Los Angeles Angels history shines light on modern baseball issues

Darryl Norenberg-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Inter-League play. Baseball fans think of these as modern concerns, and at least in the case of Inter-League it's considered a mark against Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner. However, a 1964 article in Sports Illustrated reveals just how old these issues are.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Inter-League play. Baseball fans think of these as modern concerns, and at least in the case of Inter-League it's considered a mark against Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner. However, a 1964 article in Sports Illustrated reveals just how old these issues are.

The significant quotes in the article come toward the end, in statements from Walter O'Malley:

"You must realize," he says, "that the Yankees are just about the only team in the American League that can draw enough in Los Angeles to cover hotel and travel expenses. The others are probably willing to try anything to take in more money."

The Dodgers and Giants moving out to the West Coast caused a major shakeup in baseball. The American League scrambled to follow suit, putting the expansion Angels in Los Angeles for the 1961 season. While the Cincinnatti Reds could come out west to face the Giants and Dodgers in one swoop. When the Red Sox came out to Los Angeles for the first time, it was smashed between trips to Minnesota and Washington DC, hardly just around the corner.

Chartering a plane was expensive, and if O'Malley is to be believed, only the Yankees were coming out ahead in their West Coast road trips. So what did the American League owners propose to help alleviate travel costs?

"Actually, the American League would like the National League to bail it out of trouble with interleague play. I have been told, for example, 'Think of what the Dodgers would draw in Kansas City!' My answer is, 'Yes, and what would Kansas City draw against the Dodgers in Los Angeles?' "

Inter-league play in 1964? It would have solved some of the American League's problems, as trips to Los Angeles could be extended with games against the Dodgers and a short jot up to San Francisco. We also see the big club little club disparity. The small clubs would love to have more games against top teams and inter-league would give them that. It would also mean the big teams hosting more minnows.

The article is about the Angels failing to draw in Chavez Ravine, which was then nicknamed Golden Gulch by the local media, and deciding to move to Anaheim. Probably as a way to smooth over some of the racial tensions over the stadium's construction that have been well publicized.

The Angels were expected to pay half the stadium's expenses even though they drew half what the Dodgers did. The Dodgers also refused to let the Angels play in the Coliseum for their inaugural 1961 season, forcing them to play at the minor league sized Wrigley Field even though the teams agreed to share the Los Angeles territory.

This conflict should call to mind the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's right now, where SF claims the Santa Clara territory and refuses to let the A's build their stadium in the South Bay. While there are many who wish the Giants would cave for the good of baseball, it's the old situation with the Dodgers and Angels where there's no incentive for the Giants to help their competition.

The article continues to talk about the fear of the team's name once they move to Anaheim, that looking at the standings and seeing the Anaheim from Jack Benny's old sketch would cause laughter. No surprise that they became the California Angels when they moved. Disney tried to go with Anaheim in their ownership years, but now we're right back to Los Angeles Angels, with the silly of Anaheim tag.

When Anaheim made a bid for the Angels, it was the smallest community to ever make a play for a major league baseball team (pop 140,000). They had a spotty minor league history, but what they had going for them was the Santa Ana Freeway and Disneyland.

The city currently has approximately 336,000 residents, making it the most populated city in Orange County but still less populated than Kansas City though it is bigger than St. Petersburg, FL. Just like the Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is a recognition that these small teams rely on the greater metropolitan area to get by.

Things like Inter-League and Regional names were being talked about in 1964, and they continue to be necessary for teams to survive. That small market teams like Oakland and Tampa Bay have found ways to enjoy success has much to do with these programs as well as revenue sharing.

It's important to have the perspective to understand that the Angels have been fighting to survive from the beginning, that it wasn't easy for the American League to expand to the West Coast (the Seattle Pilots are a great example of their failures), and that Inter-League wasn't something Bud Selig dreamed up to anger baseball fans. It's something the owners had wanted for a long time.

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