Steve Han, a junior at Cal State Long Beach, presents a paradox. Amidst the crowd of baseball fans who donned carnelian Angels jerseys or pinstriped Yankees gear last Saturday at Angel Stadium, he decided to go ahead with something different. In a sea of red, Han sported Dodger Blue.
Han is one of a myriad of loyal Dodger fans trying to ensure that the fan base in Los Angeles remains unshaken in the wake of the team’s front office debacle. This season has largely been a year of doldrums for the Dodgers, an organization whose history of success and global appeal had captivated the hearts of baseball fans domestically and abroad. Just as New York has gravitated around the Yankees and not the Mets, the Dodgers have been the darling team of Southern California, one that the Angels could only hope to become.
Recent developments, however, might tell a different story. Since the Angels won the World Series in 2002, a steady stream of fans have consistently packed the “Big A,” a stadium complete with a tree-covered mountainside and geysers. The league office noticed the potential market in Anaheim, and the Angels were named to host the annual All-Star game last year. The Angels have held the event three times since the team’s creation, a feat that places Angel Stadium as one of three existing ballparks to do so, along with Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. In contrast, the last time the All-Stars gathered to play a summer game in Dodger Stadium was in 1980, when The Empire Strikes Back was in theaters.
In the American League, the Angels have ranked second in attendance for seven consecutive years, and in an interesting turn of events, they look to surpass the Dodgers in season attendance for the first time in the franchise’s 50 year history. While this shift can for the most part be attributed to the Dodgers’ woeful season, the Angels deserve credit for revamping the image of their franchise and aggressively reaching out to the greater L.A. area.
Since Arte Moreno (the first Hispanic owner of a major sports team and the only non-white Anglo majority owner in Major League Baseball) took over the Angels, the franchise has tripled in value. The ambitious 2005 name change from the Anaheim Angels to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim heralded the rise of a true Southern California franchise.
“Dodger Stadium is a classic stadium filled with tradition and history, but Angel Stadium is geared toward entertainment,” said Frank Pericolosi, coach of the Pomona-Pitzer baseball team. He recently visited Angel Stadium to watch them take on his beloved Yankees. “It is fan-friendly and a nice place to watch the game.”
Most recently, the Angels provided their fans the experience of a lifetime when they set the Guinness World Record for having “the largest gathering of people waving fleece blankets of one color in one place.” Angel Stadium is slowly expanding its fan base, and, if situations don’t improve for the Dodgers, people may certainly start driving down to the other end of Interstate 5.
“It’s possible,” answered Coach Pericolosi, when asked whether he believes the Angels could become the team of Los Angeles in the years to come. “But not likely.”
Scripps politics professor Thomas Kim, an avid Dodger fan, agreed with Coach Pericolosi on the issue.
“The Dodger brand is still significantly more powerful than the Angel brand,” Kim said. “Loyalty runs a little deeper and Dodgers are at the vanguard of drawing people from all over the world. They are the team of Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela, Hideo Nomo, and Chan Ho Park, players who have opened up the market for people of all backgrounds. The Angels, on the other hand, rank near the bottom of teams when you go outside of their immediate market.”
Last spring, Kim taught a course entitled Race, Politics and Baseball. He explained that the Dodgers’ drama is a complicated issue. The McCourts’ divorce case, bad economy, and poor performance on the field have all led to a disenchanted fan base, and media coverage has added fuel to the fire.
“The media deployed existing tropes around race and class to cover the stadium security issue in a negative light,” Kim said, referring to an incident earlier this year when a Giants fan was attacked outside the Dodger Stadium by two Dodger fans. “The stadium became a site of an implicitly racialized struggle. Rather than deal with it, some fans simply checked out by not attending games,” he added. Since that incident, Dodger stadium has been stigmatized in the media as dangerous and unfit for family outings.
The tale of two franchises in Los Angeles is raising questions about how local fan dynamics might change in the near future. The Dodger fan base remains steadfast in its devotion to the team, but if the owner’s financial turmoil continues to distract from the game, the Dodgers could lose a huge portion of future fans. The latest bid to unseat McCourt from Dodger ownership came from Los Angeles Marathon founder Bill Burke, who, backed by Chinese investors, put together a $1.2 billion offer to buy the team. If the deal goes through, fans may balk at the idea of foreign investors owning their team.
The Angels, in the meantime, are in good hands with a front office that commissioner Bud Selig has often touted as model management.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere and will probably be back next time I’m in Anaheim,” said Steve Han, whose presence in the Angel Stadium with a blue shirt has been nothing less than a fascinating anomaly. “But the Dodgers will be my team no matter what.”