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A bit of history on the “Angels” in California

The name “Angels” in Los Angeles dates back all the way to the 1890s

Jack Lelivelt Pointing Out Something to Oscar Reichow Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

While it’s true that the current franchise and team history really dates back to 1961, the history of the “Angels” in California runs MUCH deeper than that.

1890s: The Beginning

The very first appearance of a team called “the Angels” dates back to 1892 when the Los Angeles Seraphs began playing baseball.

Seraph: an angelic being, regarded in traditional Christian angelology as belonging to the highest order of the ninefold celestial hierarchy, associated with light, ardor, and purity.

The Seraphs were a 14 man team who played in the “original” California League, a league that attempted to gain traction in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The following year, the team changed their name to the “Angels” but were commonly known as the Seraphs for quite some time to follow.

In 1893, the Angels were playing at Athletic Park in Los Angeles on Alameda Street between 7th and Palmetto. On that field, the Angels and Stockton River Pirates became the first teams to play a night game on the West Coast (MLB wouldn’t hold their first night game until 1935). The Angels won that 9PM game on July 2nd, 1893 with a score of 5-2.

Following the 1893 season, the California League dissolved, only to appear again from 1899-1902 but the Angels/Seraphs were not part of that revival. Following the 1902 season, California League officials met to expand the league beyond California and the result was the 6 team Pacific Coast League that contained the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Oaks, Portland Beavers, Sacramento Senators, San Francisco Seals, and Seattle Indians.

1903-1934: PCL Dominance

In 1903, the Angels were back (called the “Looloos through the 1905 season), though they had no affiliation with the team that played from 1892-1893. Entrepreneur James Furlong “Jim” Morley founded the team who played at Chutes Park through the 1910 season, followed by Washington Park (same location) through the 1925 season.

Chutes/Washington Park
LA Public Library

During that inaugural PCL season, the Los Angeles Looloos absolutely ran away with the league, finishing with a 133-78 record and finding themselves 27.5 games ahead of the Sacramento Senators.

One William Wrigley Jr. (owner of the Chicago Cubs) came along to purchase the Angels in 1921 and when he couldn’t get the city to make ballpark improvements, he took his chewing gum money and built his own stadium in South Central Los Angels and aptly named it “Wrigley Field”. The first professional stadium called “Wrigley Field” was in Los Angels since the park in Chicago was named “Cubs Park” until it’s name changed to Wrigley Field in November of 1926.

Through the 1934 season, the Angels (AKA Seraphs, AKA Looloos) won 10 league titles (including 4 in the PCL’s first 6 years) and were a dominant force in the league. In that 1934 season, the Angels fielded one of the greatest teams in the history of baseball. They finished the season 137-50, 35.5 games ahead of the 2nd place Mission Reds This 1934 team was SO good that their opponent in the post season was a team composed of all-stars (selected from a fan vote) from the 7 other PCL teams. Note: None other than Joe DiMaggio was in the league at the time but could not play in the post season due to a knee injury. Despite their all-star opponents, the Angels went on to win their 10th league title.

1935-1957: The End is Near

Although the team won league championships again in 1947 and 1956 (and had one of their best year’s ever in 1943), their dominance was fading, and by the late 50’s they would depart from the PCL and Los Angeles.

Prior to the 1957, Phillip Wrigley (who had inherited the team from his father), sold the team and field to Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley for 3 million dollars which amounts to roughly 26 million dollars in today’s money.

O’Malley had assured that he would continue operation of the team as the Wrigley’s had, but he did so for only 1 season. HIs ownership of the minor league team (who was affiliated with the Dodgers for the 1957 season) gave him exclusive rights to Major League Baseball in Los Angels, which he used to relocate the Dodgers.

In 1958, the Hollywood Stars (the other LA minor league team) moved to Salt Lake City to become the Salt Lake Bees. This Salt Lake Bees was not the same team as the current Angels AAA affiliate, but it IS where their current affiliate got their name from. The Angels would move to Spokane where they became the Spokane Indians and after the 1972 season would move on from the Dodgers organization to become affiliates with the Texas Rangers.

Also of note, is the Dodgers, now that they were moving to Los Angeles, adopted the interlocking “L” and “A” that the PCL Angels had been using. Dirty rotten thieves.

1961-1965: The Major League Angels are born

It was an interesting turn of events on how Gene Autry brought the Angels to California as a major league team. First, he had already been a minority owner in the aforementioned Hollywood Stars that was run out of town thanks to the Dodgers. Then in 1960 when MLB had announced plans to bring another team to Los Angels, Autry had expressed interest in the radio broadcast rights for the new team.

O’Malley who had exclusive rights to the LA market heard that master promoter Vill Veeck was involved (along with Hank Greenberg) and was not a fan of the idea. After it became clear that O’Malley would not sign off on that deal, Autry was convinced to make a bid himself. O’Malley still owned the rights to the Angels team name from the prior PCL team, so Autry purchased those rights, and a major league team was born.

In 1961, the Angels were playing at the same Wrigley field the PCL Angels had been playing at up to 1957, but from 1962-1965 they shared the brand new Dodger Stadium, calling it “Chavez Ravine Stadium” to avoid constantly referring to their landlords.

The Angels, were also the first major league baseball team formed in California since the Dodgers and Giants came from New York, and the A’s were from Philadelphia originally.

1966-1977: Escape from LA

In 1965, the Angels had changed their name to the California Angels in recognition of their pending move south on the 5 freeway to their new home in Anaheim. While the Angels had not separated themselves from LA, they were having a hard time making a name for themselves, finishing no higher than 4th place 10 times in 12 year and 3rd place twice (1969-1970).

Orange County, and the city of Anaheim was not the first choice for a new Angels stadium. Autry had tried to first get a stadium done in Los Angeles, then Long Beach before finally striking a deal with the city of Anaheim.

The Angels weren’t without notable players during this mediocre period with Dean Chance (1964 Cy Young Award), Jim Fergosi (6 time All Star), Sandy Alomar, Frank Robinson (age 38 sesaon), Nolan Ryan (AL strikeout leaders 7 of his 8 seasons as an Angel), and others.

1978-1995: Peaks and Valleys

In 1978, the Angels finished 2nd for the first time in their history, followed by a 1st place finish and first every playoff trip in 1979 under manager Jim Fergosi who was a former player originally sent away in a trade that brought Nolan Ryan to the Angels.

Also in 1979, Don Baylor became the first DH to win the Most Valuable Player award, and aside from Nolan Ryan (in his last season as an Angel), the Angels boasted a powerful team that included Rod Carew, Bobby Grich, and Brian Downing. Unfortunately the Angels lost to the Orioles in the American League Championship Series.

For the 1980 season, the Angels had to share their stadium with the Los Angels Rams. The result of stadium changes, closed in the outfield and blocked views of neighboring mountain ranges (thanks NFL!) as well as the Big A scoreboard which had to be moved to the parking lot. Thankfully, the Rams left town after the 1995 season and the Angels had the stadium all to themselves again.

The 1980s brought frustration to the team who fell short of making the World Series by a hair in both the 1982 and 1986 seasons. After the 1986 season, the Angels slipped back into mediocrity through the 1994 season before placing 2nd in 1995 - the season in which they suffered the worst collapse in franchise history. The Angels lost an 11 game lead in the AL West in August, ending the season in a tie before losing to the Mariners in a 1 game playoff to get into the post season. Ouch indeed.

1996-2002: The Disney Years

The Walt Disney Company took control of the team in 1996 though Gene Autry remained chairman until his death in 1998. Bill Stoneman came on as GM in 1999, ultimately leading to the Angels World Series win in 2002.

As part of negotiations with the city over renovations, the team would keep t “Anaheim” in their name but the team could sell the naming rights to the stadium, which they did, resulting in Edison International Field of Anaheim from 1998-2003. Extensive renovations were made for the 1998 season, including the outfield rock pile and water features, along with a new stadium facade that included the iconic giant helmets.

Also of note during this era was in 2002 when the Angels away jerseys read “Anaheim”, the first time since 1965 their geographic location had been noted on it’s uniforms.

Plenty has been written on the Angels 2002 World Series victory so I won’t go into details here. However, it was during that 2002 series that the Rally Monkey (born in 2000) really came into his own.

2003-Present: Arte Comes to Town

Say what you want about Arte Moreno as an owner, but since he purchased the team, the Angels had never finished worse than 3rd until 2016. Since Arte took over, there has not yet been a World Series victory, but the Angels have won 6 division titles since 2004, including a 100 victory season in 2008.

Arte became the first hispanic born sports team owner in America with his 2003 purchase of the team for $180 million.

The seven year run of Edison Field had come to an end and the stadium was renamed Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Speaking of name changes, the controversial change of the team to “Los Angels Angels of Anaheim” took place in 2005. The club media guide stated:

The inclusion of Los Angeles reflects the original expansion name and returns the Angels as Major League Baseball’s American League representative in the Greater Los Angeles territory.

In a sense, the team name has come full circle thanks to Arte Moreno - all the way back to the Los Angeles Angels who played in the 1890s at Athletic Park. Next up - a new chapter in the team’s history perhaps as they take the best player in baseball and hopefully claim World Series title #2. Stay tuned!

Los Angeles Dodgers v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Mike Trout: Spring Training 2011
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images