Opening Day is tomorrow. We've counted down 99 of the 100 walk off home runs in Angels franchise history. With one day left, here is the story one the very first one.
May 3, 1961 - The 1961 Angels would finish their first season with 70 Wins. As one of the first two expansion teams in baseball history, they still hold that first season record among baseball's fourteen expansion teams... and it should be noted that the Angels and second-incarnation Washington Senators each drafted from a pool of unprotected players on American League rosters in December of 1960 while teams like the Rockies, Rays, Marlins and Diamondbacks have drafted from all of baseball.
The team won its very first game on the road in Baltimore. They lost eight straight after that. By the fifteenth game of the season they had already had their first win at home and their first extra-inning win. In their fifteenth game of the season, smack dab in the middle of their very first homestand, they won their first walk off home run game. In 2012, 52 seasons later, Mark Trumbo would hit the one-hundredth walk off home run in Angels franchise history.
Here is the story of how that legacy started.
It was cold and wet, 58 degrees and the sun had set before the first pitch. The 4-10 expansion Angels were hosting the Baltimore Orioles. In 1954, the St. Louis Browns had moved to Baltimore and changed their name. Owner Bill Veeck had wanted to move to the West Coast but was forbidden to by the league. If baseball was going to move west they wanted financially stable franchises. Veeck had also wanted to break the color barrier in the 1940s, but was blocked on this as well. And so here was Veeck's old team playing integrated baseball on the west coast less than twenty years after he had proposed both ideas. He didn't own the team any more - he owned the White Sox.
The Orioles had won on Tuesday and had a 6-1 lead after their half of the fifth inning on this Tuesday night. The Angels picked away at the lead in the seventh with one run. they scored two runs in the eighth. It was 6-4 in the bottom of the ninth and the O's Hal Brown got two outs before facing Ted Kluszewski. One of the original Pacific Coast League L.A. Angels, he was drafted as much for his power as for his marketing connection to the team's history. He proved it a wise signing with a solo home run to deep Right Field, onto the row of houses across 41st Place from the stadium, to make it a 6-5 ball game.
Rattled, the reliever walked Ken Hunt and up stepped slugging Catcher Earl Averill.
Earl Averill was drafted from Bill Veeck's White Sox in the expansion draft the team used to fill its major league roster. He started 78 games as Catcher in 1961 for the Angels. Although he would hit 21 home runs and compile an OPS+ of 123, he also allowed 44 stolen bases, leading the American League in that category and playing his last major league game near the end of the 1963 season for the Phillies.
But in the fifteenth game ever played by the Major League Los Angeles Angels, he hit the first walk off home run in franchise history. When he hit that home run to Left Field off of Brown, it was a no doubter, sailing into the cold damp night air deep over the Left Field Wall and into the parking lot. Earl Averill had hit a come from behind walk off home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Final Score: Angels 7, Orioles 6.