These are the memories that make me a kid again, these memories of a Los Angeles that I can scarcely believe existed and of two Pacific Coast League teams not so much forgotten as overwhelmed by the city's ceaseless charge into the future.
So let me take you back to the early '50s and a Friday night at Gilmore Field, home of the Hollywood Stars. You could always see big names there—Spencer Tracy, Barbara Stanwyck and that crowd—and my parents may well have been looking for them. But I wasn't, because a Star pitcher named Red Munger had caught me staring at him and his enormous chaw of tobacco. Maybe we had box seats, although I can't recall our ever being in that economic bracket, or maybe my head of corn-silk hair stood out like a beacon in the twilight. Time turns so many things hazy, but I do know this: Red Munger grinned and said, "Hiya, Whitey." It was the first time a baseball player ever spoke to me.
Thirty years later, long past being thrilled by conversations with ballplayers, long past even expecting them, I was a Chicago sports columnist covering the dying quiver of a pennant race, but my mind was on old fascinations. I thought of Carlos Bernier. the Star leftfielder who loved arguing with umpires as much as he did stealing bases, and of Johnny Lindell, the dead-armed ex-Yankee outfielder who became a knuckleball pitcher in Hollywood. Mostly I thought of Steve Bilko, who hit so many home runs for the PCL's Los Angeles Angels that I almost gave up on the Stars.
The floodgates of memory had opened, and all because Gene Mauch was in town.
June 20, 1993
The had been the Angels' second baseman back then, and now, in 1982, he had come to old Comiskey Park as the manager of another band of Angels, the American Leaguers from California. They were in the process of wrapping up a division championship, yet Mauch still labored under the shadow of past failures and a sense that his future would be just as bleak. He never expected anyone to ask about the Coast League and the best days he ever had as a player. When I did, his match stopped short of his cigarette, and his steely gaze softened.
"Where the hell did you come from?" Mauch asked.
He was almost smiling.
I come from the same place Gene Mauch does, a Los Angeles still golden with promise and perfumed by eucalyptus and citrus trees. It is where I was born; it is where Mauch's father migrated when there were no more oil wells to drill in Kansas. As a kid, I lived in the same neighborhood as Mauch, and I remember the other ballplayers who called Ingle-wood home, too: George Metkovich, Peanuts Lowrey and even the National League's 1952 MVP, Hank Sauer. Like so many things viewed in retrospect, that seems a better time. At the very least, it was simpler.
You never traveled by freeway then unless you were going to Pasadena, birthplace of those concrete snakes. There were buses, there were the venerable Red Line streetcars, there were the old coupes that you always wished could fly when they were winding you over Laurel Canyon or Beverly Glen into the San Fernando Valley. And then there were the bikes that Irv Noren and his buddy Norm Hallajian rode to see the Angels play in Wrigley Field, the double-decked replica of its Chicago namesake. This is the same Irv Noren who grew up to give the Stars an MVP season in 1949 and then patrolled the outfield for the Washington Senators and the New York Yankees. But in the late '30s he was a transplant from upstate New York, a baker's son who prayed he was seeing his destiny every Saturday when he and Norm pedaled from their Pasadena homes down through Eagle Rock and Highland Park, past downtown L.A. and on to Wrigley. at 42nd and Avalon just southeast of the Coliseum.
"We'd park right in front of the stadium," Noren says, "just lean our bikes against the wall and go in with the Knothole Gang. Wouldn't even lock 'em."
And when the game was over, the bikes were always there.
By the '50s, when I came along, the innocence was beginning to fade. Friends who rode the bus to Wrigley said neighborhood kills roughed them up, but Los Angeles, even with its postwar population soaring past two million, was still a long way from having calluses on its soul. Though Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe mused that the city's streets were "lost and beaten and full of emptiness," I remember that they all seemed to lead to the pony ride at Beverly and La Cienega, where the Beverly Center now teems with upscale shoppers. What crime I recall—show-biz bloodlettings, pachuco gang lights in East L.A.—was splashed across the front page of William Randolph Hearst's afternoon Herald Express, 65 copies of which I faithfully delivered Monday through Saturday. The only gangster I was aware of was Mickey Cohen, who, as a favor to the Herald's headline-hungry city editor, stole Lana Turner's love letters to the hood her teenage daughter stabbed to death. Mickey Cohen rooted for the Stars.
George Raft rooted for them too, and both he and Cohen were tight with Bugsy Siegel, so I can only assume that Bugsy made it to Gilmore Field before his untimely demise. Lord knows every other celebrity did. If Gary Cooper. Rosemary Clooney and Milton Berle weren't in the stands, Bing Crosby, Cecil B. DeMille and Burns and Allen were. Some of the big names held stock in the Stars, a tribute to the sway of the team's dapper owner, Bob Cobb, president of the Brown Derby and inventor of the Cobb salad.
But the thespian who made the biggest impact was Jayne Mansfield. When sweet Jayne high-heeled out of the dugout as Miss Hollywood Stars, there was an awe-inspired silence at the way her chest defied gravity. As the males in the crowd began roaring lustily, skipper Clyde King, as courtly and God-fearing a southern gentleman as ever graced the game, whispered, "Goodness gracious."
Before L.A. had any Dodgers or big league Angels, any Lakers or Raiders or Clippers or Kings, you had to go a long way to beat La Mansfield's act. Only the Rams could do it, luring 100,000 paying customers into the Coliseum each Sunday, and yet, as late as 1949, three years after the NFL's arrival, the Stars remained the toughest ticket in town. But the town, if you judged it by its tastes, was still shamelessly small-time. Forget all the hoorah about college football at Southern Cal and UCLA. Forget all the cigar smoke that got blown about the club lights at the Olympic Auditorium and Hollywood American Legion Stadium and the title lights at Wrigley and Gilmore fields. The L.A. I choose to remember devoted far more passion to professional wrestling, both live and televised, from the Olympic, from Legion Stadium, from South Gate, from Ocean Park Arena (with none other than Steve Allen at the ringside mike). So great was L.A.'s hunger for these sweaty morality plays that Channel 11 had to pipe even more of them in from Las Vegas. How lining for a city where a good Sunday afternoon of TV sports meant watching semipro football and the Jalopy Derby from Culver City Stadium.
When I think back to all that raw exuberance and unbridled tackiness, it seems the Coast League gave L.A. sports a rare touch of...well, dignity isn't the word, not with the shorts the Stars insisted on wearing in the '50s and the call-the-cops brawls they had with the Angels. But normality, maybe, because no matter how outrageous the two teams got, they still played baseball, they still did something connected to the rest of the country and not confined to Planet California.
Consider Gus Zernial, the slugging outfielder revered as Ozark Ike by Hollywood fans in '47 and '48. He burst on the scene at the same time as Gorgeous George, but did he peroxide his hair and throw gold-plated bobby pins to his admirers? No, sir, Gus went out and hit 40 homers in his second season as a Star, the way any regular guy would if he had a quick bat and a ton of muscles. And believe me, these minor league heroes were regular guys. They lived among us, they worked among us. My dad bought a '56 Chevy from Lou Stringer, a nifty second baseman for both L.A. and Hollywood, and he could just as easily have made the deal with Eddie Malone, who toiled for each team as an iron-man catcher. If my parents had needed any upholstering done, they could have gone to Roger Bowman, the Star lefthander who had a shop in Santa Monica. And we could always roll a few lines at Irv Noren's bowling alley.
No one remembered the intimacy of the times and the town better than Chuck Connors, who didn't realize he was only pausing in the Angels' lineup on his way to a place in television history as The Rifleman. When the Chicago Cubs farmed him to L.A. in 1951, Connors bought a tract house in Reseda, never thinking how long a drive it was to that Valley outpost in those pre-101 freeway days. He found out the first time he had to make the 25-mile haul across the Cahuenga Pass after a Saturday night game, with a Sunday afternoon doubleheader just hours away. It looked like Connors had a lot of sleepless weekends ahead until a family that lived across the street from Wrigley Field approached him.
"I'd known them for a while," he told me shortly before his death last year. "I'd gotten them signed baseballs, some gloves, things like that." Now they were offering to return the favor by putting Connors up on Saturday nights. He accepted instantly. "I'd sleep in their extra bedroom," Connors said, "and Sunday morning I'd eat breakfast with them." He was a first baseman from Brooklyn who happened to be white, they were Angel fans who happened to be black, and this was a Los Angeles that we would never see again.
The big man was Bilko, and I'm talking about more than the excess poundage that inspired a Los Angeles Times headline saying NOT EVEN MRS. BILKO KNOWS HIS WEIGHT. I'm talking about the feats that enabled Stout Steve, the Slugging Seraph, to block out the big league sun for my generation of L.A. kids.
Thirty-seven home runs in '55, 55 in '56, 56 in '57—who needed Mays or Mantle, Williams or Musial, when we had Bilko making that kind of noise? True, he had washed out of the majors after a 21-homer season with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953, and there was no denying that the Coast League pitchers he hit best were mediocrities. But it was far more important that he wasn't some remote god who never deigned to come any closer to L.A. than the western bank of the Mississippi. You could watch Bilko bash another one out of Wrigley Field and get a moonfaced grin afterward when you shoved your scorecard at him for an autograph.
Little did I know that he was upholding a long and honorable tradition. Almost since the PCL hit town in 1903, there had been one charismatic galoot or another on hand to make L.A. forget what it was and he wasn't. The most enduring of them all was Jigger Statz, who would have been memorable on the strength of his name alone if he hadn't brought so much more to the Angels. For 18 years, the longest run any player ever had with a single minor league team, Jigger roamed center-field wearing a glove he had carved the palm out of—all the better for feeling the ball, you understand—and making catches that still had native son Duke Snider in awe when he was vying with Mays and Mantle for the kingship of New York. "The writers would ask Duke who the best centerfielder he ever saw was," Noren recalls, "and Duke would always say Jigger Statz."
Statz was just a little rascal, not quite 5'8", couldn't have weighed more than 150 pounds with rocks in his pockets, but he was Bilko's match when it came to casting shadows. He stole as many as 61 bases in a season, batted as high as .360, and Mauch remembers skipping school in 1942, Statz's farewell campaign, to watch him hit two homers on Opening Day. ("Only two he hit all year," Mauch says.) And yet, for all of that, there was something missing, something that kept Statz from sticking with the Cubs and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Los Angeles was his safety net.
Bilko knew the feeling. So did most of the other Stars and Angels I worshiped as a kid. For every Bill Mazeroski or Dale Long, every Noren or Zernial who blew through town on his way to the big show, there were dozens of others who couldn't survive in that rarefied 16-team atmosphere. But I didn't care that Frank Kelleher hadn't cut it in Cincinnati's outfield: he was the heart of the Stars, an amiable lug who hit 226 homers in 10 seasons and got to see his beloved number 7 retired. Nor did it matter to me that the New York Giants had found Roger Bowman wanting; it was more important that the last of his 22 wins in 1954 was a perfect game that tied Hollywood with the original San Diego Padres for first place.
"We were journeymen, I was well aware of that," Bowman says. "But I kept playing for the simple reason that this was what I did best and what I loved best. When I quit, it was going to be forever. So I told myself that until that happened, I was going to suck the marrow right out of the game."
In every other town in the Coast League, tough, proud men echoed that sentiment with bats, balls and, more than occasionally, fists. Some of them you've probably never heard of—Joe Brovia in Portland, Earl Rapp in Oakland and San Diego. But others had names that still ring a bell. Ernie Lombardi, a Hall of Fame career in the National League behind him. caught for Casey Stengel's Oakland Oaks until he was in his 40's. Joe Gordon, the old Yankee second baseman, hit 43 homers as the Sacramento Solons' playing manager in 1951, and two years later, Bob Dillinger, owner of a .306 career average in the majors, rang up a league-leading .366 for the Solons. And how about Bob Elliott, whose two home runs led San Diego past the Stars in their one-game '54 pennant playoff? Seven years earlier Elliott had been the toast of the Boston Braves and the Most Valuable Player in the National League. Add those men to the Angels and the Stars and you have far more than a league that fulfilled its duty when it spawned Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. You have the best minor league ever.
"The best by far." says former Hollywood righthander Ben Wade, who studied the Triple A competition when he played in the International League and the American Association. The Coast League of Wade's era wound up with five of its towns in the majors—L.A., San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, Seattle. But long before then, the PCL was traveling in big league fashion. Oh, there were still trains—Cece Carlucci, the old umpire, is unashamedly poetic when he talks about pulling into Seattle on the Great Northern—but by the mid-'50s airplanes were the thing. "Three-hundred-mile-an-hour Convairs," Bowman says. "Boy, that was hot stuff." And wherever the planes landed was somewhere the players didn't mind being, which was good because they hit each town for a week at a time. They would play single games Tuesday through Saturday and a doubleheader on Sunday, the second game being what sportswriters unfailingly referred to as "the abbreviated seven-inning nightcap."
It may have been the most civilized existence baseball has ever seen, and payday made it better yet. "I came from the big leagues and got a pay raise," Chuck Stevens says. Maybe the 1949 Stars were in better shape to pay this slick-fielding, spray-hitting first baseman than the St. Louis Browns had been; after all, Hollywood's pennant winners drew nearly 600,000 fans. But you hear the same story again and again from former Stars and Angels, which suggests that money preoccupied ballplayers even when they made seven grand a year.
Not that seven grand was the ceiling. "I'll bet Frank Kelleher pulled down 15, maybe even 17 thousand dollars," Noren says. And there have always been stories that Bilko took a pay cut when Cincinnati summoned him back to the bigs in 1958.
Of course I was no more aware of that than I was of the fact that the Stars' and Angels' insistence on televising every home game was eating their attendance alive. All I knew was that TV made it that much easier to watch baseball played by men toughened by the Depression and World War II, men who threw to the right base, balked at the idea of batting helmets and wouldn't let Zernial wear gold shoelaces when he made his debut in a Hollywood uniform. The shoelaces, I hasten to point out, weren't Zernial's idea; they were on the only pair of spikes he could find as he hurried to join the Stars in time for Opening Day. Fair enough, but his new teammates still made Zernial give the laces a coat of black shoe polish. If anyone wanted to be colorful, he had to do it on terms the veterans understood. He could throw ground beef to the boo birds in San Francisco, the way Chuck Connors did. Or he could get back at the umpires the way Hollywood manager Bobby Bragan did when they didn't enforce the curfew in his own ballpark: The next night Bragan sent a coach to home plate with watches up and down his arms and an alarm clock around his neck.
But what they did most of all in L.A., Hollywood and the rest of the Coast League was play baseball. And no minor leaguers ever played it better than the '56 Angels. Here was a powerhouse to make me forget about Hollywood's pennant winners of '49, '52 and '53. These Angels won 107 games, 16 more than second-place Seattle. They batted .297 as a team and had six players with 20 or more homers, the Punch-and-Judy Mauch among them. Altogether they hit 202 homers, a barrage that no doubt helped pitchers Dave Hillman and Gene Fodge pile up 40 victories between them.
"I might be prejudiced," Mauch says, "but I think it was the best minor league team ever put together. I saw some teams in the big leagues that couldn't play as well. Hell, I managed two of them." (That would be the '61 Phillies and the '69 expansion Expos.) But there are still historians who believe the '34 Angels, winners of 137 games, losers of just 50, were superior. On the East Coast someone could surely beat the drum for the great Yankee farm teams at Newark in the '30s and '40s. But that was before my time; the '56 Angels were of it. And they captured my imagination as no other team ever has—Bob Speake and Jim Bolger flanking Windy Wade in the outfield, Casey Wise turning double plays with Mauch, Elvin Tappe behind the plate, George Freese at the hot corner, and over at first...Bilko...Bilko...Bilko....
You can always find naysayers who dismiss him as just another bush-league vagabond, small minds that refuse to acknowledge the 20 homers he hit for L.A. in the expanded American League, know-nothings who close their ears when Mauch rhapsodizes about the big guy's grace and speed and athleticism. But I trust the way I feel about him enough to want it on the record: Offer me 10 Mark McGwires and I would still rather have one Steve Bilko.
Once there were two ballparks.
Gilmore Field was the one with the drive-in movie behind its rightfield wall. Gilmore Drive-In, predictably enough. Its proprietors, not being in the business of providing bonus entertainment for baseball tans, put up a protective screen on nights the Stars played. The only time anybody carped about it was when the game stank, inspiring chants to take the screen down. But few of the complainers were as enterprising as Art Spander, the San Francisco Examiner sports columnist, who grew up watching the Stars and the Angels. "One night I went way down in the rightfield bleachers and found a place where I could watch The African Queen," Spander says. It was a quintessentially Hollywood moment.
But when the film capital needed a ballpark for a movie, Wrigley Field usually got the call. It's there in Damn Yankees and It Happens livery Spring for the most logical of reasons—it looked like a big league stadium. And with 20,500 seats, it was meant to. When William Wrigley Jr. built the park for a million dollars in 1925, he modeled it after the one that bore his name in Chicago, right down to the ivy on the outfield wall. Funny thing, though: L.A.'s Wrigley Field had lights decades before Chicago's did.
"At Wrigley you felt like you were really uptown," says Max West, the former Boston Brave outfielder who finished his career with the Angels. "It was a far sight better than a lot of National League parks—Ebbets Field, Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, places like that."
But even if Wrigley had been a rock pile, West would have loved its 345-foot power alleys and its jet stream to right-field. Without those advantages, West might not have put together back-to-back 35-homer seasons when his knees were crumbling beneath him. Nor would Mauch have hit more homers in his three years as an Angel than he did in the rest of his 16 professional seasons combined. Take the time he tried to slap the ball to the right side to advance a runner, popped up and was rewarded for his failure with an aerodynamic miracle. "The ball just kept carrying," Mauch says, "until it wound up in the bleachers." No wonder they shot TV's Home Run Derby at Wrigley.
At Gilmore the long ball was a much tougher proposition. In the park's 19-year history, Kelleher and Zernial were the only Stars with 40-homer seasons, and just three players—Luke Easter and two singles-hitting surprises, Lou Stringer and Bill Gray—were able to clear its towering centerfield wall, 400 feet away. But talk of those wide-open spaces hard by the Farmer's Market shouldn't fool you; Gilmore was really as cozy and intimate as a ballpark could be. It was built entirely of wood—no concrete, no girders—and when CBS's TV City went up next door in the early '50s, the ballpark's anachronistic charm was magnified. Gilmore sat only 12,000 people, so when the Stars and the Angels battled—a verb not used casually here—the Hollywood management had to rope off portions of the outfield to squeeze in the overflow crowd. But if you think the players had people breathing down their necks there, you should have seen the grandstand. Just 34 feet from home plate, just 24 feet from first and third bases, it brought new meaning to the term tight quarters. Pitchers thought the plate looked closer, base runners had to be careful not to wind up in the box seats when they rounded third, and hitters fouled out about as often as John Wayne performed Shakespeare.
You'll never hear anyone who played at Gilmore bad-mouth it. But when former players cite the reasons for their affection, they are usually careful to forget one. It has to do with the cracks between the park's wood planks and with the era's notion that women should wear dresses even to ball games. Contemplate that for a moment and you should realize why the players always spent the seventh-inning stretch under the stands.
Somewhere in my skimpy collection of Star memorabilia is an 8 x 10 of a knuckleballer with the beguiling name of Kewpie Dick Barrett. What makes the picture so memorable is not the dimpled doll face perched atop his 45-year-old body. It is the short pants Kewpie Dick is wearing.
He was with Hollywood for only half of 1950, but he arrived just in time to take the mound with his knobby knees showing. The idea of putting the Stars in shorts originated with—wouldn't you know it?—a sportswriter. After seeing British soccer teams wearing shorts, Braven Dyer of the Los Angeles Times put the bug in Hollywood manager Fred Haney's ear. Flannel was baseball's fabric of choice back then, and in the summer it could turn a uniform into an oven. So Haney took a chance and sent his sheepish players onto the diamond with the breeze blowing up their britches.
"The nicest thing any of the other teams said to us was, 'Hello, sweetheart.' " former second baseman Gene Handley recalls.
Nobody rode the Stars with more delight than Oakland catcher Eddie Malone. "I called 'em a bunch of Boy Scouts," he says. A year later, however, Malone found himself playing for Hollywood. "The first time I walked in the clubhouse," he says, "the guys were all lined up, and there was Haney at the end of the line. He was holding a pair of them short pants. When he give 'em to me, he said, 'Now you're a member of the Scout troop.' "
As it turned out, Malone was more than happy to trade a few skinned knees for the drop in temperature when he played in shorts. Gilmore Field's female patrons certainly didn't mind the change in fashion, at least if you judged by the way they whistled at outfielder Clint Conatser. And Bill Veeck thought enough of the idea to borrow it in the late '70s, when he was making his last stand with the White Sox. But the Stars stayed with shorts for just three seasons before relegating them to the back of the closet.
If you want an epitaph for the experiment, Handley is happy to provide one: "Just another Hollywood stunt."
Carlos Bernier would be leading off first base and Gene Mauch would be scooping up a handful of dirt to throw in his face if he dared to try stealing second. You knew that Bernier would and that the hostilities would escalate from there, for these were the Stars and the Angels, two teams that couldn't play a weeklong series without spilling blood. Even their radio announcers, the Angels' Bob Kelley and the Stars' Mark Scott, hated each other. So it's no surprise to hear that Bill Sweeney, when he managed the Angels, once offered a cashmere suit to the first man to start a fight with the Stars. Sweeney withdrew the offer because the heat-seeking Mauch look four games to tangle with Bernier.
Maybe Mauch minded losing out on the suit then, but he doesn't anymore; indeed, he sounds like he got everything he wanted. "There was a high throw," he says, "and when I came down, I landed on Bernier. Just kind of walked all over him." The memory elicits a chuckle. "God, we had some fun back then."
If you measure fun in bruises and bloody noses, the Stars and the Angels may have had more of it than anybody. "Best rivalry I've ever seen, even better than the Dodgers and Giants," says Ben Wade, who formed his opinion while sandwiching a three-year stay in Brooklyn between two tours as a Star. Even when everybody knew the Dodgers would soon be moving to L.A. and there really wasn't anything left to fight for, you could still find Angel southpaw pitcher Tom Lasorda—yes, that Tom Lasorda—knocking down the Stars' Spook Jacobs and Jacobs bunting the next pitch up the first baseline so he could get a piece of Lasorda. The result was a donnybrook for old times' sake. "Spook wound up going around the whole infield, swinging at everything in a gray uniform," says former Hollywood publicist Irv Kaze. But the beauty of the craziness between the Angels and the Stars was that it wasn't confined to red-asses like Lasorda and Jacobs, Mauch and Bernier. It worked like a full moon on even the gentlest souls.
Take burly Frank Kelleher, nicknamed Mousey by his Hollywood teammates and, in Handley's estimation, "as good a fella as ever lived." He wasn't anymore of a brawler than Joe Hatten, the Angel lefthander who lived by his curveball, not his dukes. But after Kelleher got six straight hits against L.A. in '53, everybody in Gilmore Field's overflow crowd knew Hatten would have to forget his manners. He did it by burying a fastball in Kelleher's back.
When home plate umpire Cece Carlucci hustled to retrieve the ball, Kelleher charged the mound and threw a haymaker. "I thought it was Marciano," Carlucci says. "He hit Hatten in the chest. Must of knocked him 15 feet." The punch was a call to arms for a ruckus that lasted 10 minutes. When it was over Carlucci gave Kelleher the thumb—"I don't think he'd ever been kicked out of a game before," the old ump says—and let Hatten remain because, what the hell, where's it written that a man can't pitch tight?
The Stars replied by sending little Ted Beard in to run for Kelleher. On the first pitch, Beard—who said hello on the first day of spring training, goodbye at the end of the season and made the biggest noise of his career when he hit four home runs in a game in San Diego—stole second. On the next pitch, he lit out for third, where the Angels had stationed Murray Franklin, who had been a hero in Hollywood after his home run clinched the 1949 pennant. But Beard apparently wasn't the sentimental type. He went into Franklin with his spikes "belly-button high," as the Stars' Stevens puts it. What followed was the mother of all free-for-alls.
Franklin and Beard proceeded to pound knobs on each other. Their teammates stormed out of the dugouts to do the same, almost gleefully. Kelleher and Malone, who were in the Hollywood clubhouse getting their wounds from the first fight patched up, raced back to join the action. Carlucci remembers the Stars' Handley and the Angels' Gene Baker looking "like a couple boxers going at each other." Not that Carlucci could admire them for long. "I was down three times," he says. And his fellow umpire Joe Iacovetti had to duck a roundhouse thrown by Angel catcher Al Evans. "We couldn't stop it," Carlucci says, and it was only a matter of time, he feared, before the fans would come piling in.
William Parker, L.A.'s chief of police, must have feared the same thing as he watched on TV because he wound up calling for every available unit in the area to get to Gilmore. "I seen 'em coming from leftfield, rightfield, everywhere—55 police officers," Carlucci says. "They got law and order for me." But not before a good half hour of war had been waged and photographers had the pictures that would fill three pages of LIFE magazine. And the second game of the doubleheader still had to be played.
They got it in with cops lining the dugouts and only nine players allowed out of each clubhouse at a time. Then Malone dragged his weary bones home and discovered that his kids had watched the whole thing on television. "They weren't sure what they'd seen because our TV was only about three inches big," Malone says, "so my daughter Gail, she asked me if I was in the fight, and I told her, 'Oh, no, honey, I wouldn't do that.' "
The next morning Malone was sleeping in when he felt a tiny hand shake him. It was Gail, and she was holding a newspaper that had a picture of him throwing his Sunday punch.
"Daddy." she said accusingly, "you always told us to tell the truth."
The Stars did their damnedest to give Gilmore Field a Hollywood farewell, on Sept. 5, 1957. They trotted out righthander Hugh Pepper, and for 8⅖ innings he held San Francisco hitless. Then the Seals' Ed Sadowski lined a clean single to remind everyone that happy endings are for the movies and bittersweet goodbyes are for real life.
Even though the Dodgers would come to Los Angeles in '58 and anoint it big time forever, something was being lost. The Stars and the Angels were leaving, and they were all I knew of baseball. Before the first wrecker's ball hit Gilmore, I could already feel the emptiness. I was not alone.
"For four or five years after the Dodgers came, I had this dream that there was still a PCL team at Gilmore," says Allan Malamud, a neighborhood kid who grew up to be an L.A. Times sports columnist. "Every time I woke up, it killed me to find out I couldn't go to a game there."
Gilmore was long gone before Malamud stopped dreaming, leveled so CBS could have more space for parking and storage but not replaced until the network built a studio there last year. I suppose there is a natural progression to that, but I still like the way the lights went out on Wrigley Field better. For a while Walter O'Malley contemplated having the Dodgers play there, an idea he eventually scotched because of inadequate parking (unless, of course, you believe the story that he was offended by a whorehouse across the street). In any event the Dodgers ended up in the Coliseum, and Wrigley Field was without a team until the American League expanded in '61 to embrace a collection of rejects, crazies and wayfaring strangers who called themselves the Angels. They were only passing through, but before they closed the door behind them, their part-time first baseman hit the last home run in Wrigley Field's history. His name was Steve Bilko.
By 1966 Wrigley, too, was a memory, leveled for a community center honoring a city councilman who lived to be 90 and spent the last years of his life getting fleeced by a gold-digging girlfriend less than half his age. Just one more bittersweet touch, you might call it; one more metaphor for a city built on the young devouring the old.
But my supply of cynicism runs low when I think about the Stars and the Angels. If you judge by baseball's merciless yardstick, they never measured up to the Dodgers, but it was the Bilkos and Kellehers and Mauchs who showed me how wonderful the game could be, and I would never forget them. They were with me every time I went to see the big leaguers play that first season in the Coliseum, just as they were that fall, when my parents told me we were moving to Salt Lake City. It was the beginning of a troubled time for me—three junior high schools in three years to compound all the usual turbulence and insecurity of adolescence. But Salt Lake was where the Stars had moved. Though they were known as the Bees now, there was no disguising Carlos Bernier in leftfield. And somehow, as I moved through my strange new world, trying to figure out who I was and who my friends were, that made everything all right.