by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Even with tonight’s 4-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Dodgers are riding high with a Major League-best record of 84-37 and the team looks to be a very strong candidate for a World Series championship (and that would be quite a way to honor the late Hall of Fame team play-by-play broadcaster Vin Scully), while to the southeast, the Los Angeles Angels dropped its contest with the Tampa Bay Rays and, after an impressive early start in which they were at 27-17 in late May, the team dropped 14 straight games and have been an abysmal 19-46 since that strong beginning to the 2022 campaign.
As has been noted here before, the Angels name goes back to 1903 when a team debuted in the Angel City as part of the Pacific Coast League (PCL). The club was acquired by chewing gum tycoon, Santa Catalina Island owner and Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley, Jr., who, in 1925, opened the local Wrigley Field in South Los Angeles, southeast of USC and Exposition Park, an event that was the subject of a previous post on this blog.
This post features a set of negatives taken on 22 August 1926 by a man from Santa Paula in Ventura County (where the Union Oil Company was born) of the venue where a doubleheader was played between the Angels and the Mission Reds. two of the eight clubs comprising the PCL. At the time, the “Seraphs,” as they were often known, were riding high in the standings with an 86-54 record, well ahead of the second-place Oakland Oaks, while the team known commonly as the “Missions” were in fourth place at 69-70.
The “Missions” were actually founded in 1909 in this area as the Vernon Tigers, which was long owned by Los Angeles brewer Edward Maier. But, trying to compete with the Angels and then the Hollywood Stars proved to be too much of a challenge and Maier sold the Tigers after the 1925 season to a group of San Francisco investors. The use of Mission referred specifically to the Mission District of the City by the Bay, but the club only lasted a dozen seasons before folding in 1937.
As for Wrigley and his Angels, he built and they played in a stadium that was quite impressive for its time and place, given that this nearest major league franchise was in St. Louis. They’d played for over twenty years at Washington Park, also known as Chutes Park, and captured seven PCL crowns during that span.
When the team was sold in 1921, after the last of those titles, by Johnny Powers to Wrigley, the latter sought to get assistance from the City of Los Angeles for renovations to the park, but, this failing, the chewing gum magnate turned to building his own 22,000-seat stadium instead. The 1926 campaign may have been inspired by the relative luxury of Wrigley Field as the Angels went on to post a league-leading record of 121-81 (that’s right, 40 more games than major league teams now play and the season was 154 games in that era.)
The team was paced in batting by Arnold “Jigger” Statz, the center fielder who generally hit leadoff and sported a .354 average with an astounding 68 doubles and 18 triples. Left fielder Art Jahn batted .337 with 34 doubles and eight homers, while Frank Brazill, who played third base, was an overall threat, hitting .336 with 19 home runs (second behind first basemen Ray Jacobs, who socked 21 homers, but only hit .255) as well as 30 doubles. Wally Hood, who was a right fielder, hit .301 with 13 home runs and 41 doubles, while Butch Weis had a .317 average with seven homers and 36 doubles.
On the mound, the Angels were led by a “big four” with ace Earl Hamilton finishing with a 24-8 record and a 2.48 earned run average, Doc Crandall and Elmer Jacobs each won 20 games and had identical 2.20 ERAs, though the latter lost four more games than the former. Rasty “Doc” Wright finished the campaign with a 19-7 record and had a 3.08 ERA. In all, the club proved to have the right mix of wizardry from its hurlers and a strong lineup of hitters to ascend to the top of the league.
It was a day of doubleheaders for all of the PCL teams and the matchup before 15,000 fans at Wrigley between the “Monks,” as Los Angeles Times sportswriter Robert Ray called them, and the Angels led to a split. In the opening contest, “Oil” (get it?) Hamilton tossed a shutout five-hitter, all singles, while Statz went 3 for 4, including a double and two singes with 2 RBIs and Jacobs and Brazill clubbed homers to give the home team a 6-0 victory.
In this opening contest, the best the Missions could do was get a runner to second base in the first inning, but, after that, they were limited to four singles with no baserunner getting past first. The Angels, meanwhile, feasted on pitcher Clyde Barfoot with thirteen hits “so the outcome was never in doubt,” including the pair of round trippers.
Statz, who played for four major league clubs between 1919 and 1928 but also played in 18 minor league seasons, all with the Angels, for a career total of 2,800 games and nearly 4,100 hits, also had two spectacular catches in denying extra-base hits, including a one-handed leaping grab in the ninth frame.
With the second game, however, the Mission club bested “Doc” Wright, whose 12-game winning streak was snapped, and prevailed 6-4. The Missions got two early runs on Angel errors, the Seraphs tied it, and then the visitors regained the lead when umpire Jack Carroll ruled, on a pick-off attempt at 3rd base, that player-manager Marty Krug held the baserunner to prevent his returning to the base, and allowed the runner to go home.
While “the Angels kicked long and hard on this one,” they managed to tie the game at 3. Missions catcher Denny Murphy then slammed one out of the park for a 4-3 lead before the fireworks went off on the field. As Ray explained,
Umpire Jack Carroll had his feelings hurt something terrible and Wright, [his battery mate, catcher] “Truck” Hannah and Frank Brazill were ousted from the contest by the arbiter in the second tilt after a lengthy squabble that threatened to turn into a riot.
It’s too bad the amateur photographer didn’t get a photo or two (or three) of that conflict and the scribe added that if the crowd “didn’t get their money’s worth, including everything from good baseball to bum umpiring they must have been looking the other way.” The dustup with Carroll occurred on an attempted pick-off in the seventh inning because “he was too lazy to run down to third base and see a play that would have retired the side before the storm broke.”
Moreover, the Angels felt that the ump, “noted for following the line of least resistance,” and who Ray opined would not be rehired by the league for next season, “has been in the habit of calling all close plays against them” and, when he missed the pick-off attempt “the Seraphs blew up.”
Krug, who hit .389 in limited action while mostly running the team from the dugout and who was playing third base at the time, “started the fun by picking up the ball and giving it several spins in his glove that caused said horsehide to emerge much blacker than it had ever been.” When the umpire got rid of that ball and handed Wright a new one, the pitcher “promptly smeared a little dirt of the clean white pill,” which led Carroll to toss the hurler from the game.
Ray then added “and then the excitement began” and “the game was delayed some twenty minutes while Wright, Hannah and Brazill took turns hurting Carroll’s feelings,” for which they were “sent to the showers.” Clyde “Pea Ridge” Day, who went 6-11 with a 3.66 ERA on the season, relieved Wright an, with men at second and third and two outs, yielded a double that scored both baserunners and, with the score then 6-3 instead of 4-3 if the right call had been made, made the difference in the contest.
Obviously, Wrigley had to have activities year-round at his facility, so, for example, the local Pacific Coast Football League teams, the Hollywood Generals, who went 5-0 and captured the crown and another also called the Los Angels Angels, who lost all four contests, played their games at the stadium. The league, formed after gridiron star “Red” Grange caused a sensation in a recent barnstorming tour of the country, only lasted the 1926 season.
More durable, if irregular, was the use of the stadium for professional boxing, though the summer 1926 attempt of Ascot Park promoter Dick Richards to have matches at Wrigley caused 1,000 local property owners, as well as an elementary school principal and a pastor, to petition the City Council to deny a permit on an 11-3 vote (Council President Boyle Workman was in the majority.)
The Police Commission, however, which had final local say over the issuance of the permits, decided to vote in favor of the use of the stadium for pugilistic battles, though its secretive operations and apparent deliberate misinformation to the public led to a brouhaha in its meeting where the matter was decided.
While an effort was made by the Council to pass an ordinance to thwart the Commission’s ruling, it was not successful and the California Boxing Commission stepped in, asserting that regulation of boxing was a state, not a local, matter and allowed Richards and, later, others to stage matches at the venue. There was even rumor that the promoter sought to pit the great Black fighter Jack Johnson, who was 48 at the time, with Georges Carpentier, the powerful French pugilist, then 32 but who retired in September 1926, in a match at Wrigley, though this did not come to pass.
These negatives are undoubtedly pretty rare early images of Wrigley, which was demolished in 1969, though, along with medical facilities, the site contains the Gilbert Lindsay Recreation Center, which includes a Wrigley Little League Field in its northwest corner.