Last week the California Angels returned home to begin the second half and found themselves 1) a very respectable fourth in the American League, and 2) the biggest thing to hit Orange County since Mickey Mouse. With the season at the midway point the Angels have already drawn more people to their new stadium in suburban Anaheim than they did all last year as Walter O’Malley’s tenants in Chavez Ravine, 25 miles to the northwest in the heart of Los Angeles. In fact, they conceivably could finish the year with an attendance in the neighborhood of 1,500,000 and lead the American League.
For reasons that probably involve both southern California freeway traffic and the now-predictable length of Angel home games (all long), Anaheim crowds are already famous as the most dilatory in the major leagues; they all arrive at once, along with the first pitch. Since nearly a third of the games played in the new $24 million stadium have taken three hours or more to finish, the fans can anticipate a long evening. Since the prevailing winds lift and carry a fly ball like a soaring turkey buzzard, they can also anticipate a long evening of fun. The wind has accounted for an inordinate number of home runs over the center-field fence, as well as one spectacular outfield catch after another. As the sign on the big A-frame scoreboard in left field says, WELCOME TO THE HEAVENLY HOME OF THE ANGELS.
The team has been averaging close to 20,000 spectators a game, and huge, totally unexpected crowds show up at the oddest times. A Saturday game with the Red Sox, who haven’t been out of the second division in seven years, drew 41,000—and it started at 5 p.m. (True, the Angels were giving away a pony and a bicycle, but the pony was not Buckpasser.) An 11 a.m. game with the Minnesota Twins on another Saturday drew 38,000; Walt Disney, a member of the Angels’ advisory board, helped that one by bringing several of his cartoon characters up the street from Disneyland, two miles away. The Angels, obviously, are a civic enterprise.
When, in 1964, the Angels announced that they were considering moving from Los Angeles to Anaheim, baseball fans snickered. In the minds of most, Anaheim was associated only with Jack Benny’s famous radio routine of 25 years ago: “Train now leaving on track four—for Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga.” Five years of trying to buck the entrenched Dodgers in Los Angeles had turned the Angels into an expensive problem for the American League as well as a costly hobby for Owners Gene Autry, Bob Reynolds and Leonard K. Firestone. From 1961 through 1964 the Twins, for example, earned their travel, food and hotel expenses only twice when they flew west to play the Angels. Under the terms of their contract with O’Malley to lease Dodger Stadium, the Angels paid 7½% of annual total gate receipts (or $200,000—whichever was higher), 50% of the concessions and all of the parking—and just try to get to Dodger Stadium without driving and parking. Because of this contract and their failure to establish an identity of their own, the Angels were dying in metropolitan Los Angeles.
The Angels had come into being in December 1960 under the American League’s desperation expansion plan and the only place they could find to play was tiny Wrigley Field with a capacity of 20,543, and virtually no parking space. Because General Manager Fred Haney built a club that could hit homers in Wrigley Field, the Angels won 70 games that first year, an impressive feat for an expansion club, yet they drew only 600,000. The next year the team moved into Dodger Stadium and, largely as a result of the 41 trades engineered by Haney, the Angels rose from that surprisingly good eighth in 1961 to an absolutely startling third. Attendance soared to 1,144,000.
Yet that was a drop in the bucket compared to the 2,755,000 the Dodgers drew in the same stadium the same season. The next three years the Angels finished ninth, fifth and seventh—and attendance slipped with them: to 821,000, to 760,000, to 567,000. The Dodgers in the same three seasons drew a total of more than seven million spectators.
Thus, the Angels’ move to Anaheim was a necessity. The city built a ball park, christened it Anaheim Stadium and allowed the team to call itself whatever it wanted, though there is still some resentment that it was not named the Anaheim Angels. After a tough 10-inning loss, a man said to Haney, “If you had named ’em the Anaheim Angels, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Founded in 1857 by a group of German wine growers, Anaheim even now is a city of only 150,000, with mostly two-story office buildings in its small downtown area. But since 1955 the population has increased tenfold, and so have all the increments indigenous to the “bedroom communities” of Los Angeles. There is a pancake house called Sambo’s, a combination restaurant and bar named Nip ‘n Sip, a chain of supermarkets called Market Basket, an art store named Ye Olde Pop Art Shoppe. Yet in the 1950s the city’s transportation system consisted of one private company that owned two buses, and the police hardly dared to hold prisoners overnight in the ramshackle jail. Undaunted—and aware of a Stanford research survey that showed Anaheim and Orange County to be the fastest growing city and county in the U.S.—Walt Disney plunked Disneyland down there in 1955 on an original investment of $17 million. Disneyland since has drawn 53 million people and ranks as the biggest single tourist attraction in California. Orange County itself has a population of 1,100,000, and each month more than 7,000 new people move in. Projections indicate a population of 2,800,000 people in 14 years. Most of the navels and valencias have by now been squeezed out of Orange County to make room for the building and tourist boom.
Preceding both the Angels and Disneyland as an Orange County landmark was Knott’s Berry Farm, a no-admission-fee attraction for families and children. According to its founder, Knott’s has grown and grown. “Mother and I and the small children arrived here in our old Model T Ford in 1920,” Walter Knott says. “We rented this farm and built this little shed to sell our berries. We didn’t do so well in the Depression years, so in 1934 Mother tried chicken dinners. The years ahead were busy ones….” In 1965 Knott’s Berry Farm served 1,828,252 full-course dinners.
You can buy just about anything at Knott’s. You can walk into the information office and buy books like Invisible Government, Hunt for Truth (by H. L. Hunt), Let’s Take the Offensive, Slightly to the Right. Political conservatism is big in Orange County. A recent ad in a local paper read: “Wanted: Conservative pediatrician to establish a practice in the Newport-Mesa area. No one-worlders need consider.” In 1964 Gold-water carried Orange County by nearly 50,000 votes. The John Birch Society has five chapters in Anaheim, and the society’s growth in the county is 150% higher than the national average.
But the Angels are not worrying about Orange County’s political stance or its intellectual depth. They are concerned with two things. The first is a 35-year contract that calls for them to pay an annual rental of 7½% of total gate receipts or $160,000, whichever is greater, to the city of Anaheim. But—so long, O’Malley—this time they retain two-thirds of the concession revenues and half of the parking fees. The second is the Angels’ belief that they can convert Orange County people (average age, 26.6 years; average family income, $10,000 per year) into persistent Angel fans, so that the ball club will cash in on the $175 million that is spent annually in the county on recreational activities. They would like to draw, too, from the city of Los Angeles, a long, traffic-congested drive from Anaheim. The club is wooing the press as no big league team has ever done before. When a reporter arrives at the park he is welcomed with open gates, regardless of his credentials. A uniformed boy takes the reporter’s typewriter and briefcase and leads him to the press box, dusts off his seat, shows him where the floor and ceiling heaters are located and comes around every three innings to empty his ash tray and sweep under his feet.
Creating fans in baseball, however, depends on the product that is put on the field, and the Angels just happen to have moved to Anaheim with a large number of developing young stars. During their first five seasons they placed a total of 15 players on American League All-Star teams. Their fellow expansion team, the Washington Senators, was awarded only five All-Star positions, and such established teams as Kansas City, Boston, Cleveland and Detroit produced only 6, 13, 13 and 18, respectively. Some of the current Angels—Jim Fregosi, Bob Rodgers, Dean Chance and Fred Newman—were on the original draft list that Haney so wisely drew up and effected. (The Senators, in contrast, still carry only Jim King from their original selections.) In subsequent maneuvers Haney also acquired Marcelino Lopez, Rookie Pitcher of the Year in the American League last season; this season’s All-Star Bobby Knoop, Paul Schaal, who must now be rated second to only Brooks Robinson in the league as a defensive third baseman, and Ed Kirkpatrick. The most promising young player to establish himself in the majors this year, 23-year-old Rick Reichardt, also belongs to the Angels. In one of the biggest gambles in baseball bonus properties ever taken, the Angels paid $200,000 to Reichardt when he signed with them in 1964. This season he has captured the Angel fans with his ability to hit for average, hit homers and run the bases.
In one game this year Reichardt looked bad on two quick strikes. He called time and walked over to the Angel bench. “He looked at me,” says Rigney, “and he said, ‘This is getting me down.” I said, ‘You aren’t going to let them make a fool out of you, are you?’ He walked up to the plate, looked at a couple of bad pitches and then he hit a homer. I said to myself, ‘What a kid this is! How good is he going to be?’ ”
Rigney laughed. “Somehow,” he said, “I believe that anything is possible with this team.”
The Angels are still holding firmly to fourth place. They have gotten there mostly on hitting, but the once-strong pitching staff is now beginning to produce after an erratic start. The Angels confidently expect to finish in the first division, and those who watch baseball carefully will not be surprised if within the next three years all their rising young stars carry them to the American League championship. Why not? Anything is possible in Anaheim.
* – This article, slightly modified to fit the facts of this replay, was written by William Leggett and published in the July 4, 1966 issue of Sports Illustrated.