For many Orange County baseball fans, the arrival of the California Angels in 1966 all but heralded the beginning of real baseball history in the area. But just like the rich pre-Dodger baseball era in the Los Angeles area, Orange County, in particular, Anaheim, also boasted an impressive amount of history.
The Early Days
Going all the way back to the late 1800s, baseball played a very important part in the development of Orange County. Everyone knows the Angels, but many are unaware that Walter Johnson, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, learned to play baseball in Orange County. Or that Johnson returned in 1924 to play a now-legendary game against a team led by Babe Ruth.
This is the Anaheim Oil Wells baseball team, circa 1909. In about 1904, the city of Anaheim built a baseball park, called Athletic Park, on Atchison Street near the Santa Fe railroad station. It could hold more than one thousand fans and so it became a popular place for many teams to play, drawing from Santa Ana, Olinda and Placentia among other places.
Anaheim’s Pearson Park (originally called Anaheim City Park) has hosted baseball since the grandstand was built in 1927. On Sept. 20, 1920, city trustees approved the purchase of Herman A. Dickel's 19-acre ranch at the southwest corner of Lemon and Sycamore Streets. A man named Rudy Boysen was hired to supervise installation and maintenance of the park. For almost 40 years he oversaw the park, and in his spare hours even found time to develop the now well known Boysenberry. The grandstand, which has been rebuilt since 1927, sits at the exact same spot as the original (and it has been re-designed to resemble the first grandstand).
Babe Ruth Visits the Area
In 1924, Babe Ruth’s barnstorming tour took he and his all-star team all along the west Coast, culminating in a game in Brea against a team led by Walter Johnson and local Orange County players. One of the five local Anaheim players on Johnson’s team that day playing behind Johnson was Vic Ruedy. Interestingly, Ruedy went on to become the parks superintendent for the city of Anaheim, and it was under his jurisdiction that Anaheim Stadium, home of the major league Angels, opened in 1966. Babe Ruth posed for photographer George Outland the day of the big game.
La Palma Park
The idea for La Palma Park in Anaheim goes back to 1937 and by March of 1939, the baseball field was ready for use. It was a Pacific Coast League spring training game between the Seattle Rainiers and the Sacramento Senators. Besides baseball and football, the stadium has played host to soccer games, rodeos, a circus, high school graduations and the annual Anaheim Halloween parade. A group of fans in Anaheim persuaded the Philadelphia Athletics, led by the venerable Connie Mack, to spend their 1940 spring training here and so he brought his team west. Jackie Robinson portrayed himself when the Jackie Robinson Story was filmed here in 1950 (the film also starred Ruby Dee and Minor Watson). Joe DiMaggio played at La Palma Park while stationed at the nearby Santa Ana Army Air Base in 1943. The stadium has been renamed twice. In 1971, it was changed to Glover Stadium after Richard Glover, who was an assistant and head football coach at Anaheim High School from 1931 to 1957. Then, it was re-christened Dee Fee Field in 1987, in honor of Dee Fee, who worked in several positions for the Anaheim Parks Department from 1937 to 1987.
Baseball’s National Anthem
“Take Me Out To The Ballgame” was written by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer in 1908. Norworth, a long time Orange County resident, is buried at Melrose Abbey Cemetery in Anaheim. He was a very successful vaudeville entertainer/songwriter (who also wrote the song “Shine On, Harvest Moon”) and spent a scant fifteen minutes penning the lyrics of this classic which is sung during the seventh inning stretch at virtually every ball park in the country.
When I wrote an article lamenting the fact that his grave, located right by Anaheim Stadium seemed old and neglected, some fans got involved. Led by myself and J.P. Myers of Diamond Bar, California, a movement was created to place a more appropriate marker for Norworth, which we did.
Finally, the Angels
The historic groundbreaking for Anaheim Stadium took place Aug. 31, 1964, with Angels and City of Anaheim officials and a large turnout of fans on hand. Participating in shovel ceremonies were, from left, Angels Chairman of the Board, Gene Autry, Anaheim's then Mayor Odra Chandler and Contractor Del Webb. The shovels had baseball bat handles. When Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, the Angels signed a four-year lease to play there. The Angels paid the Dodgers 7.5 percent of gross attendance revenues for rent, along with 50% of the Angels' concession gross and all parking revenues. Angel’s owner, famed cowboy/actor Gene Autry, did not want to play second to the Dodgers so he looked to move them to the suburbs.