Saturday, February 1, 2014

Disney Baseball Part2

Last week we looked at the special dates in Disney History and what was happening in the baseball world at that time.  Some readers probably tuned out but for those of you who stuck around I hope you enjoyed part 1.  This week, in the final part of the two part article, we will take a look at how Walt Disney played a part in baseball directly, specifically with the Angels franchise.

For those of you opting out again, check back next week for some more fun articles.

1960: Disney joins board of directors of Angels.  
Major League Baseball had been two leagues of eight teams since 1901.  Until the mid 1950's the same teams played in the same cities.  Some cities even had two teams.  The league was set.  The Yankees dominated the American League.  The Dodgers, Giants and Cardinals dominated the National League.  It worked.  New York was the baseball capital of the world and the money was pouring in to the owners.

Then in the mid 1950's Branch Rickey stepped in.  Rickey had been bought out (or forced out) of his spot with the Dodgers.  In an odd move against the league that Rickey played such a large part in establishing, Rickey planned to start a rival league, the Continental League, and planned to do it in cities that he said were being kept out by MLB.  True, Philadelphia and Boston at one time could support two teams but the country had changed since the league started.  Rickey decided it was time for a change in baseball too.

MLB knew that Rickey's challenge was real and they needed to rethink their strategy.  It was clear that the Braves were struggling in Boston while the Red Sox were thriving.  The Athletics were floundering in Philadelphia (and the Phillies weren't exactly raking it in). So the Braves moved west to Milwaukee, the Athletics moved west to Kansas City.  The Browns couldn't survive in St.Louis with the Cardinals success so they moved to Baltimore. The Dodgers did the unthinkable and moved to the West Coast and the Giants went with them.

So among the other things Branch Rickey did for baseball (developing the minor league system, creating the Cardinals logo, building the Cardinals and Dodgers dynasties and breaking the color barrier) he also put in motion what would turn out to be a chain of events that led to the expansion of the league.

As Rickey and his business partners started to realize the struggle they faced breaking the hold that MLB had on the public they started to play ball with the league.  They would agree not to start the rival league as long as MLB would agree to expand into the cities they said were being kept out.

The American League decided they would expand first, before the National League had the chance.  Instead of taking a year or two to develop a plan they dove right into the deep end.  They announced, in 1960, they would add two teams for the 1961 season. No one knew where the teams would be, what stadium they would play in, where they would get their players, who would run the teams.  They just made the announcement.

The American League looked at several cities as expansion options:  Dallas, Oakland, Denver, San Diego, Atlanta, St. Paul, Fort Worth.  But there was still no ownership in place.  The American League decided first of all to send a team back to a recently vacated flagship city.  The Senators had moved to Minnesota and became the Twins, which took St.Paul off the expansion map.  Now a new Senators team would start play in 1961 in Washington.

The other team would go north, way north, to Toronto.  It would be run by business man Jack Kent Cook and would make the league international.  While Cook was planning his 1961 logistics an even better opportunity for the AL evolved.  Hank Greenberg, a baseball legend, wanted to own a team and he wanted to place it in Los Angeles.  Greenberg not only saw the market that existed in Southern California he had investors to back him.  Then all hell broke loose.  Cook was furious (don't worry.  He turned out ok.  He eventually owned the Lakers and the Redskins and built both of them into successful franchises.)  The American League went with Greenberg and Cook was out. They announced that the second franchise would play in Los Angeles. Then Greenberg's investors got cold feet and he was out.

It was madness.  Toronto had a furious ownership group but no team.  Los Angeles had a team but no ownership/  There was no ownership for a team that was set to start play within a few months.  They still had no players, no stadium, no uniforms, no equipment.  It was a fantasy baseball team fifty years before fantasy baseball.

Enter Walt Disney.  Walt was still riding high on the success of Disneyland and he had the money to fix the problem.  He had no real interest in owning a baseball team but his good friend Gene Autry, who owned a set of Southern California radio stations, was looking to invest in something.  Walt convinced him to buy into the team.  Autry would do it but he needed help with the organization.  Walt agreed to be part of the board of directors.

1962:  The Long Beach Angels?
The first few years in Los Angeles for the Angels were hell.  They had barely made it through the expansion draft process with their sanity.  They paid rent to the Dodgers for the right to play in Dodgers Stadium.  Their offices at the stadium were basically the equipment shed.  They were even charged fees for window cleaning at the stadium as part of their rent (even though their offices were so shabby that they had no windows). The team needed a better situation.

Autry started looking at options. He told Walter O'Malley, the Dodgers owner and technically the Angels' land lord, that he intended to vacate Dodger Stadium and O'Malley couldn't have been happier. Southern California had a lot of options but where to go?  Walt Disney was on the board of directors but had very little involvement in the team at this point so Autry was making the decisions.  The city of Long Beach was making strong overtures toward the team.  They were willing to build them a stadium (although funding  for that was questionable).  They were willing to bend over backwards to accommodate them, although they insisted the team be called the Long Beach Angels.  Autry refused to be called the Long Beach Angels so the search continued.

Board member Walt Disney had an idea. He had a small business in the Southern California city of Anaheim, a nice little park.  It was a little thing he had built in the city of 15,000 residents.  He had no problem getting people to the park but wouldn't it be great if there were another big attraction down the street.  A second reason to come to Anaheim.

What about the name?  Did the city insist on having the team called Anaheim Angels?  Anaheim mayor Rex Coons said they could call themselves whatever the hell they wanted.  Coons realized that when the sports section was printed the morning after the game, the location of the game was listed as Anaheim for everyone to read.  When the Goodyear Blimp showed the wide shots it would be the city of Anaheim that was seen on the screen.  So Walt talked to the Singing Cowboy and worked together to scout the area (as close as possible to Disneyland of course) and a decision was made.  The Los Angeles Angels would play in the city of Anaheim.  The problem was they were still under agreement to O'Malley and the Dodgers.  So it was not until 4/9/1964 that they announced their intent to move the team.  Four months later, with Mickey, Minnie and the gang in attendance, the Angels broke ground on  the Big A.

1966: First year in Anaheim.  Lead AL in attendance.
Walt was always interested in improving attendance at the park.  What better way to improve attendance than to work with one of his other businesses.  Walt developed a promotional plan where you would get into the park for free when you bought a ticket to go see the Angels.  It was perfect.  You could spend all day with Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald and Goofy to make great memories for the kids at the home of America's greatest entertainer.  After dinner at the park you could head a few blocks over to the big A and spend the evening with the family watching America's greatest game.  That same year the Yankees stumbled in the standings and not surprisingly the Angels led the American League in attendance.

1996: Disney takes over controlling interest.
Walt Disney was long gone by 1996 but the Disney Corporation was stronger than ever.  Disney was years away from buying Marvel, Star Wars, and a million other subsidiaries.  In the early 1990's Disney had jumped into the sports business when the National Hockey League expanded.  The Disney corporation launched the Mighty Ducks movie series, created a Mighty Ducks cartoon and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks joined the NHL.  The success of the NHL franchise led the Disney Corporation to consider other ventures.  In 1994 the Disney Corporation released Angels in the Outfield, a remake of an older film, in which Angels help an underdog team win.  Starring Danny Glover, Tony Danza and a young Joseph Gordon Levitt, the film featured the California Angels as the team benefiting from the help of the Angels.  Shortly later the Disney Corporation bought the team.  Under the ownership of Disney the team became a consistent playoff team, even challenging the Dodgers for supremacy in the Southern California market.  The only World Series title in Angels history occurred during the Disney Corporation's reign.

Who was the final player taken in the Angels' expansion draft in 1961?

Answer to last week's question:
The Pirates started the bottom of the 8th inning in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series trailing the Yankees 7-4.  Gino Cimoli led off the inning with a single over short to right-center field.  With a three run lead a single runner was not necessarily a threat.  Bill Virdon followed the single with a routine ground ball to shortstop.  It looked like an easy double play ball as Kubek set himself to field the ball.  The ball took a funny hop and came straight up on Tony Kubek hitting him in the throat and smashing his windpipe.  The game paused as Casey Stengel came out to check on his Shortstop.  Kubek tried to convince Stengel he was fine but as he struggled to catch his breath he was also spitting out blood.  Wisely, Stengel took Kubek out of the game and the team doctors took him to the hospital.  The injury was bad enough to keep Kubek in the hospital for a few days.


  1. Thanks for the info and history. I had no idea that Toronto was even considered. I never knew that there was so much chaos with the start of the Angels franchise.
    I always assumed that the Angels played at Wrigley Field in LA until The stadium was built in Anaheim. How long did the Angels play in Dodger Stadium? Did they ever play in Wrigley Field?
    So, Gene Autry owned the Angels at the beginning of the franchise. Did his wife sell the franchise to the Dodgers when Gene died? When did the Disney company sell the Angels to Arty Matuo/ Why did Disney sell the team? Who currently owns Anaheim stadium?
    Great article. Fascinating how things work in business and in baseball. This article brought a lot of questions to my mind.

    My guess on the trivia is Ted Kluzieski, the big first basemen who played for Cincinnati.


    1. Wrigley Field in Los Angeles was built by the same Wrigley who owned the Cubs. For decades the Cubs owned the territorial rights for Los Angeles. They had a minor league club that played in the Wrigley Field replica and for many years used the stadium during spring training. The dodgers had to buy the rights for the territory from the Cubs before moving west. The stadium was used as the setting for the television show "Home Run Derby" in 1960. The Angels played one year there but it was not a Major League Park and they could not continue using it. Look for an article in the near future looking at each team's history of stadiums.

      The team was sold to Disney in 1997. They took a mostly hands off approach and allowed the baseball people run the team. By doing so they were able to build the Angels into a consistent playoff team and World Series Champion. They sold the team to the current owner, Arte Moreno, in 2005.

  2. I wish they still had the promo where you could get the free Disney day with a ticket to see the Angels! lol

    Do you know how the league reacted to the Angels at first? We know Walt Disney got a lot of resistance about Disneyland and people were waiting for him to fail, so I'm curious if there was a similar vibe when he dipped into baseball or if the Angels received any stigma from the established teams because of their Disney connection?

    1. There does not appear to have been any issues with the Disney connection when the Angels came into the league. Walt was very much behind the scenes of the team on the board of directors but there was no real "Disney Influence" in the uniforms or promotions until they moved to Anaheim. By that time expansion had been accepted as a success and the league looked to expand further. The expansion teams were looked on mostly as jokes for the first few years.The Angels were "competitive" in 1962 finishing third but ten games out of first. There was a big drop off after that year and the Angels struggled to reach the playoffs. The other expansion teams were far worse, especially the Mets. The 1962 Mets were famously comically bad. Ironically the Mets were the first expansion team to win a World Series in 1969.


Have questions about something in this or a former post? Have a suggestion for a future post? Want more information on a specific team, player, season or game? I welcome the feedback, so feel free to leave a comment in the box or email me at baseballeras (at) gmail (dot) com.