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January 5, 2005

Angels in America

Do Halos By Any Other Name Smell As Sweet?

by Neil deMause

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And so it's official. To the legendarily doofy sports names of yore--the ABA's Spirits of St. Louis, the NFL's wartime Phil-Pitt Steagles--we can now add a new contender: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Swirl that around in your mouth a few times. Now spit.

As p.r. moves go...well, let's just say that Arte Moreno should be hoping that there's truth in the old canard about "there's no such thing as bad publicity," because that's the only kind he's getting right now. Though you'd think Angels fans would be inured to name changes by now (as one friend of mine remarked, "Don't they just buy blank caps and a dry-erase pen, anyway?"), the response from much of Angel fandom is as if Moreno had disemboweled the Rally Monkey and posted its head on a pike atop the Big A. The most popular sentiment on ESPN.com's Angels message board is, and I quote, "this is retarded"--though a few Halo rooters are apparently holding out hope that a doofy name will be worth it if it provides the cash to land, say, Carlos Beltran.

Angels fans are steamed for various reasons: If they live in Anaheim, they feel like second-class citizens; if in L.A., they resent out-of-towners usurping the good name of their suburban agglomeration; and if they own a road atlas, they've noticed that not only isn't Anaheim in the city of Los Angeles, it's not even in L.A. County. As innumerable sports columnists have written over the past two days, George Steinbrenner wouldn't call them the Manhattan Yankees of the Bronx, would he?

Well, he might, if he thought there was profit in it. To be fair, appeals to fan bases of the next town over aren't exactly new, going back at least to the dawn of the Minnesota Twins of Minneapolis in 1961, with stops along the way for the Golden State Warriors of Oakland, the New England Patriots of Foxboro, and the Carolina Panthers of Charlotte. Even the Baltimore Orioles played this game in a small way, substituting "Orioles" for "Baltimore" on their road unis the instant the Senators left D.C.

(And let's not forget my personal favorite, the short-lived Battle Creek Golden Kazoos of the Midwest League, who somehow thought that the nickname would help lure fans from the neighboring metropolis of Kalamazoo. By the time the team actually took the field, they had mercifully been retitled the Michigan Battle Cats.)

To come up with a really historically bad name, though--like, just for example, the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim"--you need to combine the chutzpah of a marketing executive with the soul of a corporate lawyer. This linguistic monstrosity had its genesis back in 1996, when the city of Anaheim agreed to contribute $30 million toward a renovation of what was then still quaintly known as Anaheim Stadium. In return, the team agreed to rename itself the "Anaheim Angels"--which was all well and good with then-owners Disney, who were hoping to create some sort of municipal synergy with that little amusement-park thing they have going next door.

Then, in 2003, Disney sold the team to Moreno, who noticed that Los Angeles was home to a lot more people than Anaheim, people who might be more likely to buy tickets (and replica jerseys, and Fox Sports SoCal subscriptions) if the team didn't bear the name of some two-bit Orange County mousetown. And he noticed something about that lease clause: It didn't actually require the team to be named the Anaheim Angels. What it said was:

Tenant will change the name of the team to include the name "Anaheim" therein, such change to be effective no later than the commencement of the 1997 season.
The city of Anaheim had reportedly tried for a clause requiring "Anaheim Angels," but Disney insisted that wouldn't give it enough "flexibility." Lord knows what alternatives city officials thought they were leaving the door open for: the Anaheim Angels in America? The Californiana Heimlich Maneuvers? But it was enough for Moreno to waltz right in with the Prepositional Phrase That Ate Anaheim.

The Angels management is clamming up now in anticipation of certain lawsuits--more on that in a bit--but the team's initial press statement was a masterpiece of keeping a straight face, insisting that the new moniker would "strengthen the Angels' long-term economic health by enhancing the marketability through this metropolitan area and beyond." That sound you just heard is the collective head-smacking of Southern California's sports fans. "Marketability?" they cry. "You really think that people in L.A. are going to be conned into switching from Dodger blue to Angel crimson just because it says 'Los Angeles' on the letterhead? Or that people in Palm Springs don't know that Anaheim Stadium--oops, we mean Angel Stadium at Anaheim--is in Orange County? Arte may be Mr. Marketing in Arizona," they say, finally winding down their hypothetical rant to take a hypothetical breath, "but he doesn't get California."

According to sports branding consultant Robert Hollander of Brand Sense Marketing, though, Moreno doesn't need to get California--his eyes are on that telltale "beyond."

"On a national level, it attracts everything from advertisers, tourists, to people moving to the L.A. area--'Oh, yeah, Anaheim, they've got the L.A. Angels there,'" says Hollander. "When people from this part of the world talk to people in other parts of the world and say, 'Where you from?' most of the time they don't say Thousand Oaks or Westwood or Anaheim--they say, 'I'm from L.A.' So on a broader basis, outside of a specific regional trading area, I think it's very smart."

As for answers to some of the other questions that are no doubt keeping Jayson Stark up nights:

  • The bifurcated city name is already causing headaches at the Associated Press, which has the unhappy task of deciding how the team will be listed in the daily standings in newspapers across the country. ("L.A."? "L.A.-Anaheim"? Just "Angels"? An impenetrable glyph?) As of yesterday, the AP was taking the fifth, insisting it hadn't come to a decision yet (and no doubt won't until the lawsuits shake out). Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vice-president of communications--you know, I'd like this name a lot better if BP paid by the word--Tim Mead, though, seems to think the choice is clear, telling me yesterday: "We are Los Angeles."

  • A still knottier dilemma will face the league's scoreboard operators, who by and large only have three letters to work with. Two different sources told me--and Mead strenuously denied--that the Angels have sent the other 29 teams an e-mail asking to be abbreviated as either "L.A." or "LAA," the latter of which would neatly evade the question of what that second "A" stands for.

  • If "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" is a mouthful for English speakers (I fully expect Ralph Kiner to require hospitalization during at least one out-of-town score recap this season), the Spanish translation is an even bigger mess: Try saying "Los Angeles de Los Angeles del Anaheim" three times fast without breaking into a giggle fit. Last I checked, the Angels' Spanish-language site hadn't even posted a version of the name-change press release; Mead seemed really uncomfortable when I asked him about this, offering weakly that "it's awkward if one translates, but I'm not sure how often people spend the time translating team names."
All this could be moot, of course, or at least delayed indefinitely. The city of Anaheim is even now preparing to file for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injuction against the name change, which if granted would force the team to revert to "Anaheim Angels" for the 2005 season. (A further suit is possible against the team's previous stripping of "Anaheim" from its jerseys, according to John Nicoletti of the Anaheim city manager's office.) If Anaheim wins--and while the imprecise lease terms may make it difficult, it's by no means impossible--it will be as if this whole mess never happened; if it loses, expect the team to become the L.A. Angels overnight, no matter how many angry O.C. mobs climb into their SUVs bearing torches and pitchforks.

For now, though, it's the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, entering sports lore alongside such similar Frankenstein monsters as 3Com Park at Candlestick Point and the Poulan Weed Eater Independence Bowl. Fortunately, it's not likely to become a trend. Though it does occur to me that the Rockies, who already consider themselves the home team for the entire Mountain time zone (not counting Arizona, which isn't on Mountain time during baseball season anyway), could always consider dropping the "Colorado" from their name, and slapping a generic mountain range on their caps. I bet the good people of Calgary would love to buy a gross of replica Tim Harikkala warmup jackets...

Neil deMause is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Neil's other articles. You can contact Neil by clicking here

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