It was 50 years ago today

Long before the rally monkey, Anaheim Stadium was all about the haloed A in left field. Photo is from the stadium's inaugual 1966 season.

For some reason, Los Angeles sports teams come in pairs. There are two NBA teams (Lakers and Clippers), two Major League Soccer teams (Chivas USA and Galaxy), two major universities (USC and UCLA), and it used to have two NFL teams (Rams and Raiders).

On April 11, 1961, the city’s second Major League Baseball team made its debut– the Los Angeles Angels. And unlike our current Angels team, this one actually played in Los Angeles!

The Angels, Major League Baseball’s 18th team, and the first in 60 years, opened the season in Baltimore against the Orioles and made an great first impression by scoring three runs in the first inning and four in the second for a 7-2 win. First baseman Ted Kluszewski hit two home runs and had five runs batted in. Pitcher Eli Grba went the distance giving up one earned run on six hits and struck out five. Managed by Bill Rigney, the Angels finished the season eighth in the American League with a 71-91 record (46-36 at home) which today remains the best record for an expansion team.

Owned by the legendary “Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry, the Angels were supposed to share Dodger Stadium until a new stadium could be found, but instead ended up playing in the 20,457-seat Wrigley Field, home of the former minor league Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League in South Los Angeles. The Angels did play in Dodger Stadium until 1966 and moved to their permanent home approximately 31 miles southeast to Orange County and the city of Anaheim where they became the California Angels.

But playing in another city and county, the Angels could not escape the shadow of the Dodgers, which were Los Angeles’ first and biggest sports team. The Dodgers rolled off seven National League West titles, eight National League pennants, and six World Series championships from the time the Angels made their debut until 1988. The Angels didn’t with their first American League West championship until 1979 (the first of eight) and their first World Series until 2002, which they won as a Wild Card team. Since then the Angels have been a proven winner and perennial playoff team. They have won five more AL Western Division titles after the 2002 World Series title.

Name changes have plagued the Angels in their 50 years of existence; there have been four. After moving from L.A. to Anaheim, they were the California Angels from 1965-96 and the Anaheim Angels from 1997-2004.

For some inane reason, in 2005, current owner Artie Moreno, who bought the team from the Walt Disney Company, thought it would be a good idea to tap into the Los Angeles market, the second largest in the nation, and stick the name Los Angeles on top of the Anaheim name and calling them “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.” This not only insulted the good people of the city of Anaheim, but made the Angels one of the biggest jokes in sports as far as names are concerned since the “Mighty” Ducks of the NHL.

In spike of all that, the Angels have been a staple in Southern California and have their own loyal following and fan base in Orange County and neighboring Riverside and San Bernardino, as well as Los Angeles counties.

The Angels also became a great alternative to us spoiled Southern Californians. The Angels are one of the best run and one of the most fan- and family-friendly organizations in all of sports with reasonable tickets, very good parking and very few fights, stabbings, shootings and beatings compared to Dodger Stadium.

Some of Major League Baseball’s greatest players and managers have suited up for the Angels, including Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Eddie Murray, Don Sutton, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Bert Blyleven, and managers Whitey Herzog, and Dick Williams. There have been two AL Most Valuable Players — Don Baylor (1979) and Vladimir Guerrero (2004). Tim Salmon is the franchise’s only AL Rookie of the Year (1993). There have been two Cy Young Award winners in Dean Chance (1964) and Bartolo Colon (2005). Leon Wagner (1962), Fred Lynn (1983) and Garret Anderson (2003) won All-Star MVP awards, and current manager Mike Scioscia was named Manager of the Year twice, in 2002 and 2009. Go to Edison Field and you will see on the outfield wall the retired numbers of Jim Fregosi (No. 11), Autry (No. 26), Carew (No. 29), Ryan (No. 30) and Coach Jimmy Reese (No. 50).

Lynn (1982) and Adam Kennedy (2002) were American League Championship Series MVP’s and Troy Glaus was the World Series MVP in 2002.

A total of eight no-hitters have been tossed by Angels pitchers, Bo Belinsky (1962), Clyde Wright (1970), Nolan Ryan (twice in 1973, 1974 and 1975), a combined no-hitter by Mark Langston and Mike Witt (1990), and one perfect game by Witt in 1984. Fregosi (1964 and 1968), Dan Ford (1979), Winfield (1991), Jeff DaVanon (2004) and Chone Figgins (2006) are the only players in franchise history to hit for the cycle, and Anderson is the only player in franchise history to have 10 RBIs in one game in 2007.

There have been numerous AL All-Stars, going back as far as pitchers Ryne Duren and Ken McBride in the inaugural season. Other all-star fan favorites include past and present players, such as pitchers Frank Tanana, Clyde Wright, Chuck Finley, John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Troy Percival. Catchers Brian Downing, Bob Boone and Lance Parrish; first baseman Wally Joyner, shortstop Gary DiSarcina, second basemen Bobby Knoop and Sandy Alomar; third baseman Dave Chalk, and outfielders Jim Edmonds, Darin Erstad, Devon White and Torii Hunter.

To my surprise and disappointment, one of my favorite Angels, third baseman Carney Lansford didn’t make the All-Star team as a member of the team.

There have also been plenty of ups and downs in Angels’ history.

There was Lyman Bostock, a 27-year-old outfielder and career .311 hitter the Angels acquired from the Minnesota Twins. Bostock was shot to death in Gary, Ind., on Sept. 23, 1978.

In 1982 the Angels blew a two games to none lead against the Milwaukee Brewers in the AL Championship by losing the next three straight.

Who can forget the forgettable 1986 AL Championship Series when the Angels came within a pitch of reaching their first World Series, only to have Boston Red Sox outfielder Dave Henderson suck the life out of Anaheim Stadium and Angels fans everywhere with a two-run home run off of reliever Donnie Moore that eventually sent the Red Sox to the World Series and their own harrowing defeat to the New York Mets. A despondent Moore later committed suicide on June 18, 1989.

The Angels had a nine-game lead in the AL West on Aug. 9, 1995 only to blow it all in a one-game playoff to Randy Johnson and the Seattle Mariners against former Mariner Mark Langston.

Nick Adenhart, a promising young rookie pitcher was killed by a drunk driver while in a car with three other friends while leaving from a home game on April 9, 2009.

And some of the great highlights include …

The Ryan Express rolled into Anaheim from 1972-79 and captured the hearts of Angels’ fans and baseball fans everywhere. Although the Angels were horrible during Ryan’s tenure, it didn’t matter when he was on the mound. Four of his seven no-hitters came in an Angels’ uniform, as well as four of his seven all-star selections. Ryan still holds franchise records with 156 complete games, 40 shutouts, 2,416 strikeouts and four no-hitters. He is the longest tenured Angel in the Hall of Fame.

Pitcher Jim Abbott may be the most incredible story in not only Angels’ history, but all of sports. Abbott was born without a right hand, but was still good enough not only to make it to the majors – he played for 10 seasons with the first six for the Angels posting a 54-74 record as a Halo.

The Angels have an overall record of 109-102 in interleague play since it began in 1997. Most important is that they own the Dodgers with a record 46-34 in what is known out here as the Freeway Series.

And there was the 2002 World Series, which the Angels finally escaped the shadow of the Dodgers. The Angels trailed the San Francisco Giants three games to two and down 5-0 in the bottom of the seventh in Game 6. Anaheim roared back for an amazing 6-5 win, and sealed the deal with a 4-1 win in Game Seven for the first and only World Series title, and making life miserable for the lovable Barry Bonds. Lackey was the winning pitcher and was the first rookie pitcher to start a Game Seven of the World Series since 1909.

It was by far the greatest time in Angels’ history.

No fights.

No riots.

Just a lot of fun.

And it all started 50 years ago today.

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