For decades, Orange County identified itself as “not L.A.” Crime and traffic here were not as bad. O.C. was not as congested. Our beaches were not as dirty. But creating a civic identity from a negative is like trying to knit a golden retriever from the sheddings of a pug. It all just seems kind of hollow.
Since the middle of the last century, though, we’ve had at least three things we could call our own: One is our enviable beach culture, perhaps the county’s greatest export. Another is Disneyland, which opened in 1955 and put a sleepy, Teutonic backwater called Anaheim on the world’s radar. And then, in 1966, we got a major league baseball team.
All the cool metropolises had one. L.A. had two—until the Angels moved south that year. And if our team was like “a troubled, underachieving adolescent” during its first four decades in Orange County, as Christopher Smith writes in our feature commemorating the Angels’ 50th anniversary, then that was fine. They were our Angels, and there was a certain pride in knowing the country’s best baseball teams had to schlep all the way to Anaheim to play them.
Now, we’re not petty people, and it seems almost cruel to point out how the realities of present-day baseball in Southern California—the relative fortunes of Anaheim’s Angels and L.A.’s Dodgers—work as a near-perfect metaphor for the emergence of Orange County from the shadow of Los Angeles. Perhaps it’s enough to point out that one team regularly fills its stadium, consistently competes for its divisional title, and is owned by a seemingly benevolent man who could be elected mayor tomorrow, if Orange County had a mayor. The other? Not so much.
Of course, since 1966 Orange County has been embellishing its civic identity with a whole constellation of jewels: South Coast Plaza, Fashion Island, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the growing prominence of schools such as UC Irvine and Chapman University. The list goes on.
But the Angels’ landmark anniversary offers us a chance to take a fun look back at how far the local team—and Orange County—have come. Here’s to the next 50 years.
Martin J. Smith
Illustration by John Ueland
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