What's in a name? A lot if you're an Angel

Monday, January 9th 2006, 8:55 pm
By: News On 6

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) _ Charles Richter roots for the Angels. Not the Anaheim Angels, not the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, not the California Angels. Just the Angels.

For Richter, that's the easiest way to keep ahead of a game that took a strange twist last year. That's when owner Arte Moreno renamed the 2002 World Series champions the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim _ and the city slapped the team with a lawsuit, claiming tens of millions in lost publicity.

``It's the players, the team, it's the Angels we root for. Not what's behind the word 'Angels' or in front of it,'' said Richter, 35, who runs the popular fan site www.angelswin.com.

But many fans do care, and say the war of words obscures what the debate is really about: A general failure to recognize that Orange County, population 3 million, is a strong community with its own identity that doesn't need LA's cachet.

``You can sell 'The OC' or you can sell 'Beverly Hills 90210.' Well, one of them's kind of outdated,'' said John Ward, an Angels fan who sold his season tickets after the name change. ``It's this 1960s mentality of Orange County, that it's a suburb of Los Angeles. It's a slap in the face.''

Jury selection in Anaheim's lawsuit began Tuesday and opening statements could come as soon as Wednesday.

The Angels began play in 1961 as the Los Angeles Angels, then changed their name to the California Angels when they moved from Los Angeles to Anaheim in 1966. They became the Anaheim Angels in 1997. Since Moreno announced the latest name change a year ago, the saga has dragged on like a 15-inning game.

Moreno has suggested he might move the team, some fans have boycotted games and the city unsuccessfully asked courts to block the name change until the current lawsuit was resolved.

Citing the trial's start, Moreno and team attorneys declined interviews with The Associated Press through a spokesman.

But Moreno, Major League Baseball's first Hispanic owner, has said the Angels have been in a ``demographic box'' in terms of fan base, broadcast contracts and sponsorship deals. Highlighting ``Anaheim'' didn't capitalize on being part of the second-largest media market in the nation, he has said.

``The fact is, if you put people in a box, whether it's racial or economic or marketing-wise, you don't give them a chance to grow,'' Moreno told The Orange County Register shortly after announcing the name change. ``We're not changing where we live. We're not changing the Angels.''

And with that, Moreno started marketing his team to Los Angeles _ even slapping up Angels billboards blocks from Dodger Stadium, the home of LA's original team.

Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle refused to attend a single game, though he caved when the Angels made last year's playoffs.

Still, he's one of the lawsuit's biggest backers. Filed shortly after the name change became official last January, the suit claims the team violated a 1996 contract that required ``Anaheim'' be featured prominently in all team-related merchandise and advertisements.

The city spent $20 million fixing up the stadium and leased valuable land to the team with the understanding Anaheim would get international name recognition out of the deal, said Andrew Guildford, the city's co-counsel. The city wants the name change reversed and is seeking damages, arguing that lost income from the leased land and publicity the city would otherwise get each time the Angels play _ so-called ``impressions'' _ is worth at least $100 million.

Fans such as Ward see broader implications for Orange County, whose residents account for two-thirds of the team's ticket sales.

``Arte Moreno has said that one of Orange County's highest profile things _ the Angels _ aren't a part of Orange County,'' Ward said, who hopes a jury can set things right. ``Who is this team and who are they playing for? The only thing I can hope for is that 12 anonymous people in Orange County can fix this problem.''