- Arash Markazi, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- For the past six years the Los Angeles Angels have been in Los Angeles in name only.
Anyone who has sat in the parking lot known as Interstate 5 for over an hour driving from Los Angeles to Anaheim knows saying the Angels play in Los Angeles is as absurd as saying San Diego State plays in the Big East.
For the first time, however, Angel Stadium moved a closer to L.A. Suddenly the name "Los Angeles Angels" doesn't sound so bad when you put "first baseman Albert Pujols" and "pitcher C.J. Wilson" after it.
We're admittedly fickle here in Los Angeles. When it comes to loyalty we're more "What have you done for me lately?" than "'Til death do us part." Our patience and attention span mirror that of a restless child sitting in a barber's chair. We can't sit still waiting for something to happen. That's why we come to games late and, if nothing is happening, we leave early. We have better things to do than holding up homemade signs in the ninth inning of a blowout, hopelessly trying to get on TV. Chances are we'll run into a TMZ cameraman on the way to the grocery store, anyway.
Los Angeles is a tough market to crack, and it's even tougher when you're in a city 25 miles away trying to claim Los Angeles as your home.
No one knows this better than Angels owner Arte Moreno. He understands that it takes more than a consistent winner to draw fans and media from Los Angeles. You need star power. You need someone who will move the needle every time he talks to the media and every time he doesn't talk to the media. You need someone who will force fans in Los Angeles to get in their cars and sit in traffic for two hours when they can just as easily go to Dodger Stadium.
You will no doubt hear analysts call the Angels' signing of Pujols to a 10-year, $250 million deal with a full no-trade clause foolish. They will probably label the five-year, $75 million contract given to Wilson overpriced. They will particularly focus on Pujols' age now (31) and at the end of his contract (42), when he will be owed about $25 million for being an over-the-hill designated hitter. That is, of course, if he's even playing at that point.
Anyone focusing on how Pujols will look during the final five years of his contract instead of the first five years is actually missing the big picture here.
This isn't just about signing Pujols and Wilson for the Angels and Moreno. This is about capturing the Los Angeles market and burying the Los Angeles Dodgers in the process.
Think about it. While the Angels were signing the best player in baseball, do you know where the Dodgers were? They were in a Wilmington, Del., courtroom fighting over plans to sell the media rights to games as the team tries to get out of bankruptcy.
While the Angels were signing one of the best pitchers in baseball, do you know what the Dodgers were doing? They were busy signing utility infielders Jerry Hairston Jr. and Adam Kennedy. There is talk they may even splurge and go after reliever Mike MacDougal.
The Angels' signings were really a two-pronged attack at their biggest competitors. The Pujols signing not only makes them the marquee franchise in the city ahead of the Dodgers when it comes to star power, but the Wilson signing improves their pitching staff while gutting the Texas Rangers' in the process. The Angels were longing to add a pitcher like Wilson to an already solid rotation, but the fact they did so by hurting the team that won the AL West and went to the World Series the past two seasons makes the acquisition that much more valuable.
As much as this will help them against the Rangers in the short term, these two deals were really about making Los Angeles an Angels town in the long term.
Sure, Moreno could have continued to check down with the Dodgers clinging to a small stack, but he went all-in with the sole purpose of knocking the Dodgers out.
Dodgers fans are a loyal group, but even they could only take so much last season as disgraced owner Frank McCourt dragged the team through his messy divorce, bankruptcy and a terrible season in which the team was never in contention. For the first time in their history the Dodgers were outdrawn by the Angels, and for the first time in 16 years the Dodgers sold less than three million tickets. Their official attendance was down a league worst 627,181 from the previous season, and that's not even counting the thousands of no-shows toward the end of the season.
It is no coincidence that the Angels had one of the biggest single-day hauls in baseball history while the Dodgers are at the lowest point in their franchise history. If the Angels were ever going to steal this town from under the Dodgers, it is now. While the Dodgers continue to operate on a budget with a "For Sale" sign in the front yard, the Angels are encouraging disgruntled baseball fans in Los Angeles to drive to the mansion that's being built down the street.
The Angels may not play in Los Angeles, but maybe Thursday was the first step to making this the City of Angels.
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLA.com.
Angel Stadium doesn't seem like such a tough commute down Interstate 5.