Originally created 05/16/03

Sale of Angels unanimously approved by owners



NEW YORK -- The sale of the Anaheim Angels from The Walt Disney Co. to Arturo Moreno was approved Thursday, making him the first minority with a controlling stake in a major league team.

Moreno, a Hispanic businessman from Tucson, Ariz., hopes to complete the $184 million purchase of the World Series champions by the middle of next week and take over operation immediately.

"Every guy's dream is to own a baseball team," he said. "It's an opportunity I've always dreamed about."

He doesn't plan any immediate changes for the Angels, coming off the first title for a franchise that started play in 1961.

"I think they have good people," he said. "For me, it's a learning process. I'll sit back and listen."

Disney bought a 25 percent share of the Angels and took control of the team from founding owner Gene Autry in 1996, then purchased the remainder of the team after he died in 1998.

"Our primary goal during the time we were privileged to own the Angels was to make sure the team remained as a viable, exciting part of the Anaheim community," Disney chairman Michael Eisner said. "This goal has clearly been achieved."

The other Los Angeles-area team, the Dodgers, also is up for sale. News Corp., which bought the team for $311 million in 1997, has been talking with Malcolm Glazer and his sons, the owners of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said discussions are continuing but no deal has yet been presented to the commissioner's office for approval.

Moreno didn't attach any particular significance to his becoming the first minority owner with a controlling stake. While the Seattle Mariners' majority interest is owned by Hiroshi Yamauchi, who is Japanese, the team has been controlled by John Ellis and Howard Lincoln, who are American.

"I think we're all Americans," Moreno said. "Most of us are immigrants from someplace and we do our best to be Americans."

Moreno used to own a small interest in the Arizona Diamondbacks and currently owns a part interest in the NBA's Phoenix Suns. His net worth has been estimated at $940 million by Forbes magazine, a fortune made in the billboard industry.

He grew up working for the family print shop in Tucson, graduated with a marketing degree from the University of Arizona and is a Vietnam veteran. He took over Phoenix-based Outdoor Systems in the mid-1980s, transforming it into an industry giant before he and a partner sold it for $8.3 billion in 1999 to Infinity Broadcasting Co.

Last month, Angels catcher Bengie Molina said he hoped that ownership by Moreno would bring more Hispanics to the ballpark.

"I don't know if it will be positive or negative. It's kind of hard to tell right now, because there's nobody being a Latino owner," he said, adding that it could open doors "for us Latinos who want to come up and play the game."

Baseball has worked hard in recent years to gain fans in Central America and the Caribbean. It has played opening-day games in Mexico and Puerto Rico, and this season the Montreal Expos are playing 22 "home" games in San Juan.

"Since Jackie Robinson, we've expanded diversity of the game on the field, we've expanded diversity in the front office," DuPuy said. "Mr. Moreno seems like an unbelievably qualified and talented individual."

Moreno's deal with Disney was agreed to last month. Selig was surprised at the speed of approval, saying it went "as fast as anything I've ever seen in all my years in the game."

"There was never any objection at any level about anything," said Selig, who has been in baseball since 1970.

Moreno knows that in baseball, players are credited for wins and owners are blamed for losses.

"I told my son they'll probably be booing me soon," he said.

Meanwhile, Selig sent a letter to Puerto Rico's nonvoting representative in Congress, Anibal Acevedo Vila, saying baseball was open to relocating the Expos to the Caribbean island.

"We would be delighted to consider a proposal from San Juan, which would need to include plans for a playing facility which meets all minimum major league baseball requirements," Selig said in the May 2 letter. Selig said "it would be necessary for us to gain some sense of a person or group of persons who may wish to acquire this club."

Northern Virginia; Portland, Ore.; and Washington, D.C., are trying to lure the Expos, but baseball wants financing in place for a ballpark before making a decision. Baseball moved 22 of the team's 81 home games to San Juan this year in an effort to raise attendance and revenue, and baseball officials have been talking with a Puerto Rican promoter about returning to Hiram Bithorn Stadium for games next year if no permanent decision is made on the Expos' future home.

Baseball hopes to have a decision on the Expos' future by the All-Star break in July, but DuPuy said it's possible no permanent decision will be made in time for 2004.

DuPuy said baseball had spoken with the players' association about proposals that would finance a ballpark with an additional tax on the salaries of players, which is part of Washington's plan.

"That is a troublesome issue," he said.