Pennies From Heaven By spending many of his millions on prime free agents, new Anaheim owner Arte Moreno hopes to turn L.A. into the City of his Angels

February 09, 2004

When the Anaheim Angels were part of the vast empire of the Walt
Disney Co., the team was a mere cog in the corporate machine, so
much so that some Angels employees reportedly liked to joke that
the franchise was just a pimple on Dumbo's, uh, derriere. For
most of their 43-year history (seven of them as a Disney
property), the Angels have had only slightly more impact on the
Southern California scene, their 2002 World Series championship
notwithstanding. Most baseball fans in the Los Angeles area have
bled Dodger Blue, not Angel.... That's just it--who even knew
what color an Angels fan was supposed to bleed?

These days the dominant hue in Anaheim is green. The Angels'
deep-pocketed new owner, billboard mogul Arte Moreno, has shelled
out plenty of it in his first off-season at the helm, landing
five free agents for $146.3 million, tops in the majors and
nearly as much as the $183.5 million he spent to purchase the
team last May. During a winter in which most teams are watching
their pennies, the Angels' shopping spree has raised eyebrows
around the major leagues and made it clear that the Dodgers have
a serious competitor for the hearts--and wallets--of fans in
SoCal (page 60).

First, Moreno, 57, authorized the signings of two
front-of-the-rotation free-agent starters--righthanders Bartolo
Colon (four years, $51 million) and Kelvim Escobar (three years,
$18.75 million)--and then green-lighted the signing of a big bat,
outfielder Jose Guillen (two years, $6 million). But that was all
a warm-up to his headline move--the Jan. 12 signing of free-agent
outfielder Vladimir Guerrero for $70 million over five years.
(Two days later the Angels added third baseman Shane Halter for
one year at $575,000.) "I wouldn't put us in the Yankees'
category," closer Troy Percival says of the spending spree. "But
you know that other owners and G.M.'s must be looking at what
we've done and are saying, 'Whoa, a high roller just sat down at
the table.'"

According to Moreno, some executives may have far less
complimentary things to say--privately, at least--about his
market-inflating moves. As he prepared for an owners meeting in
Arizona after the Guerrero signing, Moreno said that colleagues
who are unable or unwilling to pay similarly big bucks aren't
thrilled with his sudden spending. "I'm going to look like Custer
with a bunch of arrows in my back," he told the Los Angeles
Times. "I mean, what would the reaction have been when people
learned I had Vladimir Guerrero in my hands and let him go? I've
got to live with my fans and writers. It won't be the last time
I'll be beat down by my peers."

In the face of such dynamic deals by their neighbor, it's hard
for the Dodgers, who are under new ownership themselves after
real estate developer Frank McCourt's $430 million bid was
approved last week, to trumpet the signing of Bubba Trammell. But
Moreno, who grew up in Tucson listening to Vin Scully's radio
broadcasts of Dodgers games, clearly has more in mind than just
sticking it to his local rival. He's trying to spend money to
make money, hoping to raise his team's profile and thereby expand
its fan base and increase its revenue, particularly in its
television and radio deals. "He has an amazing business sense,
which is why everything he touches turns a profit," says Dave
Baggott, the former general manager of the Salt Lake City
Trappers, a minor league team of which Moreno was a co-owner from
1986 through '92. "He obviously knows how to take a business and
make it grow."

Putting a better product on the field than the team that finished
77-85 and third in the American League West last year is the most
important aspect of the Angels' plan, but Moreno also has enough
of the huckster in him to find other ways to grab the attention
of the public and the media. One of his first acts as owner was
to lower ballpark beer prices across the board--the high-end,
imported stuff dropped from $8.50 to a less exorbitant
$6.75--which might have been a blatant public relations move, but
one that bought him instant goodwill from fans. He also had
manager Mike Scioscia, general manager Bill Stoneman and
since-departed V.P. Kevin Uhlich appear in red-and-silver
sombreros when his purchase of the team was officially announced.
Goodbye, boring press conference. Hello, major photo op.

Moreno is more than willing to bang the drum for his team, but
he's far less interested in self-promotion. When he walks around
the ballpark during games he's looking for fan feedback, not
chasing celebrity. Now that the first wave of media attention
following his purchase of the team has passed, Moreno prefers to
keep a low public profile, according to the Angels'
communications department. Toward that end he has declined
several media requests in recent months, including one from SI to
be interviewed for this article. "He's recently taken the stance
that he would rather have the focus on the team and not on
himself," says Tim Mead, the Angels' vice president of
communications.

Although he has stressed that he's not targeting a particular
demographic, Moreno, a fourth-generation Mexican-American, is
baseball's first Latino majority owner, and his ethnicity will
surely help him connect with the Latin segment of Southern
California's potential fan base. (There are an estimated 6.5
million Hispanics in the L.A. area.) Among his plans: to have
more Angels games broadcast on Spanish-language television. His
heritage gave him an edge in his dealings with the four big free
agents, all of whom are Latin. (Colon, Guerrero and Guillen are
from the Dominican Republic, and Escobar is Venezuelan.) When
Colon was weighing offers from various clubs, Moreno was the only
owner who called and made his pitch in Colon's native Spanish.
The owner also translated for Guerrero at the press conference
announcing his signing. "There were many factors that led to
Vladimir's signing," says Fernando Cuza, one of Guerrero's
agents. "The presence of an owner who can help make him
comfortable in terms of language and culture was certainly one of
those factors."

While Moreno has spread his money around in a manner that has
drawn comparisons with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, the
similarity between the two men seems to end at the checkbook. The
only reason Moreno would abruptly fire an employee is for
refusing to call him Arte instead of his given name, Arturo, or
Mr. Moreno. He is by all accounts as down-to-earth as a
billionaire can be. The oldest of 11 children, Moreno is a
Vietnam veteran who worked his way up from billboard salesman to
co-owner of Phoenix-based Outdoor Systems, a small billboard
company that he and partner Bill Levine built up and eventually
sold to Infinity Broadcasting/CBS in 1999 for $8.3 billion. He
was on Forbes magazine's list of the 400 wealthiest Americans in
2003, with an estimated net worth of $1 billion.

It was that bankroll that allowed Anaheim to move so quickly and
decisively on the free-agent market. Unlike many other front
offices, the Angels' does not have to work through a corporate
hierarchy, just Moreno. When one of Guerrero's agents, Pat
Rooney, invited Anaheim to bid on his client, Stoneman submitted
an offer the next day, and the deal was done a day later. "I said
to Arte, 'This is a really special player who would change our
lineup,'" says Stoneman. "Arte said, 'If you want to go for it,
go for it.' Simple as that."

The only remaining question is, Did the Angels spend their money
wisely? Colon is a power pitcher with an ace's stuff, but his
15-13 record and 3.87 ERA with the Chicago White Sox last year
weren't ace's numbers. Some teams reportedly shied away from him
because of concerns about his weight. Scioscia rates Escobar's
arm as the best on the staff and believes he's on the verge of a
breakout year, but in his seven major league seasons he has never
been much better than a .500 pitcher. Guillen is coming off a
career year (.311, 31 home runs, 86 RBIs), but the Reds weren't
crazy about his hotheaded demeanor before they traded him to the
Oakland A's in July. Guerrero, a cannon-armed rightfielder, is
one of the best all-around players in baseball--when healthy. A
herniated disk forced him to miss 48 games last season, and
although he still hit .330 with 25 homers and 79 RBIs, that was
the main reason he stayed on the free-agent market as long as he
did.

"The guy I question the most is Colon," says one American League
scout. "He's getting ace money, but he hasn't really shown
himself to be a consistent Number 1 starter. Guerrero is a
gamble, but it's one worth taking. If his back holds up, he's
worth every penny, but that's a big if. You'd have to make them
favorites to win the American League West, but it's not hard to
see how it could all fall apart."

The Angels are thinking more about how nicely it could all fit
together. All-Star leftfielder Garret Anderson will shift to
center to make room for Guillen, and with Guerrero in right,
Anaheim will have arguably the most potent outfield in the
league. Darin Erstad will move from centerfield to first base,
replacing Scott Spiezio, who signed with Seattle as a free agent.
With Colon and Escobar joining Jarrod Washburn, Ramon Ortiz, John
Lackey and Aaron Sele, the Angels have an abundance of starting
pitchers, which gives them the flexibility to make a deal if
necessary.

Anaheim could also swing a trade to reduce its payroll, which is
projected to be $110 million this season, $31 million more than
last year's and about $10 million over what Moreno had
targeted--not that he seems to mind. "He told me that it would be
O.K. to go north of what we had planned," Stoneman says. The
Angels appear to be headed in the same direction.

COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS BY TOM NICK COCOTOS/ PHOTOS IN COMPOSITES: AP (3); GETTY IMAGES (3); ICON/SMI (2); ROBERT BECK ARTE OF THE DEAL By raising the payroll and lowering beer prices, Moreno has made himself an instant fan favorite.

"I said to Arte, 'This is a really special player who would
CHANGE OUR LINEUP,'" says Stoneman. "Arte said, 'If you want to
go for it, go for it.' Simple as that."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
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