This article was published in the The National Pastime: Endless Seasons: Baseball in Southern California (2011)
Three-time MLB Executive of the Year and longtime SABR member Roland Hemond reflects on a time 50 years ago, when a singing cowboy bought the rights to the new American League franchise in Los Angeles.
Three-time MLB Executive of the Year and longtime SABR member Roland Hemond reflects on a time 50 years ago, when a singing cowboy bought the rights to the new American League franchise in Los Angeles.Roland Hemond has worked in Organized Baseball since 1951, when he was hired by the Hartford Chiefs, the Boston Braves’ farm club (Class A-Eastern League) for a $28.00-a-week entry-level job. Along the way, Hemond has worked as an executive in the front offices of the Boston/Milwaukee Braves, Los Angeles/California Angels, Chicago White Sox (twice), in the Commissioner’s Office, Baltimore Orioles, and the Arizona Diamondbacks (twice). Since 2007 he has been special assistant to the President and CEO of the Diamondbacks. In this article Hemond reflects on a time 50 years ago, when a singing cowboy bought the rights to the new American League franchise in Los Angeles.[fn]E-mails, Roland Hemond to Jean Hastings Ardell, March-July, 2010.[/fn]
In December 1960, I was at home in Milwaukee, prior to celebrating the holidays with my family, when the phone rang. Fred Haney, the newly appointed general manager of the Los Angeles Angels, was calling to offer me the job of scouting and farm director with the new franchise. I arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on January 3, 1961, with my wife Margo and our one-year-old daughter Susan (it was Susan’s birthday) on a beautiful day. Florence Haney, Fred’s wife, picked us up, and we were in awe of the warm climate, the palm trees, and the beauty of Southern California. We set up housekeeping temporarily in a motel in Hollywood before moving to an apartment. I reported to work at the Angels’ office, which was on the second floor above a bar near Hollywood and Vine. Downstairs was an electrically operated massage chair that actually shook our office when it was in use. Next door, adjacent to my office, singing cowboys would come to practice their songs and play their guitars. A few weeks later we moved the front office to Wrigley Field. It was exciting to be part of a small staff to launch upon such a challenge of putting together the foundation of a brand new major-league franchise. Spring Training was beginning in about six weeks, and the Angels’ inaugural baseball season on April 11th.
I had known Fred since 1955, when he joined the Milwaukee Braves coaching staff under manager Charlie Grimm while I was working there as assistant farm and scouting director under John Mullen. When Fred resigned as manager of the Braves after the 1959 season, he returned to his hometown of Los Angeles and was working as a sportscaster when Gene Autry asked him to accompany him to the 1960 Winter Meetings in St. Louis. Autry owned the Golden West Broadcasting Company, and he wanted Fred’s help in landing the radio broadcasting rights to the new American League franchise.
Bill Veeck and Hank Greenberg were applying for the Los Angeles franchise, and I was told that American League president Joe Cronin had approached Autry, encouraging him to throw his hat into the fray. Autry, a big baseball fan, was impressed with the idea of owning a major-league team, and on December 6th he was named the owner of the Los Angeles Angels. With Opening Day set for April 11th, Autry only had a little over four months to pull an organization together. Even more immediate, he and the owners of the AL’s other expansion team, the Washington Senators, only had eight days to select their players from the draft from the other clubs.
The American League had created the Angel franchise hastily to show some muscle, after the threat of the Continental League had led the National League to announce its expansion to ten teams in October 1960. (These two new NL franchises, the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s, would not begin play until 1962.) Naturally, the American League felt compelled to stay competitive, and the mass population of Southern California made it attractive despite the popularity of the Dodgers, who had moved from Brooklyn in 1958. And Washington was an important replacement due to the move of the original Senators from that city to Minnesota and MLB’s desire to have a presence in the nation’s capital.
Autry immediately named Bob Reynolds as president and Fred Haney as general manager, and Bill Rigney was quickly hired as field manager. This proved to be vital in having two highly respected and knowledgeable baseball men in these important positions. Haney and Rigney were able to gather information about prospects from some of their friends in the industry. I heard that Casey Stengel recommended Eli Grba, a pitcher in the New York Yankees farm system. Rigney’s friend with the San Francisco Giants, Chub Feeney, let Bill go over his team’s scouting reports. Jim Fregosi was a noted all-around high school athlete in Northern California, and Rigney, who lived in Walnut Creek, had heard of him. Jim had signed with the Boston Red Sox and in 1960 had played for their Alpine, Texas, club in the Rookie Sophomore League. He was an outstanding pick for the Angels, as he quickly jumped to Triple A Dallas-Ft. Worth of the American Association in 1961 and on to the major-league club the latter part of the season.
Building a Farm System
It was exciting to come to work for the Angels, a fresh franchise in a new (to me) city. All of my career had been spent in the East and Midwest, so I really did not have many contacts in California when I arrived on the scene. Haney, however, had grown up in Los Angeles, and knew many local baseball men, so we were able to sign some very good California-based scouts, such as Ross “Rosey” Gilhousen, Tufie Hashem, Tom Downey, Bert Niehoff, Pep Lee, Joe Gordon, and Dolph Camilli. In addition to the West Coast scouts we signed, in the early stages I set out to hire scouts in other parts of the country who had worked for the Braves, such as Gil English in the Carolinas, Leo Labossiere in New England, Nick Kamzic in the Midwest. The Braves were losing scouts due to their new regime, which was hiring scouts they knew better.
Since I did not get to Los Angeles until the first week of January, 1961, there was very little time to prepare for spring training let alone line up a couple of farm clubs to send our expansion selections and new signings. Virtually all the minor league clubs were affiliated with a major league club on a working agreement basis. The only lower classification city I could find that was looking for a major league parent club was Statesville, North Carolina, in the Class D Western Carolina League. We hooked up with Statesville and by the end of spring training, we had enough players to start the season.
The Angels also signed a joint Class AAA working agreement with Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas, of the American Association. Ray Johnston, owner of the team, was a friend of mine, as he had worked in the Concessions Department for the Milwaukee Braves; Fred Haney also knew him well. We split the working agreement with the Minnesota Twins, as we would not have enough players to staff an entire Triple A club. Three of the best players on the Dallas-Ft. Worth club were shortstop Jim Fregosi, catcher Bob (Buck) Rodgers, and right-handed pitcher Dean Chance. Fregosi had only a half season of pro experience the previous year as a Boston Red Sox farmhand in Rookie ball. Bob Rodgers had played at Class AA Birmingham, Alabama, for the Detroit Tigers organization in 1960. Dean Chance was in the Class B Three-I League at Appleton, Wisconsin in 1960. After concluding their minor-league seasons, all three advanced to the Angels in 1961, and all went on to become major-league stars.
The 1961 Statesville Owls were comprised of players signed at tryouts camps in Southern California headed by scouts Ross “Rosey” Gilhousen, Tufie Hashen, Bert Niehoff, Pep Lee, and Tom Downey. Former major-league outfielder George Wilson managed of the club. The club’s future major-leaguers were catcher Jack Hiatt, outfielder Dick Simpson, and right-handed pitcher Dick Wantz. After concluding his college career at the University of Southern California, first baseman Dan Ardell, was sent to the Class D Artesia (New Mexico) Dodgers of the Sophomore League; he also made it to the majors with the Angels in 1961. Third baseman Tom Satriano, also a USC product, reported to the Angels upon signing in 1961. We assigned some of our players on loan to other clubs at different classifications that year. The Angels’ Triple-A Dallas-Ft.Worth club trained at Amerage Park in Fullerton, California, in 1961, and lower classification players at La Palma Field in Anaheim.
You hear a lot about the organization’s desire to “win one for the cowboy,” but that really came up in the 1970s, after I had left in September 1970 to join the Chicago White Sox. When Harry Dalton became the general manager after the 1971 season and a bit later, when Buzzie Bavasi came along as Executive Vice-President and G.M. after the 1977 season, the Angels did tend to go for major-league free agents, such as Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich, and others. But in the early 1960s we were working towards the building of the farm system. Tom Satriano and Dan Ardell were early signings out of the University of Southern California – they were given signing bonuses, but in general our budget was rather restricted. The Dodgers and other clubs had larger budgets for the scouting and signing of high school and college prospects. In 1964 the ownership and Fred Haney expanded the signing opportunities, resulting in the signing of highly sought outfielder Rick Reichardt of the University of Wisconsin as well as high school catcher Tom Egan. The two players showed fine promise but suffered physical setbacks. Reichardt was off to a great start in 1966 with 16 home runs by mid-season, but a serious ailment (one of his kidneys had to be removed) put him out of action virtually the rest of the season. Pitchers Andy Messersmith, Clyde Wright, and Tom Murphy made it to the majors rather quickly after signing. (It’s ironic that the signing of Reichardt for $205,000 led to the Draft Rule the next year and that Messersmith’s challenge to the Reserve Clause led to the Major League Free Agent Rule upon the decision of arbitrator Peter Seitz after the challenge by the Players’ Association head Marvin Miller.)
It was amazing how well the 1962 club performed, as a second-year expansion team — the Angels stayed in the pennant race until early September. The Sporting News named G.M. Fred Haney the Executive of the Year and Bill Rigney the Manager of the Year. Rigney did a phenomenal job of instilling great spirit and made exceptional on-field decisions. Shortstop Jim Fregosi came up from Triple A to take over the position from veteran Joe Koppe, and Buck Rodgers became the everyday catcher, playing in 160 games. Rigney recognized the baseball smarts of these two rookies, mentoring them so well that they became young leaders and later fine major-league managers.
Outfielders Leon “Daddy Wags” Wagner and Lee Thomas led the hitting attack. with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs for Wagner and 26 HRs and 104 RBIs for Thomas. Fregosi hit .291 after taking over a shortstop, second baseman Bill Moran made the All-Star team; third baseman Felix Torres, a Rule 5 draft, played well in the field and had 74 RBIs. Center fielder Albie Pearson led the league with 115 runs scored. Right-hander Dean Chance was the ace of the staff with a 14-10 record, 2.96 ERA, and lefthander Bo Belinsky pitched an early season no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles. Left-hander Ted Bowsfield went 9-8. Rigney was an expert in his use of bullpen veterans Art Fowler, Tom Morgan, Ryne Duren, Jack Spring, and Dan Osinski. It was incredible that a two-year expansion club could put together an 86-76 record. The other new franchises of the early 1960s didn’t fare so well: The Washington Senators won 60 games and lost 101, finishing in tenth place (last) in the AL. The New York Mets, the loveable losers of their inaugural season of 1962, went 40-120, finishing last in the NL. And the Houston Colt .45s went 64-96, finishing eighth in the NL.
The Angels shared Dodger Stadium for the 1962-1965 seasons. But with the Dodgers drawing more than twice the fans, it was evident that the only way for the Angels to gain their own identity was to move to a city and a park of their own. Orange County was enticing due to it being a growing area in population and a chance to build our own fans. Long Beach had expressed some interest but Anaheim won out, as they were willing to build a fine ballpark, where the Angels have played since 1966.
ROLAND HEMOND has served as Special Assistant to the President and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks since August 2007. During his sixty-year career in the front offices of Organized Baseball, he is a three-time recipient of the Major League Executive of the Year Award (recognized by UPI and “The Sporting News” in 1972, “The Sporting News” again in 1989, and by the Associated Press in 1983). Four awards have been named in his honor: by the Chicago White Sox, for those dedicated to bettering the lives of others through personal sacrifice; by Baseball America, for major contributions to baseball scouting and player development personnel; by SABR, for executives who display great respect for baseball scouts; and by the Arizona Fall League, for meritorious service to the League. In 2011 the National Baseball Hall of Fame awarded him the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.
JEAN HASTINGS ARDELL lives in Corona Del Mar, California, where she works as a writer, editor, and teacher, with baseball a continuing subject of interest. She is author of “Breaking into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime” (Southern Illinois University Press, 2005), and received the Baseball Weekly/SABR award in 1999.
Related links: Longtime SABR member Roland Hemond received the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award in July 2011 during Induction Weekend at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. A three-time winner of MLB’s Executive of the Year award, Hemond has been a tireless advocate for the Society over the years. He is a familiar face at our national convention and other meetings around the country, including the 2011 MLB All-Star FanFest in Phoenix, and has lent his name to an award given annually by SABR’s Scouts Research Committee, which recognizes the baseball executive who has demonstrated a lifetime commitment to professional baseball scouts and scouting, and player development history.