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Split by a Ravine

Angels never really got their fair share during four years at Dodger Stadium

May 20, 2005|Ross Newhan | Special to The Times

Even in that long-ago time when they weren't mere carpetbaggers, when they could justifiably refer to Los Angeles as their home turf, the Angels knew they were just passing through.

That's the way it is again tonight as L.A.'s two baseball teams -- one facing legal and legislative challenges to that geographical designation -- open a three-game interleague series at Dodger Stadium.

This is where they were once the established landlord and the expansion tenant, and the Angels were aware from the start they would have to move to find an identity, ultimately choosing the Orange County city that they have now virtually disowned for failing to symbolize a big enough and broad enough marketing base.

So, the onetime Los Angeles Angels return as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and if there's some 40-year irony in that ... well, it doesn't change the fact that they had no alternative other than to move in the first place.

Baseball history had shown that two teams playing in the same facility didn't work, and in four years at Dodger Stadium -- from 1962, when Walter O'Malley's new park opened, through 1965 -- the Angels were dissed and dismissed by fans, media and the Dodgers

Said a reflective Buck Rodgers, a young catcher during those years and later an Angel manager: "All you had to do was pick up the newspapers during that time. We always felt like we were like a stepson or poor cousin."

Said a reflective Ron Fairly, then a young infielder-outfielder with the Dodgers and now a Seattle Mariner broadcaster: "The only time we talked about the Angels was in the context of hoping they didn't tear up the infield. Otherwise, there weren't any interleague games then and we simply didn't pay much attention to them. They were trying to build a team. We were the Dodgers, for goodness sakes. We were focused on the World Series."

They were the Dodgers then of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, Tommy Davis and Maury Wills. In that four-year span, coming off a 1959 World Series title when they played at the Coliseum, they won two pennants and two more World Series titles, tying for a third pennant before losing a 1962 playoff to the San Francisco Giants.

With an expanding season-ticket base of about 27,000 in the new park, they drew more than 10 million fans in the four years, attracting between 2.2 million and 2.7 million annually.

The Angels, moving from the cramped confines of the now demolished Wrigley Field, where they had drawn 603,510 in their 1961 debut, attracted 1.1 million while making an improbable pennant run before finishing third at 86-76 in their first year at Dodger Stadium. Then, expansion reality hit.

They were 31 games under .500 in the next three years there, lame ducks in more ways than one as attendance fell from 821,015 in 1963 to 760,439 in 1964 to a dismal 566,722 in 1965, when they sold 2,600 season tickets, drew only 945 for their last day game and the players complained they couldn't even give their passes away.

By then, of course, Hollywood starlets such as Mamie Van Doren, Tina Louise and Juliet Prowse had stopped dressing up the dugout box seats, and Bo Belinsky, the object of their attention and affection, had been traded after the 1964 season to the Philadelphia Phillies when the Angels finally lost patience with his off-field escapades and on-field failures.

A character among characters on the early Angels, Belinsky's 5-0 rookie start and May no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles had triggered the remarkable pennant bid in '62 --"Heaven Can Wait; Angels 1st on the 4th," read the headline on Mal Florence's Independence Day story in this section. Only a year later, with the neon lights fading and his personal Boswell, famed columnist Walter Winchell, having attached himself to more attractive stars, Belinsky knew he would be gone and knew the Angels would soon follow.

For Belinsky and the Angels, their tenuous status at Dodger Stadium was epitomized in 1963 when the left-hander was brought back from triple-A exile to make a late-summer start against Baltimore and vowed if he didn't attract at least 15,000 he should be returned to triple A.

Belinsky did his part, throwing a five-hit shutout, but the Thursday afternoon game drew only 476 fans -- a telling tale for the pitcher and his team -- and the streetwise Belinsky said, "We wouldn't even have drawn that many if half didn't come out to boo me."

The inimitable Belinsky died in 2001 at 64, having often said of his lifestyle that he knew the "bills would come due."

In his too-brief incandescence, he may have provided the Angels with as much publicity as Koufax provided the Dodgers. But it was the Dodgers who owned the city and the stadium, and Gene Autry, the Angels' original owner, was too much of a corporate cowboy to let the financial bills keep coming due.

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