Shoot-Out at Big A Corral? : Turf Dispute--Angels May Force the Rams to Open a Day Early

Times Staff Writer

The Angels and Rams, who have been embroiled in a four-year court battle over Anaheim Stadium parking-lot rights, are now feuding over the playing field.

But this latest dispute, which may force the Rams to move their Sept. 20 home opener against the Minnesota Vikings to Saturday, Sept. 19, involves more than the stadium's baseball and football tenants.

Both the National Football League and, to some extent, CBS television, are part of the problem, which stems from the NFL's mistake in scheduling the Ram game a day before the Angels open a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 21.

According to a clause in the Angels' stadium lease, the Rams may not play a game in Anaheim Stadium 36 hours before an Angel game without written permission from the Angels.

As it has been in the past, the clause was waived last week by the Angels, who allowed the Rams to play an exhibition game against the Seattle Seahawks Thursday night, the day before they opened a 12-game home stand.

But, as of Tuesday, the Angels seem intent on sticking to their lease come September.

"We have concerns about the field condition, and it was only by the unbelievable work of the grounds crew that our field was playable Friday night," said Mike Port, Angel general manager. "We have an obligation to our baseball club, (owner) Gene Autry and our fans."

The Angels received a written request from the Rams to play last Thursday but, because they have not received a similar request to release the September date, the Ram-Viking game has not been placed on the City of Anaheim's stadium schedule.

"There is no game," Port said.

However, Dick Beam, the Rams' director of operations, said the matter is entirely out of the Rams' hands since the NFL, not the Rams, is responsible for their regular-season schedule.

"The league is responsible for the error, and they're trying to resolve it," Beam said. "It's not like the preseason, when we schedule our games."

Val Pinchbeck, NFL director of broadcasting who also is involved in scheduling, confirmed Tuesday that the league in April had inadvertently scheduled the game for Sept. 20. Within a week, Pinchbeck said, the Rams notified the league about the clause in the Angels' lease.

The NFL, in turn, contacted the American League office in New York, and an American League representative contacted the Angels.

"We received a call about a month ago from someone in the American League office asking whether we'd allow the Rams to play the game," said Tom Seeberg, Angel vice president of public relations.

"We said, no, we would prefer the game not be allowed. I assumed the American League called the NFL with the answer."

Pinchbeck, however, said that the NFL had not received a definitive answer.

"We had further dialogue with the AL office and the Rams," Pinchbeck said. "No one said we cannot do this and no one said we can."

Meanwhile, the NFL signed a contract with CBS, which plans to televise the Ram-Viking game nationally as part of a Sunday doubleheader. Pinchbeck said the league won't breach that contract.

"Historically, we've been able to solve problems (with baseball scheduling conflicts) and we look forward to solving this one," Pinchbeck said. "Hopefully, with some more conversation, cooler heads will prevail."

The Angels don't appear willing to budge. Although converting the playing surface from a football to baseball field in one day has been done, usually at least once a year, the baseball team isn't always happy with its condition.

"Yes, the field can be turned around, but is the surface representative of a major league playing surface?" Port said. "We've always had reservations about that. I have an inbred aversion to seeing ground balls take 75-degree hops past outfielders."

Port was alluding to a sixth-inning single Friday night that bounced past center fielder Gary Pettis for an error. Angel Manager Gene Mauch said before the game that "the outfield is terrible. The infield is OK."

Asked about it again Tuesday night, Mauch said: "It's a damn shame to have a big league ballpark beat up like that, but there was nothing we could do about it."

Beam thought that two David Bowie concerts in Anaheim Stadium the previous weekend (Aug. 8-9) contributed as much to the poor playing surface.

"I walked the field before the (football) game Thursday and the concert had torn it up pretty good," Beam said. "Why (the Angels) don't waive (the clause) this time, I don't know."

It could be inferred that the Angels, bitter about the Rams' plans to develop a high-rise office building and parking structure on the existing stadium parking lot and the lawsuit that followed, are trying to punish the Rams.

But Port went out of his way to say this was an unfortunate situation.

"It's a great controversy out of a small misunderstanding," Port said. "We pull for the Rams; we try to be good tenants and neighbors, but there comes a point in time when you have to reset your priorities. We have concerns about field conditions, and our obligation is to the baseball club.

"Someone may try to force the issue and make the city and the Angels look wrong, but we're being appropriate in all of our actions. If bad guys are people who stand up for their rights, I guess that makes us bad guys."

Ultimately, the final decision will rest with the Angels and owner Gene Autry, who is a good friend of Ram owner Georgia Frontiere. Autry was a guest of Frontiere on the Rams' recent trip to London for their exhibition game against the Denver Broncos.

The NFL will be contacting the Angels this week in hopes of ironing out an agreement. If the Angels continue to hold ground, the NFL will be forced to break their contract with CBS and push the game back to Saturday, Sept. 19. Hence, the Rams will be denied a national television audience.

A federal law to protect high schools prohibits NFL games from being nationally televised on Saturdays, from the second Saturday in September to the second Saturday in December. The Rams wouldn't suffer any financial hardship, because all 28 NFL teams split television revenue.

If you went by Port's comments, Ram fans can expect the game to be moved to Saturday. Asked where he thought the situation would lead to, he replied:

"Hopefully to a Ram win; I just don't know what time kickoff is or what date. I think I know what date it isn't, because that one is nonexistent (on the stadium schedule)."

Times staff writer Chris Dufresne contributed to this story.

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