Angel Stadium of Anaheim

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Angel Stadium during the early May-laise.

People ask me all the time if the Oakland Coliseum could ever be converted to a ballpark the same way Angel Stadium was in the mid-90’s. My reply is always the same: No. The secret to why the Angel Stadium conversion worked is simple. It was a ballpark from the beginning. The Coliseum started out as a football stadium that was converted to serve as a ballpark, whereas Angel Stadium (nee Anaheim Stadium) went through the opposite transformation. Anaheim’s case was that of an appendage that could be discarded. Oakland’s was the case of a round peg fitting into a square hole.

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Pleasant pregame environs in Anaheim.

Completed in 1964 1966 at Gene Autry‘s behest, Anaheim Stadium was arguably a more Californian vision of a modern ballpark than Dodger Stadium to the north. Parking was and still is smoother and more efficient than in Chavez Ravine, and the site is close to three freeways (5, 57, 55, 22). It had somewhat remote views of the San Gabriel Mountains.  Other tourist attractions like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm a stone’s throw away. Like Dodger Stadium it had low wall and wraparound lower deck in the corners. The biggest difference in Anaheim was the wider-angled bowl, which made the neck-craning effect more severe down the lines but significantly reduced foul territory in the process. When the Rams vacated the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for Anaheim in 1980, Angels fans got their own version of Mt. Davis – a complete enclosure of the stadium and Candlestick-like foldout seats in right field.That made the capacity of the stadium a cavernous 65,000, with little hope of filling that on a regular basis during the 80’s. The Rams only stayed at the football-expanded Big A for 15 seasons, after which native Missourian Georgia Frontiere took the team to St. Louis. That gave Disney, which assumed control of the franchise in the mid-90’s, the opportunity to remake the stadium the theme park-like manner one would expect of the company. A man-made rockpile was placed in center field as the focal point of the renovation. The iconic “Big A” structure which once dominated the outfield stayed in the parking lot, to many fans’ chagrin. Walls inside the stadium were given a sand color with red accents while the plazas outside the regular concourse were freshened up to hide the numerous ramps and exterior concrete. A Metrolink (commuter train) station was added at the outskirts of the parking lot, providing an alternative to driving and parking.

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The distinctive albeit kitschy outfield

Walk into the Big A and you can see why the conversion worked. If you squint a little, you can see the same main seating deck layout as the one found at Camden Yards. In both places, the field level deck is split into two, with the concourse set around row 23 and a back seating section (in Anaheim known as the Field Terrace) providing 10 more rows of seats. A club level with eight rows rises above the Field Terrace, and suites are tucked behind the club seats. Above the premium facilities is the upper deck, which is also split into lower and upper tiers. The arrangement proved so successful that it was used in Baltimore and at the new Busch Stadium. Not bad for a stadium that will turn 50 next year.

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Club/suite concourse

Yet there is a sense that, despite how good the bones are at the Big A, it’s falling behind the rest of baseball. Most of the work completed by Disney in 1997 focused on getting rid of the football seats in the outfield and the creation of multiple club facilities in the regular bowl. Arte Moreno even moved the writers’ press box from its prime location behind the plate to down the right field line. Even with the various incremental improvements, it’s hard to get past the main deficiency within: the concourses are narrow and are disconnected from the action. That’s a problem at both Busch and Camden Yards as well. At Busch, the Cardinals chose to punch large holes in the upper half of the field level to provide some views from the concourse. Don’t get me wrong – I’d switch the Coliseum for the Big A in a heartbeat – but in the face of the continuing evolution at Dodger Stadium, Moreno’s going to push hard to create an optimal environment for the Angels and fans.

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Knothole Club, the only indoor restaurant on the club level, is way in the right field corner

A few weeks ago I took in a game in the club level, which has wait service. Cheap bastard that I usually am, I usually bypass such options at a ballpark. Since this was on the company dime, how could I resist? The loaded chicken nachos I had weighed 5 pounds and felt like it half-finished in my subsequently unsettled gut. The concessionaire is Aramark, and if you’re wondering if things improved by going to a bigger, richer market, they didn’t. Aramark provides tiers of service and options, so I know they’re better than this. Still, it sure seems like competitors like Centerplate are eating Aramark’s lunch, so to speak. Beer selection is also wanting, easily the worst among the West Coast major league parks.

When Moreno took over the team after the 2002 World Series victory, he grew the fan base by lowering ticket, concessions, and beer prices. Already the family-friendly alternative to the Dodgers, the Angels quickly jumped beyond the 3 million attendance mark annually and stayed there for years to come. Moreno’s hunger for a World Series of his own and to compete head on with the Dodgers fueled huge free agent purchases, including Vlad Guerrero, Torii Hunter, and Vernon Wells. Moreno never quite got the brass ring, which led to the bat-oriented spending spree of the last two seasons, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. The Angels’ payroll this year is $137 million, not including whatever pitching acquisitions they have to make at midseason if they decide that they want to chase the pennant despite their awful April. Even though the franchise is bolstered by a $150 million per year TV contract with Fox Sports (that’s as much as the A’s make from ALL local revenue sources), they continue to raise ticket prices well beyond what would be considered affordable.

Like the A’s, the Angels are hurtling towards the end of their lease, this one in 2016. There is an extension that could keep the team in Anaheim until 2031, but no one expects Moreno to pick up that option unless some additional, major changes are made at Angel Stadium. Moreno has been quiet on the prospects for Angel Stadium or a new ballpark somewhere in the area. Tensions between him and the City of Anaheim over the team name have calmed. Chances are that if Moreno wanted a new ballpark, he’d have to make it happen at the current 100+ acre site. With redevelopment’s dissolution, there’s little available in the way of public financing. Even in 1997, the $117 million renovation (a huge success compared to the Mt. Davis debacle) was 82% financed by Disney, with the public portion already paid for. There’s enough goodwill to do another major renovation along the lines of what the Dodgers did during the offseason, but Moreno will have to pay for it himself. If he wants to talk about a new ballpark, the only site outside Anaheim that could remotely support it is the City of Industry site being pitched for a NFL stadium. Talk about that came and went quickly last year. AEG’s downtown site has also been pitched as a relocation spot, but a retractable baseball dome is so highly incompatible with AEG’s plans that it’s hard to take such an idea seriously. If Moreno has designs on a park elsewhere in the market, he’s being very coy about it.

The Angels’ future is secure thanks to their whopping TV deal and their solid fanbase. The franchise is worth well over a billion dollars at this point (thanks Dodgers) and there’s little reason to leave Anaheim. The stadium could benefit from revamped clubhouses and improvements to the rather barren club/suite level. In right field is the oft-forgotten Exhibition Center, a 29,000 square foot space that would probably be better used partly as a baseball museum that could attract fans 365 days a year. Moreno could spend $100 million on such changes, with some development rights to the land as the City’s contribution, and the ballpark would be roughly on par with Dodger Stadium, if not the newest parks. That fairly modest investment from both sides should keep everyone happy for decades to come, pennants and World Series trophies notwithstanding. Is that enough for Arte Moreno? Only he knows.

24 thoughts on “Angel Stadium of Anaheim

  1. RM,
    Any reason Mr. Wolff felt compelled to defend Arte Moreno in the LA Times last week (letter to the editor)? Mr. Moreno appears to be doing everything right as an owner. We obviously don’t reside in SoCal, so I have no idea what the fans or sports talk radio are talking/complaining about down there re Mr. Moreno’s running of the Angels.
    Nice ballpark BTW. As many times as I pass by there going to Disney, I’ve got to go check it out one day.

  2. I really hope the Angels stick with this stadium. It is a wonderful stadium and the remodeling job was spectacular. It has a lot more years of use IMO. I have been to more games at this stadium than any other MLB stadium, a lot with the A’s as the opponent. Good Post, I used to wish that the Coliseum could do what they have done in Anaheim, but as ML points out they were built with a different goal in mind at the time. Mainly the seating bowl configuration. Even so if Mt. Davis wasn’t there, I would of still be wondering if it could possibly work somehow. But I guess we are past that.

  3. I’ve long thought the Big A was better than Dodger Stadium. I really don’t see any reason for the Angels to move to a new stadium at this point, especially as long as the Dodgers stay in the same one.

  4. Anaheim/Angel Stadium opened in 1966, not 1964. The Angels played their first season at Wrigley Field and the next 4 at Dodger Stadium.

  5. Another thing you missed here, is that the Halos have their owned and operated station in KLAA AM 830, which their studios are located just outside the SE corner of the Big A. Roger Lodge (Blind Date) has his afternoon talk show on that station as well as many on-air personalities of the Halos, Ducks, Raiders and Notre Dame football. AM 830’s signal can reach the San Joquain Valley at night, but interfers with KNCO Grass Valley. They do a whole lot of annual holiday drives at the Big A including the 5K fun run and a Toy Drive as well. But the Big A is still one of the nicer parks just as Petco is to the Pads which I have been to last year when the A’s swept the Yankees in Oakland. I watched it on an IPad.

  6. I’ve been to the Big A a few times, it is alright, pretty decent view of the game although it is big. The concessions suck. Aramark ran the dining at my college and they were terrible there. I think if a change to the corridors was possible to make it more baseball friendly, I would stick with the Big A. How would Moreno finance? Raising ownership cash?

  7. I appreciate Arte Moreno’s efforts in building up the Angels franchise. For decades, they were a team that was just sorta there. Much like the Giants, the Angels built up an sense of reverence in the turn of the century. From the perspective of an A’s fan, I like having the Angels as rivals. I’m following the A’s down south in July. I’ve got front row seats a section over from the A’s dugout. I’m definitely looking forward to taking in a game at The Big A.

  8. Angels Stadium is awful. Those site lines are absolutely hideous. Anyone between you and home plate laterally or directly in front of you will block your view of the game. And it happens constantly throughout. The only place worse that I’ve been to is ATT and their fans hop up and down like they’re playing whack-a-mole.

  9. I like it when ballparks reflect their community and place in history. I feel it gives them a sense of honesty. The Coliseum and Big A were both constructed in the early 60s as millions of American were leaving dense cities for track homes in suburbs. Car sales boomed as the middle class were buying them in higher numbers. Both those trends are reflected in the Coliseum and Big A. They’re both on huge parking lots away from downtown areas, and they embrace symmetry because it was aesthetically pleasing to people during that era. I definitely want the A’s to find a downtown home somewhere, but until then I appreciate the historical artifact quality of the Oakland Coliseum. It’s not trying to be anything it’s not… unlike Miller Park.

  10. Arte Moreno appears to be an astute MLB owner. Moreno bought the Angels for $170 mil. in 2003, and the franchise is worth way more than that now. The team averages 40,000 per game, and enjoys a lucrative tv deal. Instead of investing in a new ballpark, that team has invested in superstar position players, Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Trout, Trumbo, etc, so the team continues to draw well despite their sluggish start. That ballpark also has an advantage over the Coliseum in that it is a babe magnet. Plenty of hottie So Cal women enjoy attending Angels games for whatever reason.

  11. @Tony D. Can you post a link? I can’t find that letter. Thanks, man.

  12. @Briggs,
    Currently not near PC and my cell phone sucks; can’t do links. Found it via Google News search of Lew Wolff. Hope that helps.

  13. speaking of the other la team’s lucrative tv deal.

    Ben Maller ‏@benmaller
    Talk about a bad season, the Dodgers stink and now will end up reportedly losing $1 billion in future TV revenue. http://ow.ly/lw3q3

  14. OT: Is it me or are the A’s going more (like tonight) with the “Athletics” away jerseys?

    • @Tony D. – On the A’s jersey tops are picked by the starting pitcher. Milone likes the green.

  15. Thanks R.M. You mean the team doesn’t have green jersey’s with “Oakland” across the front?
    OT again: I noticed there’s an interview over at the SV Biz Journal with Wolff. Pretty interesting, but to read the entirety you need a damn subscription. Do you have one R.M.? And if so, can you do a thread on the interview? Some tidbits: “And baseball has done the same thing…” when it comes to exploring everthing they could to stay in Alameda County, and his “backup” (Keith/A’s ownership?) are as committed to seeing this thing through as he is.

  16. As Rick Tittle likes to point out, the road grays are the only jersey in professional sports to say Oakland. Does that hurt the A’s merchandising sales? Probably. I know plenty of people who don’t care about the Giants or baseball who own their SF cap.

  17. IIRC, it was the northridge earthquake in jan ’94 that caused a scoreboard to fall off and crash onto the right field football expansion seats which sparked the first series of renovations to ASOA, then obviously the rams’ departure and disney purchase led to the renaissance of the place in 95-97.

  18. One design choice I find baffling with the Oakland Coliseum is how the walkways on the Plaza and upperdeck are in front of the seats. Whether it’s football, baseball or Richard Marx, no one wants heavy foot traffic in front of the front row. Seems like lazy/careless design.

  19. To have the walkways behind (or more realisticly just halfway up the section) they’d would have had to either lower the field or raise the concourse heights. We know it’s below sea level as it is, so that part is out. Raising the concourses would require people to climb higher before entering the facility.

  20. More info on the quake damage:

    The tumbled Sony jumbotron that fell onto the upper deck seats cost $4 million to replace and fortunately occured during the offseason for both tenant teams (Rams, Angles) so there was minimal disturbance to their seasons.

    Lastly, I think it would be more apt to call Mt. Davis a “square peg” being forced into a “round hole” but that’s just me lol.

  21. Like all the other two team shared MLB markets, with the exception of the Bay Area market, the Angels do not face any territorial restrictions on any possible proposed new stadium locations from the other team in that market. In fact, the Angels could even consider the proposed AEG NFL site in the downtown LA area, if the AEG plan falls though with the NFL. It should be noted that this site is within a couple of miles from Dodger Stadium.

    I do feel that Artie Moreno and the Angels would much prefer to remain at their current stadium site, whether in a new or renovated stadium. While the freeway traffic congestion is especially bad in and around downtown LA, the traffic congestion is somewhat better in and around Angels Stadium. Also, there is a rail link directly to Angels Stadium, unlike Dodger Stadium which only offers an express bus connection to Union Station. The Angels appear likely to be staying put, and all that is needed is the funds for a new or renovated stadium.

  22. The one thing I noticed, and once you notice it, you can’t even un-notice it, is the poor shape of the concrete in the seating areas:

    That was our row in 128 yesterday, many rows were in far worse shape, with loose chunks of concrete everywhere.

    At some point soon, the weather exposed areas of the seating bowls in Anaheim will need repair or replacement.

  23. “Beer selection is also wanting, easily the worst among the West Coast major league parks.”

    You need to wander around a bit at the Big A for beer selection–on the 100 level, we had a Goose Island stand and an imports stand that had Hoegaarden and Leffe Brune on tap nearby. That was more than adequate for our group of beer snobs–that Leffe is fantastic.

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