The Big A: Frankie Goes To Gotham

The exodus of longtime Angel closer Francisco Rodriguez pleases a portion of ethnocentric Angel fans, the Orange County Register's Jeff Miller claimed in a column last week.

A vocal contingent of fans on sports talk shows and Internet message boards were delighted the closer left because the team looks "a little more like they do today," according to Miller. "Part of it, no doubt, isn't baseball at all," Miller wrote. "It's that Rodriguez doesn't look or talk like most people who sit in the stands at Angel Stadium. His skin is darker, his voice accented."

He went on to make further comparisons of the disparity in popularity between Angel stalwarts Tim Salmon and Darin Erstad to that of Vladimir Guerrero and Garrett Anderson under the same rationale.

Dancing around claims of racism, Miller attributed the phenomenon to "human nature."

The paper milked it, offering two counter pieces and advising readers to add to a long thread of responses, mostly angry calls for the columnist's head. In a subsequent piece, Miller continued to defend his stance while denying the original column was a publicity stunt to spike Web hits.

OK, I'll bite. Here's my two cents.

I agree with Miller that Angel fans do discriminate -- not based on skin tone or accent, but rather winners and losers. When the team does well, the bandwagon overflows with rally monkeys, thunder sticks, yada, yada, yada ... Should they falter, many of the aforementioned masses will vacate the ballpark before the seventh-inning stretch, if they show up at all, while the talk radio lines are flooded with Scioscia-second-guessing.


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But those are generalities -- consider this: between the years of 1997-2002, the Disney-owned Angels boasted a renovated ballpark with headliners Salmon, Erstad, Jim Edmonds, Troy Percival and Troy Glaus (all white guys) leading the charge. Playing ball at a respectable .509 clip in that span, the team was in pennant contention until the last week for three of those six years, capturing the World Series at the end. They drew an average of 26,465 fans per game.

With a wave of new fans after the championship season, the team welcomed new owner Artie Moreno in 2004. He subsequently signed big name free agents Guerrero, Bartolo Colon, Gary Matthews and Torri Hunter, while Rodriguez established himself as the relief ace. Since 2003, the team has played .562 baseball, capturing the division title four of those six years, while averaging 41,050 fans per game.

From 26,465 to 41,050.

Its not about black, brown or white but rather green -- and the team is making more of it than they ever have. I guess these Angel fans Miller speaks of don't vote with dollars.

Speaking of dollars, many of the fans Miller critiqued supported letting the expensive relief pitcher walk because he is just that, an expensive relief pitcher. It's the baseball equivalent of buying expensive rims when there's some serious engine work to be done.

The presence of intriguing replacements in ace set-up man Scot Shields and upstart Jose Arredondo made sense for the team to focus on investing in the first eight innings. What Rodriguez was to the ninth, the rubber-armed Shields has been to the eighth, averaging an MLB-best 32 holds annually since 2006. Arredondo, 24, was brilliant in 60 games last season, compiling a 10-2 record and 1.62 ERA in 61 games, looking like a heir apparent to K-Rod if there ever was one. The pair will cost less than half of the $12.5 million Rodriguez will earn in 2009.

Miller deserves credit for taking an introspective, nerve-touching stance, knowing what backlash was forthcoming as he pressed the "send" button. But his whole platform was way off, unsupported by any evidence, nor offering any solution.

Or in baseball terms, a swing and a miss!

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