Friday, March 16, 2012
Wrigley Field, Los Angeles
Today's recollection is a pleasant reminiscence of Wrigley Field, Los Angeles. They tell me it was built to be nearly identical to Wrigley Field in Chicago, that is the playing field. And the Los Angeles Angels who used to play there were a triple A farm team for the Cubs. This was the Pacific Coast League. They played real baseball. It wasn't moneyball, it was actual baseball. The brick walls that surrounded the outfield were covered with ivy, just like in Chicago. And just when a player got amazingly good, the Cubs would bring him up to play in the big leagues.
One year we had Frankie Baumholtz, who almost hit 400 one year. There was some legal clause in his contract (or somewhere in the machinery) that prevented the Cubs from stealing him until the season was finished. I saw Chuck Connors hit 4 home runs in a double header at Wrigley. He was a lanky (6' 5") first baseman in those days. Later he made his mark in show biz as the Rifleman in a great TV series.
A guy named Joe Dimaggio played for the hated San Francisco club. Another ball basher was Luke Easter who played for San Diego. I was always relieved when he only hit a single instead of a home run.
The Angels had a great second baseman who seemed to be very savvy about the game. His name was Gene Mauch. You may remember him as a great major league manager, but he was a very good second baseman as well.
Angel Annie was a special favorite memory of mine. She was an aged black lady who was the Angels' greatest fan. Following an inning in which the Angels rallied for a run or more, Annie would stand in her place in the stands and hoot a long, high pitched cheer that everyone recognized as it echoed throughout the stands. I only saw her from a distance, but she was surely a legend in her time. Every true fan of the Angels loved Annie and listened for her hoot. There were very few games she missed.
There was an ambidextrous pitcher named Calvin Coolidge McLish. Actually he only pitched right handed, but he was a switch hitter. He was a good hitter for being a pitcher, and the season I remember well he hit two home runs. One right handed and the other left. I caught the one he hit from the left side. The cheap bleachers were in right field, and that is where we usually sat. One night he lifted a high drive, and as a young man I still had my sharp baseball instincts. I could tell the ball was coming right for me. Yes, I caught it on the fly, and since it was a lofted blow I was able to make the catch, bare handed, without any pain. I mention this in detail because the next night, when a bunch of us guys were in the same bleachers, our friend, John "Dick" Dickinson, tried to catch another home run. This time it was hammered by a guy named Dale Long (known for his line drive hitting). The ball struck the bleachers just in front of Dick, bounced up and hit him in the mouth, and ricocheted in another direction where some stranger chased it down.
If you're not yet bored to tears, I fondly remember attending a playoff series. One night I took a girl friend, but we were arriving late. The opposing team was at bat and someone hit a home. Kids always loiter in the street, hoping to get a ball. But this ball came bouncing right to my feet. I proudly stuffed it in my pocket, and then bought the usual bleacher tickets.
And it was the very next night, when I took my mother to the game, that we arrived early, having learned my lesson the night preceding. After leaving the ticket booth we stopped to rent cushions (the bleachers were just hard benches and it didn't seem right to let my mother's delicate buns suffer that hardship). It was still time for pre-game batting practice, and as we walked to our chosen perch, I couldn't help seeing a long ball coming from home plate. Hey, that ball is headed right for me! I dropped the cushions I had under each arm, stood in place, and caught the ball. Of course the fans around me were impressed, and gave me feigned praise with applause.
You see, I'm old enough to remember when they really played baseball. The crack of the bat, the smell of the ball in your glove, the bright green of the field just seemed different back when underpaid ruffians were playing baseball because they loved the game. Now it's about millionaires working for billionaires, and threatening to strike when they don't get the money they want. Uggh! Sinful greed spoils so many things in our society!