Location: In south-central Los Angeles at the intersection of 42nd Place and Avalon Boulevard. Tennants: Los Angeles Angels (Pacific Coast League) from 1925 to 1957; Hollywood Stars (Pacific Coast League) from 1926 to 1935, and 1938; L.A./Anaheim/California Angels (American League) 1961. Dimensions: Left field 340 ft.; power alleys: 345 ft.; center field: 412 ft.; right field: 338.5 ft.; backstop: 56 ft. Films/TV Shows: Pride of the Yankees (1942); The Stratton Story (1949); It Happens Every Spring (1949), The Kid from Left Field (1953), Alibi Ike (1935); The Winning Team (1952); Pride of St. Louis (1952), Elmer the Great (1933); Rhubarb (1951); Kill the Umpire (1950); Death on the Diamond (1935); Fireman, Save My Child (1932); Whistling in Brooklyn (1943); Damn Yankees (1958); Gillette Home Run Derby (1959-60); The Munsters (1966).
Once upon a time, there was another Wrigley Field besides the one at Sheffield and Addison.
Wrigley Field in Los Angeles was named for William K. Wrigley, Jr., the chewing-gum magnate who owned both the Chicago Cubs of the National League, and the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. He purchased the Angels in 1921, for the (then) astronomical sum of $150,000, and then built a stadium for the team a few years later. Construction on Wrigley Field began in 1924, and the million-dollar park opened on September 29, 1925.
The park was designed to be like the Wrigley Field in Chicagoclassic Art Deco, but California style: the red-roofed white facade resembled that of many of the surrounding homes. By big league standards, it was small: seating only 20,500. Outfield fences angled slightly toward home plate as they moved away from the foul lines, which made for short power alleys and more home runs. Repeatedly, throughout its history, hitters would shell houses located behind the left field wall on 41st Place with home run missiles.
The double-decked grandstand extended from the left field foul pole to home plate, and around to the right field foul pole. Bleachers and a scoreboard were located in right field. There was no seating in left fieldjust a 15-foot high concrete wall, with ivy growing on it in later years. Batted balls on occasion lodged in the ivy, and were ruled doubles during games. The bottom of a light tower in left center field was in play. Any ball that hit the standard above a painted white line (parallel with the top of the wall) was ruled to be a home run.
Two other features made LA's Wrigley Field different from the one in Chicago: The first was a twelve story office tower was at the entrance of the ballpark, with the clock visible from the playing field; and the second was that it had field lights for night games, installed on July 22, 1931decades before the Chicago stadium's.
Major outdoor wrestling and boxing programs were held at Wrigley Field during the first 30 or 35 years of its existenceincluding six world title boxing matches.
But the main draw was always the baseball games of the legendary Pacific Coast League. In the first half of the 20th Century, the Pacific Coast League ruled the west. In all but name, it was a third major league, with its own traditions and records. There were no American or National League teams in the west, and players who often turned down major-league offers because they were paid more in the PCL. Great western players like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams played for their hometown teams. Finally, in 1952, the PCL was given AAAA status, raising it above farm league status and protecting their players from the major league draft.
Two PCL teams used Wrigley Field. The mighty Los Angeles Angels, owned by Wrigley, were the main tennants. The Angels, also known as the "Looloos"", and the "Seraphs", were probably the most succesful franchise in the history of the league, and they were the team that the field was built for; But the Hollywood Stars played there from 1926 to 1935, whenever the Angels were on the road. Then, when Wrigley tried to double their rent to $10,000 a month, the team moved south and became the San Diego Padres. But in 1938, the San Francisco Mission Reds moved into town and took over the name of the Stars. They also played in Wrigley Field for a year, until their own ballfieldGilmore Parkwas built closer to Hollywood. This created the most heated rivalry in PCL history.
41-year-old William Ellsworth "Dummy" Hoy was the star of the 1903 championship Angels team. A deaf mute, "Dummy" lost his hearing and the ability to speak as the result of meningitis when he was three years old. He is credited with having been responsible for the creation of the practice of umpires signaling balls and strikes by the use of their hands. He was one of only 29 men to have played in four major leagues: National, American, American Association and the 1890 Players League. With the 1903 Angels he hit .257 with 48 stolen bases and led the PCL in runs (157). He was the only Los Angeles player to appear in all of the team's 212 games, coming to bat 808 times, and was still agile enough to patrol center field. He retired from baseball after the 1903 season. He had a career major league average of .287 in 1,796 games with 594 stolen bases and 309 assists.
At the birth of the PCL in 1903, the Angels played at Washington Park, also known as Chutes Park, located in downtown Los Angeles on 8th and Hill streets. It could hold up to 15,000 kranks, as fans at the turn of the century were called. (And probably still should be.) The team played there for seventeen years, winning five pennants. Because the milder western climates allowed baseball to be played all-year, while the fields of the Major Leagues in the East were covered in snow, PCL teams could play as many as 200 games per season. During the Angels' first year in the league, 1903, they won 133 and lost 78, and were the league's first champions.
From 1915 to 1921, they were owned by John Powers, a Los Angeles socialite, and managed by MLB Hall of Famer Frank Chance (of "Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance" fame). Then in 1921 the team was purchased by Wrigley, who had big plans to upgrade the ballpark and increase attendance. But when the city of Los Angeles refused to build parking facilities for Washington Park, Wrigley Jr. drew up plans for a newer, more krank-friendly 21,000-seat ballpark a few miles from that location, at Avalon and 42nd Place in South East Los Angeles on the edge of town (it's now south-central).
Spitball ace Frank Victor Shellenback (1898-1969) was born in Los Angeles and played and coached the Hollywood Stars at Wrigley Field when the Angels were away on road trips. Shellenback had pitched for the scandal-plagued Chicago Black Sox in 1919, but moved to the PCL. He wasn't banned from the majors for gambling or anything nefarious, however. He moved west when his best pitch, the 'spitter,' was outlawed in the Major Leagues after the 1919 season. Shellenback simply quit the Eastern League, took his (spit)ball and went home. He spent the remainder of his career (1920-38) throwing slobbery hardballs legally in the Pacific Coast League, winning a record 295 games. Teammate (and eventual MLB Hall-of-Famer) Bobby Doerr recalled, "There were slippery elm tablets he'd suck on. He would spit on a spot on the ball and it was real slickand once in a while in the infield you'd grab the ball where that was and throw a 'spitter' to the first baseman." Starting in 1939, he worked as as pitching coach for the Browns, the Red Sox, the Tigers, and finally the Giants, where he mentored future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry (spitballs were still illegal, so Perry kept the lubricant in his crotch, where the umpires never checked). Shellenback is in the PCL Hall of Fame.
Carole Lombard tosses the first pitch in '38.
In the Angels' fifty-five year history, they were one of the most successful Pacific Coast League franchises, winning titles in 1905, 1907, 1908, 1916, 1918, 1926, 1933, 1934, 1938, 1943, 1947, and 1956. They won over 1000 games in the 1930's alone.
The 1934 team had a record of 137-50 (.733), almost 30 games ahead of the Seals, led by Joe DiMaggio. In fact, they were so good and so far ahead of their competition that the PCL created an All-Star team from seven other franchises to play them in the finals, instead of having a traditional playoff series... the Angels still won.
Click on Jayne to read about the Stars.
The Angels' greatest battles were with cross-town rivals: First, the Vernon Tigers in the early teens and twenties, and after they moved to San Francisco, the Hollywood Stars in the twenties and on into the fifties. Angels/Stars brawls are especially legendary in their violence and mean-spiritedness. One melee in 1953 took 50 policeman to calm things down.
Over the years, the team featured players like Tommy Lasorda, Sparky Anderson (who once skipped a ball off the mound while throwing to first base as a shortstop), Gene Mauch (who with Lasorda and Anderson went on to become a great MLB manager), Doc Crandall, Lou "The Mad Russian" Novikoff, and ex-Cub outfielder Johnny Moore, who chose to play for the Angels from 1937 through 1945, as the Pacific Coast League was trying to gain recognition as a third major league and paid comparable salaries for the time.
"The Mad Russian"
Lou "The Mad Russian" Novikoff won the Triple Crown in 1940 (batting .363, with 171 RBIs and 41 homers) while playing for the Angelsthanks in no small part to his wife, Esther, who could be heard from her box seat behind home plate verbally abusing Lou while he was up to bat. Novikoff suffered from the worst possible phobia one could have while playing in Wrigley Field: "Botanophobia"an incurable fear of foliage. He would allow balls to sail over his head and hit the ivy-covered left field wall, retrieving them as they caromed back towards the infield. According to Warren Brown's classic 1946 book, The Chicago Cubs, Novikoff was sure the leaves were poison ivy. Cubs traveling secretary Bob Lewis took Novikoff to the vines one day and rubbed the leaves all over his bodyeven chewing on some to prove they were safe. Novikoff smiled and asked if they could be smoked. In other reports, he was afraid that spiders were living in the ivy. He later blamed his terrible fielding on Wrigley's left field line, which he swore was crooked. Novikoff once stole third with the bases loaded because, he said, "I couldn't resist. I had such a great jump on the pitcher." Despite hitting .280 over four years with the Cubs, they didn't feel he as worth the trouble and demoted him back to the Angels, again.
During World War II, with most players overseas and with Angelinos fearing a Japanese invasion, the Angels struggled to field a competitive team. Fifteen-year-old Bill Sarni of Los Angeles High School was the backup catcher. Eleven years later, he finally made it to the pros and played for the Cardinals.
Night games were not allowed during wartime, and the schedule was reduced by about 20 games; balls hit into the stands were dutifully returned by fans (unless they wanted to be booed during the rest of the game).
Satchel Paige pitching in an exhibition baseball game at LA's Wrigley Field on November 7, 1948 (Richard Brooks Estate / Academy Film Archive).
Had the Pacific Coast League owners had the strength to oppose MLB Commissioner Kenesaw "Mountain" Landis, then in 1943 slugger Lou Dials and pitcher Chet Brewer would have been the first black players signed into MLB-sanctioned ball. Dials was a consistent .300 plus hitter and fine outfielder in the Negro Leagues, gaining his greatest fame as a member of the Chicago American Giants. Brewer played for the Kansas City Monarchs and had a lively fastball and a devastating overhand "drop ball," which was especially tough on lefthanded hitters. He also threw a then-legal "emery ball." Dials and Brewer were offered a tryout by Angels president Pants Rowland, but owner Phil Wrigley (son of William) then refused to sign them.
Esther Williams throws a spitter on Opening Day in 1949.
The Angels were called "Yankees-West," and dominated the league into the 1950's. They were led for 17 years by speedy outfielder Jigger Statz, who the Los Angeles Times called "The Grandest Angel of Them All," and who no less than Duke Snyder called the greatest center fielder he ever saw play. Jigger was a lifetime .354 hitter who cut a hole in the center of his tiny glove to get a better feel of the ball, and once swiped six bases in one game.
In 1956, the Angels won the pennant with what many baseball historians consider to be the greatest minor league team ever built.
The team's record, 107-61, put them 16 games up on the second place team. They were led by the legendary Steve Bilko (okay, it was the minor leaguescall him a minor legend). He won the Triple Crown in 1956 with a .360 batting average and 164 RBI, 55 home runs, and 163 runs scored.
Steve Bilko starred for three years in Los Angeles, from 1955-57. Playing with an extended schedule due to the good weather (in 1955 he played 168 games), Bilko led the league in home runs each year (37, 55, and 56), always hit over .300, and was named the League MVP for all three seasons. Bilko was 6'1", and was listed as weighing 240 pounds, but probably weighed much more (the Los Angeles Times ran a headline reading, "Not Even Mrs. Bilko Knows His Weight"). He was so prized by the Angels that when he was called up to play in the majors at Cincinnati in 1958, he actually had to take a pay cut.
Bilko meets Betty
Before staring in TV shows like The Rifleman and Branded, actor Chuck Connors was an Angel, then went on to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs.
Then in 1957, Phil Wrigley sold both the team and Wrigley Field to Walter O'Malley, the Brooklyn Dodgers' owner, for $3,000,000 and the rights to the Dodgers' Texas League franchise in Fort Worth. O'Malley reassured PCL directors that the Angels would continue as part of the Coast League, but everyone knew he was considering moving the big league Dodgers out of rickety Ebbets Field to Los Angeles, and his purchasing the Angels and the stadium gave him territorial rights to the area.
The Angels knew their days were numbered. Steve Bilko enjoyed one more season of glory, hitting .300 with 56 dingers and 140 RBI, but a surrounding cast led by Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda, and Larry Sherry wasn't enough to lift them above seventh place. The last PCL game at Wrigley Field was played on September 15, 1957.
In February, O'Malley signed a deal to move the Dodgers into the Los Angeles Coliseum on weekends and Wrigley Field during the week, and they took over the site. An architect's 1957 drawing envisioned enclosing the field for use by the Dodgers, with double-decked stands in left and right, and center field bleachers, very much like the Polo Grounds...
... But then O'Malley decided against using Wrigley, maybe because the field was too small, or maybe because he wanted more seats for fanslegend has it that he was upset about a whorehouse that was running across the street from the stadium. In any event, the Dodgers finally moved to Los Angeles in 1958... and since there wouldn't be a lot of fans left over for a minor league team, the Angels' franchise was moved to Washington and became the Spokane Indians.¹
But with the Angels exiled to Spokane and the Dodgers at the Coliseum, there was nobody left to play baseball at Wrigley Field... unless you count baseball in the movies, that is.
Hollywood had quite a love affair with Wrigley Field. Pride of the Yankees was filmed there with Hollywood Stars owner Gary Cooper playing the Iron Horse; James Stewart played one-legged White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton there in The Stratton Story; Ray Milland filmed there several times, in It Happens Every Spring and Rhubarb (in which a cat inherits a baseball team). Joe E. Brown filmed there quite a bit in the Thirties. Brown briefly played semipro ball, so he was a natural for baseball films like Elmer the Great, Alibi Ike (Co-starring Stars co-owner William "Fref Mertz" Frawley), and Fireman Save My Child.
Ronald Reagan and Doris Day at Wrigley
Other films lensed at Wrigley include The Winning Team, with Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander; Dan Dailey was a player-turned-popcorn vendor in The Kid from Left Field, and then starred as Dizzy Dean in The Pride of St. Louis; and in one of the weirdest films ever made, Red Skelton donned a beard to disguise himself and hide from gangsters on a House of David-like team in Whistling in Brooklyn. Damn Yankeesthe classic musical starring Gwen Verdon and Tab Hunter, in which Joe Boyd sells his soul to the Devil to beat the Yankees, was filmed at the field in 1958. The TV sitcom The Munsters even filmed an episode there in 1965.
The Gillette Home Run Derby was shot there in 1959 and 1960, in a weekly television program matching two of baseball's premier sluggers in a nine-inning home run hitting contest. Nineteen marquee players, including nine future Hall of Famers, agreed to participate in the inaugural season: Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, Ernie Banks, and Duke Snider all took their turns.
GILLETTE HOME RUN DERBY: The pilot episode for the classic TV program featured Mickey Mantle and Willie Maysthe last two players at that time to have hit 50 home runs in a season. After five innings, the "Say Hey Kid" was leading 8-2, but "the Mick" rallied. He hit three in the seventh and two in the eighth to tie it. Mays, probably tired from having to make useless conversation with the host ("That was a long one!"), couldn't hit another homer. Mantle ended the contest by clobbering the first pitch in the bottom of the ninth out of the stadium, onto somebody's roof. Declared the first champion on "Home Run Derby," he was awarded a $2,000 check by host Mark Scott, who promised viewers that Mickey would be back the next week to face Ernie Banks (Mantle won that contest, too, 5-3).
The ballpark remained without a team, however, until Major League Baseball awarded the area an expansion teamironically, also called the Angelsto play in the American League. The Angels played only one season at Wrigley Field, in 1961. The pro batters loved those Wrigley power alleys: 248 home runs were hit there, more than in any other ballpark in Major League history during a single seasonan average of more than three a game. Steve Bilko, at long last an everyday major leaguer, hit twenty homers for the team. Joe Falls of the Detroit News watched a game there and said, "They had only 238 bulbs in the light towers (I counted them) and it was the darkest ballpark I have ever been in."
The last home run ever hit in Wrigley Field was by... none other than Steve Bilko, for the major league Angels. It was a fitting end. The Angels then moved into Dodger Stadium with the Los Angeles Dodgers, until 1965, and into their own home, Anaheim Stadium, in 1966.
Sadly, with the Dodgers and Angels in their own stadiums, and with no minor league baseball teams in the area, Wrigley Field was torn down in the mid-sixties. South-central LA decayed along with the rubble, and it is now one of the poorest sections of Los Angeles (it was ground zero for the LA riots in the nineties). The site where the once-proud stadium once stood is now occupied by a public park and recreation center, a community mental health center, and a senior citizens' center.
Notes on this Page:
¹After Los Angeles, the franchise had stays in Washington as the Spokane Indians (1958-1971) and New Mexico as the Albuquerque Dukes (1972-2000). The franchise was then sold again and became the third incarnation of the Portland Beavers (2001-2010). In 2010, the Beavers were purchased by the San Diego Padres' principal owner Jeff Moorad, and temporarily relocated to Tucson, Arizona for the 2011 season as the Tucson Padres. Moorad intended to have the team play in Escondido, a suburb northeast of San Diego, starting in 2013; however, those plans fell through and they moved in 2014 to Texas and became the El Paso Chihuahuas... PCL Champions of 2016.
The El Paso Chihuahuas are the modern iteration of the Los Angeles Angels, and are currently the Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. The Chihuahuas are located in El Paso, Texas, and play their home games at Southwest University Park, which opened in 2014. The Chihuahuas moved to El Paso from Tucson, Arizona, where they were known as the Tucson Padres. A name-the-team contest was held to decide the team's nickname. Finalists were Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Chihuahuas, Desert Gators, and Sun Dogs. The Chihuahuas won the PCL championship in 2016. They played in the Pacific Coast League until the 2021 restructuring of the minor leagues when they shifted to the Triple-A West.
CoastLeague.com. "Homepage of baseball's third major league." This site gets you everywhere you need to go to find out about the PCL.
Hollywood Stars. SportsHollywood's page on the Angels' most hated rival team.
The Bilko Athletic Club: The Story of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels tells the story of a team of castoffs and kids built around Steve Bilko, a bulky, beer-loving basher of home runs. Author Gaylon H. White provides an intimate portrait of life in minor league baseball in the 1950s and gives readers a glimpse inside the heads and hearts of the players as they experience the same doubts and frustrations many face in the pursuit of a dream. The Angels' unforgettable season unfolds through stories told by the players themselves, as they racked up runs and rolled to a 107-61 won-loss record, finishing sixteen games ahead of their closest competitor.
The Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League: A History, 1903-1957, by Richard E. Beverage (Placentia, CA: The Deacon Press. 1981; Second Edition: McFarland; October 6, 2011): Long before the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants brought the major leagues to California in 1958, professional baseball thrived on the West Coast in the form of the Pacific Coast League (PCL). Minor only in name, the league featured intense rivalries, a huge fan base, and such future Hall of Famers as Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. The Los Angeles Angels won 14 PCL pennants and stood as the league’s premier franchise. This year-by-year chronicle of the Los Angeles Angels from 1903 to 1957 includes an overview of the PCL and a wealth of statistical information, including an all-time player roster, a list of important team records, lineups, and attendance information. Based in part on personal interviews with former Angels players, this history offers a nostalgic look back at the PCL and the early days of baseball in the West.
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.
Jeffrey C. Hause has written professionally (in a very amateur fashion) for entertainers like Jay Leno, Jim Carrey, Rodney Dangerfield, Gabe Kaplan, Rick Dees and people he'd rather not tell you about. He's also written screenplays for producers like Ivan Reitman, Richard Donner, Ray Stark, Lawrence Turman, and Samuel Goldwyn Jr., at Warner Brothers, Disney, Universal, Columbia, Franchise Pictures and Interscope. Here's his résumé. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.