Continuing my research into the early days of the Angels minor leagues …
As previously discussed, in their inaugural 1961 season the Angels had only two minor league affiliates — the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, and the Class D Statesville (NC) Owls.
The Angels received their American League franchise in December 1960, and had only three months to assemble a squad of players before spring training opened in Palm Springs. That history has been well-documented, but the birth of the minor league system has gone unnoted until I began writing about it a couple years ago.
Some players came from the expansion draft on December 14, 1960. The Angels and Washington Senators each selected 28 players that day. Some of the players went directly to the parent club, while others such as Jim Fregosi, Bob Rodgers and Dean Chance reported to a minor league team in 1961.
As I wrote on February 5, while the likely big leaguers reported to Palm Springs, the minor leaguers reported to a camp in Riverside at Evans Park. That camp was not an Angels minor league camp, however. It was the camp of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, independently owned and operated. DFW could sign, acquire and sell its own players, and could affiliate with more than one major league organization. That 1961 Riverside camp had several players who belonged to the Rangers, such as Hugh Pepper, Ray Jablonski and **** Littlefield, but the Angels also sent there Fregosi, Rodgers, Chance and others such as Jack Hiatt.
The Rangers also affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies, who already had a Triple-A team in Buffalo. It appears that Buffalo was considered the more advanced Triple-A team in their system, so the "leftovers" went to DFW.
I’ve been told by many original "future Angels" that 1961 was very chaotic, with players coming and going, no apparent rhyme or reason to the madness. The Angels were churning through players in the hope of quickly fielding a competitive team in Los Angeles. Patience did not seem to be a virtue in the Angels front office (unlike today).
Adding to the confusion was that the assignment of player contracts worked differently than today. As I work to build the FutureAngels.com Database, I’m trying to figure out whether DFW players belonged to the Angels, Phillies or Rangers. It seems some contracts constantly went back and forth, with a gentleman’s understanding that although the Angels might sell a player to the Rangers, the Angels had first say on the player should the Rangers want to move him in a deal. It wasn’t unusual to see multi-team arrangements as the Angels and Rangers scrambled to stock their rosters, with Angels players assigned to other organization’s farm clubs. Leo Burke wound up with Cleveland’s Triple-A team, the Salt Lake City Bees. Aubrey Gatewood pitched for Des Moines, a Phillies’ affiliate in the now-defunct Class B Three-I League. Fred Newman pitched for Pittsburgh affiliate Burlington in the same league. Outfielder Ron Ross was assigned to the Double-A Macon Peaches, an independent team in the Southern Association. And Dan Ardell spent a month with the Artesia Dodgers in the Class D Sophomore League.
DFW ownership had its own issues. The franchise was once two teams, the Dallas Rangers and the Ft. Worth Cats. They were in the Double-A Texas League in 1958, then moved over to the Triple-A American Association in 1959 hoping to position themselves for possible entry into a proposed third major league called the Contintental League. The two businesses merged for 1960 into the Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, playing games in both Dallas and Ft. Worth.
When the Continental League never materialized and the A.L. didn’t award an expansion franchise to Dallas-Ft. Worth, DFW ownership sold the team in Janaury 1961 to Ray Johnston. The Rangers only owned a couple players and had no affiliation, terminating their 1960 relationship with the Kansas City Athletics.
With both organizations in chaos and only a couple months until spring training, somehow the Angels and Rangers found each other.
A year later, Johnston was eager to field a more competitive team. The Rangers finished 72-77 in 1961, fifth in the six-team league, missing a post-season playoff berth by ½ game. Several Angel farmhands made the league’s All-Star team — Jim Fregosi, Bob Rodgers, Jack Spring — and Gene Autry himself visited DFW in August with GM Fred Haney. The Angels pledged to play an exhibition game next spring in DFW against the NL’s new Houston Colt 45s, but Johnston could see the chaos in the Angels front office and started looking out for his own interests.
The Rangers opened their 1962 camp in Fullerton, having spent only one spring in Riverside. The Dallas Morning News politely described Evans Park as too small for the Rangers’ needs, but their new base at Amerige Park in Fullerton wasn’t much different. The Angels had established their own minor league base at nearby La Palma Park in north Anaheim. As they did in 1961, the Rangers played PCL teams camped in Ontario and San Bernardino, but also frequently played the Angels minor leaguers in Anaheim.
The Rangers’ needs sometimes were second priority to the Angels. It wasn’t unusual for the Angels to supply pitchers for both teams when Fullerton and Anaheim played. The Rangers would have to wait for reinforcements until the Angels made their spring training cuts.
The Angels’ system expanded in 1962 from two to five affiliations, adding a Triple-A team in Honolulu, the Hawaii Islanders. The DFW roster had more Phillies properties and more players owned by the Rangers. Angels talent seemed mostly to go elsewhere. The Rangers that year finished last at 59-90, so Johnston gave both the Angels and Phillies the boot.
The historic American Association, founded in 1902, disbanded after the 1962 season. DFW found itself in the PCL for 1963, and a full affiliation with the Minnesota Twins. According to the Dallas Morning News, “The agreement with the Angels, which was in force in 1961-62, was not renewed, Johnston indicated, because the Los Angeles club ‘has about run out, temporarily at least, of sufficient players of triple-A caliber.’”
1962, of course, was the miracle year for Los Angeles. The Angels were in first place on July 4th and still contended in early September before finishing third. Believing they were closer than they really were, the Angels promoted to L.A. what young talent they had or began trading it off for fading veterans. Johnston could see the handwriting on the proverbial wall, so he sought another affiliation. The Rangers finished 79-79 in 1963, while the Angels’ Hawaii affiliate finished 81-77. Neither went to the playoffs.
Most Angels fans know that the team’s early spring training base was in Palm Springs, but few know that Angels cleats also trod ground those early years in the Inland Empire and Orange County. There were Angels in Anaheim long before the 1966 move from Los Angeles. They were in Riverside and Fullerton too.