Disney boss Eisner revels in Angels' fairy tale success

Commentary

October 15, 2002|By Mike Berardino | Mike Berardino,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The mightiest mouse had only taken a few tentative steps into the winning clubhouse Sunday evening when Scott Spiezio fixed him in his sights.

Spiezio, the Anaheim Angels first baseman and lead singer of that little-noted alternative rock band Sand Frog, shook up his bottle of bubbly and aimed the spray directly at the chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company.

Do this on the street, and you'll be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Do this after you help a star-crossed franchise secure its first trip to the World Series after 42 years of trying and you get a clap on the back from one of the world's most powerful men.

"I was the first guy to splash Michael Eisner when he came in here," Spiezio said, still bragging a few minutes later.

Wasn't this, you know, sort of risky? Spiezio, still buzzing after a 13-5 win chased the Minnesota Twins in five games, shook his head and gave one of his madman grins.

"He needed to get splashed," the stringy-haired ballplayer said.

Did he ever.

It's been a tough year for Eisner, what with Disney's plummeting stock price and fidgety board members. There have been rumors his job could be in danger after 18 years at the helm of the entertainment behemoth.

So after essentially ignoring the Angels for most of Disney's seven seasons of ownership, after trying without success to dump the team for the past two years, Eisner has been coming around more often during these playoffs.

He had Kevin Costner and Reese Witherspoon in his private box at Edison International Field over the weekend. Finally, after years of wasted Angels millions, Eisner could sweep a hand across the emerald soundstage and beam with pride.

At the sold-out sea of 44,000 red-clad fans, screaming their lungs out and smacking their inflatable Thunder Stix. At the silliness of the Rally Monkey, who showed his power again in helping the Angels overturn a 5-3 deficit with a 10-run seventh inning.

At something his sworn enemies over at Fox haven't been able to build since buying the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998, two years after Disney bought a quarter stake in the Angels: a championship ballclub.

"This team is the definition of the way you'd like to run all your creative businesses," said Eisner, whose company assumed full ownership in March 1999. "Diversified talent, working together, protecting each other, being creative, being original and eventually that kind of attitude pays off."

Standing in the middle of the Angels' clubhouse, Eisner rubbed champagne-reddened eyes beneath an AL champions cap. His red Angels jacket was drenched, as were his red Angels T-shirt and khaki slacks.

None of that mattered now. The Team Disney Never Really Wanted had just provided a thrill far greater than anything Regis Philbin could offer at the height of Millionaire madness.

"I started going to baseball games at Yankee Stadium when Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle [were playing] and Bobby Brown was the third baseman," Eisner said. "I went with my grandfather, and he'd point to left field at the advertisement he wrote."

Eisner wore one of those Disney perma-smiles. But somehow, in the context of baseball, it wasn't scary this time.

"It's kind of exciting ... to be in a company that owns a team that has gone this far," he said. "Certainly this is not what I thought I'd be doing when I was an English major at a Midwestern college."

Eisner admitted he had only been to about 15 Angels games all year, including road games and playoffs. He spent one day at spring training in Arizona and talks occasionally to Angels general manager Bill Stoneman, but that's about it.

Asked the last time he had seen Eisner before Sunday, Spiezio drew a blank.

"I couldn't tell you the last time I'd seen him," he said. "If he wants to come down, that's great. If not, we respect that as well. He's got his own agenda to take care of, and we've got our own agenda to take care of."

Lately, the way the Angels have been attacking their agenda -- knocking off the mighty New York Yankees, ripping through the overmatched Twins -- has set the wheels spinning inside Eisner's inventive mind. Actually, this is beyond plausible.

Said Eisner: "If somebody had handed me a script and said, `You'll start off 6-14, then you're going to score 10 runs in the seventh inning of the last game [and win the pennant],' I'd say, `No, no, no, no. Let's go back and work on this. Let's make this more realistic. That's too Disneyesque. Let's go for the reality.' "

Leave Celebrity Bootcamp and those other reality shows for the exhibitionists at Fox. Disney has always been about fantasy, and this Angels club certainly qualifies.

"This is the kind of thing all the baseball movies do," Eisner said. "The first baseball movie I made was at Paramount: Bad News Bears. These aren't the Bad News Bears, but maybe they're a combination of that, Angels in the Outfield, Field of Dreams, all those movies we love making."

Another Disney ending awaits.

Mike Berardino is a columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing company.

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