Anaheim Angels Baseball Club, Inc. History

2000 Gene Autry Way
Anaheim, California 92806

Telephone: (714) 940-2000
Fax: (714) 940-2205

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company
Founded: 1961
Employees: 100 (est.)
Sales: $102.6 million (2001)
NAIC: 711211 Sports Teams and Clubs

Key Dates:

A Los Angeles American League baseball franchise is awarded to Gene Autry and investors.
The Angels begin play.
The California Angels begin play in Anaheim.
Autry and Signal Companies become the only investors in the team.
Autry becomes the team's sole owner.
The Walt Disney Company acquires the Angels.
A renovated stadium is opened.
Disney retains Lehman Brothers to sell the team.

Company History:

The Anaheim Angels Baseball Club, Inc. is the American League franchise of the two Major League baseball teams located in the Los Angeles, California, market. Much less celebrated than the National League's Los Angeles Dodgers, the Angels have known little financial success operating in the shadow of their neighbors, and on the field have provided their fans with few contending teams. Since the Walt Disney Company acquired the franchise in 1999, however, the fortunes of the Angels have improved. Municipally-owned municipal Anaheim Stadium has been completely renovated and renamed Edison Field, complete with luxury boxes that are so important to the finances of contemporary professional sports. In addition, a more favorable lease with the city of Anaheim has been negotiated. With the deep pockets of Disney behind it, the Angels have also developed a winning ball club.

Gene Autry Becomes Original Angels' Owner

The Angels first owner was Gene Autry, famed movie and television singing cowboy star, who was able to make the successful transition from celebrity to businessman, accumulating a wide range of properties, from radio and television stations to cattle ranches--and, almost by accident, a baseball team. Love of baseball was actually a lifelong affair for Autry, whose childhood dream was to become a professional baseball player, not an entertainer. He was born in a small Texas town named Tioga in 1907 and raised on a farm in Oklahoma, where at the age of five he began singing in the choir of his grandfather's Baptist Church. He was taught by his mother to play the guitar at the age of 12 and gained exposure to show business for three months as a teenager when he sang ballads with the Fields Brothers Marvelous Medicine Show. To help support his family he had to return home, taking a job as a railroad baggage handler in Chelsea, Oklahoma. In the meantime, he honed his skills as a shortstop, playing for several semi-pro baseball teams, as well as learning Morse Code. By the age of 19, he was working the evening shift as a railroad telegrapher, often finding ample time to sing and play the guitar. Autry had a chance to sign a professional contract with the St. Louis Cardinals' Tulsa minor league team but turned down the offer, opting instead for more secure employment with the railroad. During that same summer he met Will Rogers, who was visiting his sister in Chelsea. As usual, Autry was singing and playing to pass the time, and Rogers encouraged the young man to keep at it while he composed a telegraph. Rogers was so impressed with Autry's ability that he encouraged him to travel to New York to try to get work on the radio. A year later, Autry followed Rogers' advice, but instead of breaking into radio in the big city he ended up working at a Tulsa station where he was billed as Oklahoma's Yodelin' Cowboy. In 1929, he returned to New York to sign a recording contract with Victor and two years later released "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine," which sold more than a million copies and established the practice of awarding "gold records" to artists for topping the million mark in sales. He also began to develop a national following through his appearances on a popular radio show, National Barn Dance, produced by WLS radio. The station was owned by Sears, which began to feature Autry records, songbooks, and guitars in its catalogs.

Autry made his debut in movies in 1934, singing a number in a western, Old Santa Fe. He was soon cast as a singing cowboy in Tumblin' Tumbleweeds, establishing the role he would play in scores of B westerns over the years. Little known in the major cities, Autry was pure box office in the West and Southwest during the Depression years. He shrewdly invested the money he made from singing and acting into an array of businesses and by the 1940s owned five ranches, three western radio stations, a pair of cowboy music publishing houses, a chain of movie theaters in Texas, and even a flying school. In 1947, he established Gene Autry Productions, splitting profits with Columbia Pictures on a deal that called for him to star in four pictures a year. Unlike many in Hollywood at the time, he embraced television early on, creating Flying A Productions, which not only produced "The Gene Autry Show" from 1950 to 1956 but other series as well.

Autry Loses Dodger Radio Rights in 1960

It was Autry's interest in radio that would lead to his involvement in major league baseball. He purchased his first station in 1948, which formed the basis of Golden West Broadcasting, a chain of media assets that became the crown jewel of the cowboy tycoon's business empire. By the mid-1950s, he was well on his way to making the transition from entertainer to businessman. One of the radio stations he owned, KMPC in Los Angeles, broadcast the games of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which in 1958 had abandoned Brooklyn for the West Coast. In 1960, Autry was shocked to learn from the pages of Variety that Dodger owner Walter O'Malley intended to grant the radio rights to another station. Around the same time, the American League decided to expand from eight teams to ten and to tap into the lucrative Los Angeles market. Hoping to maintain KMPC's reputation as the top sports station in southern California, Autry felt he had to secure the radio rights for the new American League team. He reached a tentative deal with the frontrunners for the franchise, former baseball player Hank Greenberg and former baseball owner Bill Veeck. The Dodger's O'Malley, however, scuttled the deal, demanding $450,000 in territorial indemnification, what Autry would characterize as "grazing rights." In order to guarantee the radio rights for KMPC, Autry and partner Robert Reynolds, who owned 30 percent of the station and served as president of Golden West, decided to make a last minute bid on the franchise themselves. It was a Friday when Autry called American League president Joe Cronin, an old friend, who had no objections to their application but laid out some basic requirements, which included a $1.5 million letter of credit due on Monday. Autry secured the letter, then made his pitch at a joint American and National League meeting in St. Louis that was called to settle the nettlesome issue of expansion in both leagues. Once the American League agreed to permit a National League franchise in New York for 1962, the National League allowed the American League's Los Angeles franchise to go forward. Not only was Autry an American icon and the idol of millions of children, he had also cultivated relationships in baseball for decades, befriending both owners and players. He had built up so much good will that awarding the Los Angeles franchise to him was almost a foregone conclusion. Official approval was granted on December 7, 1960. As part of the deal, the new owners agreed to pay $350,000 in indemnification to the Dodgers.

O'Malley wasted no time in buttonholing Autry, inviting him up to his hotel suite in St. Louis where he convinced the new owner to become a tenant of Dodger Stadium, which was under construction and scheduled to open in 1962. During its inaugural season in 1961, Autry's team would have to play in undersized Wrigley Field, the 20,500-seat home of the former Pacific Coast League franchise, the Los Angeles Angels. Without asking permission, Autry had already appropriated the Angels' name, which the Dodgers owned as part of the buyout of the Pacific Coast League Angels' franchise and its Wrigley Field facility, a transaction that paved the way to relocating in Los Angeles. O'Malley was annoyed but said nothing, then hammered out as restrictive an agreement with his new tenants as possible. The Angels agreed to play in Dodger Stadium for four years with an option to renew for three more. For rent, the team was to pay 7.5 percent of gross attendance revenues. In addition, the Dodgers received half of the Angels' concession gross and all of the parking revenues. O'Malley also insisted that the Angels compensate for reduced attendance at Dodger Stadium caused by the 20 Angels' road games that would be televised, and he even forced Autry to agree to use the Dodgers' pay-TV company, which was under development, should the Angels ever decide to try pay-TV. Although the pay-TV company never materialized, O'Malley proved once again that he was a true visionary, as well as a skinflint. Shortly after he left O'Malley's suite around three in the morning, Autry confided to Reynolds that he had no intention of renewing the Dodger Stadium lease after four years, realizing at once that a joint tenancy arrangement would never work.

Before Autry could even think about finding a permanent home for the Angels, he first had to hire a general manager and manager and field a team for the 1961 season, which was scheduled to start in just four months. Only a day after being awarded the franchise and minutes before a press conference was scheduled to discuss the new team, Autry and Reynolds decided that they could not meet the media without a general manager on the dais. They quickly offered the job to Fred Haney, who had been serving as their advisor at the league meetings. Although well qualified, Haney was under contract to NBC as an analyst on the Game of the Week show. Despite realizing that the construction of a baseball team and organization from scratch was a daunting task, he agreed.

While Haney and the manager he hired, Bill Rigney, assembled a club, acquiring 28 players for $2.1 million in an expansion draft, Autry looked for more capital. He signed a number of limited partners, including Joseph Thomas, a senior partner in Lehman Brothers; Thomas's associate J.D. Stetson Coleman; and Leonard K. Firestone of Firestone Tires. Team offices were set up in downtown Los Angeles close to Wrigley Field, and unlike all the other major league teams, which opted for Florida or Arizona, the Angels decided to set up their spring training camp in the desert resort of Palm Springs, some 120 miles from Los Angeles. The team would return there for the next 30 years.

The Angels surprised everyone with their initial success in the American League, posting a respectable 70 wins and finishing seventh in 1961. The following season, playing in Dodger Stadium, the team fared even better, winning 86 games and finishing third in the league. The Angels quickly regressed, however, and soon became a consistent second division team in the American League. In the meantime, the organization had to endure the difficulties of playing in someone else's stadium. The Dodgers, according to Autry, "dollared us to death." The Angels were billed for half the landscaping, which the Dodgers would have contracted whether they had a tenant or not, and half the toiletries, despite drawing far fewer fans than the Dodgers. The Angels were charged for window cleaning, yet the only windows at the stadium belonged to the Dodgers' offices. Although receiving none of the parking revenues, the Angels were also billed for improvements to the parking lot. The most egregious slight from the Angels' perspective, however, was the location of the team's ticket office, which was situated in an out-of-the-way corner of Dodger Stadium where the groundskeeper maintained large piles of manure.

That the Angels were unhappy in Dodger Stadium was no secret, and Autry was soon contacted by a number of cities offering to build a stadium if he would relocate the team. In order to have a place to play and not be forced to renew the Dodger Stadium lease, the Angels began to make serious efforts at finding a new home in 1963. The leading candidate was Long Beach, located 30 miles south of Los Angeles, but negotiations ultimately broke down when the city insisted the club be known as the Long Beach Angels. Autry, knowing the marketing difficulties the name would cause, refused to call the team anything other than the Los Angeles Angels or California Angels.

Angels Relocate to Anaheim in 1964

It was when the Angels reached an impasse with Long Beach in late 1963, and only months before the team would have to renew the Dodger Stadium lease, that the mayor of Anaheim, Rex Coons, stepped into the picture. Anaheim, best known for Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland, had a population of just 150,000. Nevertheless, the city was expanding rapidly, as was the county in which it was located (Orange County), and Coons was eager to spur that growth and add legitimacy to the region by boasting a professional sports team. Despite its small population, Anaheim was attractive to the Angels because 7 million people lived within 50 miles of the stadium, and studies indicated that in the future Anaheim would sit at the center of a massive population belt that reached from Santa Barbara to Mexico. Moreover, Coons did not care what the Angels called themselves: he knew that Anaheim would be put on the map regardless. And so the Los Angeles Angels became the California Angels. Coons ushered a stadium deal through the Anaheim city council, the Angels gave notice to the Dodgers, and in August 1964 groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the team's new ballpark. Under the Angels' lease, rent was a $160,000 minimum or 7.5 percent of the admission gross up to $2 million. After $2 million the Angels paid 10 percent. The club also received half the parking and two-thirds of the concessions net revenues. What appeared to be a generous lease in 1964, however, would become one of the worst in all of baseball some 30 years later.

In 1968, Autry signed a deal with the Signal Companies, a Los Angeles conglomerate, which acquired a 49.9 percent stake in Golden West Broadcasting and a significant interest in the Angels. Unhappy with Signal's participation, Autry's partners in the ball club began to sell out, and by 1974 Autry and Signal were the only remaining shareholders. In a deal to buy out Signal engineered by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company in 1982, Autry paid $225 million to Signal, which also received KTLA, an independent Los Angeles television station. Not only did the aging Autry tidy up his estate, he became the sole owner of the Angels and retained a string of media assets.

After a promising start to their history in the American League, the Angels proved to be a disappointment on the field more often than not, leading to continuous changes in club management. Nevertheless, the team usually drew more than two million fans a year. The Angels' product was also adversely affected by changes made to Anaheim Stadium to accommodate a new tenant in 1980, the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League. The facility was enclosed and seating expanded to 70,000, but extra seats and the new luxury suites built for the Rams offered little additional revenue to the Angels and hardly compensated for the loss in the stadium's appeal. It was far from an attractive football venue as well, and after the 1994 season the Rams left for St. Louis, where a new domed stadium awaited them.

Baseball underwent significant changes in the decades since Autry was awarded the Angels franchise. With the advent of player free agency in the 1970s, the economics of the game changed dramatically. Once dominated by family ownership, major league baseball increasingly turned into a corporate enterprise. Autry was one of the last holdouts, and despite his personal wealth he found it increasingly difficult to compete, a situation complicated by an outmoded stadium and a poor lease. By the late 1980s, the Angels began to consistently lose money and were forced to cut costs. With one of the smallest front office operations in baseball and limited funds for marketing, the team was essentially trapped in a losing cycle.

Autry and his wife Jackie, a banker for many years who helped run the team, finally decided in the early 1990s that they had no choice but to sell the Angels. A group of investors headed by Peter Ueberroth negotiated a deal to purchase the team for $130 million but refused to assume any debts or cover operating losses while Major League Baseball approved the transaction. It was at this point, in February 1995, that Michael Eisner and Disney decided to become involved. By May 1995, Disney had struck a deal with the Autrys in which the company agreed to assume $10 million in losses. For Disney, buying the Angels insured that the team stayed in Anaheim and continued to lend the area major league status, which in turn helped to protect Disney investments in the Mighty Ducks National Hockey League Franchise as well as Disneyland. For Autry, who had been a personal friend of Walt Disney, selling the club to Disney seemed like a natural fit. He would pass away at age 91 at the end of the 1998 season.

Major League Baseball approved the sale of the Angels to Disney in January 1996. There was no agreement in place with Anaheim, however, and Eisner wasted no time in announcing that unless the city worked out a new stadium deal within 60 days, Disney would withdraw from the agreement. Although it would take twice as long for the two sides to come to an agreement, and it appeared at times that the sale was off, Anaheim and the Angels ultimately worked out a deal that called for a $100 million renovation of Anaheim Stadium, with Disney contributing 70 percent of the financing and agreeing to all cost overruns. A 33-year lease was also worked out, and the California Angels now became known as the Anaheim Angels.

The Angel's renovated park, renamed Edison International Field, opened for the 1998 season. Attendance immediately increased to 2.5 million but over the next couple of years began to slip as high-priced free agents did not produce the kind of results the fans expected. The team had better success in developing its own talent, making significant progress in the early years of the new century. The fortunes of the Angels may have improved on the field, but Disney lost close to $100 million since its purchase of the club and periodically indicated that it was willing to part with the Angels and Mighty Ducks in order to concentrate on its core entertainment business. Ironically, on the very day in 2002 that the Angels secured their first playoff berth in 16 years, Disney announced that it retained investment bank Lehman Brothers to find a potential buyer for the team. Several weeks later the Angels surprised the sporting world, not only by making it to the World Series but by winning it, defeating the San Francisco Giants in seven games.

Principal Competitors: Oakland Athletics; Seattle Mariners; Texas Rangers.

Further Reading:

  • Klayman, Gary, "Boys of Summer Out, Accountants of Winter Arrive," Orange County Business Journal, November 2, 1992, p. 1.
  • Newhan, Ross, The Anaheim Angels: A Complete History, New York: Hyperion, 2000.
  • Powell, Tom, "Disney Has Big Plans for California Angels," Amusement Business, May 29, 1995, p. 1.
  • Thorn, John, et al, Total Baseball, Kingston, NY: Total Sports, 1999.
  • Whitcomb, Dan, "Disney Hires Broker to Sell Playoff-Bound Angels," Reuters, September 26, 2002.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 53. St. James Press, 2003.