Today I’m pleased to present a guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday contributor here, about an all-time memorable day of brawls in the Pacific Coast League in 1953.
At the Society for American Baseball Research Forbes Field Chapter’s May meeting, I spoke about what it was like to grow up as a baseball fan in Los Angeles during the pre-Dodger 1950s.
In a word: Great!
The PCL was designated as “Open” or “AAAA” classification, the highest minor league level. In all but its name, the PCL was a third major league with its own traditions and records. Accordingly, the play quality was excellent and the squads featured a large cast of future and former major leaguers.
Among the outstanding all time greats who worked their way through the PCL were Joe DiMaggio (who had a 61 game hitting streak his first year), Ted Williams, Mickey Cochrane, Luke Easter, Ferris Fain, Maury Wills, Billy Martin and managers Casey Stengel and Charlie Dressen.
During the exhibition season, the PCL scheduled games against the majors. Babe Ruth said that most of the teams he faced were as good as any in the American League. One of the PCL’s premier teams, the Los Angeles Angels, called themselves the “Yankees West.”
What the PCL meant to kids like me is that we rooted for one of the two local teams, the Hollywood Stars affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Angels, part of the Chicago Cubs’ organization.
The rivalry between the Stars and the Angels was intense. Think Brooklyn Dodger versus New York Giants. And even that comparison doesn’t do the Stars-Angels feud justice.
When the crosstown opponents took the field, anything could happen. On August 2, 1953 it did.
During a Sunday doubleheader, with the second game cut to seven innings as was the custom, three separate brawls broke out that were so savage that 50 uniformed Los Angeles Police Department officers were summoned to the scene.
Bad blood had been boiling between the Stars and the Angels during their week-long series. The previous Friday night a small scale free-for-all broke out. But it was nothing compared to what erupted during the first Sunday game.
The fighting, broadcast on a TV network, began in the sixth inning. Initially the umpires restored peace.
But the slug-fest promptly broke out again. As it happened, Police Chief William H. Parker was like most of Los Angeles watching the game on television. Parker promptly dispatched his officers to help the over-matched umpires.
By this time, the diamond has become a mob scene with six separate fights in progress at the same time. In one, the Angels’ Al Evans pummeled umpire Joe Iacovetti.
When the melee’s gouging, spiking and slugging finally ended, the injuries included black eyes, deep bloody cuts and several missing teeth.
Chief Parker didn’t trust the two teams to behave better in the second game so he ordered his troops to remain seated on the bench throughout the night cap. Only the nine active players on each team were allowed on the field. The reserves were kept under lock and key in the clubhouse.
The umpires and the cops, fearing that the 10,000 fans would join in any further fights, exercised maximum caution.
As for the games, Hollywood won the opener 4-1 while the Angels prevailed the in late game, 5-3. Hollywood went on to win the 1953 PCL pennant with an astounding 106-74 record finishing thirteen games ahead of the Angels.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the majors played plenty of games that involved fisticuffs. In that long ago era, a pitcher could throw inside or slide into a base with spikes flying without fear of getting tossed.
During the same 1953 as the Stars-Angels infamous dust up, the New York Yankees had a well publicized one of their own involving the former PCL Oakland Oaks’ firebrand Billy Martin and the quick-tempered St. Louis Brown catcher Clint “Scrap Iron” Courtney.
On a play at second base, Courtney spiked shortstop Phil Rizzuto. Martin jumped in and started pounding on Courtney.
When it was over, the Yankees and the Browns were fined an American League record $850. But when you compare Yankees-Browns tussle to the Stars-Angels donnybrook, it isn’t even close.
Such a scene is unimaginable in today’s baseball. A wrong look at an umpire or a brush-back pitch will get a player ejected on the spot.
Bring back the freewheeling days!
Joe Guzzardi is a writer and member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s the worst brawl you ever saw?