Mr. Eisners Wild Ride
Photo by James BunoanHi, ho, the Anaheim Angels won the 2002 World Series. Who woulda thunk it? The Angels never before in their 41-year history even made it to the World Series, and not one sportswriter or gambling junkie predicted that the Halos—who finished last season 41 games out of first—would win it all.
What most people don't know is why the Angels, who got off this season to their worst start in franchise history, now sport World Series rings. The answer to that can be summed up in two words: Michael Eisner. Ask Eisner, who inserted himself into every postseason photo op.
Here's how Eisner, boss of Disney, owner of the Angels, Master of the Bases, did it.
1. Be a tightwad. Since buying the Angels for $140 million in 1996, Disney's basic strategy boiled down to a refusal to genuinely compete. Despite Disney's mega-million dollars in assets, Angels management was forced to operate within tightwad constraints. Although the entire value of the Angels franchise, including stadium and salaries, is less than Eisner often earns per year, the team was rarely allowed to acquire the players it needed. The Angels couldn't deal for Mark McGwire in 1997—the year before he hit 70 homers—or acquire a veteran down the stretch in 1998. Trades like that might have staved off September collapses both seasons. Disney couldn't close the deal on Randy Johnson and failed to pursue Roger Clemens. Even the hirings of manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Bill Stoneman over higher-profile candidates were mostly a matter of fiscal prudence. 2. Allow solid management to slip away. Disney owes this World Series championship to the integrity of former general manager Bill Bavasi. He identified, signed, trained and secured the core group of this team—and then resigned rather than follow the orders of Disney-appointed team president Tony Tavares to dismantle the team after a disappointing showing three seasons ago. 3. Sell everything. Soon after Eisner acquired Angels Stadium from the city of Anaheim, he sold naming rights to Edison International, the Beltway Sniper of utilities, for an estimated $15 million for 10 years. Unsatisfied, Eisner wanted to sell the Angels themselves. Letting stories of possible league contraction fly around helped, too. 4. Avoid expensive, high-quality talent. Disney's best baseball move was vetoing Stoneman's effort to trade the Angels' fiery center fielder, Darin Erstad, to the Chicago White Sox for pitching prospects before the start of this year. But by midsummer, when the overachieving Angels were in the thick of the playoff race, Disney still refused to open its wallet and get another arm to help. Just once did Disney provide an exception to this rule: the 1999 Mo Vaughn debacle, when Disney surprisingly forked out $80 million for a player they thought would provide long-term leadership and big numbers. Vaughn sprained his ankle in the first inning of his first game and turned out to be an overweight, oft-injured, malingering bitch. 5. Focus on frivolous cosmetic changes that ignore larger problems. Disney's most proactive moves have been to change the Angels uniforms—twice. Going to basic red has turned out to be a winner with the playoff fans, but the real reason for the change probably had less to do with pumping up the team's identity than with pumping up sales of team merchandise. Every time a uniform is changed, fans buy new paraphernalia to keep current. Meanwhile, sales of Angels merchandise have ranked in the lower third of all Major League Baseball teams for years. 6. Focus-group yourself to death. This is related to Lesson 5 above. Eisner's team focus-grouped everything—the queer teal uniforms; the oversized bats outside the main entrance; the streams in the center field. What didn't Eisner focus-group? The Rally Monkey. A couple of video geeks at the stadium created the iconic simian as a goof a couple of years ago—running a movie clip of a jumping monkey on the scoreboard during a fit of fan boredom. Now, thousands of Rally Monkeys have been sold. Price? $20. Owner? Disney. 7. Stay away when it counts. Eisner has been an absentee corporate mercenary who didn't even show up for the Angels' 40th anniversary celebration on opening day in 2001 and has been trying to sell the team for several years. Last season, the Angels finished with a 75-87 record. Suddenly, Eisner has a World Series team on the auction block.
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The winner of the World Series? Everybody associated with the Angels, as it turned out. It'll make a great movie script. But as a recipe for success—well, don't try this with a home team.
Anthony Pignataro and Dave Wielenga contributed to this report.
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