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Saturday, April 03, 2004

Arte, The Moment Is Now

Time to prove those Baseball Prospectus guys wrong, Arte. Time to show them you didn't squander your money on second-rate talent, time to show them that moving Ersty to 1B wasn't a mistake (it probably was, but whatever). And time to see whether your background in marketing, your enthusiasm for the game, and most importantly, your wherewithal can overcome the Angels' historic status as second-class citizens in their own market. The moment is now.
"The Dodgers have always had a strong following," Kuhl says. "I never worry about the Dodgers. I'd rather have them worry about me."

... But even in the glow of 2002 and the afterglow of 2003, the Angels sold fewer tickets than the Dodgers and attracted fewer viewers on Fox Sports Net. The cable network will pay the Dodgers four times what they pay the Angels for broadcast rights this year, perhaps the most striking example of revenue disparity. Moreno intends to close that gap by assembling a must-see team and selling it to fans and broadcast partners and corporate sponsors across Southern California.

"He's telling his prospective clients that he sees it as a major market and they ought to jump on the bandwagon," says Richard Brown, Angel president from 1990-96. "But Arte Moreno ordaining it as a major market does not make it so. The team may be a very good team, but the team doesn't change the market."

Autry, who knew broadcasting but not, in the end, baseball, certainly didn't make it happen. He bought too many washed-up stars in the 70's and 80's. The team almost, but not quite, made it to the World Series, only to be denied in heartbreaking ways.
Fernandomania did not spread across Southern California solely because the Dodgers employed an adorably pudgy Mexican pitcher who rolled his eyes toward the sky before letting go of the ball. Fernando Valenzuela won and won and won some more, the same thing Moreno plans to do.

"For me to specifically target one nationality or one ethnic group would be against the way I was brought up and the way I believe," he says. "Everybody is welcome in our park."

Which is why I think the accusations that Arte's alleged pursuit of only Hispanic players as a way of marketing the team to Hispanic Orange County is idle speculation. The real issue may be a lack of creativity in the front office. Bill Stoneman got the best free agent pitcher available without actually getting the best pitcher moved in the offseason, Javier Vazquez, then of the Expos and now of the Yankees. Vazquez is certainly Hispanic; if the team were after guys with certain surnames, why not bag him? If he could be had for injury magnet Nick Johnson and a couple of what the Yanks are pleased to call "prospects" these days, Stoneman's dealmaking skills certainly need to be called into question.
If the Angels don't win, neither will Moreno. If they don't win, Los Angeles won't care—not the fans, not the advertisers, not the broadcasters. If they don't win, he can't pay major-market salaries and turn a profit.

An MBA is not required to assess the execution of Moreno's business plan, just a glance at the standings in the sports section. Carpino is not shy about sharing the 10-year strategy.

"To be in the playoffs," he says, "and be world champions. Multiple times.

"If we do that, everything will generate positively, from the TV and demand on down. If we're strong on the field for the next 10 years, we'll be strong everywhere else."

Easier said than done, of course. But on this particular early spring day, there are reasons to be optimistic, especially when the parking lot maven on the other side of town raises parking prices before the team even plays game one. And with Vlad around, who knows what this team can do to Oakland's vaunted pitching staff.

Here's to the finding out.


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