Tagged: History

Scraps from Statesville, Part 4

Photo of Jerry Fox
Jerry Fox was an outfielder with the Statesville Owls in 1961. His scrapbook has been a valuable resource for researching the team’s history. (Photo source: Statesville Record & Landmark)

 

I’ve been slowly scanning every page of Jerry Fox’s scrapbook. This is truly a window into the past — not just the Angels’ past, but the state of the minors in the early 1960s.

I’ve found two more people from that year. Vito Porta was the third baseman for Statesville in 1961. He wasn’t an Angels property; he had played in the Tigers’ and Phillies’ systems, and would go on to sign with the Mets for 1962. Vito was from Detroit; he currently lives in Florida.

I also located Alex Zouncourides, who was the umpire attacked by a fan during the brawl on May 31, 1961. His recollection was that the fan just took a swing at him but never connected.

Alex had some different perspectives, being an umpire and not a player. He said brawls were very common, and the league was badly run. I just came across an article in Jerry’s scrapbook which said the umpires (Alex and his partner Harry Reeder) had not been advised a doubleheader was scheduled for that day, so the players themselves had to umpire Game #1 until Alex and Harry arrived.

Alex also told me this was the second incarnation of the Western Carolina League, and that Branch Rickey himself had been involved in its resurrection. Searching Google, I found out that the original Western Carolina League ran from 1948-1952. Rickey and others were involved in trying to create a third major league, called the Continental League. The league was formally announced in July 1959, and hoped to begin play in 1961. This proposal forced Major League Baseball to expand for the first time, adding the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators in 1961, and the New York Mets and Houston Colt 45s in 1962.

The Western Carolina League was resurrected for the 1960 season in the hope of creating a minor league system for the Continental League. But MLB somehow blocked the agreement. I also found an article which said that the independent players in the WCL would be owned by the league, not the individual teams, which would allow the league to sell those players to major league clubs.

In addition to the Angels in Statesville, Lexington affiliated with the Mets, Houston with Salisbury, and Shelby with Pittsburgh. This affected the league’s draft out of a “baseball school” held in March. Affiliated teams needed fewer players, so they passed on their opportunity to select players out of the school. WCL President John Henry Moss railed that the teams were passing up some talented young players who’d travelled from all over the nation to Statesville to try out for a baseball job.

It wasn’t even clear how many teams would be in the league. They had six franchises for sure, and hoped to have eight, but were never able to find a solid eighth team to go with a reasonably certain seventh entry. The schedule wasn’t even final until late April, a few days before the season opener on May 1.

Angels players started arriving in Statesville by mid-April; an April 18 article in the Statesville Record & Landmark reports that Angels in camp included pitchers George Conrad, Joe DaCruz, and Jeff King; catcher Jack Hiatt; infielder Glade Cookus; and outfielders Gaetan Boudreau and Dick Simpson.

Boudreau was from Montreal and spoke French. The article notes that “Boudreau had trouble getting fixed up with sleeping quarters.”

[Manager George] Wilson related the incident. Boudreau arrived in town. He speaks only limited English, but is fluent in French. He attempted to make reservations but couldn’t get his predicament across. So he had to call the scout who signed him, telling him he was here. The scout, in Montreal, then called Wilson in Shelby. George called to Statesville to make the arrangements.

It’s a time-honored tradition in the minor leagues to teach foreign ballplayers their first words in English — which are invariably profane. Interviewing his surviving teammates, several of them have informed me that tradition was honored in Statesville back in 1961.

The April 29 paper published a photo of the pitching staff selected out of spring training:

 

Photo of Statesville's Opening Day pitching staff
The Opening Day pitchers for the Statesville Owls. Left to right: Pete Curtis, Jeff King, Joe DaCruz, Roy Wagner, Gail Thomas, John Couch, Walter Darton, Glen Opfer, George Conrad and Dana Worster. King, DaCruz, Darton and Conrad were Angels properties; Thomas was signed by the Angels after the season. Click on the image to view it at full size. (Photo source: Statesville Record & Landmark)

 

Walter Darton quickly evolved into the ace of the staff. I’ll have more on him in a future entry. I may have located him; I dropped a letter in the mail to him this morning. He was well on his way to a big league career when he was injured during the May 31 brawl.

Scraps from Statesville, Part 3

“Where else can you see three good fights and a ball game for 75 cents?” — Statesville Owls fan Herb Lovette.

Interviewing the alumni of the 1961 Statesville Owls, invariably they tell me about two incidents. One was soaking the all-dirt infield with gasoline before the All-Star Game to dry it out after a rainstorm. (It didn’t work.) The other was a brawl against their rivals, the Lexington Indians.

Thanks to the scrapbook sent me by Owls outfielder Jerry Fox, we can now bring back to life that incident.

His scrapbook had two articles both written by Jerry Josey of the Statesville Record & Landmark. One was a report of the game, the other his column called “From the Press Box.”

Click Here to read the article about the doubleheader.

Click Here to read Josey’s column.

You need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the articles.

It was May 31, 1961. Statesville was the class of the league, with the best winning percentage in the first half. Lexington was below .500, although by the end of August the Indians would qualify for the playoffs and eliminate the Owls.

League rules allowed only 18 players on the roster, so with a twinbill on the schedule manager George Wilson had to be judicious in the use of this roster. Just as now, minor league doubleheader games were seven innings each, not nine, although they went into extra innings in case of a tie.

In Game #1, Walter Darton was the starting pitcher. Darton was one of the Angels players on the roster. In that era, Statesville could also sign its own players.

The score was tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 7th. Owls outfielder Carl Mutert was called out on strikes by home plate umpire Harry Reeder to send the game into extra innings. Mutert threw his bat in protest and was ejected. Manager George Wilson rushed in from the third base box to argue and was tossed too. Local veteran player Gail Thomas took over as manager, and sent Dana Worster to right field to replace Mutert.

Josey wrote that “Statesville partisans were up in arms.”

In the top of the 8th, Lexington infielder Bill Barr was ruled safe at first on a close play by infield umpire Alex Zouncourides. The fans were so irate, Zouncourides called time and instructed police officers to order the fans in the first base bleachers to sit down.

Darton’s first pitch to the next batter, Bob Gaiser, was up and in. Gaiser charged the mound with his bat and both benches emptied. “Several solid punches were thrown in the melee before umpires and police officers succeeded in separating the combatants,” Josey wrote.

Just as order was restored, “a fan from the third base bleacher section moved onto the field and cut loose a right at Zouncourides,” Josey wrote. “Officers quickly took Harwell in tow and warded off further incident.” The umpires later went to police headquarters and signed a complaint, leading to assault charges against Harwell.

In the pileup, Darton somehow fell back on the mound and jammed his elbow. He couldn’t continue, so Thomas brought in Worster from right field to pitch. But given the small Statesville roster, Darton couldn’t leave the game, and went to right field.

Statesville went on to score in the bottom of the 8th to win Game #1, 4-3.

Lexington won Game #2, 8-4.

Owls’ manager Wilson, a North Carolinian, apparently felt it necessary to apologize to the fans for his language after the ejection. (Somehow I can’t imagine Billy Martin or Earl Weaver doing that …) Josey wrote:

Wilson, after the game, asked that an apology by relayed to “the fans for the language I used there at the bench” when he was tossed from the game in the opener. “I’m sorry and I just lost my head,” the Owls’ skipper said.

Then Wilson had his say on umpiring. “The umpires in this league are ridiculous. (Game #2 starter George) Conrad threw one boy six strikes and he walked him. (Catcher Bill) Maupin said he would swear that the balls were within six inches all the time. If something isn’t done about the umpiring in this league, it’s going to fold.”.

The players I’ve interviewed have told me that Darton’s career ended after the injury, although I’ve found one box score where he pitched (poorly) in relief. At the time, Darton was 5-1 with a 2.12 ERA. In 51 innings, he had 62 strikeouts and only 19 walks, having given up just 35 hits. They’ve all said Darton was a very talented pitcher.

I may have located Darton. I sent him a letter in the mail a couple days ago. If I hear from him, I’ll let you know.

Scraps from Statesville, Part 2

1961 Statesville Owls
Angels farm and scouting director Roland Hemond watches the 1961 Statesville Owls practice just before Opening Day. Photo courtesy Statesville Record & Landmark.

 

As previously mentioned, I received in the mail last week a scrap book kept in 1961 by Jerry Fox, an outfielder for the Statesville Owls. Statesville was the Angels’ Class D affiliate in the Western Carolina League, one of only two minor league teams the Angels had their first year.

Roland Hemond, now an executive with the Arizona Diamondbacks, was hired in January 1961 as the Angels’ first farm and scouting director. He had three months to put together both a minor league system and a scouting department.

The Angels wound up in Statesville, North Carolina. The ballpark, Senior High Stadium (it was located at the high school), was primitive by today’s standards. The infield was all dirt, and the stands were built of wood.

I’ve located many of the surviving 1961 Owls, and have leads on a couple more.

Anyway, I’m going to digitize as much as I can of Jerry’s scrap book, and will try to put the best stuff online for you to read.

Click Here to read an April 21 article in the Statesville Record & Landmark about Roland’s visit to Statesville just before the season began. The photo at the top of this column is taken from the article.

To reassemble the article, I scanned its pieces from the scrap book, brought them into Photoshop, then converted them to an Acrobat .PDF file. Seems to have worked out well enough.

You’ll need the free Acrobat Reader to look at these .PDF files. You probably have it installed on your computer already, but if you don’t Click Here to download Acrobat Reader for free.

The next article I’m going to reassemble is about a major brawl that occurred late in the season during a doubleheader against rival Lexington.

The Orem Owlz, the Angels’ affiliate today in the Rookie-A Pioneer League, unofficially “adopted” the Statesville Owls as their ancestor. They sell Statesville Owls merchandise in the stadium gift shop and online at www.oremowlz.com.

It occurred to me that yet another aspect both teams share is that both their managers were also Angels scouts.

Most of you know that Orem manager Tom Kotchman scouts in Florida when not managing during the summer. The Statesville newspaper articles not that Owls manager George Wilson, a local recommended by owner Fleete McCurdy, was also paid by the Angels to scout the league. At season’s end, the Angels signed about six players out of the league, although none of them made it to the majors. (Ed Thomas made it to Triple-A.)

More to come. Enjoy.

Scraps from Statesville, Part 1

1961 Statesville Owls
Click the photo to see at full size.

The 1961 Statesville Owls, by name:
Bottom Row: Vito Porta, Dick Simpson, Manager George Wilson, Jack Hiatt, George Bryson, Peter Curtis, John Isaac
Middle Row: Batboy Wayne Galliher, Dana Wooster, Jerry Fox, Dave Best, Glade Cookus, Wayne Young, Gail Thomas, Paul Mosley
Top Row: Alan Flitcraft, Bob Johnson, Carl Mutert, Robert Lucas, Dick Wantz, George Conrad

 

The 1961 Statesville Owls were one of only two minor league teams the Angels had in their inaugural season. Last week I received a scrap book from Jerry Fox, one of the Owls’ independent players, with all sorts of memories from that year.

Jerry included a sheet naming each one of the players in the above photo. Jerry is in the middle row, third from the left.

Three of these players went to the major leagues with the Angels — Dick Simpson, Jack Hiatt and Dick Wantz. Gail AKA Ed Thomas made it as far as Triple-A with the Angels and attended major league spring training in 1964.

The above photo copy came in e-mail a few weeks ago from Paul Mosley. Jerry’s copy is in the scrap book. He had his teammates sign the back, along with their home towns. Here’s what it looks like; to see it full-size, click on the image:

 

Click on the image to see it at its full size.

 

I’ll post more scans from Jerry’s scrap book as time permits.

Just In From Statesville …

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been researching the early history of the Angels minor leaguers.

My pet project is the 1961 Statesville Owls, one of only two minor league teams the Angels had in their inaugural year. This was a Class D team in Statesville, North Carolina.

It’s been a joy to track down the surviving members of that team and reunite them. Many of them have gotten into the spirit of this project and started to produce their own memorabilia from that year.

Today I received via UPS a big box from Statesville. I opened it and found a scrap book kept by Owls outfielder Jerry Fox. He was an independent player, not an Angels property, but like many of his surviving teammates has taken to this project. So he loaned me the scrap book for scanning.

The collection is absolutely incredible. Extremely well-kept and detailed. Newspaper articles from the Statesville Record & Landmark covering that entire season. Many of the articles have photos, including Angels players such as Dick Simpson, Jack Hiatt, Dick Wantz, Paul Mosley and more. I’ve seen one photo of Angels farm/scouting director Roland Hemond sitting atop the dugout with Owls owner Fleete McCurdy and a couple other baseball officials.

This is truly a window into another era. The Western Carolina League pretty much made it up year-to-year. The early articles report the WCL debating whether to field six or eight teams. A “baseball school” was held in Statesville for the entire league, basically a glorified one month tryout so the six teams could hold a “draft”. The rosters could only have 18 active players at a time.

There’s also a personal keepsake in the scrap book. Jerry had all his teammates sign a piece of paper with their name and home town. Jack Hiatt, “Dickie” Simpson, Dick Wantz — they’re all there.

As I work my way through digitizing the scrap book, I’ll post excerpts from time to time.

Meanwhile, I think my wife is tiring of me saying “Wow!” a lot …

Joe Gordon Named to Baseball Hall of Fame

Joe Gordon
Former Angels minor league hitting instructor Joe Gordon was elected today to the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photo Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame)

 

The Veterans Committee elected former Indians and Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon to the National Baseball Hall of Fame today.

As discussed in my November 30 blog, Gordon was hired in 1962 as what would today be known as a roving hitting instructor; his title back then was “organizational batting instructor.” He would report to the major league camp in Palm Springs, then head over to minor league camp in Anaheim once that opened.

A review of the Angels Media Guides in my collection show that Gordon was with the Angels through 1968. In 1969, he became the manager of the expansion Kansas City Royals. No doubt he was brought along by Cedric Tallis, the Angels’ vice-president of operations who was hired as the Royals’ first general manager.

Gordon also scouted for the Angels; the Guides back then actually listed the home addresses for the scouts! Gordon’s was 4136 Hancock Drive, “Sacramento 21,” California. (The “21” being the precursor to zip codes.)

Gordon died in Sacramento in April 1978 at age 63.

Where Were You in ’62?


Dallas-Ft. Worth manager Dick Littlefield leads batting practice during 1962 minor league spring training at Amerige Park in Fullerton. Quad Cities manager John Fitzpatrick is to the right.

 

Born in December 1960, the Angels’ first major league spring training was in March 1961 at the old Polo Grounds in Palm Springs.

Under the radar of the local press, farm and scouting director Roland Hemond labored to put together a minor league system within three months. The Angels that first year had only two farm clubs — a Triple-A team in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and a Class D team in Statesville, North Carolina.

Minor league affiliations were very different in those days. The minor league clubs were free to sign and sell their own players, and could have an affiliation with more than one major league team. The Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers had players from both the Angels and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils had a Triple-A team in Buffalo, and sent their leftovers to DFW.

Much has been written in this blog about that 1961 minor league season.

It’s time to talk about 1962.

With a year under their baseball belts, the Angels front office was able to expand their farm system to five affiliates.

The Angels were still affiliated with DFW, but they also hooked up with the Triple-A Hawaii Islanders. They added the San Jose Bees in the Class C California League, the equivalent of today’s Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in High-A. Abandoning Statesville, the Angels’ new Class D affiliate was Quad Cities in the Midwest League, the same league as today’s Low-A Cedar Rapids Kernels. They also added the Class B Tri-City Braves in the Northwest League, known in 1961 as the Tri-City Atoms but inexplicably changed their name to Braves although they were an Angels affiliate. Go figure.

As previously discussed, the first minor league spring training was held in March 1961 at Evans Park in Riverside. Technically speaking, it was the Rangers’ camp, not the Angels’, and the players wore DFW uniforms. Most of the players were assigned from the Angels, although eventually a few players trickled in from the Phillies.

Still nominally independent in 1962, the Rangers moved their minor league spring training to Amerige Park in Fullerton. Amerige had its own rich history. Built in 1934, it was used by old Pacific Coast League teams for spring training.

The Angels’ “official” minor league spring training camp was at La Palma Park in Anaheim. La Palma was the home field for the Anaheim Aces in 1941, the only year that Anaheim was in the California League before it shut down during World War II.

According to A Guide to Anaheim, La Palma Park opened in 1939 and was the spring training camp for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. The A’s trained there from 1939-1941, until World War II restricted cross-country travel.

Another minor league operation in the Sunset League played there in 1947-48, but after that La Palma Park was used by pro ball only as a spring training site for various minor league operations, including the old PCL’s Hollywood Stars in 1952-1957.

A 1962 promotional film produced after the season by the Angels included a segment about their minor league spring training at La Palma Park. Click Here to watch the minor league segment. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection are required. The clip runs about five minutes.

Although DFW had most of the Angels’ Triple-A players, some went to the Hawaii club, which trained in San Bernardino at Fiscalini Field, then called Perris Hill Park. The original structure built in 1934 was demolished in 1985, and replaced by the current facility. Fiscalini Field was home to the Cal League’s San Bernardino Spirit from 1987-1992; the team moved to Rancho Cucamonga in 1993 and became the Quakes. Ken Griffey, Jr. played for the Spirit at Fiscalini Field in 1988. The park was used by various PCL teams in the late 1950s as a spring training site; in 1961, the Vancouver Mounties had been based there.

During the 1961 spring training, the Angels had four Triple-A teams in the Inland Empire to play so they didn’t have to travel that much to Arizona — the Rangers in Riverside, the Mounties in San Bernardino, the San Diego Padres in Indio and the Hawaii Islanders in Ontario. But as the minors began to evolve into what we know today, by 1962 the only teams in Southern California were the Angels in Palm Springs, the Rangers in Fullerton, and the Islanders in San Bernardino — with the latter two Angels affiliates.

And so it was that the Rangers and Islanders wound up playing each other nearly every day during their 1962 spring training, save for occasional games against an Angels “B” squad or a local college team.

I recently spent a day going through microfilms on file in the UC Irvine library from the Fullerton News Tribune and Santa Ana Register for March 1962. Reading through old newspapers is always fascinating, because you not only get a lot more detail than just box scores, but you find intriguing photos and human interest stories you didn’t anticipate.


Dallas-Ft. Worth manager Dick Littlefield chats with Quad Cities Angels manager John Fitzpatrick. The Angels’ minor league coaching staff helped out at the Rangers’ camp until the Angels’ official minor league camp opened at La Palma Park in Anaheim.

 

The Fullerton paper reported that Rangers returning from 1961 were pitchers Dick Littlefield (who was also named the team’s manager over the winter), Jack Hannah and Tom Qualters; catcher Pete Gongola; infielders Tom Burgess (who just passed away on November 24), Ray Jablonski and Ted Kasanski; and outfielders Chick King, Chuck Tanner (who later went on to manage the White Sox and Pirates), and Faye Throneberry (Marv’s brother).

Many Angels prospects were still at Palm Springs. News reports mention Dick Simpson, Dan Ardell, Paul Mosley, Ed Thomas and Jack Hiatt — all players I’ve contacted the last year as part of my Angels minor league history project. All were eventually reassigned to minor league camp. All of those eventually wound up with San Jose, except for Thomas who went to Dallas-Ft. Worth.

Several future Angels stars were asserting themselves in major league camp. Jim Fregosi, Bob “Buck” Rodgers and Dean Chance had all played for DFW in 1961, but they were all key members of the 1962 Angels who would challenge the Yankees for first place all the way into September.

The Rangers’ camp opened on Monday March 19. They were scheduled to play thirteen home games at Amerige and two at La Palma Park. Their first home game was Saturday March 24 against Hawaii, and they were to break camp on Monday April 16.

Photos in the papers of the Rangers’ camp show manager/pitcher Littlefield in a Rangers uniform, but the managers for Quad Cities and San Jose wearing their teams’ uniforms. At today’s minor league spring training, everyone wears Angels jerseys. But in the early 1960s, these minor league teams were much more independent, so the players and coaches were the minor league team’s jersey, not the parent club’s.

The News Tribune reported that Littlefield “is being helped out this week by John Fitzpatrick and Red Marion, managers of two of the Los Angeles Angels’ other farm teams on a lower level, but they’ll begin working with their own teams, Quad Cities and San Jose, next week at La Palma Park in Anaheim. Angels advisory coaches Joe Gordon and Bob Lemon are expected to help out after the L.A. breaks camp in Palm Springs. Scout Al Monchak is also aiding Littlefield.”

Lemon went on to manage in the Angels’ minor leagues, but is perhaps best known for managing the Yankees during the turbulent George Steinbrenner era in the late 1970s-early 1980s. A star pitcher with the Cleveland Indians in the 1940s-1950s, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.

Gordon played second base for the Yankees and Indians in the 1940s, hitting 253 homers in his major league career. He managed in the old PCL during the 1950s and went on to manage four big league clubs. Gordon was also an instant trivia question when the Indians traded him in 1960 to the Tigers for manager Jimmy D_ykes, the only time managers have been traded in major league baseball. Gordon is currently under consideration by the veterans’ committee for induction into the Hall of Fame in 2009.


Rangers starting pitcher Bob Lee pitched five no-hit innings on March 31, when the Angels travelled to Fullerton to play their Triple-A affilate. Steve Bilko is on base in the background; behind him is the team bus that brought the Angels from Palm Springs. Lee went on to become the Angels’ closer in 1964-66.

 

Perhaps the most anticipated event during that camp was the arrival of the Angels’ “A” squad on Saturday March 31, the first time the Angels would play in Orange County. (Although several “B” rosters came to play DFW at Fullerton as well.) The Rangers won that day 8-2, before a reported 1,921 fans. Tom Burgess and Chuck Tanner homered for the Rangers. DFW starter Bob Lee pitched five hitless innings; he went on to be the Angels’ ace reliever in 1964-66, recording 58 saves in an era when starting pitchers were expected to go nine innings.  Lee’s catcher was Phillies property Pat Corrales, who would go on to manage the major league Rangers, Indians and Phillies.  Corrales also homered for DFW that day.


Catcher Pat Corrales crosses the plate after he homered for the Rangers in the Fullerton game against the Angels. Corrales was a Phillies property; the Phillies and Angels both sent players to Dallas-Ft. Worth.

 

The Angels went on to play the Dodgers for the first time, in what would eventually be known as the Freeway Series, at Palm Springs. The Rangers, meanwhile, played a two-game home-and-away series against the USC Trojans, NCAA champions in 1961. Dan Ardell, a member of the 1961 Trojans, had been signed out of college by the Angels and briefly played for the parent club in September. In March 1962, he began spring training with the Angels but was on the DFW roster when the Rangers played his former college mates. On the USC roster was Mike Gillespie, who went on to manage the Trojans.


DFW first baseman Dan Ardell is forced at second by USC infielder Mike Gillespie. Ardell had been the first baseman on the 1961 USC NCAA championship team. He signed with the Angels after graduating from college. Although he played on the Rangers’ roster this day, he eventually reported to La Palma Park in Anaheim where was assigned to the San Jose Bees.

 

One other tale I came across was news to me.

A 20-year old Santa Ana man named Bernie Young was cleared by a “coroner’s jury” of charges that he had killed a Marine during a party. The Register described Young as “a young baseball star” and “the latest ‘bonus baby’ of the Angels, receiving $5,000 and a contract with the club.” But I couldn’t find any record of him actually playing for the Angels; I’ll have to ask Roland Hemond if he remembers Young.

In 1963, DFW ditched the Angels and affiliated with the Minnesota Twins. They held their 1963 spring training in Fernandina Beach, Florida (on the Georgia border near Jacksonville). The Angels continued to base their official minor league camp at La Palma Park in Anaheim through 1964. In 1965, the camp was in El Centro, then in 1966 they relocated to a new complex at Holtville, near the Mexican border.

Professional baseball returned to Anaheim in 1966 when the Angels relocated from Chavez Ravine … but that’s a different story.