When Disney bought the Angels, players squirmed, half-jokingly wondering whether their caps would be adorned with mouse ears. On the day Arte Moreno officially replaced Disney, the first Latino owner in major league history presented bright red sombreros -- with the Angel logo -- to Manager Mike Scioscia and General Manager Bill Stoneman.
“This is going to be the new headwear for the Angels,” Moreno said.
Said right fielder Tim Salmon: “We’ve got a couple of day games this weekend, so I wouldn’t mind. It’s starting to warm up around here.”
Salmon was smiling, and Moreno was joking. Disney did not sew mouse ears onto baseball caps, but it did dress the Angels in cartoonish uniforms and disrespected tradition by putting bands and cheerleaders atop the dugout roof. Moreno was a baseball fan long before he became a near-billionaire businessman, and he believes the sport he loves needs no artificial enhancements.
“We don’t want it to be a circus,” he said. “It’s a baseball game.”
Moreno met with Scioscia and the players for the first time Thursday, after a news conference in which he promised to lower beer prices at Edison Field, invite more kids to the ballpark and get more games on television. Still, when asked how he hoped fans years from now would identify the Angels as Arte Moreno’s team, he answered in four words.
“Best team in baseball,” he said.
In a brief team gathering, Moreno shook hands with players, speaking in English to all and Spanish to some, then promised to take care of the marketing while letting Stoneman and Scioscia take care of the roster.
“He has a very genuine, friendly demeanor,” Salmon said. “He really seems like a down-to-earth kind of guy. He doesn’t come off high and mighty. He comes across like Stoneman -- that’s a positive thing, calm and collected.”
Scioscia said the players were not necessarily relieved to meet the new boss -- “trying to hit a breaking ball low and away isn’t going to be any easier” -- but said the meeting was “on the lighter side.”
Said Scioscia: “It’s always great to humanize ownership. I think that’s going to be one of Arte’s strengths. He’s a person first and an owner second.”
Said first baseman Scott Spiezio: “When you’re a big fan, you want to win regardless, and you’ll do everything in your power to make that happen. I think that’s exciting to players.”
For his part, Moreno said he wished he could tell the players one thing he could not.
“I’d like to tell them I was a left-hander who threw 95 and had a big cutter,” he said.
He left little doubt that he knows the game, and the team. When Senior Vice President Kevin Uhlich presented him with an Angel jersey with his name on the back -- and No. 1 -- he noted that the uniform number already belonged to catcher Bengie Molina. He said he had discussed the Angels’ scouting in such Latin American baseball hotbeds as Colombia and Venezuela. And he reiterated that he was here to win, and to spend to win if Stoneman so recommended.
“I am willing to spend the money,” Moreno said. “We don’t want to be stupid. But we’re going to make the investments we need to stay competitive ...
“I told Bill I was 100% committed to keep the team together. I told Bill I was 100% committed to let baseball people make baseball decisions.”
Former Angel president Tony Tavares was known to slam his fist and utter choice words when the team played poorly. Uhlich has watched several games with Moreno and said, “He doesn’t have a temper. He doesn’t get mad.” When Uhlich expressed disappointment after the Angels won the first two games of last weekend’s series at Boston but lost the third, Moreno said, “Don’t be greedy.”
Moreno strolled the ballpark several times Thursday, at one point grabbing a front-row seat to watch batting practice. In the team store Thursday morning, he ran into a group visiting from Mexico and told Uhlich to give the group of 35 the best available tickets for Thursday night’s game, free.
Whenever he attends a game, Moreno said, he would “take a lap or two” around the ballpark to get feedback from fans. For now, Uhlich said, Moreno plans to concentrate on getting new fans into the ballpark, even if he must take a short-term revenue hit. Moreno said Thursday he would look into lowering concession prices and said last week that he would not raise ticket prices next season.
Although Disney fired some 25 employees when the company bought the Angels from the Autry family, Moreno met with the staff and said no one would lose his or her job. Of the 12 employees whose responsibilities are split between the Angels and Disney’s Mighty Ducks -- in finance, human resources and information systems -- Uhlich said each would be assigned to one team or the other after the Stanley Cup finals.
Moreno also said he hopes Jackie Autry, widow of founding owner Gene Autry, will remain involved with the team.
“That’s a legacy we need to respect,” he said. “I look forward to her being a part of the Angels as long as she wants to be.”