April 18, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Voice of the Angels is selling a Dodgers championship T-shirt

The holiday shopping season is on, and with it the hunt for merchandise to commemorate the Dodgers’ first World Series championship since 1988. One T-shirt is particularly eye-catching, with its homages to Vin Scully, the Dodgers’ classic uniform, and the hexagonal Dodger Stadium scoreboard.

Who sells that shirt? The voice of the Angels.

The “It’s Time for World Champions Baseball!” shirt is the newest item in the collection of Big Fly Gear, a boutique apparel company run by Angels broadcaster Victor Rojas and his family.

Rojas, his wife, and the couple’s two teenagers run the business out of their Texas home. He collaborates in designs, stuffs T-shirts into packages for shipping, sends handwritten notes and makes telephone calls to thank customers. He just might be the person on the other end of your email question.

“Some people don’t believe it’s me when I reply to emails,” he said.

Some people did not believe, either, when Rojas revealed last month he had interviewed to become the Angels’ general manager. Some might not have taken him seriously, but he believes Angels owner Arte Moreno, President John Carpino and senior advisor Bill Stoneman did.

“The interview went well,” said Stoneman, the GM of the Angels’ 2002 championship team. “He had a lot of competition, but he came across very well. His thoughts were good. He understands the baseball side of things pretty well. He’s got a great background for it.”

As Rojas manned the microphone last summer, a positive spin became increasingly difficult to find. The Angels stumbled to their fifth consecutive losing season, and their lowest winning percentage this century.

“As an Angels fan, I was getting a little frustrated,” he said.

He started to write a memo to himself about how he would fix the team. He had played one year in the Angels farm system, in 1990, and was a rookie league teammate of Garret Anderson. Joe Maddon oversaw the minor league system. He had once coached, for the Florida Marlins, and had served as general manager of an independent league team. His father, Cookie, played 16 years in the major leagues and managed the Angels in 1988.

He had called an Angels game almost every day for 11 years. In 2015, when Jerry Dipoto resigned as general manager, Rojas said he talked with manager Mike Scioscia about whether he could make the jump from the broadcast booth to the executive suite.

In 2020, with a memo that had extended to 4,000 words, he asked for an interview. Moreno had fired Billy Eppler, and he granted Rojas an audience.

The first question, Rojas said, was about what the Angels needed to do to get better in 2021. Rojas declined to discuss his plan in detail out of deference to new general manager Perry Minasian — “I think he’s a great hire,” Rojas said — but said he talked about deficiencies on the major league roster and the 40-man roster, player development and international scouting, and the culture within the organization.

Another question, Rojas said, was how the Angels could sell their fans on the idea of hiring a broadcaster as GM. He said he had already identified two experienced baseball men who would have served as top lieutenants: one a former major league general manager; the other a former major league manager and current coach.

General managers have had a variety of backgrounds. Fred Claire, the GM of the Dodgers’ 1988 championship team, was promoted from publicity director. Andrew Friedman, the architect of the Dodgers’ 2020 champs and widely recognized as the best in the business, spent six years on Wall Street and two in baseball operations before the Tampa Bay Rays made him a general manager at age 28.

At 32, Rojas was a customer service representative at Nordstrom in Boca Raton, Fla., “when I had this crazy idea of wanting to become an MLB broadcaster.” At 34, he became one.

“For the longest time, my name was Cookie’s son,” Rojas said. “And now it’s Victor Rojas, Angels broadcaster. You get pigeonholed. You get put in a box. I think sometimes people get closed-minded to the idea of someone being able to handle a job that is something they’re not currently doing or haven’t been involved with over the past five or 10 years.”

How about spending a couple of years as an assistant general manager, to make a team more comfortable in any subsequent interview?

“I’d certainly consider it, but it’s not something I’m looking to do at this time,” Rojas said. “You never know. I try not to close any doors. Three years ago, I didn’t think I was going to own an apparel business.”

Big Fly launched before the 2019 season. The company has filled about 1,500 orders this year, with a business conducted entirely online and reliant on word of mouth until trying social media advertising this fall.

“As a side business, and as a way to teach our kids the entrepreneurial spirit, we’re thrilled with where we’re at,” Rojas said.

He does not have licenses from Major League Baseball or the players’ union, so he cannot use team or player names. He focuses on what he calls “a one-of-a-kind piece of art that tells a story.”

His “Hollywood Ending” shirt commemorates Kirk Gibson’s legendary home run, a sky full of stars without mentioning the words Gibson or Dodgers. His Hank Aaron shirt simply says “755,” a career-home run total exceeded only by Barry Bonds.

And, yes, the Angels broadcaster sells an Angels shirt, a Mike Trout tribute that reads “The Millville Meteor,” a nod to Trout’s New Jersey hometown.

Rojas is not concerned about any Angels fans that might consider his sale of Dodgers championship shirts as some sort of betrayal of the team for which he broadcasts.

“It’s baseball,” he said. “We’re giving back. We’re teaching our kids the business side of things. If they like it, they like it. If they don’t, no problem. There’s plenty of other options in the market.”

The Dodgers’ championship drought has been reset to zero years. The Angels’ drought is up to 18 years. Rojas’ fervent hope is that another option in the T-shirt market soon will be a halo over a championship trophy, held up by a Millville meteor.