Monday, April 1, 2013

Orange County Baseball History

Orange County vintage baseball history via The Sunshine Grove

I come from a bat swinging, ball throwing, mitt catching kind of family. I’ve had family members who have played little league, minor league and all in between. I wasn’t the best, but I did like the game, while my younger sister was one of the best catchers in her league. No matter how great we were at the game, we love watching a League of Their Own.
I personally am not a fan of a team, but to the sport. Growing up in Anaheim, I cheered for the Angels, when I went to college I cheered for the Padres, and since I married into a Northeast family I cheer on the Bo Sox at Fenway. There’s something about the hotdogs, peanuts, ice cream, doing the wave, and the 7th inning stretch that are just so good. Summer wouldn’t really feel like summer without a good old fashion ball game.
In honor of opening day, I thought I would share some Orange County baseball history. A few months ago I was sitting on a friend’s porch eating beignets for breakfast when they brought out the newly published Baseball in Orange County book, by Chris Epting (part of the Images of America series). It has lots of great vintage photos of baseball throughout Orange County with a wealth of information about teams, players and memorable games including our very own hometown of Anaheim.
One of my favorite photos is early on in the book, and is the oldest photography in it from 1888. The Fairview Club baseball team from Costa Mesa sported mustaches and one player even wore a bow tie. That is exactly what I would picture baseball before the turn of the century.

Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
Into the 1900s many of the teams in Orange County existed because of sponsors. The oil companies that owned the oil fields sponsored Oil Well teams that were played by the strong men that worked their oil fields. Merchant teams also existed, where a player was sponsored by a merchant in the city so their uniform would have the sponsor’s name across the front of the uniform shirt. Some of these teams even travelled to Anaheim, where a park had just been built to hold 1,000 fans and became one of the most popular places to play a game or two. Unfortunately this park no longer exists and is now a neighborhood.

Courtesy Anaheim Public Library

October 31st 1924 marked a significant day in Orange County baseball when Babe Ruth pitched for the Ruth All Stars, a team made up of Major League players against Walter Johnson who pitched for the Anaheim Elks. The book has plenty of great photos of this event. The game was held at the Brea Bowl, which is now another neighborhood. The upside is the Brea Museum and Heritage Center has a baseball from this game signed by Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and other players.
Anaheim’s Pearson Park, then known as Anaheim City Park, had a grandstand built in 1927 for baseball fans viewing pleasure. Although the grandstand has been rebuilt, it remains in the original location and was renovated to look like the original structure.
La Palma Park in Anaheim also holds quite the baseball history. It served as the Spring training camp for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1940 and 1941. Joe DiMaggio even played at La Palma Park during WWII when he was part of the Santa Ana Air Base team. La Palma Park even saw the likes of Jackie Robinson when his life movie was filmed on the field in the 1950s. The field is now called Dee Field and is outside of Glover Stadium.
Did you know that citrus growers sponsored baseball teams? What if I told you they were ladies playin’ ball? The Orange Lionettes made it to the Southern California championships in the 1930s and won their first National Championship in 1950. I would love to see a color photo of their 1950s uniform – I imagine it was a nice bright orange since it looks so shiny in their team photo. Dorothy “Snookie” Harrell Doyle, a short stop for the Rockford Peaches during WWII later played for the Orange Lionettes from 1956 to 1960. Her jacket and photos are on display at the Newport Sports Museum.

Courtesy of the Local History Collection, Orange Public Library, Orange, CA. Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply
 Due to segregation, Mexicans who lived in Orange County were not allowed to play on the white teams. Both men and women teams were created in different cities and played each other. The ladies’ team from Orange was called the Tomboys. Their team photo shows them wearing a stark white uniform of shorts and a collared top with rolled sleeves. They look absolutely glamorous for such Tomboys.

Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
In 1966 Orange County finally entered the Major Leagues after playing baseball in the fields for over 100 years. In fact, the Angels still play in the very same stadium albeit many remodels and upgrades over the years.
Next time you are at a ball game and stand up to sing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”, thank Jack Norworth, who was an Orange County resident.
* All facts from Baseball in Orange County
** Amazon is an affiliate of The Sunshine Grove.
If you buy the book we get a little something to help keep our blog running.

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