Name Change Is Hot Angel Topic

Times Staff Writer

When Darin Erstad was first called up to the big leagues in 1996, he played for the California Angels. From 1997 through 2004, Erstad played for the Anaheim Angels. And this spring, barring a trade of the first baseman or a legal ruling against Angel owner Arte Moreno, Erstad will suit up for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Confusing? Not for Erstad, whose Angel career has spanned three owners, three logos, three stadium names and three team names, but whose single-minded approach to the game has wavered far less than those in the Angel executive offices.

"The bases are still 90 feet away, right?" Erstad said Monday after the Angels announced they were officially changing their name. "Any way you look at it, I've been an Angel my entire career, and nothing can take that away. I'm proud to wear the Angel uniform. It's a big league uniform. That's all I know."

While Moreno's controversial move fueled spirited debate, harsh criticism and some support among fans on Angel message boards throughout the day, Monday's news -- if the reaction of two players reached is any indication -- was met with ambivalence in the Angel clubhouse.

"It doesn't really matter to us," second baseman Adam Kennedy said. "It's kind of interesting to hear what people say about it around town, to hear the pros and cons, but I think once the season starts, this will take a back seat."

Anaheim city officials who plan legal action against Moreno, Orange County fans who feel alienated, and Los Angeles loyalists who believe Moreno is stealing their city name for his benefit, found much to complain about Monday. Fans on the team's message board called the new name, the only one among 30 Major League Baseball teams to contain two cities and one preposition, "stupid," "absurd" and "the dumbest name in professional sports."

One seven-year Angel Stadium employee posted his letter of resignation on the Internet.

One source said that Moreno, who has referred to the fierce opposition as "the vocal minority," made the announcement Monday in part so fans would be aware of the decision before the January 14 deadline to renew season tickets.

When The Times first reported Moreno's intentions last year, an initial furor of opposition rose up. On Monday, some fans seemed to express a greater understanding.

"Let's not overreact and give up our season tickets and threaten to abandon the Angels," one fan wrote.

No matter how awkward the official team name is, the Angels' uniform, team colors and logo will remain the same in 2005, and the defending American League West champions, with a payroll of about $95 million, are expected to contend for the division title again.

Though many oppose the new name, few question Moreno's motives -- the owner says the change was necessary to broaden the team's fan base and increase broadcasting and advertising revenues.

"If this gets him more revenue, that's the name of the game," said former owner Jackie Autry, whose contention that the Angels were a small-market team conflicts with Moreno's big-market vision for the franchise.

Said Erstad: "To win you have to make money and spend money."

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