UNDER HIS WATCH: Angels General Manager Tony Reagins, along with team owner Arte Moreno, has not only crafted a successful team through their farm system and free agent signings, but a diverse organization in a region not known for diversity.
By Evan BarnesSentinel Sports EditorSo what can the Angels do for an encore after a team-record 100 wins? Based on this offseason, it looks like a repeat performance despite losing key players.Gone is Garret Anderson, arguably the greatest player in team history and now a member of the Atlanta Braves. Gone are Francisco Rodriguez and last year's trade deadline coup Mark Teixeira, who are setting up shop in New York with the Mets and Yankees, respectively.Yet the team is still heavily favored to win its division and find their way back into their customary slot in the postseason. But that's not the only thing that makes this organization top notch.At a time when the lack of diversity in baseball has been an addressed too much on the field and not enough off it, the Angels have been a beacon of progress in a region not known for its diversity.The region is mostly white (47% according to a 2007 report by the U.S. Census Bureau compared to under 4 percent for African-Americans), conservative and affluent (median family income is $63,938 according to a 2008 Money Magazine survey). It feeds into a well-held belief among some that parts of Orange County have not been friendly to African-Americans over the years. But one look at the region's baseball team and you'll see a different picture - a picture that highlights diversity not just on the field but in the front office. And it all starts with owner Arte Moreno and general manager Tony Reagins.Reagins, promoted in 2007 as the fourth Black GM in baseball history, pulled the trigger on the team signing centerfielder Torii Hunter last year, who paid dividends with 21 home runs, 78 runs batted in and a team-high 37 doubles. This year, he's brought in a solid replacement for Rodriguez in three-time All-Star Brian Fuentes.It's no surprise for a man who was responsible for the team's successful farm system this decade. As the director of player development from 2002-2007, he oversaw four winning seasons and oversaw the minor-league careers of several Angels, including second baseman Howie Kendrick.In theory, this was his team long before he became general manager.Kendrick and Hunter are two of the five Black players on the Halos' 25-man roster - 20 percent that includes reliever Darren Oliver, third baseman Chone Figgins and outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., who might be traded before the deadline.20 percent is more than double the number of Black players on major league teams - 9 percent on Opening Day last year - and throw in the fact that all but one everyday starter is non-White, they are a walking example of achieving diversity in a region that noticeably lacks it in more ways than just in racial/ethnic backgrounds.All of this serves as a backdrop for what should be another successful season. It's easy to pencil them in for 85-90 wins with their balanced, fundamentally-sound offense and strong rotation that, if healthy, should rival any in the American League.The question will be if this team can get past the first round for the first time since 2005. A tall order when staring across the coast at New York or Boston but considering the Angels have typically done well against New York, they should like their chances should they meet.Yes, the team is a living example of diversity in a sport where more is required off the field as well as on it. But while they should be celebrated as a model for where baseball should be, their play on the field will be the ultimate measuring stick of where they will go in the next decade.And with Reagins overseeing it, they wont just continue winning games, but they'll perhaps help change the way their fans view their neighbors.