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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 on the Angels squad slides into Rangers catcher Jack Hiatt. Notice the crowd standing behind the bats and chain link.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
With a couple hours to kill before yesterday’s Rancho Cucamonga press conference, I went by my alma mater, the University of California Riverside, to look in the main library at old microfilms of the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
As you know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I’ve spent much of the winter researching the history of the Angels minor leagues, the seminal 1961 season in particular. From an interview with Jack Hiatt, we learned that while the big leaguers trained in Palm Springs the minor leaguers were somewhere in Riverside.
The microfilms revealed a wealth of Angels history.
The Angels’ Triple-A affiliate was the Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers of the American Association. They shared the affiliation with the Philadelphia Phillies. So technically, it was D-FW who was training in Riverside, not exactly the Angels’ minor league club, although many of the players came from Palm Springs.
Their base was historic Evans Athletic Park. One P-E article stated that manager Walker Cooper had played at Evans Park 24 years before (1937, if you do the math) when he played for the old PCL’s Sacramento Solons. Evans Park is next to Riverside Community Hospital, just southwest of downtown. In future years, it would be the home of the California League’s Riverside Red Wave from 1988 to 1990. According to one article, "Jackie Robinson spent his summers in Riverside and practiced at Evans Park on Brockton Avenue." Today it’s known as the Samuel C. Evans Sports Complex, and is operated by nearby Riverside Community College.
The team hotel was the historic Mission Inn. By 1961, the Mission Inn was long past its glory years, and 20 years later would be shuttered until a new buyer came along in the mid-1990s and restored it to a five-star hotel. (My wife and I spent our wedding night there in 2004.)
I found several articles with photos. The players wore Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers jerseys and caps. Mind you, affiliations back then were not like today. Many minor league teams could still sign their own players. I’m currently corresponding with Dave Baldwin, who pitched for D-FW in 1962 as a Phillies property. He said that some of the players didn’t belong to D-FW, and in fact they might not even have known which parent club did hold their rights.
The Rangers’ first game was on the road at night in Ontario against the Hawaii Islanders. The game was played at what is known today as Jay Littleton Ballpark, an historic facility in its own right. It’s been used in many movies, including A League of Their Own. The headline in the next day’s sports section: "Rangers Belt Islanders, 6-2."
The Angels sent over a "B" team (what would today be called a "split-squad") to play the Rangers on March 25 at Evans Park. The paper reported that 900 fans attended, buying tickets for $1 apiece. Page D-1 of The Press (if memory serves, The Press was the morning paper and The Enterprise was the evening paper) had a big photo of Angels shortstop Jim Fregosi sliding into home as Rangers catcher Jack Hiatt blocked the plate.
Needless to say, I’m going to try to get a copy of that one!
That’s about as far as I got before I had to leave for Rancho Cucamonga.
The articles reported that D-FW would play a 20-game spring schedule before heading for Texas to start the season. Among their games would be a couple contests in Indio against the PCL’s San Diego Padres, who were affiliated that year with the Chicago White Sox. I knew the Angels had played a couple games in Indio that spring, but not where.
Angels GM (and former farm director) Tony Reagins is from Indio. I asked him if he had any idea where; he suggested a couple locations but didn’t really know. Well, one article said they played at "South Jackson Ball Field" in Indio. I asked Tony after yesterday’s press conference if he’d heard of it. He knew exactly where it was, but was surprised because the field is small today. I looked it up on Mapquest and the site is only a couple blocks south of the I-10, so when I drive out this spring to Tempe for minor league camp I’ll stop by and take a few photos.
The Angels, Padres, Islanders and Rangers weren’t the only Inland Empire inhabitants. The PCL Vancouver Mounties, a Milwaukee Braves affiliate, trained in San Bernardino at "Perris Hill Park." It’s better known today as historic Fiscalini Field, which among other teams was home to the California League’s San Bernardino Spirit from 1987 through 1992 — when they moved to Rancho Cucamonga and became the Quakes.
Bringing this article full circle …