I reckon that at least some of the rabid fans of the sports teams that call the largest city in the United States that’s west of the Mississippi River home have wondered, as they scream “Go Lakers!” or “Go Dodgers!” or Go Kings Go!!”, how their beloved clubs came to be.
Well, I have taken it upon myself to shine a light on how Los Angeles’ teams first began, as this multiple-part series will discuss the births of the athletic organizations that we in the greater L.A. area hold so dear to our hearts.
Being that the baseball season has taken full form, it’s only appropriate that this series begins with the origin of Los Angeles’ two major league baseball teams, starting with one that’s considered a sports icon, the…
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
First Game: April 15, 1958, vs. the (brand new, just moved from New York) San Francisco Giants in San Francisco. Dodgers lost, 8-0
First Home Game: April 18, 1958, in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum vs. the San Francisco Giants. Dodgers won, 6-5
An article like this, that discusses the origins of sports teams in L.A., absolutely cannot be written without giving priority to this blue-clad baseball team with the script lettering on their jerseys and the interlocking “LA” on their caps, for this simple reason:
The arrival of the Dodgers from Brooklyn in 1958 essentially – in the sports world – made Los Angeles a major city.
Founded in the New York City borough in 1883 and residing in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn for the following 74 years, playing in legendary Ebbets Field and being responsible for the greatest moment in sports history – Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier on April 15, 1947 – Dodger owner Walter O’ Malley was unhappy with how Ebbets Field and its surrounding neighborhood were deteriorating by the mid-1950s.
He wanted to build a new, state-of-the-art stadium in Brooklyn, but standing in the way was New York City’s city planner Robert Moses, who preferred that O’Malley build his new ballpark in an area where the homes of the Mets, Shea Stadium and currently Citi Field, now stand.
While Moses was blocking O’Malley’s plans, Los Angeles’ leaders were looking for a big league team; plans for the St. Louis Browns and the Washington Senators to come west fell through, but when O’Malley heard that L.A. wanted a team, he made a phone call.
Led by city councilwoman Roz Wyman and mayor Norris Paulsen, Los Angeles worked hard in courting O’Malley, taking him in a helicopter to scout sites for a possible new ballpark. During that trip, O’Malley spotted an area north of downtown L.A. called Chavez Ravine that he thought was perfect for his team.
After he was told that he would be able to buy the land, own the ballpark, and own the revenues that would come from that, O’Malley was more than sold, devastating Brooklyn fans by announcing that he would move the Dodgers 3,000 miles west at the end of the ’57 season, their last game in that borough being played on September 24.
Seven months later, Major League Baseball officially arrived in the City of Angels, their first game in the Coliseum – it took four years for Dodger Stadium to be built – drawing a crowd of 78,672, which is still a opening day record.
Although the Dodgers didn’t do so well that first year, finishing in 7th place with a record of 71-83 before winning the World Series the following year, the first major sports championship ever won on the west coast, there was no turning back.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM
First Game: April 11, 1961, vs. the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore. Angels won, 7-2
First Home Game: April 27, 1961 vs. the Minnesota Twins at Wrigley Field on 42nd Street and Avalon. Angels lost, 4-2
When the American League saw how their National League counterparts, namely the Dodgers and Giants, were flourishing in California, they obviously wanted to get in on the action, especially after turning down the St. Louis Browns’ (now Baltimore Orioles) request to come west in 1940 and having a change of heart the next year only to have the attack on Pearl Harbor end those plans for good.
The A.L.’s chance came during the 1960 expansion meetings when it was decreed that a team would be established in Los Angeles to match the Dodgers, who were setting attendance records in the Coliseum and in the middle of building a palatial paradise of a ballpark north of L.A.’s City Hall.
Gene Autry, Hollywood’s famous “Singing Cowboy” known for his classics “Back In The Saddle” and “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, was urged to put in a bid to buy the new franchise after things fell through with former Browns and Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck. The major league owners said yes to Autry’s bid, which he named the Angels after the longtime Pacific Coast League (minor league) team that called Los Angeles home for over 50 years.
Being that Los Angeles is Spanish for “The Angels”, it was an obvious choice; as Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley owned the right to that name – he owned the PCL Angels, who he moved to Spokane, WA in 1958 to make room for his big league club, but the name “Angels” was still technically his – Autry paid $300,000 for that right, and his new ball club was officially christened.
As it was agreed that the Coliseum wasn’t viable for two baseball teams to share it, for what I’m sure was fear of overuse with the NFL’s Rams and UCLA’s and USC’s football teams playing there, the Angels’ first home during that 1961 year was the PCL Angels’ former park, Wrigley Field in South L.A., which wasn’t very big with a capacity of just over 20,000. They would share Chavez Ravine with the Dodgers a year later and spend four years there before moving to Anaheim in 1966 and becoming the California Angels.
These new Angels, as expected, were buried in the American League standings with an 8th place finish, but their 71-91 mark still stands as the best ever record for a first-year expansion team.
On an interesting side note, Ty Cobb, who was a teammate of the Angels’ general manager, threw out the first ball in the Angels’ first home game. It was his last trip to a ballpark, as he would die three months later, and the all-time legend only stayed two innings.
PART TWO OF THIS SERIES WILL APPEAR ON THURSDAY, MAY 30th, AND WILL FEATURE THE ORIGNS OF LOS ANGELES’ TWO NBA FRANCHISES, THE LAKERS AND THE CLIPPERS – SO WATCH FOR IT!