The current baseball season is well underway and fans throughout the country are paying close attention to their favorite teams. California certainly has some exciting clubs to follow, but when did the state jump on the baseball bandwagon?
Baseball in California can trace its roots to statehood in 1850, when amateur teams played in the San Francisco area. That was only the beginning of the state’s relationship with baseball. In his book The Golden Game: The Story of California Baseball, author Kevin Nelson writes that 25% of all baseball players have played some level of organized ball in California (from high school on up to the major leagues). Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Billy Martin, and Casey Stengel are among the greats who played in California.
While major league baseball was played in St. Louis and points east until 1958, professional minor leagues flourished throughout the country, especially here in California. One such league was the Pacific Coast League (PCL), which still exists today.
The PCL was founded in 1903 and soon began to showcase talent for the major league clubs back east. Today the league has 16 teams across the country. As a Triple-A league, its players are only one level below the majors. In fact, with no professional baseball west of the Mississippi River until 1958, the PCL had the talent and competitive salaries to be considered a third major league, behind the National and American Leagues. Clubs were found in Washington; Oregon; California; Arizona; Utah; and even Vancouver, British Columbia. One of the more popular California teams was the Los Angeles Angels.
The Angels franchise was one of the league’s original members. The team was owned by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., who also owned the major league Chicago Cubs. The Angels won twelve PCL titles in their history, with the last coming in 1956. Because of its proximity to Hollywood, their South Los Angeles stadium, Wrigley Field, was a popular location for filming baseball movies. Notable Angels alumni include Chuck Connors (best known from television’s The Rifleman), Tommy Lasorda, Gene Mauch, and Jimmie Reese. Wrigley sold his interest in the Angels to Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley in 1957. The Dodgers arrived in Los Angeles the following season.
The Angels name resurfaced in Los Angeles in 1961 when singer-actor Gene Autry was granted a major league franchise. He named his team the Los Angeles Angels, and moved to Anaheim five years later. Today, the Angels are known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Thanks to Operations Assistant, and baseball aficionado, Steven Dugan for this post. He bleeds Dodger blue!