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Losing Is Way of Life at Anaheim Stadium

Picture a postcard. On the front is a photograph of Anaheim Stadium, outlined against a drab gray September sky, foreboding dark clouds hovering overhead, the halo on the Big A message board hanging at half-mast.

There is also an inscription:

Greetings from Anaheim, City of Losers

Now flip it over and tell a friend how you wasted the last week in paradise.

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Monday: Saw the last-place Angels blow a 7-0 lead to Toronto before the Blue Jays remembered where they were--in a pennant race. Angels win, 10-9, still trail Minnesota by 14 games.

Tuesday: Saw the last-place Angels score zero runs for nine innings and lose in the 10th on a three-run home run by Pat Borders.

Wednesday: Saw the last-place Angels serve up a six-run fifth inning and lose, 7-2.

Sunday: Saw the last-place Rams play the Green Bay Packers.

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P.S. Looking forward to next week’s bye.

Once, they used to say that Anaheim was the last place you’d want to put a professional sports franchise. Now, last place is where they put professional sports franchises in Anaheim. The Angels are there after finishing 23 games back in 1990. The Rams are there after finishing 5-11 in 1990.

Through the 1980s, Anaheim was known as The Big Tease, the little sports town that could but never did. The Angels tore out the city’s heart in 1979, 1982 and 1986. The Rams reached the conference championship game in 1985 and 1989--and promptly got outscored, 58-3. Anaheim was known as the city with the tight collars. It pioneered no-smoking regulations long before they became a national obsession: Close, but no cigar. The word “Anaheim,” in fact, comes from a 500-year-old German expression that, loosely translated, means, “Please do not pitch to Dave Henderson.”

But Anaheim hit the wall at the end of ’89. The Angels had won 91 games, but still no World Series. The Rams had won 13 games, but still no Super Bowl. They were good teams, just not good enough, and as they embarked upon a new decade, they both were striving to forge a new identity.

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Twenty-one months into the ‘90s, they have found it.

If you can’t be the best at something, being the worst can be almost as interesting. For years, it sustained Atlanta and Cleveland. But now, Atlanta sits on the map, with a young baseball team pestering the Dodgers the way the Angels never have and the 1990 college football co-national champion at Georgia Tech--with the 1996 Olympics on the way. In Cleveland, the Cavaliers regularly make the NBA playoffs now, and the Browns are back to .500, even if the Indians continue to wave the flag amid home crowds of 1,600 and 100-loss seasons.

A new heir is needed.

A new heir is apparent.

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Anaheim, come on down?

Anaheim, you’re already there.

It’s barely been two years, but the place has a reputation. When the Angels hired Whitey Herzog as their director of player personnel, Herzog said he’d been holding out for the chance to run an expansion team but then got to looking at the Angels and considered them to be just as big a challenge. Last year, Ram management discussed firing John Robinson before realizing that maybe no one out there wanted Robinson’s job. So Robinson received a three-year extension.

Anaheim used to be the place to play--and Newport Beach the place to live--for millionaire athletes, but no more. The Angels couldn’t hold Chili Davis, who split for Minneapolis, and lost free-agent auctions for Nolan Ryan and Bruce Hurst, coming in second to Arlington, Tex., home of the no-time American League champion Rangers, and San Diego, then chief title-holder to the New Ineptitude. The Angels did land Mark Langston, but it took $16 million to do it--and as soon as Langston realized what he had done, he went 10-17.

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The Rams get top players, but can’t keep them. Eric Dickerson wanted out so badly, he begged for a trade to Indianapolis. Pete Holohan opted for Kansas City. Jim Everett, the best quarterback the Rams ever had, hasn’t been seen since mid-October, 1990.

From Jan. 1, 1990 forward, the Rams are a cumulative 7-15. The Angels are a cumulative 38 1/2 games out of first place. The ball dropped that night above Times Square; the ball has been dropped at Anaheim Stadium ever since.

By now, the community has been conditioned. Consider the plight of Don Andersen’s most honorable intention, the Pigskin Classic. In 1990, Andersen lined up Tennessee and eventual co-national champion Colorado at Anaheim Stadium and the game drew 33,000. This year, he pitted Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer against probable national champion Florida State--and wound up with nearly 30,000 empty seats.

Conclusion: You want to play Anaheim, you better relate to Anaheim. Give the people what they know.

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Next year, Andersen books Pacific and Northwestern, and he’ll have them standing in the aisles, guaranteed.

Lately, Anaheim has expressed interest in obtaining an NBA or NHL franchise. An arena is being built for that purpose. It’s a long-odds bet, but if Anaheim succeeds, it will either have to lure an existing team that struggled in another city or spend $50 million for the right to participate in an expansion draft.

In other words, Anaheim would end up with another losing team.

The tradition continues.

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