Tagged: History

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.

Tom Burgess Passes Away

Bob Rous, Ray Withrow and Tom Burgess
Tom Burgess (right) was one of the original “future Angels,” playing for the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers in 1961. In this photo, he’s at the Angels’ 1961 minor league camp in Riverside, along with Rangers players Bob Rous and Ray Withrow.


MLB.com reports that former Angels first baseman/outfielder Tom Burgess has passed away at age 81.

Burgess spent much of his playing days in the minors during the 1950s, when most minor league clubs were independently owned and it wasn’t unusual for players to spend more than a decade hoping to break through to the majors. Tom is an example, having played in 12 games with the Cardinals at age 26 in 1954, then drifting around the minors until he was acquired by the Angels in 1961 at age 33. He spent all of 1961 with the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, one of two Angels affiliates that year. In 1962, he was with the Angels for the entire season. Burgess was mostly a pinch-hitter, although he did appear at first base for 35 games and twice in the outfield. His AVG/OBP/SLG that year were .196/.354/.301; if you’re wondering about that statistical oddity, Tom drew a lot of walks.

The fledgling FutureAngels.com Database tells us that in 1961 with DFW his numbers were .288/.387/.456; again he drew a lot of walks.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been working on documenting the early history of the Angels minor leagues. I’ve felt a bit of urgency since these guys are mostly in their golden years. Some have already passed away, and those who survive are quite delighted (for the most part) that I’m tracking them down and reuniting them with their old teammates.

Tom’s passing reminds me to work a little faster.

Now Presenting … the Statesville Owls

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been researching the history of the 1961 Statesville Owls, one of only two minor league teams the Angels had in their inaugural year. The Owls were a Class-D team in the Western Carolina League.

My research began with no more than lines of stats. Names and numbers.

Then I found Bill Moose, a local historian who’s also a SABR member and a columnist for the Statesville Record & Landmark. He sent me notes he’d jotted from the paper’s archives about the players that year. Now they were apparitions, a few tales from the past giving them some body and substance.

With a little leg work, I found catcher Jack Hiatt, most recently the Giants’ farm director who’d been signed by the Angels in March 1961 and sent to Statesville. Pitcher Paul Mosley fell into my lap thanks to a Google search by a colleague at his current employer. Outfielder Dick Simpson I found through a Washington Post reporters who’d interviewed him about a non-baseball article. Infielder Glade Cookus was located through WhitePages.com. Infielder Bob Lucas is the baseball coach at his alma mater in Florida. And Roland Hemond, the Angels’ first farm director, I found through the Chicago White Sox where he was a special assistant. (Now he’s with the Arizona Diamondbacks.)

Recently, Bill Moose found me two North Carolina locals who were with the Owls but not Angels property. Pitcher Ed Thomas was later signed by the Angels, but in 1961 he was an independent player. Outfielder Jerry Fox never signed with the Angels, he was always a local.

Four Angels players set out from L.A. for Statesville in mid-April 1961 — Hiatt, Simpson, Cookus and George Conrad. We recently determined that Conrad passed away in 1999.

As I’ve located them, I’ve given them the phone numbers of their former teammates. It’s been so much fun to hear them light up after talking to teammates they haven’t seen in over 45 years. For many of them, they have such fond memories of a time when they were young and thought they were immortal.

But even as I’ve fleshed them out through research and phone calls, I’d yet to see any photos of them from 1961.

Until now.

Paul Mosley e-mailed this week that a relative of his had found a scrapbook with Statesville team photos. He scanned them and e-mailed them to me.

To see a larger version of each image, click on the image.

1961 Statesville Owls

This photo appears to be taken of the players sitting in the stands. I haven’t figured out yet who everyone is, but in the front row Dick Simpson is second from the left and manager George Wilson is third from the left. I think that’s Jack Hiatt in the middle of the front row next to Wilson; Jack said his parents sent him a generic jersey from home because Statesville didn’t have a decent uniform for him. Also note in the far left of the second row, the batboy wearing a Statesville road uniform. The vertical handwriting on the right are for Glade Cookus, Dick Wantz and George Conrad. Wantz reached the Angels in 1965, only to die a month later of a brain tumor.

1961 Statesville Owls

This image appears to have been taken in the outfield near the wall. Note in the background the wooden grape stake fence — not exactly the type of fence you expect to hold up to an outfielder crashing into it. In this photo, manager George Wilson is standing to the far left. I’ve yet to identify the gentleman in civilian garb to the right — owner Fleet McCurdy, perhaps?

Ed Thomas and Jerry Fox know quite a bit about McCurdy’s family. Fleet passed away long ago, but they might be able to help me locate his descendants.

Dick Simpson told me this week he should be able to locate infielder George Bryson, who eventually became a director of TV commercials. I believe Bob Lucas knows the whereabouts of infielder Dave Best. And I know that third baseman Vito Porta, who was also an independent player not under Angels contract, is in Florida.

Any good story deserves a sequel, and today I started on it.

In 1961, the Angels’ first minor league spring training camp was at Evans Park in Riverside. It was technically the camp for the Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. They wore Rangers uniforms, not Angels uniforms.

The Riverside location lasted only one year. In 1962, DFW relocated their camp to Amerige Park in Fullerton. The Angels, meanwhile, established their “official” minor league camp down the road at La Palma Park in Anaheim.

I went to the UC Irvine library today to look at microfilm of local papers from that era. The Fullerton News Tribune had articles and photos from the Rangers’ camp. I’ll go back soon to save the images to disc so I can post them here.

One photo showed DFW’s new manager, Richard Littlefield, in Rangers uniform next to Quad Cities Angels manager John Fitzpatrick. Quad Cities was a new Angels affiliate that year, in the Midwest League (same as today’s Cedar Rapids Kernels), replacing Statesville. The Angels also added a Class C team at San Jose in the California League (same as today’s Rancho Cucamonga Quakes), and a Class B team at Tri-Cities in Washington state in the Northwest League.

According to the articles, coaches for the various Angels minor league teams were assigned to the Rangers until the La Palma Park camp opened at the end of the month.

The News Tribune reported that the Rangers largely played the Triple-A Hawaii Islanders, who were based in San Bernardino, and the Angels’ “B” team squad comprised of lesser talents not yet reassigned to the minors. But on occasion, the Rangers did play the “A” team, and as I left today I was about to read about a game between the Rangers and the Angels’ “A” team at Amerige Park in Fullerton.

You’ve always been told the Angels came to Orange County in 1966.

It wasn’t true.

They were here in 1962.

The First Angels’ Minor League Spring Training

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been working on researching the history of the Angels’ minor leagues, in particular the inaugural 1961 season.

You probably know the Angels held their first major league spring training in Palm Springs. Few know that the first minor league spring training was at Evans Park in Riverside. It’s a subject I’ve written about here as I’ve learned more and more.

I went by the UC Riverside library today to save to disc copies of articles on microfilm from the Riverside Press-Enterprise about that embryonic period. Some of the articles had photos, which are below.

To recap, the Angels had only two minor league teams that year, the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers and the Class D Statesville (NC) Owls. It was a different era; minor league teams could sign their own players, and they could affiliate with more than one parent club.

Technically speaking, Riverside wasn’t the Angels’ minor league camp. It was DFW’s camp. Some of the players were Angels property. Some were Phillies property. Some belonged to the Rangers. The manager, former Cardinals star catcher Walker Cooper, was hired by DFW, not the Angels or the Phillies.

The Angels were the lone major league organization training in California. There were other organizations in Arizona, but they weren’t keen on travelling all the way to Palm Springs, when modes of travel were far more primitive than today. I found one article reporting the Cubs flew from Phoenix to Palm Springs, but were diverted to the Blythe airport en route because a federal marshal needed to transport a prisoner!

Several Triple-A teams trained in the Inland Empire. In addition to the Rangers in Riverside, there were teams in Ontario, San Bernardino and Indio. So the Angels’ spring training schedule included several games against the Triple-A teams; in fact, the Triple-A San Diego Padres in Indio were managed by future legendary Angels coach Jimmy Reese.

The DFW Rangers’ schedule included games against the Angels and the other Triple-A teams. When the Angels came to Evans Park, it was usually a “B” squad comprised of prospects or fringe players.

I went by Evans Park today to take photos and ran into Dennis Rogers, the baseball coach at Riverside Community College which uses Evans Park as its home field. He said the current facility is not the same one as 1961; that location is now a parking lot to the northwest. The current Evans Park was a practice field.

That helped explain some discrepancies I’ve seen in other photos loaned me by collectors.

Here are some of the photos from the Press-Enterprise articles. Obviously, the photo quality ranges from mediocre to poor, given the medium. I called the P-E months ago to find out if the originals still exist, but they were long ago destroyed. So these are all that still exist, and this is after I cleaned them up in Photoshop.

Jim Fregosi and Jack Hiatt
Jim Fregosi on the Angels squad slides into Rangers catcher Jack Hiatt. Notice the crowd standing behind the bats and chain link.


Manager Walker Cooper and Rangers players
The caption didn’t say who they are, but I believe that’s manager Walker Cooper on the left … UPDATE 11/15/2008, Jack Hiatt says he’s the player second from the right holding the bat.  He confirms that Walker Cooper is the man to the far left.


Hugh Pepper
Hugh Pepper was a grizzled veteran pitcher signed by the Rangers. Note the net in front of the mound; they didn’t have screens back then to protect pitchers during batting practice.


Bob Rodgers and Ken Toothman
Bob Rodgers slides into second. DFW infielder Ken Toothman covers the bag. Note the cars in the parking lot behind right field; there’s a car parked up on a hill, which should be a reference point in identifying the location of the old ballpark.


Bob Rous, Ray Withrow and Tom Burgess
Rangers players Bob Rous, Ray Withrow and Tom Burgess cope with a rain delay during drills. I believe Rous was under an Angels contract while the other two belonged to DFW.

That ’70s Show

If you’re a regular reader of FutureAngels.com, you know I’ve been writing about the early history of the Angels’ minor leagues, in particular the inaugural 1961 season.

Last winter, one of the stalwarts of the Angels’ 1970s minor leagues contacted me. Darrell Darrow was drafted out of Long Beach City College in 1970. Except for 1977-78, he was a second baseman in the Angels system for the entire decade, returning for one final season in 1979.

Darrell contacted me to find out if what someone told him was true, that he holds the record for most career triples in the Angels minor leagues. He hit 48 triples in his Angels career. Although I haven’t researched the entire history of Angels minor league baseball, my anecdotal research seemed to indicate he does hold the record.

Then I found out that Darrell has another link to Angels history.

Those of us growing up with Angels baseball in the 1960s remember ads for Home Run Park, a batting cage on Beach Boulevard in Anaheim not far from Knott’s Berry Farm. It was marketed as Jim Fregosi’s operation, but the truth was the real owner was friends with Fregosi and licensed the name. Fregosi was rarely there, but the ads in the Angels scorebooks and on the radio led us to believe that if we went by we would certainly see Jim teaching youngsters to play ball.

Darrell now runs the batting cages for the current owner, and teaches hitting there. Former Angels pitcher Clyde Wright has a bullpen in the back where he teaches pitching.

Yesterday I went to Home Run Park to record an interview with Darrell. We also videotaped a walking tour of this historic complex. As Darrell notes, Home Run Park has been used over the years by many of Orange County’s most prominent professional ballplayers.

If you have a broadband Internet connection (cable modem or DSL), Click Here to watch the video interview which runs about an hour. Click Here to take the Home Run Park tour.

If you don’t have broadband, Click Here to listen to an audio-only version of the interview. You need Windows Media Player for all the links.

Click Here to visit the Home Run Park web site.

The Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers of Fullerton

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.

“The Experimental Wild Card Player”

As mentioned earlier in the week, I’m researching the 1961 spring training in Riverside of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate that year.

The Dallas Morning News has all its archives on-line. For $29.95, you can read and download up to 200 articles over a 30-day period. So that’s this weekend’s project.

I came across an article in the March 25, 1961 edition about a game between the Rangers and the Hawaii Islanders, who were based in Ontario. Buried in the article is this paragraph:

The Islanders insist upon using the experimental wild card player, but [Rangers Manager Walker] Cooper refuses to go along as far as the Rangers are concerned. No ruling has yet been made, but the Coast League favors the plan where in a batter, who never appears otherwise in the game, is designated as a permanent pinchhitter for the pitcher. The pitcher never bats, but may continue to pitch until replaced.

Wow. The DH was around in 1961.

The box score lists the DH’s name with alphabetic footnotes detailing each at-bat, e.g. “a Singled for Schmidt in 3rd.”

I loathe the DH. “Wild Card player” is easier to say, at least.