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It was almost the City of No Angels

If Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was privately outraged at Arte Moreno’s gall in renaming his Orange County team the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and shoving it in their face with billboards far beyond the Orange curtain, the thread of disenchantment stretches back to the beginning of major league baseball in Southern California.

According to newspaper and book accounts supported by personal recollections and interviews, the late Walter O’Malley, who moved his storied team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958, never wanted an American League team in what he regarded as his new, private and lucrative territory or believed the AL had legal rights to it.

Peter O’Malley, Walter’s son, denies those accounts, but there is no denying that Los Angeles fans also failed to show much interest in the new Los Angeles team, which retained the familiar name of the Pacific Coast League Angels but knew from the start it would have to find a home of its own.

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Born out of baseball’s first expansion, the Angels moved from the minor league facility that was Wrigley Field in 1961 to the new Dodger Stadium as tenants in 1962 and ultimately to their own Anaheim park in 1966.

From the start, however, the popularity and success of the Dodgers would haunt the American League team -- often envying and copying (until Moreno’s arrival) their freeway rival with rash player moves, inept scouting and front-office instability that seldom bore fruit.

Now, the two teams are closer than ever to a Freeway World Series.

The birthright arguments are long forgotten, perhaps, but bragging and other rights remain, the refuse of decades.

And, with the World Series on the line for the first time, the stakes are clearly more significant than those generated by their annual exhibition and interleague games.

Of course, none of the current players were alive when O’Malley brought the Dodgers to Los Angeles and, three years later, entertainment and business giant Gene Autry was awarded the American League franchise after the powerful O’Malley, according to multiple accounts and interviews from sources not authorized to speak on the subject, had battled internally to keep it from going to a partnership of Hank Greenberg and Bill Veeck, the eccentric showman who represented a risk to the Dodgers’ popularity.

The American League came persistently knocking on the door when it saw the crowds the Dodgers were drawing to their lopsided baseball field in the Coliseum--1.8 million in 1958, 2.07 million in 1959 and 2.2 million in 1960.

Peter O’Malley insists his father never tried to throw up a legal roadblock.

“My recollection is that there was no way to prevent the American League from coming to the greater Los Angeles area just as there would be no practical way for anyone in sports in Los Angeles to prevent the NFL from coming here,” he said. “My dad would have had major problems with a second National League club coming to the city, but I don’t think there was any way to discourage the American League from coming.”

The Dodgers had arrived with a blueprint for a privately financed stadium, a rich history and tradition, a young, red-headed broadcaster who would create generations of transistor-toting fans, a lineup of familiar but fading stars that would finish seventh in its first year and a formula, as it turned out, for a World Series championship a year later.

That championship was built in part on the second-half arrival of Maury Wills as replacement for Pee Wee Reese, the ongoing emergence of Sandy Koufax and Larry Sherry, and a preseason trade in 1959 for a modest St. Louis outfielder named Wally Moon, who would quickly learn how to cope with the proximity of the Coliseum’s towering left-field screen, launching his Moon Shot home runs.

As Greenberg/Veeck reportedly rejected O’Malley’s demands for $450,000 in indemnification if they moved into Los Angeles, and Vin Scully, the young broadcaster, painted his word pictures, O’Malley was unable to pick up those broadcasts at a summer retreat he had bought in the Lake Arrowhead area and decided to switch his broadcasts from KMPC, the Golden West station owned by Autry, to KFI.

This prompted Autry, who once envisioned playing shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, to attend a meeting of major league owners in St. Louis in December 1960 with the goal of landing broadcasting rights to the new American League team in Los Angeles and maintaining KMPC’s reputation as Southern California’s top sports station.

He did that and more. He landed the franchise, ultimately paying O’Malley $350,000 in indemnification, selecting 28 players in the expansion draft for $2.1 million and agreeing to a four-year contract with a three-year option for his team to play in Dodger Stadium, when it opened in 1962.

Before leaving St. Louis, a noted baseball man named Branch Rickey visited Autry, pointed out the problems that had proved fatal with two teams playing in the same stadium in St. Louis, Boston and Philadelphia, and advised him to be ready to leave Dodger Stadium as soon as his four years were up.

The Corporate Cowboy didn’t have to be told.

He knew that O’Malley had driven a hard bargain in the stadium lease and knew that his team would play in the Dodgers’ shadow until it could find its own home.

Buck Rodgers, a young Angels catcher at the time, looked back and said, “The Dodgers were always the front page and we were the third. We were always in their shadow, always playing with a stigma. I mean, the one year we were in Wrigley Field, even though I was up for only a short time that season, we felt we had more identity than when we were in Dodger Stadium. It wasn’t that we didn’t have bona fide fans, we just didn’t have many of them.”

The Angels under Manager Bill Rigney had character and characters -- Ryne Duren, Art Fowler, Leon Wagner, Lee Thomas, the renowned Bo Belinsky and three talented young players who came out of the expansion draft: Rodgers, shortstop Jim Fregosi and Dean Chance, a future Cy Young Award winner and Belinsky running mate in too many Hollywood headlines.

In 20,500-seat Wrigley Field that first year, 1961, they drew 603,510 while the Dodgers, about a ground-rule double away, played to 1.8 million in their final Coliseum season. The Angels would make an improbable pennant run in ’62 before late-season pitching injuries pushed them back to third. They drew 1,144,063 in that first year in Dodger Stadium, but it was something of a last hurrah for them there.

By contrast, in their first four years at Dodger Stadium, as the Dodgers were going to the World Series again in 1963 and ’65, as Koufax was putting together an unparalleled streak of five-year dominance and, as Wills and Tommy Davis were often combining to produce the only run Koufax and colleagues needed, O’Malley’s team drew star-studded crowds of 2.7 million, 2.5 million, 2.2 million and 2.5 million.

With no farm system to build on and their fringe veterans fading, the expansion Angels went from that 1.14 million in ’62 to 821,015, 760,439 and 566,727.

Often the only interest centered on which starlet appeared in the dugout box seats to watch Belinsky.

Beyond that, as Walt Disney, a friend and member of the Angels’ board, was talking Autry into following him to the exploding Anaheim area (Disney’s company later would buy the Angels and own them during the team’s only World Series season in 2002), the Dodgers made the Angels pay for every roll of toilet paper, every darkened lightbulb and all the landscaping that had to be maintained whether the Dodgers were in or out of town.

“I can’t deny it,” Peter O’Malley said. “There was friction having two teams in the same stadium, a definite rub between tenant and landlord.

“When the Angels decided to build their own stadium and identity in Anaheim, it was a smart move.”

Said Rodgers: “It was so menial, some of the things we had to put up with in Dodger Stadium. All of us were ready to move out and claim a place of our own.”

In some ways, however, Autry never left Dodger Stadium.

During his 36 years of ownership, three former Dodgers executives -- Dick Walsh, Red Patterson and Buzzie Bavasi -- served the Angels as president and/or general manager. In some ways, the Angels were always battling the Dodgers on the marquee, always trying in vain to win one for the Cowboy.

Now, Moreno has helped establish the stability that was always missing, and now the Angels and Dodgers may be headed for a real Freeway Series.

If so, it will be Los Angeles vs. Los Angeles, much to the Dodgers’ chagrin -- in name, at least.

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Ross Newhan was the longtime national baseball writer for The Times and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.


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