After missing out of a World Series appearance by a mere two games in October of 2009, Angels owner Arte Moreno signed Hideki Matsui prior to the 2010 season to a one year deal and started a destructive pattern that has slowly eaten away at the heart - and wallet - of this franchise.
While Matsui had a decent season for the Angels, it was the media hubbub surrounding him that seems to have had the biggest impact on the team - Godzilla's lasting legacy has been an addiction to headlines and marketable superstars for the Angels brand instead of the Angels team and of course, instead of the Angels fans. If you didn't want a $200 Matsui jersey, the team store had plenty of All Star Game merchandise to sell you too, and if you go to the team store today you will still see a few All Star Game logo items on the side racks.
Every time the Arte-chosen team theme song BUTTERCUP plays in the seventh inning we are reminded that Angels management doesn't really seem to care if the lyrics are about a loser being played by a tease, as their offseason marketing strategy each year is to sign a big name, grab headlines and pre-sell tickets on hype alone.
When Tony Reagins made the disastrous trade for Vernon Wells in January of 2011, please recall there was a huge press conference outside the stadium with an attempt at the attendant hype - and a team store readily stocked with Vernon Wells Angels jerseys. The attempt at hype was met with muted response and Arte's other marketing campaign that season - the team's 50th anniversary - overtook Albatross Vern. But please note, again, that a marketing campaign was what was memorable about that season, not the results.
Why do you build us up, just to let us down and work us around?
In December of 2011 the Angels signed the greatest player of the past decade, Albert Pujols. The contract was enormous and the hype surrounding the signing was almost as gigantic. Meanwhile GM Jerry Dipoto signs C.J. Wilson the very same day and he seems like an afterthought at the high noon rally to introduce Albert - in hindsight it can cynically be seen as a jersey sale but at the time it engendered massive goodwill to the Moreno regime.
When Arte signed Josh Hamilton this year, though, the hype machine was wise enough to have a tightly orchestrated press conference indoors at Downtown Disney, wher the number of fans could be limited... because after a disappointing season the number of fans IS limited. The Angels fans had been HAD now a few years in a row with these offseason championships. There was no rally, barely any "public", there was just voices asking questions to yet another roadside star attraction - but the headlines were posted and the jerseys were sewn and sold.
And here the Angels are with $393 Million committed to Wells, Pujols and Hamilton and no division championships in three seasons of Arte's Magical Press Release Tour. Suddenly the Angels are 4-10 and have more holes than a plate of Aramark dollar-a-slice swiss cheese.
A fourth year of nothing to show for his January schemes is going to make Arte looks a lot like Autry. Angels owner Gene Autry emptied the saddlebags of his loot for top free agents inthe 1970s and 80s, stole Dodger headlines and filled the stadium, only to disappoint at the end of each year. The desire to "win one for the cowboy" had a romance to it that "Win One For the Billionaire Billboard Magnate" will never have. But the results of both. Autry and Arte, are starting to look the same.