Advertisement

BEST OF SPORTS / PRO BASEBALL

Full Account

Los Angeles Has a Storied Baseball History--and It Started Well Before the Dodgers Came to Town

December 29, 1999|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sparky Anderson grew up in the heart of Los Angeles, dreaming of playing professional baseball. He lived in the area of 35th and Vermont, not far from USC and Manual Arts High, but baseball so dominated his thoughts that he attended Dorsey High because of its superior program.

For Anderson and others in the years before Walter O'Malley moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958 and the American League awarded a Los Angeles franchise to Gene Autry in 1961, the dreams came with boundaries.

"The Pacific Coast League was the only league I could identify with," Anderson recalled. "The Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels 1/8of the PCL 3/8 were major league to me.

"Sure, I was aware of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, but the players I followed were guys like Billy Schuster, Mike Sandlock, Frank Kelleher, Joe Brovia, Earl Rapp and Luke Easter. I have no real recollection of pro ball in that time except for the Pacific Coast League."

For more than half of the 1900s, the Pacific Coast League provided the highest level of professional baseball in Southern California.

Until O'Malley came West, St. Louis was the Continental Divide on the major league map.

Anderson, who reached the distant major leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1953 and later gained national renown as manager of World Series-winning teams in Cincinnati and Detroit, got his first taste of pro ball by spending his allowance money.

He would take the D car--electric streetcars represented an early form of rapid transit on streets far less congested than now--to Wrigley Field at 42nd Street and Avalon Boulevard every Sunday the PCL Angels were home to watch the traditional doubleheader.

"The PCL was like a third major league," said Tom Lasorda, the former Dodger manager who pitched for the minor league Angels in 1957. "Guys who played in it didn't want to leave, even if they were called up. The caliber of play was outstanding, the travel was easy 1/8teams would spend a full week at each stop 3/8 and the cities were major league. Most of them are now."

Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland and Seattle, all former PCL cities, now boast major league teams. Joe and Dom DiMaggio, Paul and Lloyd Waner, Williams, Ernie Lombardi, Lefty O'Doul, Earl Averill, Tony Lazzeri and Babe Herman were among the players who apprenticed in the PCL, which got its start in 1903, growing out of the 1902 California State League.

Pro baseball in Los Angeles got off to an auspicious start when the home-team Angels won the PCL's first championship in 1903 by 271/2 games, playing then in 15,000-seat Washington Park, at 8th and Hill streets. The Angels shared the facility in many of the early years with another PCL area team, the Vernon Tigers, but in 1925 the parent Chicago Cubs opened Wrigley Field--a 20,000-seat replica of their famed Chicago park, including ivy on the fences--at a cost of $1.3 million.

"It's unquestionably the last word in baseball architecture," league president Harry Williams said of the PCL jewel that would be home, for a season, for Autry's Angels when they began play in 1961 and ultimately gave way to the Gilbert W. Lindsay Community Center.

A year after Wrigley opened, with commissioner Kenesaw (Mountain) Landis attending the dedication, the Salt Lake City Bees moved to Los Angeles to share Wrigley Field and be called, at various times, the Hollywood Stars or Sheiks. The dual tenancy proved unsatisfactory and the Stars-Sheiks moved to San Diego before the 1936 season, leaving the Angels as the only pro team in Los Angeles until 1938. Then the San Francisco Missions, struggling after the Vernon team had turned the Bay Area into a three-team market in 1926, moved south as the reincarnated Hollywood Stars. They played a year in Wrigley and then moved into a new park in the Beverly-Fairfax area named Gilmore Field for Earl Gilmore, who owned a large parcel of land near the Pan-Pacific Auditorium.

The 12,000-seat ballpark was built on the site of the current CBS television studios near Farmer's Market and, at the time, between the since-demolished Pan- Pacific and Gilmore Stadium, which was used for football and auto racing.

Bob Cobb, president of the Brown Derby restaurants, bought the team from the San Francisco owners, and the Stars became a magnet to the stars. The initial stockholders included Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, George Raft, Cecil B. DeMille, Barbara Stanwyck and William Powell. Gail Patrick threw out the first ball to Joe E. Brown. Jack Benny, Al Jolson, Martha Raye and Rudy Vallee attended the opener.

Richard E. Beverage, the leading PCL historian, wrote in his history of the team: "The list of stars gave the club a Hollywood identity it would always have and created an aura of glamour that was unlike anything the PCL had previously known."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|