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It was almost the City of No Angels

Walter O'Malley reportedly didn't want a second team in Los Angeles, and he definitely wasn't a benevolent landlord to his American League tenants for four years.

October 15, 2009|Ross Newhan

If Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was privately outraged at Arte Moreno's gall in renaming his Orange County team the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and shoving it in their face with billboards far beyond the Orange curtain, the thread of disenchantment stretches back to the beginning of major league baseball in Southern California.

According to newspaper and book accounts supported by personal recollections and interviews, the late Walter O'Malley, who moved his storied team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958, never wanted an American League team in what he regarded as his new, private and lucrative territory or believed the AL had legal rights to it.

Peter O'Malley, Walter's son, denies those accounts, but there is no denying that Los Angeles fans also failed to show much interest in the new Los Angeles team, which retained the familiar name of the Pacific Coast League Angels but knew from the start it would have to find a home of its own.

Born out of baseball's first expansion, the Angels moved from the minor league facility that was Wrigley Field in 1961 to the new Dodger Stadium as tenants in 1962 and ultimately to their own Anaheim park in 1966.

From the start, however, the popularity and success of the Dodgers would haunt the American League team -- often envying and copying (until Moreno's arrival) their freeway rival with rash player moves, inept scouting and front-office instability that seldom bore fruit.

Now, the two teams are closer than ever to a Freeway World Series.

The birthright arguments are long forgotten, perhaps, but bragging and other rights remain, the refuse of decades.

And, with the World Series on the line for the first time, the stakes are clearly more significant than those generated by their annual exhibition and interleague games.

Of course, none of the current players were alive when O'Malley brought the Dodgers to Los Angeles and, three years later, entertainment and business giant Gene Autry was awarded the American League franchise after the powerful O'Malley, according to multiple accounts and interviews from sources not authorized to speak on the subject, had battled internally to keep it from going to a partnership of Hank Greenberg and Bill Veeck, the eccentric showman who represented a risk to the Dodgers' popularity.

The American League came persistently knocking on the door when it saw the crowds the Dodgers were drawing to their lopsided baseball field in the Coliseum--1.8 million in 1958, 2.07 million in 1959 and 2.2 million in 1960.

Peter O'Malley insists his father never tried to throw up a legal roadblock.

"My recollection is that there was no way to prevent the American League from coming to the greater Los Angeles area just as there would be no practical way for anyone in sports in Los Angeles to prevent the NFL from coming here," he said. "My dad would have had major problems with a second National League club coming to the city, but I don't think there was any way to discourage the American League from coming."

The Dodgers had arrived with a blueprint for a privately financed stadium, a rich history and tradition, a young, red-headed broadcaster who would create generations of transistor-toting fans, a lineup of familiar but fading stars that would finish seventh in its first year and a formula, as it turned out, for a World Series championship a year later.

That championship was built in part on the second-half arrival of Maury Wills as replacement for Pee Wee Reese, the ongoing emergence of Sandy Koufax and Larry Sherry, and a preseason trade in 1959 for a modest St. Louis outfielder named Wally Moon, who would quickly learn how to cope with the proximity of the Coliseum's towering left-field screen, launching his Moon Shot home runs.

As Greenberg/Veeck reportedly rejected O'Malley's demands for $450,000 in indemnification if they moved into Los Angeles, and Vin Scully, the young broadcaster, painted his word pictures, O'Malley was unable to pick up those broadcasts at a summer retreat he had bought in the Lake Arrowhead area and decided to switch his broadcasts from KMPC, the Golden West station owned by Autry, to KFI.

This prompted Autry, who once envisioned playing shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, to attend a meeting of major league owners in St. Louis in December 1960 with the goal of landing broadcasting rights to the new American League team in Los Angeles and maintaining KMPC's reputation as Southern California's top sports station.

He did that and more. He landed the franchise, ultimately paying O'Malley $350,000 in indemnification, selecting 28 players in the expansion draft for $2.1 million and agreeing to a four-year contract with a three-year option for his team to play in Dodger Stadium, when it opened in 1962.

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