Tagged: Statesville Owls

The Return of the Statesville Owls


The 1961 Statesville Owls were one of only two minor league affiliates the Angels had in their first season.

 

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve written about my research into the early years of the Angels’ minor leagues, specifically the Statesville Owls. Statesville was a Class D team in the Western Carolina League. The team could sign and trade its own players, while receiving a handful of players from the Angels.

One project has been to organize a reunion. It’s been in the talking stages for a couple years, but as the adage goes, if you want something done right, do it yourself, which I did.

This week, in Tempe, the Statesville Owls reunite 48 years after their 1961 season ended.

Confirmed attendees are former major leaguers Jack Hiatt and Dick Simpson, along with Dave Best, George Bryson, Walter Darton, Alan Flitcraft and Bob Lucas. Ed Thomas and Jerry Fox, two independent players who still live in Statesville, will also attend. Also joining us will be Dan Ardell, signed in 1961 but sent to a Dodgers’ Class C team in Artesia, New Mexico. Dan played with most of them in 1962 at San Jose.

Roland Hemond, the Angels’ original farm and scouting director, is now an executive with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’ll be joining us too. He signed most of these guys.

The reunion dates are September 24-26. Some are driving, some are flying. Some will only join us for a day, others for more than one. The reunion dinner will be Friday night September 25 at a nearby hotel.

The morning of September 25, I’ll take them over to the Angels’ minor league complex at Tempe Diablo where the Angels are currently holding fall instructional league. No games are scheduled, just instruction and workouts, but I think that’s actually more interesting as they’ll get to see how teaching the game has evolved since they played. I’m sure there will be some interaction between the original Future Angels and today’s Future Angels.

I’m truly humbled that these players have bought into the idea of a reunion, some of them with only two weeks notice. Most of them left behind baseball long ago for other lives. It shows that the baseball flame still burns inside them, no matter how much they tried to extinguish it and move on to other lives.

In a few days, ten aged men in their late 60s will be twenty years old again. If you’re looking for the Fountain of Youth, look no further than the National Pastime.

I’ll be shooting photos and video, of course, along with whatever I can do at the instructs as time permits.

Coast to Coast: A Future Angel, Past and Present

Paul Mosley and Stephen Smith
Paul Mosley (left) signed with the Angels in 1961. He played six seasons in the Angels minor leagues.

 

I’ve been off-line blogwise for a couple days while travelling. We’re currently in Metairie, a New Orleans suburb.

We spent Sunday night at the home of Paul and Betty Jo Mosley. Paul signed with the Angels in 1961 out of William S. Hart High School in Saugus. Roland Hemond, who was the Angels’ farm and scouting director, signed him along with head scout Rosey Gilhousen.

Click Here to listen to an April 2007 interview with Paul. Windows Media Player required.

Mosley was assigned to the Statesville Owls in the Western Carolina League. He would go on to play at every level in the system — Triple-A Hawaii, Double-A El Paso, Advanced-A San Jose, Class-A Tri-Cities.

Paul and Betty Jo produced scrapbooks from his career. What a treasure trove! Once I get to Florida and the moving van arrives with my scanner, I’ll start digitizing these articles to post online.

The scrapbook solved one mystery. I’ve been identifying where the Angels held their minor league spring training camps in the early 1960s. If you’ve followed this blog, you know they were in Riverside in 1961. In 1962, the Triple-A team was at Amerige Park in Fullerton while everyone else was at La Palma Park in Anaheim. The Angels remained at La Palma through 1964.

The Angels began play in the legendary Holtville camp in 1966, where they remained through 1981. 1965, though, was a bit of a mystery. The 1965 Angels Media Guide said “El Centro” but didn’t say where.

Paul’s scrapbook had a minor league spring training schedule for 1965. It showed that they split time between two facilities, Stark Field in El Centro and Lions Field in Brawley. Exhibition games were played at both sites.

By coincidence, I got a phone call yesterday while on the road from Bob Andrews, the man who worked with Roland Hemond to bring the Angels to the Imperial Valley. He said that El Centro/Brawley was an interim solution until the Holtville site could be built.

Mystery solved.

Mr. Andrews also explained why the Angels left Holtville. The Angels didn’t pay one penny for Holtville construction or maintenance. It was all paid for by the locals. As the facility aged, it was beyond the ability of Holtville to pay for renovation. They asked the Angels to help, but they refused. Bob said it got pretty ugly towards the end. Someone made up T-shirts that read, “Angels go home!” Instead, they went to Casa Grande.

Inside the scrapbook were box scores from several of Paul’s games. I noted one in which he pitched against an Athletics team. Future manager Tony LaRussa led off and played second base. (It was an oh-fer night for LaRussa.) There was also a roster sheet for a 1966 game between the El Paso Sun Kings and the Albuquerque Dodgers. Clyde Wright was one of Paul’s teammates, as well as Jim Spencer, Jay Johnstone and Winston Llenas. Tom Sommers, who would go on to succeed Roland Hemond as the farm director, was an infielder. On the Albuquerque roster was future Dodgers outfielder Willie Crawford. Other future big leaguers I recognize were pitcher Mike Kekich, first baseman Tom Hutton, and outfielder Jim Fairey. Also on the roster was catcher Mike Stubbins, who would later manage in the Angels system.

Paul retired after the 1966 season. He was sold to the Kansas City Athletics. He showed me a letter he received in December 1966 welcoming him to the A’s organization. “You will be receiving your contract early in February and soon after that reporting instructions and the date which you are to arrive at our spring training headquarters in Waycross, Georgia.” It was signed by assistant general manager Eddie Robinson. Paul decided he’d had enough, and retired.

Back on the road in a couple hours. The target is Tallahassee, Florida in the Panhandle. We might see another baseball friend if the schedule permits. Tomorrow is the final leg of the journey, arriving in Cape Canaveral. As my wife pointed out, “We’re heading home.”

One nice serendipity of this trip is that we’ve visited my ancestral homelands. My father was born and raised in El Centro. My mother is from New Orleans. So we’ve passed through both towns. And then it’s on to my future, which is to write a book about the history of the future Angels, past and present.

Coast to Coast: El Paso to Kerrville

We’re deep in the heart of Texas.

Yesterday began at a motel in El Paso, a tortilla’s fling from the Mexican border. I’m usually pretty good at picking motels online, but this one was in a bad neighborhood. Oh well, even Ozzie Smith booted one once in a while.

The upside was a truly Mexican restaurant next door. For those raised on SoCal chains such as Chevy’s and El Torito, you have no idea what you’re missing.

Trying to eat light and healthy is truly a battle on the road. We’re skipping breakfasts, and I’m trying to order as many salads as I can, but trying to average 400 miles a day leaves little time for running or any other kind of exercise.

There is a whole lot of nothin’ in west Texas. Now I can understand why the Arkansas Travelers loathed those long bus trips to El Paso when the Diablos were still in the Texas League. It took two days to cross the state.

We stopped for lunch in a small town called Van Horn. It reminded me of the town in the Pixar movie Cars — one main road and a few shops, at least those that haven’t burned down. (I’m not joking; the local automotive museum burned down recently.) My wife wanted to mail a letter; I guaranteed her we’d find a post office on the main drag in a small town because there would be nowhere else for it. And sure enough, there it was.

We had lunch at a restaurant called Chuy’s, which has been around since 1959. It’s main claim to fame is that football coach/analyst/game promoter John Madden stops here on his cross-country RV journeys.

Right now we’re in Kerrville, Texas, about 90 miles from San Antonio. It turns out the Travs are in San Antonio for a series, but our schedule doesn’t permit a game. We’re having lunch today with a friend of my wife’s, then we’re spending the night at the home of Paul Mosley, one of the original “future Angels” who played for the Statesville Owls in 1961. Click Here to listen to an April 2007 interview with Paul Mosley. Windows Media Player required.

Tomorrow it’s on to New Orleans. We’ll be staying in Metairie, a New Orleans suburb where my mother has relatives. We’re still on schedule to reach Cape Canaveral by Wednesday afternoon.

Coast to Coast

If you’ve been following this blog over the years, you know that my wife Carol and I have plans to move to Florida.

We’re down to the end days. The movers arrive on May 26, and we’re going to drive cross-country to Cape Canaveral starting on May 28.

Many friends and family have asked us to keep everyone apprised of events, so I thought this blog might be a good way to do it.

Along the way, I’ll shoot photos and maybe film a little video. The game plan is to average about 400 miles a day, which should put us in Cape Canaveral around June 3 or 4. The idea is to post the photos and video online each night in the motel, although I suspect we’ll tire out pretty fast after a few days on the road.

We’ll try to have some baseball serendipity along the way.

Those of you who know your Angels history will recall that they had a minor league complex in Holtville in the 1960s. Holtville, in the Imperial Valley, is the self-proclaimed Carrot Capital of the World. The Angels’ spring training facility in Palm Springs was too small to accommodate a growing organization. As I’ve previously written about, in 1961 the Angels’ Triple-A team was at Riverside, and in 1962-64 they had a minor league camp at La Palma Park in Anaheim. According to the Angels Media Guide, there was a camp in El Centro in 1965, then they moved into the Holtville complex in 1966.

The Holtville cloverleaf is long gone, replaced by a housing tract. I’ve made a couple calls to the local paper looking for who might have archives. I have one lead, which I hope to check out on our drive east.

So we’ll start out by passing through the Imperial Valley, ending up somewhere around Tucson by the end of Day 1.

The Interstate 10 goes all the way from Santa Monica to Florida, so we’ll pick up the I-10 in Tucson and head east. We’ll stop in El Paso, another longtime Angels minor league affiliate.

When we reach Houston, I hope to see Paul Mosley, an original Angels minor leaguer from 1961. Mosley grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He was signed in the spring of 1961 and sent to Statesville, North Carolina, where the Angels had a Class D team. Mosley went on to San Jose in 1962, along with Statesville teammates Jack Hiatt and Dick Simpson, both of whom went on to the majors.

Click Here to listen to an April 2007 interview with Paul. You need Windows Media Player to listen.

We’ll pass through New Orleans, my mother’s home town, then keep heading east until we arrive in the Space Coast.

We’ve rented a condo in Cape Canaveral on the ocean for a month or two until we buy a house. We’re dabbling with the possibility of buying a condo, but that will really compromise our lifestyle.

The next Shuttle launch STS-127 is scheduled for Saturday June 13 at 7:19 AM EDT. The condo is about ten miles down the coast line from the launch pad, but we have “connections” and might get closer. I’ll try to get video of the launch; what you see on TV doesn’t do a launch justice. You really need to see it in person.

The next few days are going to be very hectic, so online time will be minimal at best. I will try to update FutureAngels.com each morning before we hit the road again, but please be patient if updates are sporadic.

Meanwhile, in Florida …

FAMU baseball coach Bob Lucas and high school teammate Jim Jackson
FAMU baseball coach Bob Lucas and high school teammate Jim Jackson

 

I’m in Florida for a few days looking at properties. Regular readers of this blog know that my wife and I are planning a move to the Space Coast area of Florida, which includes Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island and other nearby towns.

No, I’m not going to any spring training games, although the Washington Nationals are 20 miles down the road in Viera. But we did drive up to Daytona Beach today for a college game.

I’ve been writing here for a couple years now about the Statesville Owls, one of two Angels minor league teams in their inaugural 1961 season. Bobby Lucas, an infielder on that team, is now the head coach for Florida A&M University (FAMU) baseball.

The above photo is of Coach Lucas with Jim Jackson, a high school teammate. Jim never got a chance to play pro ball, probably because of his size. He drove up from Cape Canaveral with his wife to see Bob and the FAMU Rattlers.

Bethune-Cookman University was the opponent and the home team. Both institutions were originally all-black universities but have now integrated.

The game was played at historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark. The first baseball field on the site was built in 1914 and known as Daytona City Island Ballpark. It was renamed after Jackie Robinson in 1989 to note its place in professional baseball as hosting the first racially integrated game, as this was the first park in Florida where Robinson was allowed to play with the Dodgers in his first spring training.

FAMU vs. B-CU, March 21, 2009
FAMU plays Bethune-Cookman University today at Jackie Robinson Ballpark.

 

I’ll be back in California late Tuesday.

Scraps from Statesville, Part 5

“It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

— Philosopher Yogi Berra

The Statesville Owls played their home opener on May 3, 1961, against the Lexington Indians. Statesville won handily, 11-6, but the game would turn out to be pivotal months later when post-season matchups were on the line.

Statesville Record & Landmark sportswriter Jerry Josey wrote about the incident in next day’s edition:

Well, another baseball season was opened here last night — amid more confusion and errors than anything else.

With the bases loaded in the top of the fourth frame, Lexington Manager Jack Hale charged plate umpire Jim Centineo on a called strike when Larry Hatchell swung — and missed — on a wide pitch by Gail Thomas. THe pitch hit Hatchell.

It was the first rhubarb here this season — and set the stage for a night of questions on playing tactics.

At the start of the Owls’ half of the fourth, Hale told Centineo he was playing the game under protest. Hale’s point was that any one of five Statesville players — and he named them as Frank Cofone, Gail Thomas, John Couch, George Wilson or Peter Curtis — was ineligible. Hale’s protest was lodged in connection with the WCL player rule for veterans.

The rule allows a club to have two veterans and two limited service, one veteran and three limited or four limited in the “four-player class rule.”

At the start of the fifth inning, Wilson countered with a protest that any one of seven Lexington players — he did not name them — was ineligible under the same rule.

At the start of the ninth, Wilson withdrew his first protest and lodged another — that Lexington’s third pitcher, Bill Barr, was not listed as a pitcher on the lineup cards exchanged in pre-game ceremonies. Wilson charged that anyone eligible to pitch had to be listed.

Wilson said, since the Owls had won the game, that he did not plan to file the written protest to the league office, accompanied by the $25 protest fee.

But Hale was firm in his stand and planned to get his off to League President John H. Moss today.

The Owls got off to a 9-0 start, and as the days passed the protest was quickly forgotten.

Until May 30.

Lexington was due in town to play a doubleheader against the Owls on May 31. The day before, Statesville owner Fleete McCurdy received a telegram from Western Carolina League president John Henry Moss informing him that Lexington’s protest had been upheld, slicing a game off the Owls’ first-place lead.

Sportswriter Jerry Josey, who was also the Owls’ official scorer, wrote about the telegram in his “From the Press Box” column. He quoted the documentation he filed with the Howe News Bureau, which was the official statistician for the league.

Josey wrote in his column:

Hale’s protest was that “any one of five” was ineligible. None of the five, at the present time, was ineligible. To me, it’s the same situation of quoting a wrong rule on a protest play and then having the protest thrown out because the rule was not applicable to the situation.

If the bylaws and constitution of the Western Carolina League, we do not have a copy but the club has one, are to be obeyed in strictness, we venture this question to President Moss:

Why did you not rule on this matter in accordance with the Western Carolina League bylaws and constitution?

In the bylaws, article five, section three and paragraph b are these words: “The President shall render a decision on all protests within five days after the game has been played upon which the protest is made.

That game was played on May 3rd.

The protest was allowed via telegram on May 30th!

There are, the elementary school students will easily know, many more than five days within that span!

The next day, on May 31, Statesville played their twinbill against Lexington. As I wrote on December 20, there was a massive brawl on the field during Game #1. During the brawl, Owls’ ace pitcher Walter Darton fell back on the mound and tore the ligaments in his pitching elbow, effectively ending his career. A drunken fan ran on the field during the melee and took a swing at one of the umpires.

Needless to say, Statesville and Lexington didn’t like each other much at this point.

Statesville won the first half of the split-season schedule. In the playoffs, they were assigned to play Lexington in a best-of-three series — and lost, 2-0.

If the Owls’ May 3 win hadn’t been forfeited, they would have finished the year with an overall record of 64-38, tying them with Salisbury for the overall best record. Statesville might have then played Shelby, which had a slightly worse record than Lexington, in the first round.

Jerry Josey wrote after the season:

Statesville could have lost more than a game on that mixup on eligibility. It occurred for five games, but only one protest was filed. It could have been worse than it was, but we’ll not argue about it.

We said then and we’ll repeat that stand that the protest, as lodged, didn’t have a leg to stand on. But the ineligibility question of the other games did have, and it now appears that Statesville may have escaped rather lightly on the infraction of the WCL’s bylaws and constitution concerning the veteran player limit.

Yet another example of the chaos that typified that first year of Angels minor league baseball.

Glade Cookus Passes Away

Glade Cookus
Original future Angel Glade Cookus passed away on December 15 in Visalia.

 

Jack Hiatt just called to inform me that original future Angel Glade Cookus passed away in Visalia on December 15. Cookus was 66.

Glade was one of the “first four” Angels prospects sent to Statesville in April 1961. The other three were Hiatt, Dick Simpson and George Conrad. All were signed out of the Los Angeles area.

Cookus was in the lineup for the Owls’ first game of the 1961 season, playing shortstop. He hit only .264 that year and left baseball the next spring.

I spoke with Glade last April about our project to reunite the surviving Statesville Owls. He said he was too ill but did ask that I put him in touch with Jack Hiatt. Jack called him and spent about 90 minutes with him. Jack then called me and said that Glade had cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. It didn’t look good, but we were able to fulfill Glade’s one humble wish.

Of the “first four,” we believe that only Jack and Dick Simpson survive.  George Conrad appears to have passed away in Washington state about ten years ago.

Glade’s passing reminds us of the urgency to find his teammates while there’s still time to reunite. I found Walter Darton last week, and last night found Alan Flitcraft in Arizona. More on Alan later. But the news about Glade saddens the joy in finding two more of the original future Angels.