Opening Day, April 1, 2013 is 3 days away. There have been one hundred walk off home runs in Angels history. This is the story of #3, the final walk off home run hit at the Angels original home park.
August 29, 1961 - The Baltimore Orioles lineup featured a future Angels Genral Manager in the person of Left Fielder Whitey Herzog and he was part of a sixth inning, come-form-behind rally by the birds to turn a 3-1 Angels lead 4-3 in the Orioles' favor.
In the bottom of the eighth, starter Billy Hoeft loaded the bases with a two-out HBP and manager Paul Richards stuck with him. Albie Pearson then drew a bases on balls and the tying runs was walked in.
And the manager still stayed with his starter. The Orioles got to Eli Grba in his third inning of relief, scoring the go-ahead run in the top of eleventh inning. But the Angels came back with a powerful retort in the bottom half. Shortstop Joe Koppe hit a solo shot off of Hoeft to lead off the inning. With the score tied and one out, Steve Bilko hit a tie-breaking solo walk off home run to Deep Left Field, which at old the Wrigely Field ballpark the Angels played in means Bilko's blast may have hit an unsuspecting fan's car in the parking lot.
Final Score: Angels 6, Orioles 5
LA's Wrigley Field had been home to the Pacific Coast League Los Angeles Angels since it opened in the 1920s. The PCL Angels played there thru the 1957 season when major league baseball came West. Dodger Owner Walter O'Malley bought the Angels franchise as a minor league team and moved them to Seattle - the Seattle Angels played under that name for a few years in the 1960s. O'Malley took their interlocked L-A cap logo for his Dodgers.
When Gene Autry bought an expansion team after the 1960 season, one of the hold ups was haggling with O'Malley over many territorial rights issues. The Angels came into existence on December 6, 1960 and soon thereafter hasty improvements to old Wrigley Field were attempted. The rustic park was not considered adequate in an era where modernity was all the rage and any architecture from before World War II was a target for demolition of only to start again.
Steve Bilko had played for the PCL Angels in the mid-1950s and was a local superstar, having hit 148 home runs in three seasons for the team (1955, 1956, and their last year, 1957). The Angels took him in the expansion draft despite his lackluster 9-HR season with the Tigers in 1960. It was a brilliant marketing move, as it gave the new expansion franchise a sense of continuity with an established local brand - same familiar ballpark, same big slugger in the lineup... just better opponents!
Bilko hit 20 home runs in 1961 for the Angels - incluing this, the final walk off home run in the history of the park as well as the final home run in the history of LA's Wrigley Field, a bottom of the ninth two-out pinch hit solo shot off of Mudcat Grant in an 8-5 loss on October 1, 1961. George Thomas followed with and infield groundout and the first season of major league Angels baseball came to a close with the wheels of progress grinding away a big part of the past.
For a man with only 553 Plate Appearances as a major league Angel, Bilko's presence still appears in two single-season franchise top ten categories: His 14.7 AB per HR in 1961 is fourth all time. In the category of Offensive Win Percentage - a stat the calculates the winning percentage of a lineup of nine of this player, his .718 from 1961 stood as the Angels single season record for twenty years and still ranks sixth all time in franchise history.