Friday, December 22, 2006

Arte's Foot-In-Mouth Disease

This year is going to be a benchmark in Arte Moreno's tenure as owner of the Angels. Since he took over the reigns from (cough) Disney, we fans have looked to him as a kind of savior of our franchise, a man who was a fan first, a man who wanted to truly cement the foundations of a consistently winning team in Orange County. A man who, though he may bee a billionaire, is one of us.

We've followed his leadership, and through him we've begun to believe. It's truly an exciting time to be an Angels fan, whether you've been here your whole life or have just caught on to how great it truly is to watch baseball in Anaheim with the 2002 World Series. Sure, we have just that one moment of past glory, but unlike other teams whose winning legacy only haunts them (Yankees) or whose recent World Series wins have negated decades of disappointment (White Sox, Red Sox), that first one was, for us, just a launching point. Seven games that proved to us that yes, we can experience the highest highs with our team, too.

With that, 2006 was (to me, at least) a great season. Not in terms of on-field success, as it certainly did suck to watch the playoffs this year and see three California teams competing for the ultimate prize and the Angels were NOT among them. It was great because missing the playoffs showed the true mettle of the current crop of Angels fans.

We collectively said "Well, we wish we'd have made it, but it was a great season nonetheless. We'll get 'em next year!"

And it's that attitude that makes me love Southern California fans all the more. I am very guilty of having an elitist attitude as an Angels fan. I get pissed when I think back to the lean years, back to the time when you'd see more of the opposing team's jerseys in the stands than you would of our own. I get pissed when I realize that the same people who came to the ballpark in 2001 to root against the Angels were there in 2002 rooting FOR them. I put myself on a pedestal, I break my arm patting myself on the back, I get awfully lonely up on that cross I put myself on when I talk about myself as a lifelong fan and look down at those who only came when the Angels started winning.

But then I realize that fandom is never an avenue to elitism. Sports and religion have a lot in common. They both require a great deal of faith. They both require absolute love of something you have no control over. And what enlightens you will not necessarily enlighten others.

So now I look at the newer fans not as "fair weather" but as new converts, men, women and children who have finally come into the light. And sure, many of them will fall by the wayside once again if the Angels do not continue winning, much as many people new to religion fall to the side when God does not answer their prayers. But for many of them, the 2002 World Series was a moment of supreme enlightenment, a moment that made them feel the spirit, and they are now hooked for life.

It doesn't matter if they've only been here for five seasons (or less). All that matters is that they feel the same way I do about this ball club.

Arte Moreno inherited a great team and a brand-new fan base when he bought this team. Yes, "brand-new" each of us, as even those who remember seeing games at Wrigley Field in LA or Dodger Stadium (or "Chavez Ravine" as they called it during Angels home games) were "born again" by the World Series win in 2002, erasing the cursed history of a losing team as well as putting each and every fan on a new, level playing field.

With that, Moreno has had a good grace period as owner, a great three-year honeymoon that included two Western Division Championships since his first full season as owner in 2004 and a damn fine run this season.

But, the honeymoon may finally be over, and if it is, it's due to that dreaded "foot in mouth" disease.

His promise of "something big" this offseason had us all titillated, all full of wonder and hope for 2007 as, unlike most every other sports franchise on the face of the planet, we have not yet learned to loathe and mistrust our owner. We got into the A-Rod fever, following every at-bat in the playoffs, reading every tabloid rumor about his relationship with the Yankees, and the Yankees relationship with him. We kept hoping that the talk coming from the Yankees was just a smokescreen, and that soon enough we'd bid adieu to Ervin Santana, Chone Figgins, and a prospect in order to have #3 (not that blasphemous #13 he wears in New York) at third base and protecting Vladamir Guerrero in Anaheim next year. We followed the bidding first for Aramis Ramirez, then Alfonso Soriano, each time getting taken by surprise when they signed with the Cubs.

We clapped politely when we signed Gary Matthews, Jr, but we knew he wasn't filling the desperate need for power hitting.

We knew he wasn't something big.

And now chances are we aren't going to see anything near what we were expecting from that comment. We are, undoubtedly, a stronger team than we were a few months ago. We've solidified our bullpen, making one of the best pitching staffs in baseball even better. Matthews has filled out a need for defense in Center Field.

But the need for a power hitter, something big, still looms.

And if we miss the playoffs again this year, you bet that statement is going to come back and bite Arte in the ass. Not only will it be played in headlines across the country, but it will run through the heads of every Angels fan as they watch four other American League teams battle it out in the playoffs next October.

Make no mistake, it will be a disappointing season if the Angels do not make the playoffs. God forbid, if they don't, fans will start to look to Arte Moreno with a jaded eye, with the beginnings of mistrust that permeate all other fan-owner relationships.

So, with that, how does Arte Moreno recover? The first, obviously, is to make that huge move. Trade for A-Rod or Ryan Howard or Albert Pujols. Yeah, I know, that ain't gonna happen. But somebody in the tier down from them, a player of the value of Aramis Ramirez or Alfonso Soriano. That'd do fine, as long as we don't get screwed in the trade.

But that is becoming increasingly unlikely. So, what else to do? Well, if a big acquisition doesn't happen, Moreno is going to have to "hang a lantern" on his problem, apologize to the fans for not coming through then spend all season making fun of himself for saying it. Already he has offered refunds to season ticket holders, but to me that seems a bit defensive. He just needs to remind us that he's going to constantly work to improve our team. (And lowering concession prices a bit as a peace offering wouldn't hurt, either.)

But, my friends, there is a third option. One that combines the two. At this point, an option he has is to follow the example of the A's in 2006. Give a former superstar a chance with a small contract with incentives. And right now, there's a perfect one on the market.

That's right, Sammy Sosa. I know that, were I to have scores of readers, I'd probably get lambasted for this suggestion. Yes, I'm aware of his past. Yes, I'm aware of his abysmal 2005 season. To make it clear, I have full knowledge of the baggage he'll bring with him.

But with that, he's shown he is serious about coming back. And, with that baggage behind him, we can get him on the cheap, just like the A's did with Frank Thomas last year. We're a contender every year, and Sammy has never been on a champion, so it shouldn't be tough to sign him to a 1-year, incentive-laden contract.

It's a gamble, but if we're paying him a base salary of near what Thomas was paid last year, then we're out a very small amount if he's a bust. If he has a comeback season like Thomas did, Arte Moreno and Bill Stoneman will look like geniuses.

Of course, there's the whole steroids issue. I personally think it's a non-issue. Even if he was more juiced than a Welch's factory, there's no way he's stupid enough to still be on it, especially after he watched his teammate Rafael Palmiero destroy his legacy with a positive test in 2005. If Sosa fails a doping test, it's 100% on him, and he knows that.

Sure, people will be reluctant to embrace him. But if he comes to Anaheim, does some duty at DH, a bit in the outfield, and maybe some at first base, and hits 30 or so home runs, he could be exactly what we need.

Besides, it would be really neat to see somebody hit a big milestone home run, like Sosa's 600th, in "The Big A."

This isn't the answer to Arte's "something big" promise. But it could pull his ass out of the fire for making that comment, and it's a very low-risk proposition for the Angels.


Brian N said...

I think your propositions are spot on. The thought of getting Sosa hadn't even crossed my mind, but it would be a "no lose" situation. At worst, he would put butts in the seats, regardless of what people think of him. That's what is great about the hypocrisy of the American baseball fan. So quick to criticize someone, yet so easy to cheer for them, too.

Merry Christmas from Westminster

PS Hope your dad is doing well.

Danny said...

Noooooo! If we bring Sosa on, I'll have an internal tug of war to cut someone like Barr-oids some slack. I don't think I can force myself to do that!