When the Angels affiliated with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on September 15, 2000, it was inevitable that we’d hear all sorts of earthquake-inspired jokes, such as the marketing slogan “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”
So when it was announced by the Quakes yesterday that they had dumped the Angels for a two-year affiliation with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the first temptation of course was to write something like, “Angels Rocked by Rancho Cucamonga Temblor.”
The rumors began circulating on September 15 when the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported the Quakes might leave the Angels for the Dodgers. The Angels and Quakes had been partners for ten years, but at times it was a rocky relationship, with Rancho Cucamonga filing to terminate after the 2002 season, but the teams eventually reconciled.
It’s hard to say what goes through the mind of a minor league team’s ownership when they file to terminate. Winning sometimes is a factor, although most casual minor league fans haven’t a clue how the team is doing. A desire to partner with a locally popular major league team such as the Angels or Dodgers, or a nationally popular organization such as the Cubs or Yankees, also sometimes plays a factor.
According to today’s Daily Bulletin, Quakes managing partner Bobby Brett cited “the mutual interest in the Dodgers purchasing a minority share in the Quakes.”
It seems an odd reason to terminate a successful ten-year affiliation, especially for one of the most dysfunctional organizations in major league baseball. Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt are going through an ugly divorce, and one of the major issues of contention is who actually owns the team. There’s been much speculation in the papers about the McCourts’ value on paper, and how much that affects the Dodgers.
The Dodgers and Angels have had disappointing seasons, but both have fruitful farm systems that produced several post-season contenders. In the Midwest League, one level below the California League, both the Angels’ Cedar Rapids Kernels (82-56) and the Dodgers’ Great Lakes Loons (90-49) went to the post-season, suggesting that the 2011 teams in the Cal will be very competitive.
Brett claimed, “When you’re partners with a major league team, you get more of an effort to win. You get more cross-marketing and promotion in your own backyard.” But there’s a difference between the interests of a minority owner and a majority owner. The parent club won’t be calling the shots in Rancho Cucamonga. Brett will.
And according to the Daily Bulletin article, the Dodgers’ expressed earlier interest in a financial partnership seems to have waned. Brett rationalized that by saying, “When you become partners, you have to know each other a little bit better,” which in my opinion sounds like a bit of spin now that the original scheme seems to have misfired.
In a column published before yesterday’s breaking news, Baseball America columnist Will Lingo wrote about the lack of sentimentality in affiliation switches:
… What the process reinforces is that very American desire to be on the lookout for a better deal. Sure you may be happy with your current situation, but you could probably do better if you could just get to that hot new market with the shiny new ballpark . . .
Times like this remind us that professional baseball is a business. Sentimentality is a gimmick owners use to separate you from your money.
Brett says he’s not concerned about losing Angels fans. “There may be some people (who leave as Quakes fans),” he told the Daily Bulletin. “It’s hard for me to believe people come to Quakes games solely because the players on the field get their paychecks from the Angels. If people decide to watch future Angels elsewhere, we understand. We believe there are diehard Dodger fans to offset that.”
I’ve heard anecdotally from several Quakes season ticket holders and host parents that they will have nothing to do with the team now that it’s affiliated with the Dodgers, and certainly we’ll see far less red in the stands next year. Brett seems to think he’ll see more blue. That’s his choice.
As for the Angels, the breakup ends a ten-year streak of stability. Starting with the 2001 season, the Angels did not change any affiliations, a record very few other teams (if any) can claim. Stability comes from good relationships with the affiliates, but sometimes the affiliates have a different agenda and that’s their privilege.
So the Angels move on.
Their choices are limited. At the Advanced Class-A level, only two openings remain and they’re both in the Cal League. Inland Empire (AKA San Bernardino) was the Dodgers’ home, and Bakersfield just lost the Rangers to the Carolina League.
Inland Empire would obviously be preferable, not just geographically but also because Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield is decrepit. Built in 1941, it hasn’t been renovated, it’s 354 feet to center field, and the field faces into the setting sun. Bakersfield usually gets whatever major league club loses the game of affiliation musical chairs every two years, and will wind up with whatever team doesn’t go to San Bernardino.
The Inland Empire 66ers can choose between the Angels and Cincinnati Reds. The Angels would seem the obvious choice, but 66ers management might think the Angels are so desperate not to go to Bakersfield that they can issue their own demands.
David Elmore’s Elmore Sports Group owns the 66ers, and his son D.G. Elmore individually owns the Blaze. It doesn’t take much imagination to suspect a little collusion might happen out of mutual interest.
Whether it’s Inland Empire or Bakersfield, we should know soon enough where the halo will shine in the Cal League the next two years. But Angels fans are considered expendable in Rancho Cucamonga.