Wrigley Field, L.A.
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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 Chicago -- classic 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 field -- just 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, 1931 -- decades 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 existence -- including 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 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 ballfield -- Gilmore Park -- was built closer to Hollywood. This created the most heated rivalry in PCL history.


"Dummy" Hoy
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, 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.

The team played at Washington Park for seventeen years, winning five pennants, until they were bought by Wrigley. 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 ballpark a few miles south of that location, on the edge of town (now it's south-central LA).

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, the schedule was reduced by about 20 games, and balls hit into the stands were dutifully returned by fans (unless they wanted to be booed during the rest of the game).

Dials
Lou Dials
Dials
Chet Brewer
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.
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 team was 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.

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.
But 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 .343, with 171 RBIs and 41 homers) while playing for the Angels -- thanks in no small part to his wife, Esther, who could be heard from her box seat behind home plate verbally abusing Lou during each of his appearances at the plate. Lou suffered from the worst possible phobia one could have while playing in Wrigley Field -- he had an incurable fear of vines. He would allow balls to sail over his head and hit the wall, retrieving them as they caromed back towards the infield. He later blamed his terrible fielding on Wrigley field's left field line, which he swore was crooked. He once stole third with the bases loaded because, he said, " I couldn't resist. I had such a great jump on the pitcher."

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 leagues -- call 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
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.


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 fans -- legend has it that he was upset about a whorehouse that was running across the steet 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 Spokane. (The team stayed there until 1972, then were relocated to Albuquerque. The Albuquerque Dukes then moved in 2000, and are now the Portland Beavers.)

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 Yankees -- the 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 Mays -- the 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 team -- ironically, also called the Angels -- to 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 season -- an 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. The Angels moved 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, the stadium 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.

Written by Jeff Hause.


PCL Websites:
  • 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 Oakland Oaks of 1948. Bill Shubb's outstanding site covers the Oaks' championship year with Casey Stengel. Also check out his follow-up page on the Oaks of the 50's.
  • The San Diego Padres of the PCL. From the Journal of San Diego History, based on an article by William G. Swank and James D. Smith III, entitled "This Was Paradise."
  • The San Francisco Seals. Todd Hawley's webpage focuses on the history of the team and stadium in San Francisco from 1903 to 1957.
  • The Seattle Rainiers. John Reeves' webpage contains a wealth of information, with stories, pictures and sounds, on the PCL franchise that was in Seattle from 1938 to 1964.
  • Vernon Tigers. SportsHollywood's page on Fatty Arbuckle's scandal-plagued team.

    Further reading:

  • Lost Ballparks: A Celebration of Baseball's Legendary Fields, by Lawrence S. Ritter, Robert W. Creamer (Introduction)
  • Runs, Hits, and an Era: The Pacific Coast League, 1903-58, by Paul J. Zingg With Mark D. Medeiros
  • The Pacific Coast League: 1903-1988, by Bill O'Neal
  • The Race for the Governor's Cup: The Pacific Coast League Playoffs, 1936-1954, by Donald R. Wells
  • Barbary Baseball: The Pacific Coast League of the 1920s, by R. Scott MacKey
  • The Pacific Coast League: A Statistical History, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling
  • The Angels: Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League, 1919-1957, by Richard E. Beverage (Placentia, CA: The Deacon Press. 1981, Out of Print)

    Reference:

  • 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.
  • Visit Zeenuts.com to see PCL baseball cards.
  • Visit the Portland Beavers!

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