Results tagged ‘ Statesville Owls ’

Glade Cookus Passes Away

Glade Cookus
Original future Angel Glade Cookus passed away on December 15 in Visalia.

 

Jack Hiatt just called to inform me that original future Angel Glade Cookus passed away in Visalia on December 15. Cookus was 66.

Glade was one of the “first four” Angels prospects sent to Statesville in April 1961. The other three were Hiatt, Dick Simpson and George Conrad. All were signed out of the Los Angeles area.

Cookus was in the lineup for the Owls’ first game of the 1961 season, playing shortstop. He hit only .264 that year and left baseball the next spring.

I spoke with Glade last April about our project to reunite the surviving Statesville Owls. He said he was too ill but did ask that I put him in touch with Jack Hiatt. Jack called him and spent about 90 minutes with him. Jack then called me and said that Glade had cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. It didn’t look good, but we were able to fulfill Glade’s one humble wish.

Of the “first four,” we believe that only Jack and Dick Simpson survive.  George Conrad appears to have passed away in Washington state about ten years ago.

Glade’s passing reminds us of the urgency to find his teammates while there’s still time to reunite. I found Walter Darton last week, and last night found Alan Flitcraft in Arizona. More on Alan later. But the news about Glade saddens the joy in finding two more of the original future Angels.

Scraps from Statesville, Part 4

Photo of Jerry Fox
Jerry Fox was an outfielder with the Statesville Owls in 1961. His scrapbook has been a valuable resource for researching the team’s history. (Photo source: Statesville Record & Landmark)

 

I’ve been slowly scanning every page of Jerry Fox’s scrapbook. This is truly a window into the past — not just the Angels’ past, but the state of the minors in the early 1960s.

I’ve found two more people from that year. Vito Porta was the third baseman for Statesville in 1961. He wasn’t an Angels property; he had played in the Tigers’ and Phillies’ systems, and would go on to sign with the Mets for 1962. Vito was from Detroit; he currently lives in Florida.

I also located Alex Zouncourides, who was the umpire attacked by a fan during the brawl on May 31, 1961. His recollection was that the fan just took a swing at him but never connected.

Alex had some different perspectives, being an umpire and not a player. He said brawls were very common, and the league was badly run. I just came across an article in Jerry’s scrapbook which said the umpires (Alex and his partner Harry Reeder) had not been advised a doubleheader was scheduled for that day, so the players themselves had to umpire Game #1 until Alex and Harry arrived.

Alex also told me this was the second incarnation of the Western Carolina League, and that Branch Rickey himself had been involved in its resurrection. Searching Google, I found out that the original Western Carolina League ran from 1948-1952. Rickey and others were involved in trying to create a third major league, called the Continental League. The league was formally announced in July 1959, and hoped to begin play in 1961. This proposal forced Major League Baseball to expand for the first time, adding the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators in 1961, and the New York Mets and Houston Colt 45s in 1962.

The Western Carolina League was resurrected for the 1960 season in the hope of creating a minor league system for the Continental League. But MLB somehow blocked the agreement. I also found an article which said that the independent players in the WCL would be owned by the league, not the individual teams, which would allow the league to sell those players to major league clubs.

In addition to the Angels in Statesville, Lexington affiliated with the Mets, Houston with Salisbury, and Shelby with Pittsburgh. This affected the league’s draft out of a “baseball school” held in March. Affiliated teams needed fewer players, so they passed on their opportunity to select players out of the school. WCL President John Henry Moss railed that the teams were passing up some talented young players who’d travelled from all over the nation to Statesville to try out for a baseball job.

It wasn’t even clear how many teams would be in the league. They had six franchises for sure, and hoped to have eight, but were never able to find a solid eighth team to go with a reasonably certain seventh entry. The schedule wasn’t even final until late April, a few days before the season opener on May 1.

Angels players started arriving in Statesville by mid-April; an April 18 article in the Statesville Record & Landmark reports that Angels in camp included pitchers George Conrad, Joe DaCruz, and Jeff King; catcher Jack Hiatt; infielder Glade Cookus; and outfielders Gaetan Boudreau and Dick Simpson.

Boudreau was from Montreal and spoke French. The article notes that “Boudreau had trouble getting fixed up with sleeping quarters.”

[Manager George] Wilson related the incident. Boudreau arrived in town. He speaks only limited English, but is fluent in French. He attempted to make reservations but couldn’t get his predicament across. So he had to call the scout who signed him, telling him he was here. The scout, in Montreal, then called Wilson in Shelby. George called to Statesville to make the arrangements.

It’s a time-honored tradition in the minor leagues to teach foreign ballplayers their first words in English — which are invariably profane. Interviewing his surviving teammates, several of them have informed me that tradition was honored in Statesville back in 1961.

The April 29 paper published a photo of the pitching staff selected out of spring training:

 

Photo of Statesville's Opening Day pitching staff
The Opening Day pitchers for the Statesville Owls. Left to right: Pete Curtis, Jeff King, Joe DaCruz, Roy Wagner, Gail Thomas, John Couch, Walter Darton, Glen Opfer, George Conrad and Dana Worster. King, DaCruz, Darton and Conrad were Angels properties; Thomas was signed by the Angels after the season. Click on the image to view it at full size. (Photo source: Statesville Record & Landmark)

 

Walter Darton quickly evolved into the ace of the staff. I’ll have more on him in a future entry. I may have located him; I dropped a letter in the mail to him this morning. He was well on his way to a big league career when he was injured during the May 31 brawl.

Scraps from Statesville, Part 3

“Where else can you see three good fights and a ball game for 75 cents?” — Statesville Owls fan Herb Lovette.

Interviewing the alumni of the 1961 Statesville Owls, invariably they tell me about two incidents. One was soaking the all-dirt infield with gasoline before the All-Star Game to dry it out after a rainstorm. (It didn’t work.) The other was a brawl against their rivals, the Lexington Indians.

Thanks to the scrapbook sent me by Owls outfielder Jerry Fox, we can now bring back to life that incident.

His scrapbook had two articles both written by Jerry Josey of the Statesville Record & Landmark. One was a report of the game, the other his column called “From the Press Box.”

Click Here to read the article about the doubleheader.

Click Here to read Josey’s column.

You need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the articles.

It was May 31, 1961. Statesville was the class of the league, with the best winning percentage in the first half. Lexington was below .500, although by the end of August the Indians would qualify for the playoffs and eliminate the Owls.

League rules allowed only 18 players on the roster, so with a twinbill on the schedule manager George Wilson had to be judicious in the use of this roster. Just as now, minor league doubleheader games were seven innings each, not nine, although they went into extra innings in case of a tie.

In Game #1, Walter Darton was the starting pitcher. Darton was one of the Angels players on the roster. In that era, Statesville could also sign its own players.

The score was tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 7th. Owls outfielder Carl Mutert was called out on strikes by home plate umpire Harry Reeder to send the game into extra innings. Mutert threw his bat in protest and was ejected. Manager George Wilson rushed in from the third base box to argue and was tossed too. Local veteran player Gail Thomas took over as manager, and sent Dana Worster to right field to replace Mutert.

Josey wrote that “Statesville partisans were up in arms.”

In the top of the 8th, Lexington infielder Bill Barr was ruled safe at first on a close play by infield umpire Alex Zouncourides. The fans were so irate, Zouncourides called time and instructed police officers to order the fans in the first base bleachers to sit down.

Darton’s first pitch to the next batter, Bob Gaiser, was up and in. Gaiser charged the mound with his bat and both benches emptied. “Several solid punches were thrown in the melee before umpires and police officers succeeded in separating the combatants,” Josey wrote.

Just as order was restored, “a fan from the third base bleacher section moved onto the field and cut loose a right at Zouncourides,” Josey wrote. “Officers quickly took Harwell in tow and warded off further incident.” The umpires later went to police headquarters and signed a complaint, leading to assault charges against Harwell.

In the pileup, Darton somehow fell back on the mound and jammed his elbow. He couldn’t continue, so Thomas brought in Worster from right field to pitch. But given the small Statesville roster, Darton couldn’t leave the game, and went to right field.

Statesville went on to score in the bottom of the 8th to win Game #1, 4-3.

Lexington won Game #2, 8-4.

Owls’ manager Wilson, a North Carolinian, apparently felt it necessary to apologize to the fans for his language after the ejection. (Somehow I can’t imagine Billy Martin or Earl Weaver doing that …) Josey wrote:

Wilson, after the game, asked that an apology by relayed to “the fans for the language I used there at the bench” when he was tossed from the game in the opener. “I’m sorry and I just lost my head,” the Owls’ skipper said.

Then Wilson had his say on umpiring. “The umpires in this league are ridiculous. (Game #2 starter George) Conrad threw one boy six strikes and he walked him. (Catcher Bill) Maupin said he would swear that the balls were within six inches all the time. If something isn’t done about the umpiring in this league, it’s going to fold.”.

The players I’ve interviewed have told me that Darton’s career ended after the injury, although I’ve found one box score where he pitched (poorly) in relief. At the time, Darton was 5-1 with a 2.12 ERA. In 51 innings, he had 62 strikeouts and only 19 walks, having given up just 35 hits. They’ve all said Darton was a very talented pitcher.

I may have located Darton. I sent him a letter in the mail a couple days ago. If I hear from him, I’ll let you know.

Scraps from Statesville, Part 2

1961 Statesville Owls
Angels farm and scouting director Roland Hemond watches the 1961 Statesville Owls practice just before Opening Day. Photo courtesy Statesville Record & Landmark.

 

As previously mentioned, I received in the mail last week a scrap book kept in 1961 by Jerry Fox, an outfielder for the Statesville Owls. Statesville was the Angels’ Class D affiliate in the Western Carolina League, one of only two minor league teams the Angels had their first year.

Roland Hemond, now an executive with the Arizona Diamondbacks, was hired in January 1961 as the Angels’ first farm and scouting director. He had three months to put together both a minor league system and a scouting department.

The Angels wound up in Statesville, North Carolina. The ballpark, Senior High Stadium (it was located at the high school), was primitive by today’s standards. The infield was all dirt, and the stands were built of wood.

I’ve located many of the surviving 1961 Owls, and have leads on a couple more.

Anyway, I’m going to digitize as much as I can of Jerry’s scrap book, and will try to put the best stuff online for you to read.

Click Here to read an April 21 article in the Statesville Record & Landmark about Roland’s visit to Statesville just before the season began. The photo at the top of this column is taken from the article.

To reassemble the article, I scanned its pieces from the scrap book, brought them into Photoshop, then converted them to an Acrobat .PDF file. Seems to have worked out well enough.

You’ll need the free Acrobat Reader to look at these .PDF files. You probably have it installed on your computer already, but if you don’t Click Here to download Acrobat Reader for free.

The next article I’m going to reassemble is about a major brawl that occurred late in the season during a doubleheader against rival Lexington.

The Orem Owlz, the Angels’ affiliate today in the Rookie-A Pioneer League, unofficially “adopted” the Statesville Owls as their ancestor. They sell Statesville Owls merchandise in the stadium gift shop and online at www.oremowlz.com.

It occurred to me that yet another aspect both teams share is that both their managers were also Angels scouts.

Most of you know that Orem manager Tom Kotchman scouts in Florida when not managing during the summer. The Statesville newspaper articles not that Owls manager George Wilson, a local recommended by owner Fleete McCurdy, was also paid by the Angels to scout the league. At season’s end, the Angels signed about six players out of the league, although none of them made it to the majors. (Ed Thomas made it to Triple-A.)

More to come. Enjoy.

Scraps from Statesville, Part 1

1961 Statesville Owls
Click the photo to see at full size.

The 1961 Statesville Owls, by name:
Bottom Row: Vito Porta, Dick Simpson, Manager George Wilson, Jack Hiatt, George Bryson, Peter Curtis, John Isaac
Middle Row: Batboy Wayne Galliher, Dana Wooster, Jerry Fox, Dave Best, Glade Cookus, Wayne Young, Gail Thomas, Paul Mosley
Top Row: Alan Flitcraft, Bob Johnson, Carl Mutert, Robert Lucas, Dick Wantz, George Conrad

 

The 1961 Statesville Owls were one of only two minor league teams the Angels had in their inaugural season. Last week I received a scrap book from Jerry Fox, one of the Owls’ independent players, with all sorts of memories from that year.

Jerry included a sheet naming each one of the players in the above photo. Jerry is in the middle row, third from the left.

Three of these players went to the major leagues with the Angels — Dick Simpson, Jack Hiatt and Dick Wantz. Gail AKA Ed Thomas made it as far as Triple-A with the Angels and attended major league spring training in 1964.

The above photo copy came in e-mail a few weeks ago from Paul Mosley. Jerry’s copy is in the scrap book. He had his teammates sign the back, along with their home towns. Here’s what it looks like; to see it full-size, click on the image:

 

Click on the image to see it at its full size.

 

I’ll post more scans from Jerry’s scrap book as time permits.

Just In From Statesville …

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been researching the early history of the Angels minor leaguers.

My pet project is the 1961 Statesville Owls, one of only two minor league teams the Angels had in their inaugural year. This was a Class D team in Statesville, North Carolina.

It’s been a joy to track down the surviving members of that team and reunite them. Many of them have gotten into the spirit of this project and started to produce their own memorabilia from that year.

Today I received via UPS a big box from Statesville. I opened it and found a scrap book kept by Owls outfielder Jerry Fox. He was an independent player, not an Angels property, but like many of his surviving teammates has taken to this project. So he loaned me the scrap book for scanning.

The collection is absolutely incredible. Extremely well-kept and detailed. Newspaper articles from the Statesville Record & Landmark covering that entire season. Many of the articles have photos, including Angels players such as Dick Simpson, Jack Hiatt, Dick Wantz, Paul Mosley and more. I’ve seen one photo of Angels farm/scouting director Roland Hemond sitting atop the dugout with Owls owner Fleete McCurdy and a couple other baseball officials.

This is truly a window into another era. The Western Carolina League pretty much made it up year-to-year. The early articles report the WCL debating whether to field six or eight teams. A “baseball school” was held in Statesville for the entire league, basically a glorified one month tryout so the six teams could hold a “draft”. The rosters could only have 18 active players at a time.

There’s also a personal keepsake in the scrap book. Jerry had all his teammates sign a piece of paper with their name and home town. Jack Hiatt, “Dickie” Simpson, Dick Wantz — they’re all there.

As I work my way through digitizing the scrap book, I’ll post excerpts from time to time.

Meanwhile, I think my wife is tiring of me saying “Wow!” a lot …

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.

Jack Hiatt: The Once and Future Angel


Jack Hiatt returned to the Angels organization in 1982 as the manager of their Double-A affiliate in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

In the last couple years, I’ve been working on a project to document the history of the Angels minor leagues, its origins in particular. I’ve interviewed Dan Ardell, a USC graduate who played briefly in the system before joining the Angels at the end of 1961; Paul Mosley, who played with the 1961 Angels’ Class D affiilate in Statesville, North Carolina; and Roland Hemond, the Angels’ first farm and scouting director.

Last night I interviewed Jack Hiatt, who just retired after 16 years as the San Francisco Giants’ Director of Player Development. Hiatt began his professional career at age 18 with the newly born Los Angeles Angels. He signed on March 4, 1961, just as the Angels’ first spring training began in Palm Springs.

Along with three other Southern Californians, Hiatt flew to Statesville to begin his career. As Paul Mosley and Roland Hemond told us, Statesville’s park was in a deplorable condition. It was one of four pro ball parks still with an all-dirt infield (like a softball diamond). And because it was in the Deep South, their teammate **** Simpson suffered from blatant discrimination.

Jack’s interview runs a bit over an hour, but it’s worth listening to every minute. Not only is it a recounting of the history of the Angels’ early years, but it’s also an insight into minor league baseball nearly a half-century ago. I learned a lot more about those years, including Jack’s description of his 1964 season in Triple-A when his manager was future Hall of Famer Bob Lemon, and his hitting coach was future Angels coach Jimmie Reese.

Click Here to listen to Jack’s interview. You need Windows Media Player to listen.

If you’re suffering from an overdose of Mitchell Report, this is the antidote.

During the interview, I refer to a web site with photos of Mackenzie Stadium, where Hiatt managed in 1982. Click Here to visit that web site.

We have generic plans to reunite these players sometime next year, but we’ll see.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.