Call it the most expensive beer discount in baseball history.
On that fateful May afternoon in 2003 when Arte Moreno was introduced as the third owner in Angels history, he immediately won friends by reducing the price of his stadium’s $8.50 bleacher beer.
“I can do that, can’t I?” he charmingly asked at the time.
He can, and he did, and everyone loved him for it. Yet in the dozen years since then, Angels fans have paid a steep price for embracing the man whose tenure has been marked not by cheaper booze, but by chaos and dysfunction.
Moreno bought a team that had just won a World Series, yet he has not been to a World Series since, and has mostly made his mark with misguided decisions often based on impulsive emotions marked by anger.
Moreno enraged the Anaheim faithful by adding the name “Los Angeles” to the team name, even though Los Angeles still barely pays attention. He has attempted to bully the city of Anaheim into a better stadium deal at taxpayer expense. He signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240-million contract that prevented the improvement of his roster in other areas and, even with Pujols’ big numbers this year, will never be worth the money. He threw away $60 million to angrily dump Josh Hamilton, an admitted alcohol and drug addict, for briefly succumbing to his illness.
And now, in a move Wednesday that was stunning even for what has become The Not-so-Happiest Place on Earth, Moreno allowed a cultural rift between tradition-bound Manager Mike Scioscia and analytics-minded General Manager Jerry Dipoto to escalate into Dipoto’s departure in the middle of a potential playoff season.
That’s right, the baseball boss of a team that last season finished with the best record in baseball, and this season was 41-37 and only four games out of first place in the American League West, just packed up and bolted this week with three months left on the schedule and one month until the trading deadline.
And Moreno, who has long supported Scioscia, did nothing substantial to stop him.
Seriously? When is the last time this has happened in baseball? In a sport of old-school values and rituals in which warring front-office factions often hunker down for the good of the team, Dipoto’s departure was stunning. But then again, this is how it happens with Moreno’s Angels, an organization he runs with such impetuousness it has become the object of national ridicule.
“All around, a weird year in the front office with what’s going on with Jerry and then what happened with Josh,” said Angels pitcher Hector Santiago to reporters Wednesday. “Definitely one of the weirder years for me.”
The final break in what had long been a strained relationship between Scioscia and Dipoto, as first chronicled by Foxsports.com, was not a weird one. It happens in baseball every day. Dipoto didn’t think Scioscia and his staff were properly passing along important statistical information to the players. Dipoto called a team meeting. Some of the coaches challenged him. Pujols defended the coaches. It shouldn’t have been a big deal. Today’s game is rife with similar clashes between a front-office computer and a manager’s instinct. Both teams in last year’s World Series are run by old-fashioned catchers such as Scioscia — San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy and Kansas City’s Ned Yost — yet both teams also have forward-thinking front offices. Somehow they make it work.
But not on Moreno’s Angels. Dipoto reportedly left the contentious clubhouse meeting and sought out the owner for support, yet was rebuffed. Instead of Moreno realizing the tenuousness of the situation and mediating a truce, the owner simply backed Scioscia as he’s always done in making him arguably the most powerful single uniformed figure in all of baseball.
Scioscia might be baseball’s longest tenured field boss with 16 consecutive seasons in the Anaheim dugout, and worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, but in today’s complicated game, should any manager be essentially running the baseball operations as he does? It’s been 13 years since Scioscia won his only World Series title here, yet Moreno acts as if that was yesterday, continually deferring to his manager at the risk of introducing and embracing new ideas. Scioscia is not blameless here, as he should work harder at accepting change, even if Moreno doesn’t make that part of his job description.
Dipoto only led the team to one playoff appearance in his three previous seasons, and he indeed helped cause the initial rift with Scioscia by firing longtime hitting coach and Scioscia confidant Mickey Hatcher in 2012. But many of his new ideas worked, as he introduced analytics to the Angels culture, helped rebuild the farm system and added young pitching depth. He struck out in signing the likes of Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson, but he also locked up Mike Trout while bringing in bullpen stalwarts such as Huston Street and Joe Smith.
Dipoto is a smart guy who, just nine months ago, was sharing a champagne-soaked hug with Scioscia after the Angels clinched the American League West title. But now he is gone because Moreno failed to offer even the most basic respect to the team’s most important position while failing to intervene in the club’s most important relationship.
The interim general manager will be Bill Stoneman, 71, the last general manager to win a championship here, yet a man who hasn’t run a team in eight years. In other words, the interim general manager is Mike Scioscia, whose sphere of influence will make it nearly impossible for the Angels to hire a top young general manager candidate actually capable of building this team back to greatness.
In the meantime, the owner once known for dropping Angels beer prices is now known for cheapening the Angels image, the cost of Arte Moreno’s reign ever rising.