As the LA Times reported the news that the Los Angeles Angels have the third option of staying in their current lease through 2029, they dropped the nugget that a decision on the Angels’ future city is expected this year.
The Halos, as we know, are deciding between building a new stadium on the site of Angel Stadium, likely complete with a redevelopment of the parking lot area into a village of shops and restaurants, or Long Beach, who are playing with the idea of a waterfront ballpark completing their civic revitalization.
Whatever the decision is, it will be met with some relief by Angels fans. Just as the front office will reload the roster in the off-season knowing Mike Trout is signed for the Long haul, the business side of the franchise will end its long, bizarre holding pattern of being “Angels Baseball”.
Indeed, whichever route the Angels choose will open the door on a new future, and close the door somewhat on an aspect of their past. Embrace Anaheim, the city they found safe haven in after entering the league in 1961 as expansion orphans, and their links to the City of Angels will become more distant. Set flight for Long Beach, and the Halos will leave some 2002 World Series magic, the California and Anaheim Angels eras, and some memorable periwinkle uniforms in Orange County.
As far as actual information on the Angels’ plans, it is lacking. The Angels have returned to the negotiating table with a confident group of Anaheim city leaders, but to count out an aggressive Long Beach is a mistake.
Long Beach and the Angels go way back. It was Long Beach who initially drew Gene Autry’s attention when looking for a home away from Chavez Ravine. Had the city relented on their demand of the team renaming itself the Long Beach Angels, history as we know it would be very different. As Long Beach revitalizes its waterfront district, looking for a ballpark as a centerpiece, much like San Diego’s Gaslamp District with Petco Park, and San Francisco’s China Basin with what is now Oracle Park, makes all the sense in the world.
Baseball, after all, is 81 home dates a year. A successful downtown ballpark does bring the fans and the traffic for restaurants especially. The Angels routinely move three million fans a year through Angel Stadium of Anaheim, a facility over a half century old, with a massive parking lot surrounding it. If the Angels could bring that number to Long Beach, it would be a huge win for the city.
And if you read the tea leaves in the Angels organization in the era of Arturo Moreno ownership, Long Beach could be just what the Angels want. Not so much for the waterfront ballpark, those are all side benefits to the fact Long Beach is in Los Angeles County. While Anaheim is in the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, Los Angelenos balk at the idea of the Angels, named after the city itself and the only native Major League franchise to the area, one of their own. Since the Angels took the interlocking “LA” off their caps in the mid 1960s, much of LA proper took them out of their hearts.
For Arte Moreno, one would guess this is an important detail. After all, Moreno purchased the Anaheim Angels in 2003 from Walt Disney Co. It was Disney who renamed the Angels from California Angels in 1997 as part of a stadium renovation and lease renewal deal with the City of Anaheim. Moreno would famously rename the club the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2004, satisfying the lease agreement by keeping the word “Anaheim” in the name, while pivoting the team towards the larger LA market. The away uniforms would lose the word “Anaheim” and gain, not “Los Angeles”, but “Angels” as the club would become on the field, “Angels Baseball” or “The Angels” for short.
Thus began the current limbo, the team in many ways straddling the fence between their Anaheim home and Los Angeles roots. Though the scoreboard on TV wil say “LAA”, you will never hear the broadcasters say “Los Angeles Angels”. The patches on the sleeve of the jerseys says “Angels Baseball” as does any merchandise which for other teams would carry a city name. The “of Anaheim” dropped completely off the name in 2016, leaving a team officially known as the Los Angeles Angels, but never using the name.
So what gives?
Visit the Angel Stadium Team Store and the answers become a bit more clear. Amongst the modern day merchandise is a scattering of 1961 merchandise, the classic Los Angeles Angels “LA” hat with a halo atop it. There’s a small smattering of California Angels gear, especially the lowercase “a” hats of the early 1970s, but the overall feel is “Los Angeles”.
The actual evidence is lacking, Moreno and his organization are tight-lipped, but call me surprised if an organization works so hard for over a decade to change their name to the Los Angeles Angels, while delaying any uniform updates and use of the name, solely to remain long-term in Anaheim. Their time in Anaheim as the Los Angeles Angels has been the butt of jokes from fans and even anger from the local media, so it seems so unlikely the status quo continues.
The Angels appear poised to move firmly into the Los Angeles market, and baseball will be better off for it.