Evaluating Arte Moreno's First 10 Years as Los Angeles Angels Owner

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Evaluating Arte Moreno's First 10 Years as Los Angeles Angels Owner

You'll forgive Arte Moreno if he doesn't feel much like celebrating.

Wednesday, May 22, marks the 10-year anniversary of the day that Moreno was officially introduced as the owner of the Angels franchise, but given his club's performance this season, especially relative to preseason expectations, Moreno's probably not in a commemorative mood at the moment.

At 18-27, the Halos own the fourth-worst record in baseball.

Yes, the roster on which Moreno has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past two offseasons to lure the likes of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson is barely better than the reeling-while-rebuilding Mets, the starting-from-scratch-again Marlins and the how-low-can-we-go Astros.

Instead of focusing too much on what is currently going wrong with Moreno's club in L.A.—er, Anaheim—let's take a look at some of the key events that have transpired since Moreno became the owner on May 22, 2003.

 

The Beginning

In mid-May 2003, Moreno's $180 million purchase of the Angels was unanimously approved by baseball and he became just the third owner in franchise history, dating back to 1961. So, a new era in Southern California baseball was ushered in.

Right from the get-go, things had a different look from the previous owner—the Walt Disney Company. Moreno, the first controlling owner in MLB history of Hispanic background (he is of Mexican descent but born in Tucson, Ariz.), passed out welcome sombreros to his new employees, complete with the Angels "A" logo on top.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
David Eckstein, shortstop for the 2002 World Series champion Angels, dons a white cowboy hat at the celebration, in honor of former owner Gene Autry.

In a way, this was a nod to both Moreno's culture and that of the Angels, who were owned for four decades by singer-actor Gene Autry, who was famously known for his cowboy hat.

The vibes couldn't have been better for Moreno and Angels fans, as not only were they coming off a dramatic, come-from-behind, seven-game World Series win—the franchise's first title—but Moreno also pledged to lower beer prices at the stadium.

That'll bring some goodwill in short order.

 

A New Name

You may remember back when Moreno came aboard that the franchise was still known as the Anaheim Angels, which was something he wanted to change as part of bringing a new feel and a more widespread identity to the team.

This change was officially made in 2005 and while there was political posturing, a lawsuit and some backlash over the decision, the elongated name—the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim—has stuck around, even though the colloquial "Anaheim Angels" is the more familiar terminology.

In a recent evaluation of all 30 MLB owners, nonprofit investigative news magazine and website MotherJones.com wrote of the Angels honcho:

Moreno's worst move as an owner was his insistence on giving his team its clunky new, multi-city moniker.

If that is, in fact, Moreno's low point, well, that's not so bad.

 

Winning the Pennant—Repeatedly

No matter the name, the Angels have been one of baseball's best and most consistent clubs from 2003 to now.

Hard to believe, but the Angels' pre-Moreno history was bad enough to base a movie on.

In that time, Los Angeles has gone 916-748, good for a .550 winning percentage and fifth-best in MLB since Moreno's first year of ownership.

In case you've forgotten, this is a franchise that wasn't exactly known for winning, to the point where a little movie you may remember from 1994 essentially used "When the Angels win the pennant" to mean ""When pigs fly."

Consider: In the franchise's 42-season history prior to Moreno, the Halos reached the 90-win plateau only five times—or 12 percent. Under Moreno's 10-season tenure? They've hit that mark on five occasions. You don't need a calculator for that percentage, right?

Also in the same stretch, the Angels have had only two seasons in which they finished with a sub-.500 record, with those coming in 2003 in Moreno's first season and then in 2010.

Whatever you want to make of the team's current struggles, the club hasn't needed the likes of Christopher Lloyd and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to help them win ever since Moreno has been around.

 

Empty Octobers

As for the playoffs, there have been five appearances in the same five seasons as alluded to above. That is rather remarkable for a franchise that has only nine postseason showings in all.

Alas, once the Angels reach October, the results haven't been as rewarding since 2003.

Their five AL West title seasons have led to a mere 10-19 record (.345) in the postseason and only two series wins, both in division series victories in 2005 and 2009.

Of course, things may have been different had the 2005 ALCS against the White Sox not turned on that pivotal, and controversial, dropped-third-strike play involving Chicago's A.J. Pierzysnki in the bottom of the ninth of Game 2.

Fair warning to Angels fans: You may want to avoid watching this replay.

Angels fans will forever wonder what could have been had this never happened.

The lack of postseason success is probably the biggest pockmark on Moreno's ownership so far, especially considering he took over a team fresh off a championship.

 

Keeping the Seats Filled

While the Angels haven't yet reached the promised land in the playoffs under Moreno, the club's overall on-field performance has gone a long way toward making fans happy and keeping them coming back for more.

Attendance figures and MLB rank per ESPN.com.

Until 2003, per Baseball Reference, the Angels had never surpassed the three-million mark in attendance. While that coincides with Moreno's arrival, of course, that just so happened to be the first year after the franchise's only title.

Moreno, though, deserves plenty of credit for keeping the seats filled for a variety of reasons—from continued success to bringing in high-profile players (more below) to giving the fans what they want. Every season since 2003 has brought an attendance figure beginning with a "3," as the chart at the right shows.

In that regard, Moreno is batting a thousand.

 

The Coach and Front Office

Another big part of Moreno's legacy to this point is tied to his decision-makers.

Moreno has known but one manager during his ownership, as former big league catcher Mike Scioscia has been at the helm since 2000, making him the longest-tenured skipper among active managers in the game, by far.

While things haven't gone quite so smoothly for the pair this season—rumors have swirled that Scioscia may not be long for the job—Moreno has continued to stand by Scioscia, both then and now. Their relationship was a big reason why the Angels inked Scioscia to a 10-year extension in 2009 that could keep him around through the 2018 season.

While Scioscia predates Moreno, the owner has changed general managers twice.

Bill Stoneman was already in that position when Moreno took over in 2003. As GM, Stoneman hired Scioscia and helped construct the World Series-winning 2002 team and he would make it through 2007 before stepping down and turning the reins over to Tony Reagins.

In his first two years, Reagins guided the Angels to two straight postseasons, including the best record in baseball at 100-62 in 2008. After failing to make the postseason in either 2010 or 2011, though, Moreno felt a change was needed and Reagins was replaced by current GM Jerry Dipoto in October of 2011.

That shows shows how much Moreno has raised the standard.

 

Transaction Time

Speaking of Dipoto, we might as well get to the topic most often associated with the Angels these days—the free agent splash.

Sure, the club made some big moves and decisions, both good and bad, while Moreno was presiding over Stoneman and Reagins. Among them were signing Vlad Guerrero in 2004, trading for Mark Teixeira in 2008, the 2009 draft pick of Mike Trout, acquiring Dan Haren for Joe Saunders, Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs in 2010, dealing Mike Napoli for Vernon Wells in 2011 and giving ace Jered Weaver an $85 million extension in 2011, but the past two winters have been unlike any Angels fans had seen before.

And it's not like Moreno hadn't signed some hefty checks before.

Payroll figures and MLB rank per USA Today's salary database.

Until 2003, the Angels' payroll had never been higher than $62 million, according to USA Today's salary database. Since then? Well, the chart at right should prove just how much of a factor Moreno has been in transforming the team into a true big-market franchise.

On the whole, Moreno has just about doubled the payroll in his 10 years, which is a remarkable feat and speaks to his desire to win by putting money into the team.

Of course, as we're seeing now, it doesn't always work out quite that way. Not that it's stopping Moreno.

Over the past two offseasons, the Angels have simultaneously been the biggest spenders and the quote-unquote "mystery team" that swooped in to ink the big names such as Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson for a combined $331.5 prior to the 2012 season, and Josh Hamilton for $125 prior to this year.

In fact, a reaction to the Hamilton inking back in December, courtesy of @MLBMeme, shows how Moreno has dominated the past two offseasons.

 

Growing the Brand

Aside from investing money into talent on the field, Moreno has also done plenty off of it to help the franchise grow.

In 2006, the owner purchased Radio 830 KMXE, the nation's largest Spanish language AM radio station, eventually renamed it KLAA and turned it into the airwaves home for Angels games.

On the television side, Moreno shrewdly opted out of an existing deal and jumped at the chance to sign a 20-year pact in December of 2011 with Fox Sports (the same time he was signing both Pujols and Wilson) that is reportedly worth $3 billion, per the Los Angeles Times.

All in all, in 10 years, Moreno has turned his initial $184 million investment into an estimated $718 empire, according to Forbes.

 

The Bottom Line

Things appear to be in flux at the moment, given the Angels' poor start in the face of huge expectations, but that shouldn't overshadow the fact that Moreno has overseen undoubtedly the most successful era in Angels baseball by putting his money and business savvy into the team.

That should be reason enough to celebrate after all.

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