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.

1 Comment

Just wanted to let you know that the Owls are back in Statesville playing in the SCBL (Summer Collegiate Baseball League). Go to our website http://www.statesvilleowls.com. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Owls this past weekend with a reunion. We had 9 players back with us. They threw out the first pitch and stayed to watch the doubleheader. Historian Steve Hill was here with lots of photos and info on the original Owls. My husband and I broadcast the games on the internet. Thank you! Jill & Craig Morrow

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