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Anaheim Sees Angels on a Different Team

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Times Staff Writer

Although a jury settled the dispute between Anaheim and the Angels over the team’s name, the legal battle exacerbated disagreements over the club’s community involvement that have simmered since Arte Moreno became owner three years ago.

City officials say the Angels’ community relations plan mirrors its business plan, which is to broaden the team’s appeal beyond Orange County. Anaheim Councilman Richard Chavez said that strategy -- including changing the team’s name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- had neglected hometown businesses, nonprofits and civic organizations.

“He has an ethical responsibility to participate in the community,” Chavez said of Moreno. “The taxpayers of Anaheim have spent millions providing his millionaire ballplayers a place to play. Community relations is a two-way street.”

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Angel officials say the community relations strategy is relatively unchanged under Moreno and that the team’s generosity to local civic groups and charities is healthier than ever.

The Angels’ nonprofit foundation that Moreno set up last year gave $300,000 to Southern California charities -- about 90% of it to Orange County groups and more than half to organizations in Anaheim, the team says.

“What’s the gauge for successful community relations?” Angel spokesman Tim Mead asked. “We know the people we’ve touched and reached. We will never feel as though we have to defend that.”

City officials and some civic leaders -- still stung by last month’s decision by an Orange County jury that concluded that the Angels could keep their new name -- aren’t convinced. They say the Angels’ role in Anaheim began to change in early 2004 when the team canceled its annual opening-day luncheon with the city Chamber of Commerce -- a 29-year tradition. Local Latino leaders say that at about the same time, Angel officials stopped attending their social functions.

Latino leaders also point to Moreno’s recent pledge of $500,000 to the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Compton. Major League Baseball invested $10 million for the first U.S. baseball academy, but no owner gave more than Moreno.

“His influence wants to be much broader than the circle here,” said Amin David, president of Los Amigos of Orange County, an Anaheim-based Latino-rights group. He said he applauded the donation, “but you won’t find the inner city of Santa Ana or Anaheim any less needy.”

It wasn’t long ago that club officials, players and council members were parading down Katella Avenue together, celebrating the Anaheim Angels’ 2002 World Series title. The city won national recognition, and the Angels were on top of the baseball world after four decades of mediocrity.

But the relationship between the city and the team deteriorated quickly. After buying the team from the Walt Disney Co. in early 2003, Moreno became a fan favorite for lowering beer prices and courting championship-caliber players. The team replaced the Chamber of Commerce lunch with an Orange County Business Council event, but it lasted only one year.

“The luncheon is not something they have to do,” said Councilwoman Lorri Galloway. “But it goes a long way in creating goodwill with your immediate neighbors.”

Robert Alvarado, the Angels’ director of marketing and sales, said the Anaheim chamber luncheon was discontinued because it didn’t reach business leaders throughout Southern California where the team is competing for advertising revenue.

“I’m sure the lunch benefited the Anaheim chamber, but did it benefit anyone else in the greater community? Probably not,” he said. “We have a valuable resource, and I’m sure other chambers would like to have access to us. So I think it’s probably best to try to spread the wealth.”

Under Moreno, Angels Baseball Foundation officials say they have given thousands of dollars to local nonprofits including the Anaheim Boys & Girls Club, Little Leagues, Anaheim Memorial Medical Center and Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley.

The foundation expects to increase local giving by 35% this year, said Mark Merkab, the group’s chairman.

“For people who do not live in this community, they are giving an awful lot back to it,” Merkab said of Moreno and his wife, Carol, who live in Phoenix. “They don’t look at this as something they have to do; it’s something they want to do.”

But David said the Angels under Moreno had not paid attention to the Latino community of Orange County, declining invitations to banquets, fundraisers and breakfasts frequently attended by club representatives under previous ownership.

“It’s been very difficult, if not impossible, to touch base with the organization in any way, shape or form,” he said. “It’s strange. Why the snub? We go to a lot of games. Some friends of mine eat, sleep and talk baseball.”

Mead said the criticism was off base and was being shaped by hard feelings over the team’s name change.

“We may not be at all the places people want us to be all the time, but the environment hasn’t exactly been the best lately,” he said, referring to the yearlong legal battle over the team’s name. “Arte might have more time to attend some of these things if he hadn’t been in the courtroom for five weeks.”

Hard feelings aside, the city and team are contractually linked to each other until 2016, when the Angels can opt out of their stadium lease.

“The relationship’s going to take a lot of work to improve upon,” Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle said. “But I want the team here, and I want a good relationship with the team. Our fear is that the name change is an early signal about the ownership wanting to leave the area.”

The Angels believe their business partnership with the city remains a good one, pointing out the two joined to lure the World Baseball Classic to Angel Stadium and continue to work together on other community projects.

“We’re moving forward,” Mead said. “This is a magic time and a great time. Plenty to do for everybody -- the city and the team.”


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