Angels Raise Prices, Not Fan Expectations

Across the division, the Texas Rangers spend $30 million to add Will Clark to a lineup that already includes Juan Gonzalez, Julio Franco, Dean Palmer and Ivan Rodriguez.

No response from the offices at State College and Katella.

Across town, the Dodgers trade for a scintillating second baseman, Delino DeShields, who stole 36 more bases last season than Torey Lovullo.

No response from the offices at State College and Katella.

Up north, the San Francisco Giants re-sign the top free-agent second baseman on the market, Robby Thompson, who hit 61 points higher last season than Torey Lovullo.

No response from the offices at State College and Katella.

Just when we assumed those offices had been cleared out and the furniture pawned to defray the cost of Mike Brumley's new contract, a dispatch was sent forth from the bunker:

The Angels would be raising ticket prices for the 1994 season.

And, another:

The Angels would be shopping Mark Langston and his $3.25-million salary to any and all takers.

These communiques were odd, cryptic, possibly written in code.

What did they mean?

Taken separately, they made no sense. How could the Angels raise ticket prices after going from 90 losses in 1992 to 91 losses in 1993? How could the Angels trade Langston, their 1993 co-MVP, lone All-Star and ace of their 2 1/2-man starting rotation?

But studied in tandem, as interlocking links, as opposite sides of the same coin, they made perfect sense.

The Angels are asking their fans to pay more while they pay less.

There you have it: Angel team policy for the '90s, in 25 words or less--because, as you might have guessed, the club is paying by the word.

There is no pretense anymore.

There is no more winking song-and-dance about "building for '94"--that was a good one--and "winning one for The Cowboy."

The Angels have come clean, and there is something almost admirable in their coarse bluntness.

Money is the only thing that matters now. The Autrys want to save it, hoard it, collect it, keep it near and dear to them. Winning is irrelevant. The pennant is irrelevant. The World Series? Win a World Series, and you have to shell out for 30 or 35 expensive diamond rings. Who needs that added expense?

This is valuable insight for season-ticket holders left scratching their heads after opening those letters, stamped with Gene Autry's signature, that read, happily, in part:

"I hope you agree that we not only met but exceeded expectations (in 1993). Thanks to Whitey Herzog, Buck Rodgers, Bill Bavasi . . . the 1993 campaign was filled with surprises. You always hope for the best, but who would have imagined we'd be two games out at the All-Star break?"

So, guess what, valued paying customer?

The Angels are raising ticket prices $2 on some premium seats, $1 on others, and who would have imagined they'd be doing that after finishing 23 games out, with a worse record than the year before?

At the same time, they are waving their best pitcher under the noses of, of all people, the New York Yankees, who heisted Jim Abbott last December for a .241-hitting first baseman, a starting pitcher with a couple of degenerative back disks and a relief pitcher who was waived last month.

In exchange for Langston, the Yankees are said to be offering utility infielder Mike Gallego and two more pitching prospects whose names escape me at the moment, but I think one's related to Russ Springer, and the other has been touted as "the next Jerry Nielsen," or maybe it's the other way around.

Cynicism is easy at this point. You know: Well, at least the Angels have found their place--New York Yankee farm club. But that is antiquated thinking. Repeat: Money isn't everything with the Angels, it's the only thing. Once you understand that the Angels have an entirely different set of goals from everyone else in the American League, you can appreciate these last two months for what they are:

One hellacious Angel off-season.

Luis Polonia is gone! That's $3 million saved!

Langston is on the way out! That's another $3.25 million!

Maybe they'll trade Chuck Finley after that! That'd be another $4 million!

Go, Angels, go!

The Blue Jays are gunning for a third consecutive world's championship in 1994. The Angels are shooting for a $19-million payroll. Can they go the distance?

Well, last season's payroll was a scrimp-and-save $24.6 million, so the Angels are digging in, hacking away. According to The Sporting News, the Angels have already committed $12.7 million in guaranteed contracts to Langston, Finley, Chili Davis and the long-departed Gary Gaetti, leaving $6.3 million to be divided among 31 players, assuming the team makes as many roster changes next season as it did in 1993.

That works out, for those 31, to an average salary of $203,000. The San Diego Padres turned their '93 season into a farcical fire sale, but even their average payout was $378,000 per man.

Amazing. Next season, the Angels could out-Padre the Padres. As it stands, they are frighteningly close. Yet, there is no national outrage, no Newsweek essays on the trashing of a major league franchise and its implications for the future of the sport.

For some reason, Jackie Autry has been spared the lash that bloodied San Diego's Tom Werner to a pulp. Is it because she's smarter--dismantling the team bit by bit, over five years instead of five months? Or maybe she's luckier. The Angels' plucky start last season was wonderful camouflage, convincing many that the club had "great vision," instead of just cheap ownership.

And until that glorious day when the Autrys sell the team, the Angels will keep doing what they're doing, dumping their star players and hitting up their season-ticket holders.

Is anybody buying?

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