On December 6, 1960, the new Los Angeles Angels expansion team was awarded to Gene Autry and associates. That’s right, Los Angeles Angels. Although the current name, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, is convoluted and sounds geographically challenged, people tend to forget that it’s also nostalgic. Or perhaps they never knew. Personally, I always preferred the California Angels name but the current name is legitimate even if it doesn’t roll off the tongue well.
In the beginning, the Los Angeles Angels played at California’s Wrigley Field. Now doesn’t that sound odd and wonderful? The same William Wrigley Jr. who owned the Cubs and for whom the original and better known Wrigley Field was named also owned the minor league Los Angeles Angels. So their stadium, later occupied by the major league Los Angeles Angels, was also named for him. I suspect that an additional reason for the name was California trying to establish strong, obvious ties to major league baseball, which at the time did not exist west of the Mississippi. Hey, as a sometime marketing professional, I think it was a brilliant idea. An amusing side note – when California’s Wrigley field was built in the 1920’s, Wrigley also owned a controlling interest in Catalina Island, off California’s coast, so the Cubs had a least part of their spring training there through the 1940’s. That had to be a lot of fun, but really isolated at the same time.
However, California’s Wrigley Field was downright tiny – “friendlier” even than the friendly confines of its Chicago namesake – so the major league Angels only played there for one season. Wrigley Field was demolished well before I was born, so I have only seen it in pictures and movies. But you can see parts of it in the movie Damn Yankees and, apparently, Pride of the Yankees as well as a few others. The Angels’ next stop? Chavez Ravine, where they for all intents and purposes couch surfed with the Dodgers for four seasons at the newly built Dodger Stadium. Like all too many roommate situations, this arrangement was pretty awkward for all concerned. The Dodgers had the better game times, dibs on use of the training facilities and attracted an embarrassingly larger audience – hey, it was their house after all.
The Angels were never going to establish themselves sharing the stadium, so Gene Autry looked for a home in Orange County. The Big A opened for the 1966 season and the Los Angeles Angels became the California Angels. Of course, success was a long, painful time in coming. Talking to the longtime fans, you hear some serious war stories. My grandfather used to simultaneously glow when he talked about the Angels and then shake his fist over the Arson Squad – think our 2010 bullpen but much, much worse – and other calamities. The Angels didn’t win a division title until 1979. They won two additional division titles in the 1980s and then none in the 1990s. I think this is why so many Angels fans rooted for the Giants in this year’s series – the Angels understand torture. But, with a World Series win in 2002 (the only all wild card series so far, for better or for worse) and five division titles in the last seven years, the last decade has been very good for the Angels. Hopefully, 2010 was an aberration and the winning trend will continue into the next decade.
Many of you already know this history but some of you may not – hey, a lot of Angels fans do not – and an anniversary is definitely the proper occasion for sharing the family stories, as it were. I made one of the Angels’ security guard’s day when we were shooting the breeze after the last game this season by knowing about the Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium days. He worries that most of the current fans only know about the Rally Monkey days. He may be right, but they would probably be interested in learning this history given the opportunity. It sounds like the Angels front office has a lot of different celebrations and commemorations planned for the 2011 season – More Than A Season! – so this is the perfect opportunity to learn.