero caught up with him.

There were hints of this turning point early on, when Moreno told my colleague Bill Shaikin that he didn’t feel responsible for helping Latinos into his rarefied world.

“I’ve always tried to open doors for anyone – male, female, black, green, brown, whatever,” he said then. “I’m not going to say, ‘I’m here now and we have to self-isolate,’ when what we’ve been trying to do in America is open the door for everyone.”

I also don’t believe in race-based affirmative action. But if you’re not going to give people a step forward, then you better bring the best. Instead, Moreno opened the doors to misfires that, like Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage, turned the team into a laughingstock.

He ignored baseball scouts and loaded the team with massive contracts for high-priced players who, unsurprisingly, underperformed. When the Halos got lucky Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani – baseball’s best and most exciting player, respectively – Moreno suddenly turned into a cheapskate and didn’t surround them with a competitive team.

As his team floundered through the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Moreno appeared with Donald Trump at a Latinos for Trump luncheon in Phoenix and told the crowd that it was “very necessary” to vote for Trump.

Even more embarrassing, Moreno allowed his front office to run increasingly ridiculous promotional events. Snuggies costumes. Retro 70s Weekend. Four distinct Ohtani memorabilia giveaways this year. On Cinco de Mayo in 2015, more than 25,000 fans set a Guinness World Record for the most people wearing a… sombrero simultaneously.

Fortunately, Moreno announced this week that he explores the sale of the Halos after nearly 20 years of ownership.

“Throughout this process,” he said via a press release, “we will continue to manage the franchise in the best interest of our fans, employees, players and business partners.”

It would be the first time in years that Moreno would put all of our interests first.

He was incredibly lucky to be a transformational owner and rather choked up, just like his team notoriously does. His colorblind wishes have come true: no one considers him a Latino owner anymore. The Latinos never kissed it nor the Halos. Everyone considers him a bad owner, period.

So what happened?

Everyone points to 2012 as the beginning of the end. It was then that he signed St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols to a 10-year contract. just when the star’s career was beginning to decline. Instead of learning his lesson, Moreno doubled down and kept signing ahead of their best players like Josh Hamilton, Tim Lincecum and Anthony Rendon. None succeeded.

Arte Moreno raises the arm of Albert Pujols in a press conference

Arte Moreno, on the left, presents Albert Pujols in 2011 during a press conference in front of the Angel Stadium.

(Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

2012 was also when downtown Anaheim burned following protests against police brutality. The mini-riots exposed the inequalities of the Latino-majority city to the world and showed that a civic leader was desperately needed to step in and offer hope.

This leader could have been Moreno. He never said a word. Instead, he began searching for a new stadium under threat of moving the Halos, a move that upended Anaheim politics.

In 2013, the city council approved a deal that would lease the parking lots around Angel Stadium to Moreno for one dollar a year. while allowing him to keep all the income from whatever he decided to develop — apparently to fund the construction of a new ballpark. Citizen uproar ended that deal, but keeping the Angels in Anaheim became a campaign board over which Republican board members hoisted their sails — and into which Moreno cynically blew hot air.

In 2019, a new board agreed to sell Angel Stadium and its surrounding parking lots to a Moreno-owned company for the whopping $150 million in cash and Moreno’s promises to build affordable housing and a park. The case was so shady that Atty from California. General Rob Bonta fined Anaheim $96 million earlier this year for violating the State Public Land Use Act, while a Orange County grand jury report lambasted council to “betray[ing] its constituents. »

As a fitting coda, the FBI announced a massive investigation earlier this summer alleging that a “cabal” secretly ruled Anaheim and used his influence to get the City Council to rush the sale of Angel Stadium. It has already led to resignation of Mayor Harry Sidhu, who, according to an FBI affidavit, passed secret information to the Angels and approached an unnamed team leader for an illegal $1 million campaign donation. The board then voted nix the angel stadium OK. True to form, Moreno’s company initially pushed for the sale before experiencing a rare moment of common sense and stepping back.

Good riddance, Arte Moreno. You could have been someone, in an area that really needed it. Instead, you leave my beloved Anaheim in political ruins and the angels a joke. May you take your sombrero of shame as you step out of here.

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