Angel Stadium is surrounded by a vast sea of concrete nothingness. Those parking lots could spring to life soon if the Angels and the city of Anaheim can agree on how to transform them into an oasis of shops and restaurants.
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a new restaurant a few hundred feet from the stadium — not a generic chain restaurant, but one owned by a neighborhood guy, with this comforting mission: “We celebrate the simple and give a nod to our favorite family recipes.”
That’s the mission of an Italian and Polish eatery that opened this year within steps of Wrigley Field. The place is called Maddon’s Post — yes, that Joe Maddon, the man who managed the Chicago Cubs for the last five years and might very well manage the Angels for the next five.
This Maddon-to-the-Angels story line is almost too perfect.
He led the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series and opened a restaurant there. He led the Cubs to the World Series and opened a restaurant in Chicago. And now Maddon could come home, lead his original team back to the World Series, and open a restaurant next to the stadium to honor the Angels, past and present.
Mike Trout. Tim Salmon. I’m thinking a fish grill.
There is nothing nefarious cooking in the executive offices at Angel Stadium. Arte Moreno, the owner, thought the Angels could do better. He found a manager he knew and liked, and one that wears two World Series championship rings, one of them decorated with a halo.
Moreno liked Mike Scioscia so much he awarded him a 10-year contract. Tony Reagins, the first general manager selected by Moreno, never got to hire his own manager. Jerry Dipoto, the second, never got to hire his own manager. Billy Eppler, the third, had to wait three years for Scioscia’s contract to expire. Eppler didn’t risk an inexperienced manager, so he picked Brad Ausmus, and that lasted one year.
That the Angels fired Ausmus on Monday is a reminder that Eppler is not standing on the firmest of ground, but we already knew that after Moreno chose to pick up Eppler’s 2020 option rather than extend his contract. The firing is more of a reminder that the Angels, a major-market team with a major-market payroll, last won a postseason game 10 years ago.
Moreno is 73. Another decade of wandering in the baseball wilderness would be untenable.
Maddon to the Angels might not be a sure thing, even if it would provide a man who played in the minor leagues for the California Angels and coached on the 2002 World Series championship team for the Anaheim Angels the chance to manage the Los Angeles Angels.
This should be a done deal, or close to it. But, even if it ends up as no deal, good for Moreno for taking a big swing.
In his most recent big swings, he is 0 for 3, spending close to $500 million on Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson. But he committed close to another $500 million to Trout last spring, and Maddon could help with one more big swing this offseason.
The Angels desperately need starting pitching. In Eppler’s four seasons as general manager, with starting staffs overly reliant on pitchers with injury histories, no pitcher has thrown 200 innings.
Gerrit Cole, an impending free agent who will finish first or second in the AL Cy Young Award race, has pitched 200 innings in three consecutive seasons. He’s 29. He grew up in Orange County.
He is perfect for the Angels, but no more so than Trout was for his hometown Philadelphia Phillies. No guarantees, even if Moreno flashes a $200-million check.
But, if Moreno brings the money into a meeting with Cole, Maddon would bring the credibility.
In the fall of 2014, the Cubs needed Jon Lester as their ace, just as the Angels need Cole now. The Cubs fired the competent Rich Renteria, hired Maddon in October, and signed Lester for $155 million in December.
In his book “The Arm,” Jeff Passan explained how the Cubs would have had little to pitch to Lester had he come onto the market a year earlier.
“The rise of homegrown talent like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Schwarber, along with the emergence of ace Jake Arrieta, the hiring of the first-rate Joe Maddon as manager, and the unveiling of the renovation that would bring Wrigley Field into the twenty-first century, changed all that,” Passan wrote.
Now, the 2019 vision, and please indulge me in changing a few words:
“The rise of homegrown talent like Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Jo Adell and Griffin Canning, along with the emergence of closer Hansel Robles, the hiring of the first-rate Joe Maddon as manager, and the soon-to-come renovation of Angel Stadium into a state-of-the-art ballpark and entertainment district, changed all that.”
So here’s to dreams, and to Cole, and to the Angels walking a few feet from their stadium to toast their return to the World Series with a round or two at Chez Maddon.