November 2008

Where Were You in ’62?


Dallas-Ft. Worth manager Dick Littlefield leads batting practice during 1962 minor league spring training at Amerige Park in Fullerton. Quad Cities manager John Fitzpatrick is to the right.

 

Born in December 1960, the Angels’ first major league spring training was in March 1961 at the old Polo Grounds in Palm Springs.

Under the radar of the local press, farm and scouting director Roland Hemond labored to put together a minor league system within three months. The Angels that first year had only two farm clubs — a Triple-A team in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and a Class D team in Statesville, North Carolina.

Minor league affiliations were very different in those days. The minor league clubs were free to sign and sell their own players, and could have an affiliation with more than one major league team. The Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers had players from both the Angels and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils had a Triple-A team in Buffalo, and sent their leftovers to DFW.

Much has been written in this blog about that 1961 minor league season.

It’s time to talk about 1962.

With a year under their baseball belts, the Angels front office was able to expand their farm system to five affiliates.

The Angels were still affiliated with DFW, but they also hooked up with the Triple-A Hawaii Islanders. They added the San Jose Bees in the Class C California League, the equivalent of today’s Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in High-A. Abandoning Statesville, the Angels’ new Class D affiliate was Quad Cities in the Midwest League, the same league as today’s Low-A Cedar Rapids Kernels. They also added the Class B Tri-City Braves in the Northwest League, known in 1961 as the Tri-City Atoms but inexplicably changed their name to Braves although they were an Angels affiliate. Go figure.

As previously discussed, the first minor league spring training was held in March 1961 at Evans Park in Riverside. Technically speaking, it was the Rangers’ camp, not the Angels’, and the players wore DFW uniforms. Most of the players were assigned from the Angels, although eventually a few players trickled in from the Phillies.

Still nominally independent in 1962, the Rangers moved their minor league spring training to Amerige Park in Fullerton. Amerige had its own rich history. Built in 1934, it was used by old Pacific Coast League teams for spring training.

The Angels’ “official” minor league spring training camp was at La Palma Park in Anaheim. La Palma was the home field for the Anaheim Aces in 1941, the only year that Anaheim was in the California League before it shut down during World War II.

According to A Guide to Anaheim, La Palma Park opened in 1939 and was the spring training camp for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. The A’s trained there from 1939-1941, until World War II restricted cross-country travel.

Another minor league operation in the Sunset League played there in 1947-48, but after that La Palma Park was used by pro ball only as a spring training site for various minor league operations, including the old PCL’s Hollywood Stars in 1952-1957.

A 1962 promotional film produced after the season by the Angels included a segment about their minor league spring training at La Palma Park. Click Here to watch the minor league segment. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection are required. The clip runs about five minutes.

Although DFW had most of the Angels’ Triple-A players, some went to the Hawaii club, which trained in San Bernardino at Fiscalini Field, then called Perris Hill Park. The original structure built in 1934 was demolished in 1985, and replaced by the current facility. Fiscalini Field was home to the Cal League’s San Bernardino Spirit from 1987-1992; the team moved to Rancho Cucamonga in 1993 and became the Quakes. Ken Griffey, Jr. played for the Spirit at Fiscalini Field in 1988. The park was used by various PCL teams in the late 1950s as a spring training site; in 1961, the Vancouver Mounties had been based there.

During the 1961 spring training, the Angels had four Triple-A teams in the Inland Empire to play so they didn’t have to travel that much to Arizona — the Rangers in Riverside, the Mounties in San Bernardino, the San Diego Padres in Indio and the Hawaii Islanders in Ontario. But as the minors began to evolve into what we know today, by 1962 the only teams in Southern California were the Angels in Palm Springs, the Rangers in Fullerton, and the Islanders in San Bernardino — with the latter two Angels affiliates.

And so it was that the Rangers and Islanders wound up playing each other nearly every day during their 1962 spring training, save for occasional games against an Angels “B” squad or a local college team.

I recently spent a day going through microfilms on file in the UC Irvine library from the Fullerton News Tribune and Santa Ana Register for March 1962. Reading through old newspapers is always fascinating, because you not only get a lot more detail than just box scores, but you find intriguing photos and human interest stories you didn’t anticipate.


Dallas-Ft. Worth manager Dick Littlefield chats with Quad Cities Angels manager John Fitzpatrick. The Angels’ minor league coaching staff helped out at the Rangers’ camp until the Angels’ official minor league camp opened at La Palma Park in Anaheim.

 

The Fullerton paper reported that Rangers returning from 1961 were pitchers Dick Littlefield (who was also named the team’s manager over the winter), Jack Hannah and Tom Qualters; catcher Pete Gongola; infielders Tom Burgess (who just passed away on November 24), Ray Jablonski and Ted Kasanski; and outfielders Chick King, Chuck Tanner (who later went on to manage the White Sox and Pirates), and Faye Throneberry (Marv’s brother).

Many Angels prospects were still at Palm Springs. News reports mention Dick Simpson, Dan Ardell, Paul Mosley, Ed Thomas and Jack Hiatt — all players I’ve contacted the last year as part of my Angels minor league history project. All were eventually reassigned to minor league camp. All of those eventually wound up with San Jose, except for Thomas who went to Dallas-Ft. Worth.

Several future Angels stars were asserting themselves in major league camp. Jim Fregosi, Bob “Buck” Rodgers and Dean Chance had all played for DFW in 1961, but they were all key members of the 1962 Angels who would challenge the Yankees for first place all the way into September.

The Rangers’ camp opened on Monday March 19. They were scheduled to play thirteen home games at Amerige and two at La Palma Park. Their first home game was Saturday March 24 against Hawaii, and they were to break camp on Monday April 16.

Photos in the papers of the Rangers’ camp show manager/pitcher Littlefield in a Rangers uniform, but the managers for Quad Cities and San Jose wearing their teams’ uniforms. At today’s minor league spring training, everyone wears Angels jerseys. But in the early 1960s, these minor league teams were much more independent, so the players and coaches were the minor league team’s jersey, not the parent club’s.

The News Tribune reported that Littlefield “is being helped out this week by John Fitzpatrick and Red Marion, managers of two of the Los Angeles Angels’ other farm teams on a lower level, but they’ll begin working with their own teams, Quad Cities and San Jose, next week at La Palma Park in Anaheim. Angels advisory coaches Joe Gordon and Bob Lemon are expected to help out after the L.A. breaks camp in Palm Springs. Scout Al Monchak is also aiding Littlefield.”

Lemon went on to manage in the Angels’ minor leagues, but is perhaps best known for managing the Yankees during the turbulent George Steinbrenner era in the late 1970s-early 1980s. A star pitcher with the Cleveland Indians in the 1940s-1950s, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.

Gordon played second base for the Yankees and Indians in the 1940s, hitting 253 homers in his major league career. He managed in the old PCL during the 1950s and went on to manage four big league clubs. Gordon was also an instant trivia question when the Indians traded him in 1960 to the Tigers for manager Jimmy D_ykes, the only time managers have been traded in major league baseball. Gordon is currently under consideration by the veterans’ committee for induction into the Hall of Fame in 2009.


Rangers starting pitcher Bob Lee pitched five no-hit innings on March 31, when the Angels travelled to Fullerton to play their Triple-A affilate. Steve Bilko is on base in the background; behind him is the team bus that brought the Angels from Palm Springs. Lee went on to become the Angels’ closer in 1964-66.

 

Perhaps the most anticipated event during that camp was the arrival of the Angels’ “A” squad on Saturday March 31, the first time the Angels would play in Orange County. (Although several “B” rosters came to play DFW at Fullerton as well.) The Rangers won that day 8-2, before a reported 1,921 fans. Tom Burgess and Chuck Tanner homered for the Rangers. DFW starter Bob Lee pitched five hitless innings; he went on to be the Angels’ ace reliever in 1964-66, recording 58 saves in an era when starting pitchers were expected to go nine innings.  Lee’s catcher was Phillies property Pat Corrales, who would go on to manage the major league Rangers, Indians and Phillies.  Corrales also homered for DFW that day.


Catcher Pat Corrales crosses the plate after he homered for the Rangers in the Fullerton game against the Angels. Corrales was a Phillies property; the Phillies and Angels both sent players to Dallas-Ft. Worth.

 

The Angels went on to play the Dodgers for the first time, in what would eventually be known as the Freeway Series, at Palm Springs. The Rangers, meanwhile, played a two-game home-and-away series against the USC Trojans, NCAA champions in 1961. Dan Ardell, a member of the 1961 Trojans, had been signed out of college by the Angels and briefly played for the parent club in September. In March 1962, he began spring training with the Angels but was on the DFW roster when the Rangers played his former college mates. On the USC roster was Mike Gillespie, who went on to manage the Trojans.


DFW first baseman Dan Ardell is forced at second by USC infielder Mike Gillespie. Ardell had been the first baseman on the 1961 USC NCAA championship team. He signed with the Angels after graduating from college. Although he played on the Rangers’ roster this day, he eventually reported to La Palma Park in Anaheim where was assigned to the San Jose Bees.

 

One other tale I came across was news to me.

A 20-year old Santa Ana man named Bernie Young was cleared by a “coroner’s jury” of charges that he had killed a Marine during a party. The Register described Young as “a young baseball star” and “the latest ‘bonus baby’ of the Angels, receiving $5,000 and a contract with the club.” But I couldn’t find any record of him actually playing for the Angels; I’ll have to ask Roland Hemond if he remembers Young.

In 1963, DFW ditched the Angels and affiliated with the Minnesota Twins. They held their 1963 spring training in Fernandina Beach, Florida (on the Georgia border near Jacksonville). The Angels continued to base their official minor league camp at La Palma Park in Anaheim through 1964. In 1965, the camp was in El Centro, then in 1966 they relocated to a new complex at Holtville, near the Mexican border.

Professional baseball returned to Anaheim in 1966 when the Angels relocated from Chavez Ravine … but that’s a different story.

Tom Burgess Passes Away

Bob Rous, Ray Withrow and Tom Burgess
Tom Burgess (right) was one of the original “future Angels,” playing for the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers in 1961. In this photo, he’s at the Angels’ 1961 minor league camp in Riverside, along with Rangers players Bob Rous and Ray Withrow.

 

MLB.com reports that former Angels first baseman/outfielder Tom Burgess has passed away at age 81.

Burgess spent much of his playing days in the minors during the 1950s, when most minor league clubs were independently owned and it wasn’t unusual for players to spend more than a decade hoping to break through to the majors. Tom is an example, having played in 12 games with the Cardinals at age 26 in 1954, then drifting around the minors until he was acquired by the Angels in 1961 at age 33. He spent all of 1961 with the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, one of two Angels affiliates that year. In 1962, he was with the Angels for the entire season. Burgess was mostly a pinch-hitter, although he did appear at first base for 35 games and twice in the outfield. His AVG/OBP/SLG that year were .196/.354/.301; if you’re wondering about that statistical oddity, Tom drew a lot of walks.

The fledgling FutureAngels.com Database tells us that in 1961 with DFW his numbers were .288/.387/.456; again he drew a lot of walks.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been working on documenting the early history of the Angels minor leagues. I’ve felt a bit of urgency since these guys are mostly in their golden years. Some have already passed away, and those who survive are quite delighted (for the most part) that I’m tracking them down and reuniting them with their old teammates.

Tom’s passing reminds me to work a little faster.

Now Presenting … the Statesville Owls

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been researching the history of the 1961 Statesville Owls, one of only two minor league teams the Angels had in their inaugural year. The Owls were a Class-D team in the Western Carolina League.

My research began with no more than lines of stats. Names and numbers.

Then I found Bill Moose, a local historian who’s also a SABR member and a columnist for the Statesville Record & Landmark. He sent me notes he’d jotted from the paper’s archives about the players that year. Now they were apparitions, a few tales from the past giving them some body and substance.

With a little leg work, I found catcher Jack Hiatt, most recently the Giants’ farm director who’d been signed by the Angels in March 1961 and sent to Statesville. Pitcher Paul Mosley fell into my lap thanks to a Google search by a colleague at his current employer. Outfielder Dick Simpson I found through a Washington Post reporters who’d interviewed him about a non-baseball article. Infielder Glade Cookus was located through WhitePages.com. Infielder Bob Lucas is the baseball coach at his alma mater in Florida. And Roland Hemond, the Angels’ first farm director, I found through the Chicago White Sox where he was a special assistant. (Now he’s with the Arizona Diamondbacks.)

Recently, Bill Moose found me two North Carolina locals who were with the Owls but not Angels property. Pitcher Ed Thomas was later signed by the Angels, but in 1961 he was an independent player. Outfielder Jerry Fox never signed with the Angels, he was always a local.

Four Angels players set out from L.A. for Statesville in mid-April 1961 — Hiatt, Simpson, Cookus and George Conrad. We recently determined that Conrad passed away in 1999.

As I’ve located them, I’ve given them the phone numbers of their former teammates. It’s been so much fun to hear them light up after talking to teammates they haven’t seen in over 45 years. For many of them, they have such fond memories of a time when they were young and thought they were immortal.

But even as I’ve fleshed them out through research and phone calls, I’d yet to see any photos of them from 1961.

Until now.

Paul Mosley e-mailed this week that a relative of his had found a scrapbook with Statesville team photos. He scanned them and e-mailed them to me.

To see a larger version of each image, click on the image.

1961 Statesville Owls

This photo appears to be taken of the players sitting in the stands. I haven’t figured out yet who everyone is, but in the front row Dick Simpson is second from the left and manager George Wilson is third from the left. I think that’s Jack Hiatt in the middle of the front row next to Wilson; Jack said his parents sent him a generic jersey from home because Statesville didn’t have a decent uniform for him. Also note in the far left of the second row, the batboy wearing a Statesville road uniform. The vertical handwriting on the right are for Glade Cookus, Dick Wantz and George Conrad. Wantz reached the Angels in 1965, only to die a month later of a brain tumor.

1961 Statesville Owls

This image appears to have been taken in the outfield near the wall. Note in the background the wooden grape stake fence — not exactly the type of fence you expect to hold up to an outfielder crashing into it. In this photo, manager George Wilson is standing to the far left. I’ve yet to identify the gentleman in civilian garb to the right — owner Fleet McCurdy, perhaps?

Ed Thomas and Jerry Fox know quite a bit about McCurdy’s family. Fleet passed away long ago, but they might be able to help me locate his descendants.

Dick Simpson told me this week he should be able to locate infielder George Bryson, who eventually became a director of TV commercials. I believe Bob Lucas knows the whereabouts of infielder Dave Best. And I know that third baseman Vito Porta, who was also an independent player not under Angels contract, is in Florida.

Any good story deserves a sequel, and today I started on it.

In 1961, the Angels’ first minor league spring training camp was at Evans Park in Riverside. It was technically the camp for the Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. They wore Rangers uniforms, not Angels uniforms.

The Riverside location lasted only one year. In 1962, DFW relocated their camp to Amerige Park in Fullerton. The Angels, meanwhile, established their “official” minor league camp down the road at La Palma Park in Anaheim.

I went to the UC Irvine library today to look at microfilm of local papers from that era. The Fullerton News Tribune had articles and photos from the Rangers’ camp. I’ll go back soon to save the images to disc so I can post them here.

One photo showed DFW’s new manager, Richard Littlefield, in Rangers uniform next to Quad Cities Angels manager John Fitzpatrick. Quad Cities was a new Angels affiliate that year, in the Midwest League (same as today’s Cedar Rapids Kernels), replacing Statesville. The Angels also added a Class C team at San Jose in the California League (same as today’s Rancho Cucamonga Quakes), and a Class B team at Tri-Cities in Washington state in the Northwest League.

According to the articles, coaches for the various Angels minor league teams were assigned to the Rangers until the La Palma Park camp opened at the end of the month.

The News Tribune reported that the Rangers largely played the Triple-A Hawaii Islanders, who were based in San Bernardino, and the Angels’ “B” team squad comprised of lesser talents not yet reassigned to the minors. But on occasion, the Rangers did play the “A” team, and as I left today I was about to read about a game between the Rangers and the Angels’ “A” team at Amerige Park in Fullerton.

You’ve always been told the Angels came to Orange County in 1966.

It wasn’t true.

They were here in 1962.

2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects Report

The 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report is now online at the FutureAngels.com web site. Click Here to read the report.

The list:

  1. Will Smith LHP
  2. Jordan Walden RHP
  3. Mark Trumbo 1B
  4. Hank Conger C
  5. Nick Adenhart RHP
  6. Ryan Chaffee RHP
  7. Peter Bourjos OF
  8. Kevin Jepsen RHP
  9. Matt Brown 3B-1B
  10. Luis Jimenez 3B

Please feel free to post your comments here.

Angels Minor League Free Agents

Minor league free agents for all teams have been announced, courtesy of Baseball America. The Angels’ free agents are:

Los Angeles Angels (13)
RHP:
Henry Bonilla (AAA), Dan Denham (AA), Yosandy Ibanez (AA)
1B: Michael Collins (AA)
2B: Adam Morrissey (AAA)
3B: Ricky Alvarez (R), Corey Smith (AA)
SS: Gary Patchett (AAA)
OF: Dee Brown (AAA), Jordan Czarniecki (AA), Adam Greenberg (AA), Brian Stavisky (AA), Chris Walker (AAA)

A player has the right to take his free agency if he’s completed six full seasons in the minor leagues and isn’t on the parent club’s 40-man roster. That’s why you see mostly Double-A and Triple-A guys listed for all teams.

Just because they’re free agents doesn’t mean they can’t return. For the Angels, Michael Collins and Adam Morrissey were free agents a year ago.

Perusing the BA list, I see some familiar names. Former Angels given their free agency and their team are:

ATLANTA — Jonathon Rouwenhorst

CHICAGO CUBS — Hector Carrasco

CHICAGO WHITE SOX — Joe Torres, Jeff DaVanon

CLEVELAND — Jeff Weaver

COLORADO — Brian Esposito

FLORIDA — Tommy Murphy

HOUSTON — Nick Gorneault

L.A. DODGERS — Eric Cyr, Bob Zimmermann

N.Y. METS — Willie Collazo

PHILADELPHIA — Steve Green

SAN FRANCISCO — Ronnie Ray

TAMPA BAY — Steve Andrade, Johnny Raburn

WASHINGTON — Greg Porter

The First Angels’ Minor League Spring Training

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been working on researching the history of the Angels’ minor leagues, in particular the inaugural 1961 season.

You probably know the Angels held their first major league spring training in Palm Springs. Few know that the first minor league spring training was at Evans Park in Riverside. It’s a subject I’ve written about here as I’ve learned more and more.

I went by the UC Riverside library today to save to disc copies of articles on microfilm from the Riverside Press-Enterprise about that embryonic period. Some of the articles had photos, which are below.

To recap, the Angels had only two minor league teams that year, the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers and the Class D Statesville (NC) Owls. It was a different era; minor league teams could sign their own players, and they could affiliate with more than one parent club.

Technically speaking, Riverside wasn’t the Angels’ minor league camp. It was DFW’s camp. Some of the players were Angels property. Some were Phillies property. Some belonged to the Rangers. The manager, former Cardinals star catcher Walker Cooper, was hired by DFW, not the Angels or the Phillies.

The Angels were the lone major league organization training in California. There were other organizations in Arizona, but they weren’t keen on travelling all the way to Palm Springs, when modes of travel were far more primitive than today. I found one article reporting the Cubs flew from Phoenix to Palm Springs, but were diverted to the Blythe airport en route because a federal marshal needed to transport a prisoner!

Several Triple-A teams trained in the Inland Empire. In addition to the Rangers in Riverside, there were teams in Ontario, San Bernardino and Indio. So the Angels’ spring training schedule included several games against the Triple-A teams; in fact, the Triple-A San Diego Padres in Indio were managed by future legendary Angels coach Jimmy Reese.

The DFW Rangers’ schedule included games against the Angels and the other Triple-A teams. When the Angels came to Evans Park, it was usually a “B” squad comprised of prospects or fringe players.

I went by Evans Park today to take photos and ran into Dennis Rogers, the baseball coach at Riverside Community College which uses Evans Park as its home field. He said the current facility is not the same one as 1961; that location is now a parking lot to the northwest. The current Evans Park was a practice field.

That helped explain some discrepancies I’ve seen in other photos loaned me by collectors.

Here are some of the photos from the Press-Enterprise articles. Obviously, the photo quality ranges from mediocre to poor, given the medium. I called the P-E months ago to find out if the originals still exist, but they were long ago destroyed. So these are all that still exist, and this is after I cleaned them up in Photoshop.

Jim Fregosi and Jack Hiatt
Jim Fregosi on the Angels squad slides into Rangers catcher Jack Hiatt. Notice the crowd standing behind the bats and chain link.

 

Manager Walker Cooper and Rangers players
The caption didn’t say who they are, but I believe that’s manager Walker Cooper on the left … UPDATE 11/15/2008, Jack Hiatt says he’s the player second from the right holding the bat.  He confirms that Walker Cooper is the man to the far left.

 

Hugh Pepper
Hugh Pepper was a grizzled veteran pitcher signed by the Rangers. Note the net in front of the mound; they didn’t have screens back then to protect pitchers during batting practice.

 

Bob Rodgers and Ken Toothman
Bob Rodgers slides into second. DFW infielder Ken Toothman covers the bag. Note the cars in the parking lot behind right field; there’s a car parked up on a hill, which should be a reference point in identifying the location of the old ballpark.

 

Bob Rous, Ray Withrow and Tom Burgess
Rangers players Bob Rous, Ray Withrow and Tom Burgess cope with a rain delay during drills. I believe Rous was under an Angels contract while the other two belonged to DFW.
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