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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…