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Anaheim’s Wish: No Laughing in Baseball

Times Staff Writer

This isn’t exactly the kind of national recognition Anaheim (that city south of Los Angeles) was craving.

And it sure didn’t seek the global ridicule it is receiving.

In the span of a couple weeks, the place once designated by Sporting News as Best Sports City has become comic fodder for everyone from Jay Leno to the Financial Times of London as they weigh in on the decision by the Angels baseball team to rename itself, despite Anaheim’s protest.

Never mind that the city didn’t create the situation; it’s still being exposed to the derision that began when the team’s owner decided to change the Angels’ full name.

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Even a sports columnist in little Kinston, N.C., pondered: “It’s early yet, but we may have a front-runner for the most ridiculous idea of 2005.”

After more than a week of barbs aimed at the city and the bilingually redundant Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, city officials disagree with the adage that “any press is good press.”

“Nobody wants to be the butt of jokes,” even if much of it is directed at the team, said city spokesman John Nicoletti.

Still, some of the one-liners have been doozies.

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Jerry Greene of the Orlando Sentinel wrote: “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? Hasn’t anyone noticed that the initials are L.A.A.A.? It sounds like the Hollywood chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

And in a New York Times editorial: “Sometimes an idea comes along that is so stupid, all you can do is stand back, give it some room, and stare.”

Then there are the obligatory references to Disneyland -- about how things are getting a bit Goofy, that maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates should be renamed the Pittsburgh Pirates of the Caribbean, and that perhaps the Happiest Place on Earth should be renamed the Los Angeles Disneyland of Anaheim.

Even Nicoletti has used the words “ridiculous,” “geographically confusing” and “absurd” to describe the decision by Angels owner Arte Moreno to rename the team, a plan the city is suing to block.

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To some, the branding brouhaha is only the latest installment in the team’s fractured history. Here’s how the San Jose Mercury News tells it: “They were born as the Los Angeles Angels and played at Wrigley Field (no, not that one, the other one). Then they moved to Chavez Ravine, which was built for the Dodgers but wasn’t quite Dodger Stadium yet. Then they became the California Angels and moved to Anaheim Stadium, which later became Edison International Field but is now Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Eight years ago they changed their name to the Anaheim Angels.”

Founding owner Gene Autry sold the California Angels to Disney, who sold the Anaheim Angels to billboard mogul Arte Moreno. Moreno wooed fans by lowering beer prices and mingling with the crowds. He handed out red sombreros at the press conference introducing him as the new owner, and increased outreach to Latinos.

For a while, it seemed everyone was happy in Anaheim. Or maybe they were just ignoring the warning signs.

Even when the long-suffering team won the World Series in 2002, America yawned. The dramatic, seven-game series posted record-low television ratings. And moments after the series ended, former owner Jackie Autry flubbed the team name, calling them the California Angels, a name they had dropped six years earlier.

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So it should come as no surprise that the new name, which many have pointed out means, literally, the Angels Angels, is the stuff of stand-up shtick.

“It’s just such a flagrant, cheesy marketing move that it cried out to be made fun of,” said comedy writer Alex Kaseberg, a freelance contributor to “The Tonight Show” who mocked the team name on his blog. “It falls into the ‘how-stupid-do-they-think-we-are’ category?”

Anaheim likes to think that most of the gags are at the Angels’ expense. But as Nicoletti pointed out, it doesn’t really matter. The incident mocks Anaheim’s long-running struggle to break free from L.A.'s shadow.

“By association, we are getting dragged into the discussion of whether or not we deserve the name of the professional sports franchise, which is ludicrous,” Nicoletti said. “Anaheim is once again being considered as a second tier to Los Angeles.”

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ESPN Radio 710 talk show host Joe McDonnell offers this advice to the city: Get over it.

“I think some people have an inferiority complex in Orange County,” McDonnell said. “It’s sports, for crying out loud.”

Maybe so.

But did you hear the one about....

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