The late commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti famously said that baseball was “designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring … blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone.”
Whenever I hear that quote, I think about the Angels and Anaheim. For 57 years, the team has treated its host city like a spittoon.
This week, ex-Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu agreed to plead guilty to federal charges stemming from a scuttled deal to sell Angel Stadium to a company owned by … Angels owner Arte Moreno. Details emerged in the plea agreement that further illuminated the questionable ties between the team and city officials.
After everything we Anaheimers have had to put up with, the Halos have finally gone too far. And we’ve put up with a lot.
When Gene Autry relocated the team from Los Angeles in 1966, he named them the California Angels, figuring Anaheim was a suburb with little national cache. Disney added the city’s name when it ran the franchise from 1996 to 2003, while dressing players in periwinkle blue uniforms that were among the ugliest ever in professional sports.
City leaders hoped for more respect when Moreno bought the Angels 20 years ago. Instead, the Tucson billionaire not only renamed them the Los Angeles Angels but cost taxpayers millions in legal fees after Anaheim unsuccessfully sued to stop the name change.
Moreno has presided over a team that hasn’t made it to the World Series under his ownership and instead has continued a terrible tradition of loading the roster with over-the-hill players, overpaid free agents, underwhelming prospects — and frequently, all three at the same time. The Angels do feature the best players in baseball, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. But they haven’t mustered a winning season in six years with the two superstars, let alone a playoff appearance.
The Angels have broken the hearts of my beloved hometown’s residents so many times that most stopped caring long ago. The squad means about as much to the average Anaheimer as Mars — that’s why you see as much Dodger blue around town as Halo red. No wonder cheers for the opposing team usually drown out those for the home nine at nearly all the games I attend.
But some of the people who ran Anaheim did everything possible to please Moreno over the past decade.
In 2013, the city council approved a plan that would allow Moreno to lease 130 acres of parking lots around Angel Stadium for just a buck a year if he put in $150 million to renovate the structure, the fourth-oldest in the major leagues.
Public uproar eventually killed that proposal, but not Moreno’s lust for a sweetheart deal. He publicly explored moving down the 5 Freeway to that grand metropolis known as Tustin, and the team heard out Long Beach officials who wanted to build a waterfront ballpark for them. In 2020, the Anaheim city council finally approved the sale of the stadium and the parking lot for $150 million in cash and $170 million in credits to build 500 units of affordable housing and a 7-acre park.
Last May, California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta asked a judge to put the stadium deal on hold in the wake of an FBI investigation into a so-called “cabal” that tried to run Anaheim. It was a moot gesture, since the city council axed the sale the day Sidhu resigned.
In a plea agreement filed Wednesday in federal court, Sidhu admitted to lying to FBI agents about not expecting to receive anything from the Angels, when secret recordings captured him saying he hoped to secure a $1-million campaign contribution if the stadium deal closed. He also admitted to destroying an email in which he provided confidential information about the city’s negotiations to a team consultant.
Let’s see what Moreno has to say about this stunning disclosure in the plea agreement — that in 2020, an Angels consultant planned to conduct a mock city council meeting with Sidhu and others to rehearse a convincing argument for the stadium deal.
It’s not clear if the rehearsal ever happened. But as part of the run-through, the Angels consultant said in an email that team officials would be “available to help develop ‘zingers,’ responses, and other points to improve performance.”
Angels spokesperson Marie Garvey didn’t deny the team’s knowledge about the plan for the mock council meeting, which in addition to Sidhu and the consultant was to include the team president, a team attorney, two other council members and the then-chief executive of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.
Garvey texted me, “It is important to note both the plea agreement along with the city’s investigation showed no evidence of any wrongdoing by the Angels organization.”
I’d have more faith that the team is squeaky clean if they hadn’t refused to cooperate with a city-funded independent investigation into Anaheim corruption. I’d have more faith if Moreno would say something to denounce the corruption that happened in the name of making him happy.
In the 20 years that Moreno has owned the Angels, Anaheim has become poorer as its leaders have done everything possible to make life easier for corporations. For instance, city officials loosened zoning restrictions in the industrial areas around Angel Stadium — which used to feature warehouses and factories that employed residents with well-paying jobs — to create a district called the Platinum Triangle.
Their hopes of turning it into a hipster district a la L.A. Live. have never materialized: businesses come and go while struggling to attract people during the off-season. New housing built in the area is mostly luxury condos and apartments, with no units designated as affordable.
Study after study has shown that sports teams rarely bring revenue to city coffers, and the Angels are no different. A 2019 investigation by the Voice of OC revealed that the city had only earned $1.9 million from Angel Stadium over a decade, due to a wonky lease that let the city collect revenue only if certain benchmarks were met in ticket and parking sales. But longstanding city policy allows council members to receive free game tickets, which they have doled out to campaign donors, friends and themselves like tokens at Chuck E. Cheese.
The Halos have become the municipal version of the One Ring from “The Lord of the Rings,” corroding the ethics and judgment of anyone who falls under their sway.
Yesterday, I drove down the 57 Freeway and saw the Big A’s halo lit up declaring an Angels win. They had beaten the Texas Rangers on the road, 2-0, powered by an Ohtani home run.
The pitching and hitting phenom is the lone bright spot in another underwhelming season, which might be Ohtani’s last with the team: he has repeatedly, publicly stated he wants to play for a winner and has no patience for rebuilding.
It’s time for Anaheim to take the same stance.
The city might have needed the Angels when residents were looking for something to rally around. We’re a big-league city now, with big-league problems. If the Angels were to leave for greener pastures, we’d have a vacant, 153-acre property that could transform Anaheim far more than a franchise that wants every break possible while doing little to deserve it.
Anaheimers: Let’s let some pretender municipality build a stadium for the Halos — a Las Vegas, an Eastvale, a Nashville — and tell Arte adiós already.