Early on in my career as an Angel fan, I came across the interesting bit of trivia about how the Angels' 1961 team holds the record for the most wins ever by an expansion team, when they went 77-84 and finished eighth in the ten team American League.
It wasn't until about six years ago, when I was one of the writers for ESPN's Angel blog (Halos Daily), that I was trolling through Baseball-Reference doing research and discovered something even more remarkable, something almost miraculous, about the 1962 Angel team -- they were a second-year expansion team that was somehow in first place in the American League on the fourth of July and then was punching it out in the ring with the Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees deep into September for the pennant.
Never in a million years should that have happened.
As expansion teams that came into existence in 1961, the Angels and Washington Senators had to build their initial rosters by selecting players who had been left exposed to the expansion draft by the eight existing AL teams. Or in other words, they had to build their rosters from a list of the worst players in the league.
The reason why the Angels ended up falling to the investment group headed by Gene Autry in the first place was that the group that had been expected to own the Los Angeles team from the start, a group headed by Hall of Fame Detroit Tiger first baseman Hank Greenberg, suddenly got cold feet and pulled out at the last minute. Greenberg explained that the reason why his group pulled the plug on owning the LA expansion team was that he saw the list of players available for the expansion draft, and he realized that whatever team he could make from that would be a losing team for a very, very long time, and he felt that it was financial suicide to invest in this club, so he and his group bailed.
So how did a team created from the worst players in the league almost win the American League pennant in 1962? You couldn't trade for better players, could you? Why would the general managers of the other clubs trade you one of the players they wanted to keep for one that you had picked up off of the scrap heap? Also, this was before the era of free agency, so the Angels couldn't instantly and drastically and improve their lot by signing a Sandy Koufax or a Harmon Killebrew.
So how were the 1962 Los Angeles Angels able to do what they had done?
I badly wanted to know, so I went searching for a book I could read that would explain it all. But to my deep disappointment, I found that this book did not exist. I then decided to rectify this horrible oversight and write it myself.
I spent a year researching this book. I holed up in the library at Cal State San Bernardino for months reading the microfilm copies of every Los Angeles Times article written about this team during the 1962 calendar year. I read every 1962 Sports Illustrated and Sporting News article about the Angels that I could dig up. I read Bo Belinski's autobiography, Pitching and Wooing, and every other book I could find that had even a paragraph about this team. Most importantly, however, I was able to interview several of the players from that '62 team over the phone.
On the internet, I found a guy who sold a master list of the addresses of every living ex-Major Leaguer for people who like to mail off baseball cards and whatnot for the former players to autograph. Unfortunately, many of the players, like Jim Fregosi and Leon Wagner, had passed away by this time, but I was able to send letters to about half of the men who played on the '62 squad.
I had no idea if any of these men would be interested in contacting me, but then one day, to my great thrill, the former Angel pitcher Ted Bowsfield called me. We conducted the first of two long interviews, and then shortly thereafter, I received more phone calls and letters from several of the other former players. It was an honor to listen to their stories and insights.
I self-published The Spectacular Case of the 1962 Los Angeles Angels as an ebook on Amazon, and with a little bit of publicity from Halos Daily, I was able to sell a little over 1,200 copies.
After feeling good about this accomplishment, I decided to forge ahead and write more about the team I love. I have since self-published The First Golden Age of Angel Baseball, a book detailing the 1978 through 1986 seasons; The Outstanding Career of Bobby Grich, a book chronicling the achievements of the legendary Oriole/Angel infielder; and This Day in Angel History, a book with 366 Angel stories (gotta represent February 29th!).
I am currently working on The Second Golden Age of Angel History which covers the 2002 through 2009 seasons. A four-part preview was published here at Halos Heaven.