1961 | BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – The Los Angeles Angels looked anything but like an expansion team in their first game on this date in 1961. Slugging first baseman Ted Kluszewski hit two home runs and Eli Grba threw a complete game as the Angels beat the Baltimore Orioles 7 to 2 in Baltimore.
It wasn’t a fluke. The Angels were the most successful first year expansion team in baseball history. They won 70 games and did not come in last place-no small task. In fact, the Angels not only finished ahead of the expansion Washington Senators (big deal!), they finished ahead of the established Kansas City A’s (bigger deal!).
Remarkably, the Angels contended for the American League pennant in their second season – 1962. They were in first place on July 4th and finished in 3rd (this is before the American and National Leagues were divided into divisions), ten games behind the New York Yankees.
The Angels played their home games that inaugural season at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field. Yes, P.K. Wrigley built a replica of the Cubs ballpark in Los Angeles years earlier for a minor league team. The Angels became a tenant of Dodger Stadium in 1962, which they referred to as Chavez Ravine. They built their own stadium in Anaheim in 1966 and became the California Angels.
Answers to yesterday’s stadiums question
1. Huntington Avenue Grounds (1901-1911) Boston Red Sox
2. West Side Park (1893-1915) Chicago Cubs
3. Jarry Park (1969-1976) Montreal Expos
4. Shibe Park (1909-1970) Philadelphia A’s & Phillies
5. Forbes Field (1909-1970) Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Polo Grounds (1911-1964) New York Giants, Yankees, Mets
7. Griffith Stadium (1903-1960) Washington Senators
1953 | ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI – Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick was not amused that the St. Louis Cardinals wanted to name their ballpark after a beer. On this date in 1953 the Cardinals got the hint and backed off. The ballpark they bought from the St. Louis Browns the day before was not going to be called Budweiser Stadium. Instead it was called Busch Stadium.
The head of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, an anti-alcohol group, wasn’t impressed by Anheuser-Busch‘s decision. “Busch” wasn’t the name of a beer back in ’53, but it was the name of the family that owned the brewery and the team. So, Temperance Union President Leigh Colvin said, “You could toss up the three B’s. Call it Beer Park, Budweiser Park or Busch Park and they all mean the same thing.”
The Cardinals’ ballpark is still known as Busch Stadium, though it’s on its third incarnation since 1953.
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How about a little history quiz. Guess which teams played in these old stadiums?
1. Huntington Avenue Grounds
2. West Side Park
3. Jarry Park
4. Shibe Park
5. Forbes Field
6. Polo Grounds
7. Griffith Stadium
1965 | HOUSTON, TEXAS – Baseball went inside for the first time on this date in 1965. The Houston Colt .45s (today’s Houston Astros) played the New York Yankees in an exhibition game at the Harris County Domed Stadium, the first domed baseball stadium in the world.
The Yankees won 2-1 in 12 innings. Mickey Mantle hit the first-ever indoor home run. President Lyndon Johnson, a Texas native, was among the 47,878 fans at the game. The Harris County Domed Stadium name was soon changed to the Astrodome – the so-called eighth wonder of the world.
An architectural marvel, the Dome presented unanticipated challenges. It was built to allow sunlight to come through a series of clear plastic panels in the roof, thus allowing real grass to be planted. It didn’t work. The grass grew okay, but the players couldn’t see fly balls because of the tremendous glare each panel produced. The panels were painted over to block the sun, but of course the grass wouldn’t grow. Necessity being what it is, artificial grass was invented to put down on the field, hence the name Astroturf.
Astroturf became widespread in baseball and football stadiums for indoor and outdoor sports in the 1970s. Thankfully, many teams have gone back to real grass, including the Houston Astros. Today, those who want artificial turf can at least install something that looks and feels like grass, the most popular being FieldTurf.
The Houston Chronicle, Houston, Texas, April 10, 1965
1974 | ATLANTA, GEORGIA – Henry Aaron saved the best for the home town crowd. Four days after tying Babe Ruth‘s career home run record of 714 on the road in Cincinnati, Hammerin Hank broke the record before hysterical Atlanta Braves‘ fans at Fulton County Coliseum. He hit the 715th of his career off Los Angeles Dodger hurler Al Downing. Aaron would go on the hit 755 home runs for his career.
Henry Aaron ended his career back in the city where he made his major league debut. He played the 1975 and 1976 seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers.
The term “home run” was originally a descriptive one. In the early days of baseball, fences were generally farther out than they are today. The batter had to literally run home before being tagged out to hit a “home run.”
Babe Ruth held the career home run record for 53 years, the longest of any player. Here’s a list of the career home run record breakers and total home runs the new record-holder finished that year with.
Year Player HRs
2007 Barry Bonds 762
1974 Henry Aaron 733
1921 Babe Ruth 162
1895 Roger Connor 124
1889 Harry Stovey 89
1887 Dan Brouthers 74
1885 Harry Stovey 50
1883 Charley Jones 33
1882 Jim O’Rourke 24
1881 Charley Jones 23
1879 Lip Pike 20
Here are the current top-10 career home run hitters:
Barry Bonds 762
Henry Aaron 755
Babe Ruth 714
Alex Rodriguez 696
Willie Mays 660
Ken Griffey Jr, 630
Jim Thome 612
Sammy Sosa 609
Albert Pujols 591 (active)
Frank Robinson 586
The term “home run” was originally a descriptive one. In the early days of baseball, fences were generally farther out than they are today, so hitting a ball over the fence was rare. Inside-the-park home runs were more common because outfielders had more ground to cover. The batter had to literally run home before being tagged out to hit a “home run.”
Henry Aaron in the Hall of Fame
Career home run record holders
1958 | LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – It used to be common for football games to be played in baseball ballparks like Wrigley Field, which was the home of the Chicago Bears from 1921 to 1970, but you didn’t see baseball games played in football stadiums like Chicago’s Soldier Field. What the Dodgers had to do to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on this date in 1958 is why.
Before the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers could play the first official major league game west of St. Louis they had to erect a 42-foot screen in left field because the foul pole was only 201 feet away – about the distance normally seen in slow pitch softball.
Straight away left was only about 250 feet.
On the other hand, because the Coliseum is rectangular straight away right was 440 feet from home.
There was a distinct advantage playing in the mammoth coliseum however, it held a lot of people. Game 5 of the 1959 World Series between the Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox still holds the record for the biggest crowd to watch a major league baseball game – 92,706.
The Dodgers spent four seasons (1958-1961) in, at the time, the home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams waiting for Dodger Stadium to be completed. As much as Dodger fans poured into the Coliseum they liked the new Dodger Stadium more when it opened in ‘62. A major league attendance record (at the time) was set with 2,755,184 fans.
The Coliseum revisited