The decision by Michael Eisner and the Walt Disney Co. to explore the possible sale of the Angels only three years after taking operating control from Gene and Jackie Autry is likely to leave a sour taste with some owners, baseball sources said.
The perception, they indicated, is Disney didn't buy in with the goal of helping to improve the industry but to solidify corporate goals.
If that comes as a surprise to some owners, it shouldn't.
While the Autrys claimed to be experiencing mounting financial losses and were unable to keep pace with baseball's annual salary escalation, Disney's principal objective in buying the team was to make sure the Autrys or another owner didn't move it.
The possibility existed, in Disney's thinking, that Anaheim, Calif., could be left with an empty and outdated stadium and a significant loss of image while Disney was trying to get a second theme park built in the city and hoping to secure city and state approval of several public-works projects that were needed in conjunction with the building of that park.
Tony Tavares, the club president, underscored that reality in a January interview for a book on the Angels that will be published next April.
"The Angels gave Anaheim a major league presence and image," Tavares said. "If the team moved, it wasn't good for the city's image or [Eisner's] business at either the [Arrowhead] Pond [where the Mighty Ducks play hockey] or Disneyland. More than anything, that's what got Michael involved. It wasn't that he was driven to own a baseball team."
Eisner had rejected earlier overtures from the Autrys, questioning the wisdom of investing in an industry riddled with labor and economic problems, but now there were bigger issues for Disney in Anaheim and greater concern about the franchise's stability.
"Even if it was to Irvine," Tavares said of a possible move, "it wasn't Anaheim anymore."
Disney paid $140 million for the Angels and $88 million of the $118 million stadium renovation. On one hand, that's a major outlay on a three-year turnover. On the other, it's a modest investment, given the long-range rewards now that the second theme park is being built and the city's image has been enhanced with a renovated stadium and convention center -- all helping to make Anaheim more of a resort destination than a one-stop junket for vacationers up from San Diego or down from Los Angeles.
Disney basically has achieved its primary objective. Eisner, under siege from stockholders, could decide to retain the Angels, but that doesn't seem to be the direction he is leaning.
Losses estimated at $40 million over the three years and the combustible nature of this disappointing Angels season certainly weigh on his thinking.
There has been no marketing magic for which Disney is known -- Angels merchandise sales rank among the bottom third of the 30 major league teams -- and there has been no significant thrust to capitalize on the synergistic opportunities represented by the Angels, Ducks and Disneyland ownership.
"I think Disney, with all of its resources, has been stunned by the economic reality of the business," a high-ranking baseball official said. "Everyone comes in thinking they can do it better, but there is only so much anyone can do.
"This year has been very hard on Disney, but then they haven't given the situation much of a chance. I don't know if they're going to sell, but exploring the possibility after only three years is very disappointing, and I know that a lot of people in the industry share that view."
The perception, of course, is that Disney is simply bailing out, having accomplished what it needed to do to stabilize its corporate position in Anaheim.
The perception is that the jobs of General Manager Bill Bavasi and Manager Terry Collins are in jeopardy whether Disney stays or leaves -- a potentially unfortunate and undeserved response to a season characterized by injury and internal strife.
The Angels have pointed so many fingers this summer that it will not be a surprise if ownership -- be it Disney or Henry T. Nicholas III waiting for baseball's approval behind the scenes -- points another at Bavasi and Collins. It's the nature of the game, and Disney has shown it knows how to play that part of it through its firings and hirings with the Ducks.
In no other summer have the Angels and Dodgers jointly reached their current depths of despair and disappointment. Kevin Malone, the same general manager who projected a World Series visit for the Dodgers in March, now acknowledges he faces a long-term rebuilding project.
Fox, the owners of the Dodgers, understands the product potential and appears in for the long haul. Disney, a fierce rival on the cable and entertainment front, may be on the way out. Business is business in the Magic Kingdom, and Wall Street is more of a driving force than a World Series.