Tagged: Statesville Owls

Where the Future Began


A team photo of the 1961 Statesville Owls.

 

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

The Angels had only two minor league teams in their 1961 inaugural season, the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers and the Class D Western Carolina League’s Statesville Owls.

I’ve tracked down quite a bit of Statesville history, and last September we staged a reunion of eight surviving Statesville players at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe, Arizona.

My wife and I moved to Florida last summer, which put me in driving range of Statesville. We made the drive this weekend, and arrived this afternoon.

It’s raining right now, so I won’t get over to the field until Monday or Tuesday. The field still exists. It’s the home field for Statesville High School. The wooden stands, though, are long gone.

Two Statesville alumni, Ed Thomas and Jerry Fox, were independent players who lived locally. The Angels signed Thomas after the 1961 season, while Fox retired from baseball and went back to real life. I hope to take Ed and Jerry over to the field and videotape an interview that I’ll post on FutureAngels.com in the next few days.

I’ll be shooting photos of course, not just the field but also the town. The alumni have asked a lot of questions about how the town looks today. Much of it looks old enough to have been around in 1961, but other buildings are fairly new.

Wrigley Field was torn down in the 1960s, the Dallas ballpark has also passed into history, but the Statesville field remains as the only surviving remnant of 1961. Dick Wantz, Dick Simpson and Jack Hiatt all began their professional careers on this field, and eventually played in the majors for the Angels. I’m not much for sentimentality, but when I walk on that field this week I’ll be very aware that I’m where the Angels’ future began.

Click here to read all FutureAngels.com Blog articles on the Statesville Owls.

Paul Mosley’s Memories


Paul Mosley with the Double-A El Paso Sun Kings in 1965 or 1966. Note the El Paso cap had a halo atop the crown as did the Angels’ cap of that era.

 

Paul Mosley was a pitcher in the Angels’ minor leagues from 1961 through 1966. He played at nearly every level in the system, starting with Class D Statesville in the Angels’ inaugural 1961 season. He passed through Quad Cities, San Jose, Tri-City, and El Paso, as well as attending the minor league spring training camps.

When my wife and I drove cross-country last May to move from California to Florida, Paul and his wife Betty Jo were gracious enough to let us stay overnight at their home near Houston. Paul loaned me the scrapbook he kept during his career; it’s helped to unearth much of the buried early history of the Angels’ minor leagues.

In 1963, minor league baseball restructured its classifications. Class B, Class C and Class D disappeared. The Angels had affiliates that year in Tri-City (Kennewick, Pasco and Richland in Washington state), San Jose and Quad Cities (Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline and Rock Island, Illinois). All three were reclassified as Class A. Mosley’s career took him through Quad Cities in 1962, San Jose in 1963 and Tri-City in 1964, which tells us how the three were prioritized within the organization. Before 1963, Quad Cities was Class D, San Jose was Class C and Tri-City was Class B. So now it makes sense.


Paul Mosley (right) at San Jose in 1963. Manager Red Marion (center) took the Bees to the California League title in 1962, the first time any Angels team won a pennant.

 

Paul’s scrapbook also helped me figure out a lot about where minor league spring training was based. It’s commonly known that the parent club’s camp was in Palm Springs. That site, the former Palm Springs Polo Grounds, was too small to host 100+ minor leaguers, so the Angels had to find other sites for the future Angels.

It was still common in the early 1960s for Triple-A affiliates to hold their camps separate from their parent clubs. An affiliation was far looser than today’s meaning. Triple-A teams were free to sign, trade and release their own players. “Affiliation” simply meant they got some players from a major league operation, otherwise they were as independent as today’s indy leagues.

In 1961, the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate was the Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers. I wrote in November 2008 about the Rangers’ camp in Riverside at Evans Park near what is today Riverside Community College. The Rangers had both Angels and Phillies players. In 1962, the Rangers held camp at Amerige Park in Fullerton. DFW had players from the Angels, Phillies, Twins and a few from other organizations.

The Angels expanded from two minor league teams in 1961 to five in 1962, so they needed more than Amerige Park. They established a second Triple-A affiliation with the Hawaii Islanders, who were in San Bernardino at Fiscalini Field. Everyone else went to La Palma Park in Anaheim. Click here to watch a video of the 1962 minor league camp at La Palma Park.

The Rangers dumped the Angels for the Twins in 1963, so they left California and held camp in Florida. The Islanders, now the only Angels’ Triple-A team, camped at Amerige for 1963 while again everyone else went to La Palma Park.

Mosley’s scrapbook picks up the story in 1964.

A poor condition pocket schedule for the 1964 Hawaii Islanders spring training schedule at South Jackson Park in Indio. The back shows games scheduled against the various Angels minor league squads as well as the parent club and local colleges.

 

The Islanders held their 1964 camp at South Jackson Park in Indio. The above pocket schedule was in Paul’s scrapbook. It was once glued to a page, but I found it torn and loose. The front shows where they played. The back shows a schedule that included the Angels’ other minor league affiliates, the parent club, and games against college teams from Cal Poly Pomona and USC.

I also found a photo of Paul in an Islanders uniform. He was posing with two others.

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Paul Mosley (left) with actor Henry Kulky and minor league infielder Charlie Strange.

 

In the above photo, Paul is on the left, and minor league infielder Charlie Strange is on the right. The man in the middle is actor Henry Kulky, perhaps best known for a role on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Kulky brought the oversized props; no idea where he got them. The photo shows you what the Islanders’ uniforms looked like.

Most fans recall the Angels had a presence in Holtville for many years. That began in 1966, but before the complex was complete they spent an interim spring in 1965 split between El Centro and Brawley.

The Angels bought the Triple-A Seattle Rainiers franchise in the Pacific Coast League and renamed it the Seattle Angels. (Hawaii switched their affiliation to the Washington Senators.) This photo from the El Centro newspaper shows the Seattle team at Stark Field in El Centro sometime around early March 1965:


The 1965 Seattle Angels at El Centro’s Stark Field.

 

An article in the El Centro paper noted that Seattle manager Bob Lemon arrived late in El Centro, “upon his return from a 14-game tour of Mexico with half of the split Angel squad.” Yikes! That would never happen today.

The scrapbook also had a copy of a 1965 Angels minor league spring training program, a rather unique item:


Click on the image to view an Adobe Acrobat version of the program. Acrobat Reader required.

 

One side of this folded program is still glued to the scrapbook, so I couldn’t remove it, but I scanned the rest and used Adobe PhotoShop to reassemble it into a digital document. Click on the above image to download the file. You need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the document.

Games and workouts were split between Stark Field in El Centro and Lions Field in Brawley. At the bottom of the program’s front page it states in small print, “Other clubs will have extensive workouts daily, and games before or after various instructional drills. Fans are welcome.” The schedule shows that the parent club came down from Palm Springs to play the Triple-A Seattle squad in two games at Brawley and two games at El Centro.

Mosley spent his last two seasons with the Double-A El Paso Sun Kings in the Double-A Texas League. Many of his contemporaries went on to the big leagues. One was Clyde Wright. I found a clipping he saved of a report in the El Paso paper about Wright’s first major league win:

 

Other names you might recognize include Tom Burgmeier, Jay Johnstone, Winston Llenas, Rudy May, Marty Pattin, and Jim Spencer. Another was John Olerud, the father of the future Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners first baseman by the same name.

I also found this clip reporting on a 1965 game between the Sun Kings and the Tulsa Oilers:

 

It appears that the 1965 El Paso caps had an “EP” on them, but when I look at the team photos for 1965 and 1966 it’s just an “E” as in the photo of Paul at the top of this column. It’s neat, though, to see the halo on the crown of the cap. I wish the Angels would bring that back, even if just for an alternate jersey.

The El Paso manager was Chuck Tanner, who later went on to fame as the manager of the world champion 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates. The Angels had some serious managing talent in the system. Triple-A manager Bob Lemon managed the New York Yankees to a World Series, and is now in the Hall of Fame. So is Joe Gordon, who was a minor league hitting instructor, manager and scout for the Angels in the 1960s.

Mosley was sold after the 1966 season to the Kansas City Athletics. He received this letter from the A’s assistant general manager:


Click on the image to view an Adober Acrobat version of the letter.

 

Paul told me that he decided to retire rather than move on to another organization.

In April 2007, a colleague of Paul’s found articles I’d written about the Statesville Owls and contacted me to let me know his buddy was one of the players. I recorded an interview with Paul; click here to listen to the interview. (Windows Media Player required.). He was the first Owls player I found. Since then, we’ve tracked down about ten more, and held a reunion last September. More reunions of the 1960s Angels minor leaguers are being planned.

Thanks to Paul, and his colleague, we found the first one. But he won’t be the last.

From L.A. to Statesville to Dallas-Ft. Worth

Steve Hill, the collector who sent along the photos of Statesville Stadium, e-mailed the below scan of a March 1961 letter sent by Angels farm director Roland Hemond.

 

George Trautman was the president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues from 1947 until his death in 1963.

The Angels had two minor league affiliates in 1961 — a Triple-A team in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and a Class D team in Statesville.

The letter indicates a $3,000 check was being sent to the NAPBL to cover $1,500 owed D-FW for their working agreement, and another $1,500 owed D-FW for spring training costs.

I can understand the spring training costs, because back then Dallas-Ft. Worth held its own independent spring training. Their 1961 spring training camp was in Riverside, as I documented in December 2008. Any Statesville players under contract probably went to Riverside before reporting to Statesville.

Why Statesville would owe D-FW $1,500 for a working agreement is beyond me. I’ve sent the document to Roland. Perhaps he can explain.

Statesville Stadium

Regular readers of this blog known I’ve written several articles about the Statesville Owls, one of two Angels minor league teams in their inaugural 1961 season.

On September 25, we reunited many of the surviving Statesville players at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe, Arizona. The Statesville Record & Landmark published an article on November 15 about the reunion.

Statesville resident Steve Hill contacted Jerry Fox, an Owls outfielder in 1961, to send some photos from his collection of Statesville Stadium as it looked in that era. Jerry sent the photos to me. Here are two angles of the park:

 

The stadium structure no longer exists, but the field remains as it’s used by the adjacent Statesville High School baseball team. Here’s a satellite image of how it appears today:

The neighborhood doesn’t appear to have changed that much.

Note in the top photo that the park has an all-dirt infield. I’m told that only four ballparks in the minor leagues still had all-dirt infields in 1961.

Look down near the right field foul pole. You’ll see a standalone bleacher structure. That was where African-Americans had to sit. It was still the era of segregation in the Deep South. I’ve written in past blogs about the indignities suffered by the Black players on the team.

At the reunion, one Black player recalled a contest sponsored by a local clothier. A Statesville player who hit a home run could come in and get a suit. The problem was the Black players weren’t allowed in the store! So the contest meant nothing to them.

Steve also sent along a photo of Owls franchise owner Fleete McCurdy:

Rumor has it McCurdy was very tight with his money, but given the primitive conditions I can’t imagine where he’d find the money to provide the players with a state-of-the-art clubhouse and new uniforms.

Despite it all, the Statesville alumni say they had a ball, and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Statesville Owls in the News

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know one project of mine has been to locate and reunite players from the Angels’ minor leagues in 1961, their inaugural season.

The Angels had two minor league teams that first year, the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers and the Class D Statesville (NC) Owls.

After years of research, we finally reunited the Owls last September at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe, Arizona. We weren’t strict about who attended, as many of the players went on to more advanced levels in the system and wanted to see friends who didn’t play in Statesville but did play in San Jose or Hawaii.

The Statesville Record & Landmark ran an article on November 15 about the reunion. It’s not on their web site, but former Owls outfielder Jerry Fox, who lives in Statesville, sent me a copy. Click here to look at the newspaper article. You need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the article.

I filmed much of the reunion, which included a visit to Tempe Diablo for fall instructional league, a reunion dinner, and a game at Chase Field between the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres. Roland Hemond, the Angels’ original farm and scouting director, is now a Diamondbacks executive. You’ll see him at the dinner and leading the Chase Field tour. He brought us into the Padres’ broadcasting booth to meet Jerry Coleman.

Click here to watch the video. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

This is an abridged version of the full video I compiled for the alumni. A lot of it, obviously, was intended for private consumption. The abridged version will let you see everyone and sample what it was like.

Angels Historical Trivia

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been researching the early history of the Angels minor leaguers, which began in 1961 the same as the parent club.

We held a reunion in late September of surviving Statesville Owls players. I videotaped the event and hope to have it online in a few days.

I’m editing the video now and was reminded of what someone said at the table. I checked Google and, sure enough, it’s true.

Some of you may remember Ken Hunt, an Angels outfielder in 1961-1963.

It turns out he was the stepfather of child actor Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster on The Munsters.

One of the alumni recalls Hunt saying, “My son makes more money than I do!”

The Statesville Owls Meet the Tempe Angels


Seven Angels minor leaguers from 1961 reunited September 25 at Tempe Diablo. Left to right — Alan Flitcraft, Dick Simpson, Dan Ardell, Walter Darton, Ed Thomas, Jerry Fox, and Dave Best. Bobby Lucas arrived shortly after the photo was taken.

 

Forty-eight years after their 1961 season ended with a playoff loss to rival Lexington, the Statesville Owls reunited Friday on a field in Tempe, Arizona.

To give you an idea of the scale of this accomplishment, if Tom Kotchman’s 2009 Pioneer League champion Orem Owlz were to hold a reunion forty-eight years later, it would be in the year 2057.

This project began nearly three years ago, when I began to dig into the Angels’ minor league history.

Gene Autry and his co-investors were awarded the Los Angeles expansion franchise at the winter baseball meetings on December 6, 1960. Their first major league game would be April 11, 1961. They had until then to assemble a major league roster.

General Manager Fred Haney, a former Milwaukee Braves manager, was hired on December 8 as the team’s first GM. Former Giants skipper Bill Rigney was hired on December 12 to manage. The first expansion draft was held on December 14, with the Angels selecting 28 players.

But a major league organization is more than a big-league team. It’s also a farm system and scouting department.

In early January, Roland Hemond was hired from the Braves to become the Angels’ first farm director and also the scouting director. He’d been a Fred Haney protégé in Milwaukee.


Angels minor league pitching coordinator Kernan Ronan reunites with his college coach, Alan Flitcraft. Alan threw a no-hitter for Statesville in his final start of the 1961 season.

 

Hemond had only three months to create affiliations with minor league teams, which operated much more independently than they do now. They could sign their own players and affiliate with more than one organization.

But he also needed players to send to those teams. A few came out of the draft, names that would one day become familiar to Angels fans — Jim Fregosi, Dean Chance, Bob Rodgers and Fred Newman.

Hemond signed agreements with two teams. The Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers were a Triple-A team in the American Association. They also had an affiliation with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Younger players needed to go elsewhere, to a lower level where more time could be spent on development. The only place he could find was Statesville, North Carolina in the Western Carolina League. The league, once defunct, had been resurrected as part of Branch Rickey’s plan to create the Continental League, a third major league. But when Rickey’s principals jumped ship after being tempted by potential ownership of new franchises in the existing leagues, the WCL was left to its own fate.

The Statesville Owls were one of six teams in the league in 1961. The field with wooden stands and bleachers was part of the local high school. The infield was all dirt. A player’s clubhouse locker was a nail on the wall. And discrimination against African-Americans was rampant as the civil rights era dawned.

Hemond looked elsewhere but had no choice. The Angels affiliated with Statesville.

In mid-April, Hemond sent a group now known as the “first four” to Statesville. Jack Hiatt, Dick Simpson, Glade Cookus and George Conrad flew out of Los Angeles to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Charlotte, and took a bus from Charlotte to Statesville.

Hungry from their long trek, the four stopped in the first diner they saw. A cook approached them with a meat cleaver, pointed at Simpson who is black, and said, “You boys will have to leave, we don’t serve their kind here.”

And so it began.


Dick Simpson, Ed Thomas and Walter Darton watch the Tempe Angels go through a drill.

 

More would find their way from California to Statesville, but the Angels also signed players from other states, and one from Quebec. Many of the Owls were local players signed independently, technically not Angels employees but teammates nonetheless. They would establish a bond that lasted not just through the end of the 1961 season, but continued for the next couple years as some of them progressed through the organization. A few — Simpson, Hiatt and Dick Wantz — eventually made it to the big leagues. The rest eventually returned to a normal life, never to see their teammates again.

Or so they thought.

It began when I found Bill Moose, a local historian and college teacher who also wrote columns for the Statesville Record and Landmark. Moose went through the newspaper archives and sent me seven pages of notes, information culled 1961 articles about the Owls.

Two years of research, phone calls, letters and Google searches tracked down twelve surviving Statesville Owls. Glade Cookus, one of the “first four,” passed away in December 2008. We found that George Conrad, another one of the “first four,” had passed away in 1998 in Washington state.

The rest agreed to attend a reunion, as did Roland Hemond, who lives in Phoenix. Hemond went on to become general manager of the White Sox and Orioles, and came up with the idea for the Arizona Fall League. He currently works as a special assistant to the president of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

We also included Dan Ardell, who didn’t play at Statesville because there was no room on the roster. The Angels loaned him out to a Dodgers affiliate in Artesia, New Mexico. In 1962, he would join many of the Owls alumni on the San Jose Bees roster, where they won the California League pennant.

Four surviving members — Jack Hiatt, George Bryson, Paul Mosley and Vito Porta — wanted to attend but various personal matters kept them from the event.


Minor league pitching coaches Brandon Emanuel and Trevor Wilson meet Dick Simpson, who hit 42 homers for San Jose in 1962.

 

We chose to have the reunion in Phoenix for several reasons. One reason was that it was a major airline hub, and that Californians could drive there in a few hours if they preferred not to fly. Roland lives here. But the main reason was to give the Statesville alumni an opportunity to reconnect to their Angels roots, spending a day at the Angels’ Tempe Diablo minor league complex where fall instructional league would be held.

And so it was that on Friday, September 25, 2009, eight men gathered together for the first time since 1961 to don Angels caps and step on an Angels field.

At 10 AM, the instruction stopped so the alumni could be introduced to those who laid the foundation for Angels minor league baseball. They received applause from the players and coaches. At 1 PM, after instructions ended, they gathered to speak to the players about their experiences and remind them this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play professional baseball.

At 6 PM that night, they met with Roland who joined us at an informal dinner held in a local hotel. Lots of memories, of course, but also a lot of talk about issues facing the game today. Roland and Bobby Lucas talked about an idea to encourage more African-Americans to play baseball. Bobby is the brother-in-law of Hank Aaron and once scouted for the Braves; he’s now the head coach at Florida A&M.

On Saturday, most of the players had to leave for home, but a few remained behind to accept Roland’s offer to attend a Diamondbacks game at Chase Field. They were given a tour of the executive suites, then sat with Roland in field level seats behind the visitors dugout. In the fourth inning, they were shown on the video board and introduced as the 1961 Statesville Owls — but got booed a little for wearing Angels caps!

Everyone had gone home by Sunday, but it was made clear to me that I have a mission — to expand this reunion and add more players from the early 1960s for next year.

Below are photos from the various events, as well as links to audio interviews recorded earlier with some of the attendees. Windows Media Player is required to listen to the interviews. Video clips will be online in a couple days.

August 31, 2005 interview with Dan Ardell.

April 30, 2007 interview with Paul Mosley.

June 30, 2007 interview with Roland Hemond.

December 12, 2007 interview with Jack Hiatt.


Former Angels infielder Bobby Knoop (right) stopped by Tempe Diablo to visit his old friend, Ed Thomas.

 


Ed Thomas and Dave Best discuss instructional league training with Quakes manager Keith Johnson.

 


Left to right — Dick Simpson, Dan Ardell and Walt Darton.

 


The alumni roundtable at the reunion dinner. (That’s my wife in the background.)

 


Walt Darton and Bobby Lucas.

 


At the Diamondbacks game — my wife Carol, Ed Thomas, Jerry Fox, Roland Hemond and Dave Best.