When Arte Moreno bought the Anaheim Angels in 2003, I immediately paid attention.
It was hard not to, as the Billboard billionaire handed out giant red sombreros with the team’s trademark Big A and then donned one himself at his first press conference.
The massive hat was symbolic in several ways. It celebrated Moreno’s Mexican-American heritage and his status as the first Latino majority owner of a major professional sports franchise. It showed that Moreno approached his purchase not as a money man, but as a fan. At the same press conference, he announced his first official move – cutting beer prices at Angel Stadium.
His choice of the chapeau was also a promise. On the right head, a sombrero is a beautiful thing, the insignia of heroes and heroines in Mexican songs and films. Men and women who understand her story bear her weight with pride and reverence.
On the wrong person, it makes the wearer look like a buffoon.
Moreno initially wore it well.
He signed future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero and ace Bartolo Colón in 2004 while lowering ticket prices. He drew national ridicule for renaming his team the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but fans mostly forgave him because the Halos became something they’ve never been before — winners.
As an Anaheim native and lifelong Orange Countian who attended several Angels games each year as a teenager but never became a true fan, I looked to what Moreno was creating with hope. My generation of cousins grew up almost exclusively with Dodgers fans because we never saw each other in the Angels. It wasn’t even strictly a Latino thing. For us, the Dodgers were a success story from the broadcast booth to the field. It wasn’t the angels, and who wants to hang out with losers?
But Moreno had a pretty darn personal story — a Tucson-borough Mexican boy who bought a professional sports franchise, nabbed some of the game’s biggest stars (who happened to be Latinos), and found success in the national pastime. He offered something rarely seen in sports owners: inspiration. And if a Mexican could find respect in a notoriously racist place like Orange County, maybe my home country could take a turn for the better.
As an adult, I started going back to the stadium and started rooting for the team. Moreno was a constant presence in the stands, roaming like former New York Mayor Ed Koch as he asked fans if he was doing a good job. The Dodgers spent their years in the wilderness under owner Frank McCourt. There was a real chance that the next generation of my cousins would wear Angels Red instead of Dodgers Blue.
And then, just as quickly as Moreno became one of the best owners in baseball, he became one of the worst.
The bad side of the sombrero caught up with him.
There were hints of this turn from the start, when Moreno told my colleague Bill Shaikin that he felt no obligation to help Latinos enter his rare world.
“I’ve always tried to open the doors to anyone — male, female, black, green, brown, whatever,” he said at the time. “I’m not going to say, ‘I’m in here now and we have to differentiate ourselves,’ when what we’ve been trying to do in America is to open the door for everyone.”
I also don’t believe in race-based Affirmative Action. But if you don’t want to give people a step forward, then you better bring the best. Instead, Moreno opened the doors to clothes that, like Cinderella’s Pumpkin Carriage, turned the team back into a laughing stock.
He ignored baseball scouts and saddled the team with massive contracts for high-priced players who, unsurprisingly, underperformed. When the Halos somehow ran into Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani – baseball’s best player and most exciting, respectively – Moreno suddenly turned into a cheapskate and didn’t surround them with a competitive team.
As his team faltered during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Moreno appeared with Donald Trump at a Latinos for Trump luncheon in Phoenix and told the crowd it was “very necessary” to vote for Trump.
Even more embarrassing, Moreno allowed his front office to hold increasingly ridiculous promotional events. Snuggies clothes. 70’s throwback weekend. Four separate Ohtani memorabilia giveaways this year. At Cinco de Mayo in 2015, over 25,000 fans set a Guinness World Record for most people wearing a… sombrero at the same time.
Thankfully, Moreno announced this week that he is looking into selling the Halos after nearly 20 years of ownership.
“Throughout this process,” he said in a press release, “we will continue to operate the franchise in the best interests of our fans, employees, players and business partners.”
This would be the first time in years that Moreno has put the well-being of all of us first.
He had an incredible opportunity to be a transformative owner and instead suffocated, just like his team notoriously does. His color-blind wishes came true: no one thinks of him as a Latino owner anymore. Latinos never hugged him or the Halos. Everyone just thinks he’s a bad owner, period.
So what happened?
All point to 2012 as the beginning of the end. It was then that he signed a 10-year contract with Cardinal Albert Pujols of St. Louis, just as the star’s career was beginning to slide down the hill. Rather than learn his lesson, Moreno doubled down and continued to sign past players like Josh Hamilton, Tim Lincecum and Anthony Rendon. Nobody has let off steam.
In 2012, downtown Anaheim also burned following protests against police brutality. The mini-riots exposed the injustices of the Latino-majority city to the world and showed that a civic leader was badly needed to step up and offer hope.
That leader could have been Moreno. He never said a word. Instead, he began seeking a new stadium under the threat of relocating the Halos, a move that turned Anaheim politics on its head.
In 2013, the City Council approved a deal that leased the parking lots around Angel Stadium to Moreno for a dollar a year while allowing him to keep all proceeds from anything he wanted to develop — ostensibly to help build a new ballpark finance. Civil riots thwarted that deal, but keeping the Angels in Anaheim became an election-year plank to which Republican council members set sail — and into which Moreno cynically blew hot air.
In 2019, a new council agreed to sell Angel Stadium and surrounding parking lots to a Moreno-owned company for a measly $150 million in cash, and Moreno pledged to build affordable housing and a park. The deal was so shady that California Atty. General Rob Bonta earlier this year fined Anaheim $96 million for violating the state’s public land use statute, while an Orange County grand jury report denounced the council for “treason.”[ing] its components.”
As a fitting coda, the FBI announced a massive investigation earlier this summer alleging that a “cabal” secretly ruled Anaheim and used its influence to get the city council to speed up the sale of Angel Stadium. It has already led to the resignation of Mayor Harry Sidhu, who in an FBI affidavit claims he leaked classified information to the Angels and contacted an unnamed team leader to obtain an illegal $1 million campaign donation . The council then voted to nix the deal with Angel Stadium. As befits Moreno’s company initially pushed for the sale before experiencing a rare moment of common sense and backing down.
Get well soon, Arte Moreno. You could have been someone in a region that badly needed it. Instead, you leave my beloved Anaheim in political ruins and the Angels a joke. May you take your sombrero of shame on your way out of here.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-24/arte-moreno-anaheim-angels-sale-goodbye Good riddance to Angels owner Arte Moreno