Ending a yearlong dispute that sparked regional one-upmanship and talk-show ridicule, an Orange County jury Thursday decided that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could keep their geographically awkward name.
After deliberating just over four hours in a trial that pitted the city of Anaheim against its hometown team, jurors voted 9 to 3 that the Angels did not violate five words in the stadium lease that required that the team “include the name Anaheim therein.”
Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, who led the city’s multimillion-dollar fight to restore the name, said: “There was a really a broader issue, and that was to make sure our identity of Orange County and Anaheim be preserved. We’re very disappointed.”
The city had asked for damages up to $373 million it said it would lose in media exposure and tourism revenue. The jury awarded it nothing. The city also may be on the hook for as much as $10 million in legal fees -- their own and the Angels’ -- if the team seeks reimbursement.
City officials will discuss whether to appeal the decision at a meeting Tuesday, but council members said it was not likely.
Angel owner Arte Moreno -- popular among fans for investing millions in superstar players, lowering beer prices and schmoozing in the stands -- clapped as the verdict was read and gave a thumbs-up sign.
“Believe it or not, what we’ve been trying to do is enhance the Angels brand,” said Moreno, a self-made billionaire from Arizona. “I know local fans were very emotional about it. We understand that. But in the long run ... we believe this gives us a better chance of being a perennial upper-echelon franchise, and a chance to compete for a championship every year.”
One juror stopped Moreno in the courthouse afterward, shook his hand and said, “What’s good for the Angels is good for everybody.”
Thursday’s verdict was announced shortly after 4 p.m. The seven-woman, five-man jury heard nearly five weeks of testimony in a trial presided over by Superior Court Judge Peter J. Polos.
Players said Thursday that they didn’t mind the name: It’s winning that counts.
Center fielder Darin Erstad, who has been a California Angel, an Anaheim Angel and a Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim, said: “It didn’t matter to us. I’m an Angel. All I know is Arte wants to win, he’ll do whatever that takes, and the last time I checked, since he’s been here, we’ve been pretty good.”
Several Orange County jurors called the new name outright silly. Some even said they were pulling for Anaheim. But in the end, they said the city should have crafted a stronger contract if it wanted to ensure the team name remain Anaheim Angels.
“This was really hard for me. Trust me, this was really hard,” said juror Skip Luke, 53, of Ladera Ranch, a self-described “Anaheim Angels” fan who attends a dozen games a year.
“As an Orange County Angels fan, the last thing I want in front of my Angels is L.A. ... but the contract was really strong, and the city didn’t do enough to prove intent.”
Regardless of whether fans agreed with Moreno, the mouthful of a new moniker sparked immediate lampooning after the team announced the change in January 2005.
Late-night talk-show hosts, sportscasters and columnists all over the country poked fun. People began posting ridiculous name-altering suggestions on Internet message boards, including Los Angeles Disneyland of Anaheim and the Los Angeles Winds of Santa Ana.
The name change also fueled the long-standing rivalry between Los Angeles and Orange County. Now, with a major assist from the jury, Los Angeles has two baseball teams, but city leaders didn’t exactly throw out the welcome mat.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he still bled Dodger blue.
“Los Angeles has been the home of the Dodgers since 1958 and it always will be,” Villaraigosa said. “Along with the rest of the fans in Los Angeles, I remain a proud supporter of the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles.”
Dodger owner Frank McCourt issued a statement reiterating the team’s position on its encroaching neighbor: “Everyone knows there’s only one team in Los Angeles, and it’s the Dodgers,” he said.
The Dodgers denied spending any money assisting the city of Anaheim and have tried to stay out of the legal fray, but sources said team attorneys helped behind the scenes, spending more than $100,000 in legal fees. And last season’s Dodger motto -- “This is L.A. baseball” -- suggested they were well aware of Moreno’s aggressive push into Los Angeles.
Since Moreno bought the team in 2003, the number of season-ticket holders has jumped from 12,000 to 30,000, with a waiting list this year for the first time in team history. Annual revenue also increased from $102 million to $175 million.
Moreno boosted the team’s payroll to $97 million, launching it to the fourth-highest payroll in baseball and division titles in 2004 and 2005 with the help of new players such as 2004 American League most valuable player Vladimir Guerrero and 2005 AL Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Bartolo Colon.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, bid goodbye to fan favorites such as catcher Paul Lo Duca and third baseman Adrian Beltre. They also fired manager Jim Tracy.
Off the field, Moreno and the city of Anaheim racked up millions in legal fees. And there are more than a few ruffled feathers and hurt feelings.
Fountain Valley resident Martha Santos, one of three jurors who sided with the city, fought tears after the verdict.
“I’m in shock. I’m really disgusted,” said the 65-year-old retired newspaper executive. “As an Orange County citizen, the fact that L.A. is in the name disturbs me. It probably disturbs a lot of people who live in Orange County.”
City officials still adamantly believe that the Angels violated the spirit of the lease.
Former Disney executives who helped negotiate the lease said nobody ever considered the possibility that the team would have two geographic locations in its title. It was written to allow slight wiggle room, in case former Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner decided to rename the team something more along the lines of the Mighty Angels of Anaheim.
A disappointed Anaheim Councilman Richard Chavez said, “This was a large step backward.... This trial was a way to separate ourselves and give us our own identity.”
Immediately after the verdict, Pringle walked over to Moreno and shook his hand.
Outside the courtroom, Pringle said he was ready to begin rebuilding the city’s relationship with the team.
“I always want to have a good relationship with our local businesses, large and small,” he said. “Relationships are two-way streets, and I’m glad to be on that road.”
Moreno was less eager to talk reconciliation.
“I didn’t bring this suit on. That’s not my responsibility,” he said. “I was sued. This took me away from my family for a long time.”
He has intimated he would consider moving the team if the city forced his hand. He can opt out of the lease as early as 2016.
Die-hard fans are hoping he’ll get over it soon. David Skonezny, 39, who sold “We’re Not L.A.” T-shirts, wondered how Thursday’s court victory might affect Moreno’s future plans.
“What’s his next move?” Skonezny asked.
For now, Moreno said, it’s simple: Spring training starts next week in Arizona.
Times staff writers Jonathan Abrams, Tim Brown, Mike DiGiovanna, Sara Lin, Seema Mehta, Jean O. Pasco and David Reyes contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
The Angel baseball team has changed its geographic affiliation several times since it was founded in 1961 as the Los Angeles Angels.
1961: Major League Baseball persuades singing cowboy Gene Autry to buy the expansion Los Angeles Angels. The team plays its first season at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles.
1962: Los Angeles Angels begin playing at Dodger Stadium.
1966: Team moves to Anaheim and is renamed the California Angels.
1996: Disney buys 25% share of Angels from Autry; team is renamed Anaheim Angels.
1998: Autry dies; Disney buys out Autry’s shares.
2003: Arizona billionaire Arte Moreno buys Angels for $183.5 million.
Jan. 3, 2005: Team announces new name: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Jan. 5: 2005: City of Anaheim sues the Angels, alleging that the new name violates the stadium lease.
Feb. 9, 2006: Jury votes 9 to 3 that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim did not breach the lease with the city of Anaheim by changing their name.
2016: Angels can opt out of stadium lease.
2029: Lease expires.
Sources: Times reports