Arte Moreno continues to bet on Southland baseball

Angels owner Arte Moreno is painfully aware of what many baseball analysts have said and written about him since last week, when he committed $254 million over 10 years to 31-year-old slugger Albert Pujols.

“They’re going to say this is a dumb move,” Moreno said. “They’ve been saying that about me my whole career.”

At this point, maybe it’s prudent to assume Moreno knows what he’s doing, or at least has run the numbers a few times. A self-made billionaire who sold his billboard company in 1999 and parlayed that into a spot on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans, Moreno bought the Angels for $183 million in 2003, about one-third what they were worth, before he signed Pujols and polished off a new TV deal worth more than $2 billion over the next 20 years.

Moreno has never been one for incremental moves. At 65, he had another chance to stun his industry and he didn’t hesitate at the moment of truth, shelling out more than $330 million in a matter of days for Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson.

The moves were about baseball in the sense that Pujols and Wilson have to keep producing to make them work, but it was really about two brands: one called Albert Pujols and one called the Angels, a merger that could change the geography of the game. The center of the baseball universe shifted a little bit west and a little bit south.

“I’m not as young as I used to be, but I’m a marketing guy and I just thought, ‘What’s it mean to our fans to bring a player of this caliber here?’“ Moreno said. “That’s when, all of a sudden, all your objectivity and budgets and stuff go out the window and you go, ‘Can you really get this player?’“

One of the topics Moreno and Pujols discussed in a series of phone calls leading up to last Thursday’s deal was a personal services clause that will tie Pujols to the Angels for at least 10 years after his playing days are over. It appealed to Pujols, a religious man who speaks freely about his charity work in the community, and it appealed to Moreno, who rarely speaks for more than a minute without mentioning the fans.

One moment in his career as a baseball owner continues to tug at Moreno. You can tell because he brings it up, unprompted, virtually every time he speaks to reporters. It was the breakdown in negotiations between him and agent Scott Boras over Mark Teixeira in the winter of 2008. Moreno feels his $160 million offer over eight years was used to simply drive up the price for the New York Yankees, who eventually agreed to pay $180 million.

To Boras, it was business: Moreno didn’t win the bidding.

It has always been more personal to Moreno.

No subsequent failings by the Angels to land top-flight free agents -- whether Adrian Beltre or Carl Crawford -- have stuck with Moreno like that one. Unlike three seasons earlier, Moreno didn’t linger long at the negotiating table with Pujols. He played the role typically played by the Yankees or Boston Red Sox, coming in late with the best offer and closing quickly.

That tells you something about his belief in his market. So far, Orange County, Los Angeles, Southern California -- whatever you define as his marketplace -- hasn’t let him down.

“He puts it out there,” Angels right fielder Torii Hunter said. “Those guys just chose to go to big markets like Boston and New York. Albert Pujols chose to come over here. I’m grateful the best hitter and the best player in baseball chose the Angels.”