6:30 PM PDT, May 11, 2013
CHICAGO — When the Angels got Josh Hamilton following the Dodgers' signing of Zack Greinke, owner Arte Moreno emerged from hiding, took a bow and told everyone:
"Think about how much fun it's going to be. Dodger fans and Angels fans get to argue about whose team is better, who's stronger, who's weaker.… Do you know how much fun it's going to be?"
What a blast …of hot air.
Are you having fun yet?
I began the week talking to Don Mattingly, who felt really good about the Dodgers after three straight losses to the Giants. He told everyone the Dodgers would have a really good homestand.
As I write this Saturday, the Dodgers losing eight in a row, maybe a really good homestand is one victory.
I'd be there for the Dodgers, but I thought the Angels and Mike Scioscia were worse off after opening a six-game trip against a pair of last-place teams with a loss.
So I joined the Angels to find out what's wrong with the team that so many, including Las Vegas bookmakers, picked to win the World Series.
As I made my rounds in the clubhouse Friday, the music was blaring because the Angels were on a one-game winning streak.
They had a hockey game on TV. No one was watching, of course. But everyone was in a fine mood because they weren't home to be booed.
But I wondered, are the players mad because they've played so poorly?
"No, because as competitors we know it's a long season," Albert Pujols said. "But I can see how we've given the fans and the media reason to be mad at us."
Most of the players are great guys, and they have their guaranteed money, so no worries and 120-some games yet to play.
It's good to be a baseball player.
"I can't tell you that there is anything wrong," said Howie Kendrick, and I'd like to see a show of hands from fans who disagree.
Individually, the Angels are obviously competitors; yet collectively there just doesn't seem to be much fight in them.
They lost that when Moreno chose not to keep team leader Torii Hunter.
They have had arguably the best talent in the American League West the past four seasons but are on the their way to missing the playoffs four straight years.
They get knocked down and they don't get up.
They are very much like their owner, and as they say, the fish stinks from the head down.
It's the same reason why the Clippers consistently disappoint, and why everyone is worried now about the Lakers after they had such a great owner.
We saw what happened under the stewardship, as he called it, of Frank McCourt.
We should care about who owns our sports franchises if we're going to take an interest in how their teams fare.
When criticism of Moreno started a few years ago, he buckled. He could never make it as a player and answer the media's questions after a poor performance. Three or four times a week.
When he talks now it's only to mlb.com, which allows him to speak without cross examination.
Gone are the days when Moreno was all smiles and known as the "People's Owner." He was the guy who lowered beer prices and who used to walk the Angel Stadium concourses to meet the fans.
But when was the last time he did that?
"I don't know," team spokesman Tim Mead said. "But he has, I'm sure, just not as frequently."
Moreno can't take the heat, and the same can be said of the Angels, who have wilted under the strain of expectations. Again.
"I absolutely hated [being picked as favorites] going into this year," Mark Trumbo said. "We saw the writing on the wall last year. Just because you have good parts doesn't mean you're guaranteed a spot."
But shouldn't it? I suggested.
"In theory, yeah, that does work," Trumbo said. "But it's painfully obvious that doesn't hold true."
As a businessman, Moreno has excelled in improving the value of his franchise. Donald Sterling has done the same, and look how much McCourt got for his team.
As a baseball owner Moreno has been inconsistent. He's never won a World Series, the Mickey Mouse folks from Disney doing that.
Attendance has dropped 189,044 over the past two seasons, which speaks to disappointment. Attendance is up 77,131 this season, which speaks to hope, but what happens if that disappears?
The future of his manager has been questioned, but instead of declaring publicly Scioscia will be here all season, Moreno declined the opportunity to talk.
Does that mean Scioscia might not make it to the end of the season? General Manager Jerry Dipoto also has refused to answer the question.
Why haven't the Dodgers curtailed all the chatter and announced Mattingly will guide the team to the end?
Maybe that's the only race remaining for the Dodgers and Angels: Who gets rid of their manager first?
Will the Angels ever finish first in anything with Moreno calling the shots? He likes to talk and cuss tough, but he has consistently rolled over when bidding has gotten serious on players like Mark Teixeira and Adrian Beltre.
Prone to being emotional when Moreno doesn't get his way, the Angels ended up with Vernon Wells.
Most of Moreno's big-time signings have come after he has swooped in quietly without significant competition to sign players like Vladimir Guerrero, Hunter, Pujols and Hamilton.
Look at the Angels now. Much that has gone wrong and will continue to go wrong is his doing.
In addition to whopping contracts for Pujols and Hamilton that will escalate each year, there's the fact the Angels' minor league system has been ranked the worst.
So maybe this is the best we can expect from the Angels, and now isn't that fun to ponder?
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