Elliott: The right Angels owners will turn wishes to reality

The ownership situation was a mess. The team repeatedly missed the playoffs. When the possibility of a sale became widely known, fans rejoiced. Their nightmare was about to end.

And then owner Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corp. sold the Dodgers to Frank McCourt, who siphoned off club funds to finance an over-the-top lifestyle for himself and his wife Jamie and pushed the Dodgers into bankruptcy in 2011. Fans saw through him quickly, staying away from Dodger Stadium in silent but eloquent protest until he sold the team to Guggenheim Baseball Management in 2012.

The moral here: Be careful what you wish for. You might not end up with what you thought you’d get.

That came to mind Tuesday, when Angels owner Arte Moreno said he had begun to “evaluate strategic alternatives” that include potentially selling his team. Understandably weary of non-playoff finishes and the Angels’ failure to build around superstars Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, fans celebrated Moreno’s possible departure. Things have to get better. Don’t they?

Moreno has spent a lot of money, but spent too much of it badly, overvaluing big-name players who were on the downside of their careers. An era that began with high hopes and lower beer prices and brought them five American League West titles from 2004 to 2009 ended in a meltdown fueled by bad personnel decisions. There was growing dread that Ohtani, the two-way unicorn, will walk away as a free agent after next season. Without him, the Angels wouldn’t be worth watching.

It’s unclear whether an ownership change and promises of better management (and more wins) will persuade Ohtani to stay. But this much is certain: After years of failures and Moreno’s misguided free-agent signings, the Angels need a dynamic and deep-pocketed owner (more likely owners) who will provide the vision and resources for a revival and then get out of the way, allowing baseball experts to build quality depth on the roster and rebuild a sorry scouting and development system.

Sounds good. But who fits that description?

It’s early in the game, and a deal of this magnitude — the Angels are expected to sell for more than the $2.2 billion valuation Forbes gave them earlier this year — likely will require a group of investors. Finding partners and forging alliances could take time, though some of those conversations undoubtedly began within minutes of the release of Moreno’s statement.

The ideal new Angels owners would have the characteristics of several current owners across the major leagues.
They should have the passion of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and of Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, courtside fixtures who act like fans and constantly advocate for their teams. Ballmer also deserves praise for taking the initiative to leave Crypto.com Arena, where the Clippers rank third in preference for playing dates behind the Kings and Lakers, for the privately financed Intuit Dome in Inglewood. Similar initiative could help the Angels on the field and off, especially in developing the area around Angel Stadium.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer takes the stage during a groundbreaking ceremony.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer takes the stage during a groundbreaking ceremony.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The new Angels owner should have the financial strength and wisdom of Rams owner Stan Kroenke, whose extensive holdings include the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. Besides having the money to turn the Avalanche into a winner, he had the patience to trust general manager Joe Sakic through a long and often painful rebuild. Kroenke signed Rams general manager Les Snead and coach Sean McVay to contract extensions after they won the Super Bowl and has spent wisely on cornerstone players such as Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp.

The strong community orientation of Henry and Susan Samueli, who have owned the NHL Ducks since 2005, is another must for the Angels’ new owners. The Samuelis have made sizable donations to the engineering schools at UCLA and UC Irvine and support many health- and art-related causes in Southern California. Their example is worth following because it’s the right thing to do and because it would strengthen the Angels’ connection to a disenchanted fan base.

A dash of New York Mets owner Steve Cohen’s willingness to engage fans on social media would be welcome for the new Angels owners. So would the drive for excellence the New York Yankees have maintained for decades under the ownership of the Steinbrenner family, now led by Hal Steinbrenner, son of George. And throw a big helping of the expertise of Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob, whose team has won four titles in eight seasons. Lacob has shown interest in owning the Dodgers, Angels and Oakland Athletics at various times; this could be the right time for him to own the Angels and bring back a winning culture.

While we’re at it, the Angels’ new owners also should replicate the diversity in the executive ranks of women’s soccer team Angel City FC, which has athletes, actors, women and people of color among its founders and investors. Moreno was the first Mexican-American to own a major sports team in the U.S. He shouldn’t be the last.

If Moreno isn’t merely testing the market and is serious about selling the Angels, fans will get what they’ve wished for. The right owners can turn those wishes into a happier reality than Moreno ever could.

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