The Hollywood Stars and the PCL: the rest of the story
by Bob Timmermann
When Jon graciously got me a writing assignment for Variety (which will forever sound strange to me) and assigned me the story about Hollywood's relationship with the minors, I was excited.
Jon told me to write 600 words. I have learned that 600 words is not a lot of space. So remember that the next time you criticize your local beat writer for not including information you wanted. There just wasn't room. Remember, newsprint doesn't grow on trees! Oh wait...
So some of the stuff I left out:
I was always fascinated by the Vernon Tigers because there was a team was named after the smallest (in terms of population) incorporated city in the state of California. Vernon's population hovers around 80 and most of them are just company people hired by the permanent ruling class that runs that city (it's a really long story). However, before World War II, Vernon was an attractive place to have a baseball team because the city allowed beer sales, something Los Angeles didn't. Unsurprisingly, Vernon had a lot of trouble with rowdy fans. Prohibition took a big bite out of their crowd and drove the Vernon franchise up to San Francisco, although it would eventually come back to Hollywood.
The Los Angeles Angels were one of the greatest minor league franchises ever. The Angels won the PCL in 1903, 1905, 1907, 1908, 1916, 1918, 1921, 1926, 1933, 1934, 1947, and 1956. The 1934 Angels are considered by some historians to be the greatest minor league team ever.
The 1934 Angels finished 137-50. The PCL season at that time was 188 scheduled with each time playing seven games a week from April through September with some doubleheaders tossed in (like nearly every Sunday with Monday being a travel day). The team was so good that since it won both halves of the split season used by the PCL at the time, the league had the Angels play an all-star team in the postseason. The Angels won that series 4-2. They were probably helped that San Francisco's star outfielder, Joe DiMaggio, was out with an injury. Frank Demaree was the Angels big hitting star, batting .383 with 45 homers and 173 RBI. Jigger Statz was the team's favorite player and his name is still spoken reverentially by longtime Angelenos.
The Hollywood Stars won pennants in 1929 and 1930 in their original incarnation and when they returned and actually played in Hollywood, they won the PCL in 1949, 1952, and 1953.
The Angels were owned by the Wrigleys and pretty much a Cub farm team, but the Stars didn't have any official parent club. For a time, the Dodgers would send players to Hollywood, but after Branch Rickey left the Dodgers for the Pirates, the Stars became more or less a Pirates farm team.
Every Stars program had a picture of a celebrity on the inside showing them enjoying the game. One exception was the program used in August 2 1953, when the Stars and Angels engaged in a Pier Six (and Seven and Eight and perhaps Twelve) brawl. The fight lasted close to 30 minutes and LA Police Chief William Parker called in uniformed police to sit on the team benches during the game. The program from that day features a smiling young ingenue named Ann Bancroft handing someone a check for charity in an office.
The Stars and Angels had a fairly intense rivalry as it served to divide the L.A. baseball world along sectional lines. The Angels played in Wrigley Field in South L.A. and drew the majority of its fans from the middle class, blue collar sections of L.A. The Stars played in Hollywood and its fans were a bit more white collar and perceived to be from the high rent districts of West L.A. and Beverly Hills.
Back in 1947, Gilmore Field was the host to a celebrity softball game that raised money for the Hollywood Junior Chamber of Commerce. Some of the participants: Keenan Wynn, Danny Kaye, John Garfield, Barry Sullivan, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Mickey Rooney, Cameron Mitchell, Glenn Ford, Robert Walker, Joe E. Brown, and Kirk Douglas.
Interestingly, in 1948, one year after Jackie Robinson broke into the majors, each celebrity team added one black celebrity. In this case, Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton.