Picture this: It's Hollywood in the mid-20th Century. Fans applaud as a spotlight hits the latest Oscar winner. Meanwhile, Jayne Mansfield jiggles across a red carpet as flashbulbs pop and men hoot and holler. Liz Taylor blows a kiss to the crowd. Nearby, teeny-boppers are screaming "Frankie! Frankie!" with unbridled passion. Out of view, the notorious gangster Mickey Cohen is having a drink in the VIP room, mingling with politicians and movie stars. Is this a movie premiere? An awards ceremony at the Coconut Grove?
Nope. It's a minor league baseball game.
The Hollywood Stars played professional baseball at Gilmore Field, near the Farmers Market in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles. The team was co-owned by 'Brown Derby' restaurateur Robert H. Cobb and movie stars Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, William Powell, George Raft, Barbara Stanwyk, Robert Taylor, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Harry Warner, and even Cecil B. DeMille.
A few of the fans, namely Jack Benny, George Burns, Bob Hope and Groucho Marx, confer with Stars management before the game: "But Jack told us he paid for the tickets!"
Stars owner Gary Cooper and Bobe Hope in a charity game at Gilmore Field.
The Stars (or "Twinks," as the press called them) competed in the fabled Pacific Coast League, a professional baseball league which ruled the Western United States in the first half of the 20th Century.
The PCL was the major league of the Pacific Coast, 1,600 miles from the nearest American and National League clubs in St. Louis. Until the 1950's, "major league" ball was limited to sixteen teams in only ten citiesand only one of them was even west of the Mississippi River.
The Western population, growing by millions each decade of the 20th Century, had a potentially huge sports fan base that the American and National Leagues craved, but the logistics of traveling there from the East Coast were still too complicatedthe teams dreaded scheduling games 2000 miles away, as it would take days to reach the Western states by train or bus, while the possibility of an entire team being lost in an air crash using new commercial plane travel was a genuine fear. As a result, the only time that fans saw MLB players on the Pacific Coast was when they barnstormed the country by train in the off-season for extra money, or when they attended spring training camps in the warmer weather, like the Chicago Cubs at Catalina Island. That left a lot of Eastern transplants with only day-old newspaper reports to follow their favorite ballclubs, and with no team to follow where they now lived. So rival leagues developed in the west to entertain fans on that side of the Mississippi River, and the best of these was the PCL circuit.
These western franchises developed a very separate identity from Major League Baseball. Taking advantage of warm winter weather, they played longer seasons and paid higher salaries than the other top-level minorssometimes equal to the major leagues in the East. The 200-game March-to-October schedule produced extraordinary season statistics, such as future Yankee Hall-of-Famer Tony Lazzeri's 60 home runs and 222 RBI for Salt Lake City in 1925. In fact, while the PCL was officially classified as a "minor league," fans and sportswriters called it the "third major league"and derisively referred to the major leagues as the "Eastern League."
Babe Ruth and Joe E. Brown
The quality of play in the PCL was truly good, featuring many future and former major leaguers. Babe Ruth himself said the games were as good as any in the majors! The PCL produced some of the greatest players and managers in baseball history, including Lazzeri (who formed "Murderers' Row" with Ruth and Gehrig on the Yankees), Joe DiMaggio (who had a 61-game hitting streak in his rookie year), Ted Williams, Mickey Cochrane, Bobby Doerr, Casey Stengel, Vada Pinson, Luis Tiant, Maury Wills, Billy Martin (who was carried off the field in a bloody heap after getting spiked in both legs by a Stars player), Lefty Gomez, and Tony Perez. It was even the refuge for a former Black Sox player, spitballer Frank Shellenback (who wasn't actually blackballed from the majors, but just preferred to throw juicy fastballs in the PCL, where it was still legal). Lazzeri came back, as well, playing his final season with the San Francisco Seals. Click here to read a San Francisco Examiner account of a 1933 charity All-Star Game between a pro team featuring Ty Cobb, Lazzeri, Joe Cronin, and Lefty Gomez against PCL All-Stars featuring a young Joe DiMaggio (the PCL team won, 5-3).
The league signed players independently of major league teams, and even had their own farm system for players who needed more seasoning. (The Stars had a development team in Billings, Montana, called the Mustangs, owned by Cobb, Crosby, Stanwyck, DeMille and Taylor.)
"In those years there wasn't that much difference between the major leagues and the Coast League," wrote Chuck Stevens, who grew up in the West and played for the Stars from 1948-1955 (he played for the St. Louis Browns in the majors). "When I was growing up, the reputation of the [big leagues didn't mean] all that much. We heard about the World Series only in the newspapers. Sometimes we went down to the newspaper office to see the World Series played out on a magnetic board, but the [Majors] were far away, and so we cared much more about the Coast League."
Margot Robbie sports a Stars jersey in "Babylon" (2023).
Baseball legends who played for the Hollywood Stars included spitball ace Shellenback; Red Sox Hall-of-Famer Bobby Doerr (1934-35); Yankee star Bob Meusel (1932, also a member of "Murderer's Row"); Brooklyn Dodger great Babe Herman (who even doubled for team owner Gary Cooper in his role as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees); MLB Hall-of-Famer Bill Mazeroski, left fielder John Oscar Dicksus (called Ugly Johnny Dickshot), who started the 1943 season with a 33-game hitting streak; Vince DiMaggio (brother of Joe), and fan favorite Gus "Ozark Ike" Zernail, the future White Sox home run slugger who introduced Vince's brother to Marilyn Monroe.
Gilmore Field was located on the south side of Beverly Boulevard between Genesee Avenue and The Grove Drive, just east of CBS Television City and the Farmer's Market. The only pitches that occur in that area now are in the Writers Guild building, across the street.
The most popular Star of all time was outfielder Frankie Kelleher. Frankie never made it in the big leagues because he was the property of the New York Yankees for his first six years as a pro, and couldn't dislodge anybody in their Hall of Fame outfield (DiMaggio, Charlie Keller and Tommy Henrich). After a stint with Cincinnatti, Kelleher landed in the PCL. He led the league with 40 home runs in 1950, and hit 226 dingers overall during the course of his ten-year career with the Stars.
More infamous was fleet outfielder Carlos Bernier (594 career stolen bases), who slapped an umpire in 1954 over a called strike and was suspended for the year by league President Clarence "Pants" Rowland. Bernier returned home to Puerto Rico and the Stars lost the pennant in the last week of the season to the San Diego Padres. But then the Stars always had problems with umpiresand on at least one occasion, even with policemenin their storied history.
Early History: The Stars strike out once then re-emerge like a great Hollywood remake in PART ONE:
The Glory Years: The Stars win the hearts of Hollywood and dominate the PCL in PART TWO:
The Brawl: The Stars and Angels slug it out on TV for half an hour until 50 policemen arrive onfield in THE BRAWL:
Image Gallery: Peruse pictures of paraphernalia in the Stars IMAGE GALLERY:
Written by Jeff Hause. Thanks to Vice President Mark Panatier of the A.F. Gilmore Company, for his assistance in the researching of this article.
CoastLeague.com. "Homepage of baseball's third major league." This site gets you everywhere you need to go to find out about the PCL.
Vernon Tigers. SportsHollywood's page on Fatty Arbuckle's scandal-plagued team that would eventually become the Hollywood Stars.
The first Hollywood Stars team is now the Round Rock Express, a franchise in the Triple-A West and an affiliate of the Texas Rangers. They are located in Round Rock, Texas, and play their home games at the Dell Diamond. After leaving Hollywood, the Stars became the San Diego Padres until 1968, when an MLB franchise came into town (and even stole their name). They moved to Oregon and became the Eugene Emeralds (1969-1973), then the Sacramento Solons (1974-1976), then the San Jose Missions (1977-1978), then the Ogden A's (1979-1980), and then moved to Canada as the Edmonton Trappers (1981-2004); In 2005, an ownership group led by Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan purchased the Trappers franchise, which was trying to relocate back to the United States, and renamed them after Ryan (once called the "Ryan Express"). They competed in what was left of the Pacific Coast League before joining the Triple-A West with Major League Baseball's restructuring of Minor League Baseball in 2021.
The second Hollywood Stars are now called the Tacoma Raniers of the Triple-A West and an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. The Raniers play their home games at at Cheney Stadium, which hosted the baseball portion of the 1990 Goodwill Games. The former Stars had played as the Salt Lake City Bees until 1965, when they moved to Tacoma, Washington. Over the years they were affiliated with various MLB franchises like the Chicago Cubs (1966-1971), Minnesota Twins (1972-1977), New York Yankees (1978), Cleveland Indians (1979-1980), Oakland Athletics (1981-1994), and currently the Mariners (1995-present). They have featured players like future American League Rookies of the Year Walt Weiss, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and All-Star Scott Brosius (while affiliated with the A's), and Alex Rodriguez, Felix Hernandez, and Ken Griffey, Jr. (on rehab assignments) under the Mariners. The team adopted the Rainiers name in part as a tribute to the PCL team that played in Seattle from 1938 to 1964. They played in the undead corpse of the PCL until Major League Baseball's restructuring of Minor League Baseball in 2021, when they were placed in the ten-team Triple-A West. Don't expect to see a lot of celebrities in the front row.
Lights, Camera, Fastball: How the Hollywood Stars Changed Baseball by Dan Taylor; Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021. In Lights, Camera, Fastball: How the Hollywood Stars Changed Baseball, Dan Taylor delivers a fascinating look at the Hollywood Stars and their glorious twenty-year run in the Pacific Coast League. Led by Bob Cobb, owner of the heralded Brown Derby restaurant and known more famously as the creator of the Cobb salad, the Hollywood Stars took professional baseball to a new and innovative level. The team played in short pants, instigated rule changes, employed cheerleaders and movie-star beauty queens, pioneered baseball on television, eschewed trains for planes, and offered fans palatable delicacies not before served at ballparks. On any given night, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Barbara Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogart, and dozens more cheered on their favorite team from the boxes and grandstands of Gilmore Field. During the Hollywood Stars' history, its celebrity owners pushed boundaries, challenged existing baseball norms, infuriated rivals, and produced an imaginative product, the likes of which the game had never before seen. Featuring interviews with former players, Lights, Camera, Fastball is an inside look at a team that was far ahead its time, whose innovations are still seen in professional baseball today. (400 pages)
The Hollywood Stars: Images of Baseball by Richard Beverage; Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2005. The Hollywood Stars were created in 1926, when the Salt Lake City franchise of the Pacific Coast League was transferred to the greater Los Angeles area. To avoid confusion with the resident Los Angeles Angels, the new ballclub was called Hollywood. It was a wise choice of names. The movie capital had a glamour that was soon attached to the Stars and created an interest wherever they played. But the Hollywood story is actually one of two separate entities. The first operated from 1926 to 1935 and played at Wrigley Field as a tenant of the Angels. When a dispute arose in 1935 over a proposed increase in rent, owner Bill Lane moved his team to San Diego. After a hiatus of two years, the second incarnation was created in 1938 when the Mission Reds of San Francisco moved to Southern California. They moved into their new park, Gilmore Field, in 1939 and remained there through 1957, when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. Hollywood won pennants in 1949, 1952, and 1953 and was the team of choice for the movie world.
Lost Ballparks: A Celebration of Baseball's Legendary Fields, by Lawrence S. Ritter, Robert W. Creamer (Introduction); Studio (March 8, 1994) 224 pages. Gilmore Field, The Polo Ground, Ebbets Field, Comiskey Parkthe great temples of baseball are being razed to the ground. Now the author of The Glory of Their Times has brought 22 of these grand old open-air, wood-and-concrete stadiums.
The Grand Minor League: An Oral History of the Old Pacific Coast League by Dick Dobbins; Duane Press (December 15, 1999): 328 pages. The Pacific Coast League was professional baseball at its best. In their heyday, from the 1920s through the mid '50s, PCL minor league teams drew sellout crowds to ballparks in Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. The rivalries were intense, the players skilled, the fans devoted. To PCL fans, major league baseball today might seem a bit out of scaleespecially in its current, celebrity-crazed setting, where games are televised, autographs are signed for a fee and players look tiny in stadium-size venues. Of course, many longtime baseball fans and former players were a bit spoiled by the PCL.
The Pacific Coast League: 1903-1988, by Bill O'Neal; Eakin Press (July 1, 1990): 364 pages. the nearly 100-year history of baseball's greatest minor league. The list of stars who have played in this league reads like a who's who of baseball Hall of Famers.
The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957 by Dennis Snelling, McFarland (October 14, 2011). In 1903, a small league in California defied Organized Baseball by adding teams in Portland and Seattle to become the strongest minor league of the twentieth century. Calling itself the Pacific Coast League, this outlaw association frequently outdrew its major league counterparts and continued to challenge the authority of Organized Baseball until the majors expanded into California in 1958.
Barbary Baseball: The Pacific Coast League of the 1920s, by R. Scott MacKey; McFarland Publishing (March 1, 1995): 237 pages. In the 1920s, baseball fans across America flocked to minor league ballparks to see their hometown teams play. This was particularly true on the West Coast where fans embraced the colorful Pacific Coast League as a third major league. The rowdy reputation of the Pacific Coast League was well earned. Owners' meetings were rambunctious affairs where league issues were sometimes settled by violence. In the stands, drinking and gambling went unchecked, most notoriously exemplified by the "Booze Cage" at San Francisco's Recreation Park where 75 cents bought a shot of whiskey and the best seat in the house. On the field, players and umpires were as likely to trade punches as insults.
Zeenuts.com has PCL baseball cards from the 20's and 30's.
Zeenuts.com has PCL baseball cards from the 20's and 30's.
The Race for the Governor's Cup: The Pacific Coast League Playoffs, 1936-1954, by Donald R. Wells; McFarland Publishing (April 1, 2000) 474 pages. The Pacific Coast League utilized from 1936 through 1954 the controversial Shaughnessy system of postseason playoffs in which four teams competed. Many opponents felt that this system made the outcome anticlimactic, but supporters believed that the chief financial benefit occurred during the regular season as teams struggled to finish in the first division. These playoff games had to compete with college football, and later with professional football, for fan interest, which caused attendance to suffer and lead to a discontinuance of the playoffs. Chapters in this work examine each pennant race, game by game. Key players on each playoff team are listed, along with box scores of each game. The text is complemented by numerous historical photographs.
Join the Pacific Coast League Historical Society. Annual membership dues of $15 includes a subscription to the "Potpourri" newsletter. Write to Richard Beverage, PCLHS, 420 Robinson Circle, Placentia, CA 92870.
Wear your stars jersey proudly! You can purchase them here from Ebbets Field Flannels.
The Stars' farm team, the Billings Mustangs, are now the Tacoma Raniersand are now affiliated with the Seattle Mariners.
Visit the Los Angeles Farmers Market, which is on the same lot as Gilmore Field and still has the best food in Los Angeles. Here's a postcard of the market, with Gilmore Field in the upper left. (Try Du-par's Restaurant for breakfastthe Stars used to eat there.)