by Paul R. Spitzzeri
After last year’s pandemic-shortened 60-game regular season, an expanded 16-team playoff, and a World Series between the Tampa Bay Blue Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers, that saw our hometown team take its first championship since 1988, the horrific winter with its massive wave of COVID-19 cases and deaths ensued, though the stunning speed of vaccine development and the growing rate of vaccinations are giving us hope for a resumption of near-normal (whatever that may look like in the future) activties, even as variants raise the specter of a new wave of the pandemic.
One of those activitites looked forward to by sports fans is the 2021 major league baseball season. National and American league teams are now in spring training and the exhibition season. As this is being written, the defending champs were poised to defeat the rival San Diego Padres, having carried a two-run lead to the bottom of the ninth, but the Padres loaded the bases and a two-out single brought in two runs to tie the game, 4-4, and that’s how the contest ended as there are no extra innings in spring ball. Meanwhile, the Angels were drubbed by the Oakland A’s 11-2.
Speaking of the Angels, today’s highlighted object from the museum’s holdings takes us back over ninety years to when the minor-league Pacific Coast League club of that name played an exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs. The artifact is a ticket stub for the matchup, played at Wrigley Field in South Los Angeles. The reason the Cubs were in town playng at a stadium named for chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., is because he was owner of both teams and the venue.
Wrigley bought an interest in the Chicago club about a decade prior and took full ownership in 1921. Meanwhile, he purchased Santa Catalina Island from the Banning family in 1919 and began bringing his team out for spring training on the island. The year he took over the Cubs, he bought the Angels to be a farm team for his major league club. At the time, the Angels, who began with the Pacific Coast League in 1903, were playing at Washington Park , the site of which went back well into the 19th century as Washignton Gardens and was also known as Chutes Park in the early part of the 20th century.
Wrigley first looked to enlarge the stadium, but, after wrangling with the City of Los Angeles about the project, he abandoned the idea and purchased land on South Park (now Avalon) Boulevard between 39th and 4st streets, for a new park, which was finished in late September 1925 and named after him (his Chicago stadium was still known as Cubs Park, but soon was rechristened as Wrigley Field.) The Homestead collection has a set of snapshot photos of that opening day and which were previously featured on this blog.
As for the exhibition game of 20 March 1927, the Cubs were coming off a shellacking of the Hollywood Stars, 11-3, the previous day at Wrigley after losing two games to the “Sheiks,” as they were often known. The day before that, the Cubs eked out an 8-6 win against the Angels, and then followed that and the win over the Stars with a 14-1 walloping of the Angels. The Los Angeles Times‘ sportswriter Braven Dyer began his coverage by observing that “it was bargain day at Wrigley Field yesterday afternoon. The Angels gave the Chicago Cubs fourteen runs. The Cubs offered the Angels a few, but the Cherubs took only one.”
Angels player-manager Marty Krug, who stayed in the dugout for the game, had Rasty Wright as the starting pitcher and he lasted five innings, walking three batters, allowing six runs and taking the loss. Krug then sent in a new pitcher, Ray Moss, and the youngster walked seven batters, heaved a wild pitch, and gave up eight runs along with a number of extra-base hits (the Cubs had six doubles during the contest). Among these were homers by two of the Cubs stars, future Hall-of-Famers catcher Gabby Hartnett and the formidale “Hack” Wilson, with the latter ringing up a half-dozen runs-batted-in with three of those coming with his right-field blast along with a pair of doubles.
Dyer added, in his snappy style, that “the game gave the crowd a pain in the neck, and being of two hours’ duration produced that tired feeling at the other end of the spinal column.” When it came to Wilson, the reporter noted that “‘Hack’ has a pair of piano legs that would put an elephant to shame. His neck is so big he has his collars made like a doughnut, without any stud holes. ‘Hack’ just slips the thing over his dome and it fits perfectly around his neck. As for Hartnett, whose moniker came from his incessant patter, his home run “was a thing of much power and beauty, sailing over the garden wall in left field.” It was a solo smacker, but Dyer, in his inimitable fashion, noted that “the bases were barren of pedestrians at the time so ‘Gabby’ had the spotlight all to himself, which didn’t make him mad in the least.”
Cubs starter Percy Lee Jones, Dyer wrote, “in a big-hearted moment” allowed two first-inning hits which led to the Seraphs (another Angels moniker) getting their only run, as third basement Frank Brazill hit a sacrifice fly to bring in second basement Ray Jacobs. Jones got the victory, while Charley Root, whose first year with the Cubs was in 1926 but pitched for them for 16 years, finished the contest. He went on to pitch on opening day at home in Chicago against the St. Louis Cardinals and its future Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander and tossed a complete game in a 10-1 rout. The Cubs went to post a record of 85-68 and finished fourth in the National League.
Root had an excellent year going 26-15 and leading the National League in games pitched, innings and wins and, after a subpar 1928 campaign, pitched well in 1929 when the Cubs got to the World Series, though they lost to the Philadelphia A’s. In the 1932 World Series against the New York Yankees, it was against Root that Babe Ruth purportedly pointed to the stands just before he hit a home run in that spot, though it is unclear if the Sultan of Swat was pointing to center field, to Root, or to the Cubs bench, which was mocking Ruth while he was at bat. Root then faced Lou Gehrig, who homered and forced the pitcher out of the game. The next day, the Yankees battered the Cubs 13-6 and completed a four-game sweep.
As to the Angels, Dyer pointed out “the Angels are not getting any decent pitching,” a point reinforced in that day’s Los Angeles Record as its sports reporter Stub Nelson’s piece was titled “Angels in Dire Need of Hurlers.” The Cherubs, as they were also known, had a banner 1926 season with a record of 121-81 (seasons were much longer in the minors than in the majors) with four pitchers combining for 83 wins against just 35 losses and having an earned run average around 2.50. The team also had a .290 batting average, led by Jigger Statz, who hit .354, and played with the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers) in 1927.
In the 1927 campaign, however, the pitching problem was pronounced. Earl Hamilton, one of the stellar starting pitchers of the prior year, was only 7-16 with an ERA of over 5 and Wright, who was 19-7 with a 3.08 ERA in 1926 slipped the subsequent season to a 4.56 average while going 13-11. The pitching staff had a brutal combined ERA of 4.65, which could not offset the team’s excellent .295 batting average. There was a future star on the team, however, as Wally Berger, a young outfielder who only played in 14 games, but hit .365, went on to be a stalwart for the Boston Braves for much of the Thirties and was a .300 hitter with 242 homers in eleven big leagues seasons (he also played for the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies) through 1940.
After the success of the previous season, the 1927 Angels were just 80-116 and finished last among the eight squads in the PCL in a season the lasted from the end of March to early October. In minor league ball, of course, players come and go much more frequently than in the majors, whether players are called up to the bigs, get traded, or drop out, so major fluctuations in team performance was not particularly surprising.
As for the 2021 MLB season, Baseball America calls for the Angels to finish third in the American League West and for the Dodgers to not only win the National League West, but the league crown and, according to six of nine of its experts to repeat as champions, though two pick the division rival Padres to win at all and one has the New York Yankees taking the title. As for the Angels, there’s always Mike Trout as a perennial MVP candidate. Whatever the outcome, baseball fans are just hopeful that there will be a full 162-game season, full attendance for at least a good portion of the campaign, and, locally, perhaps another sucessful return of the Dodgers to the Fall Classic.