When the Dodgers and Giants moved from New York to California prior to the 1958 season, it opened a new market for Major League Baseball. But it also served as the death knell of top-level minor league baseball in California.
Prior to 1958, a popular baseball team played in Hollywood, in the shade of the palm and orange trees. It shared spotlights with the burgeoning movie and television industry.
For more than three decades, the Hollywood Stars were a glitzy and entertaining team that showcased excellent baseball on the West Coast. But when the Dodgers arrived in 1958, the Stars were pushed aside, a casualty of progress.
Origins of Professional Baseball in Southern California
Even before the US Civil War, there were baseball-loving folks way out west in California. The game was an East Coast innovation, but by 1860, there was a team in Sacramento — though its members were apparently not paid. Finally, in 1878, a four-team pro league was formed, each of the clubs located in or around San Francisco.
And in 1892, organized baseball spread down to Southern California. The California League, which probably had a pretty low quality of baseball, formed with the Los Angeles Seraphs as a member.
The baseball got better by 1903, when the Pacific Coast League was formed. That league included the Los Angeles Angels (sometimes also called the Looloos), San Francisco Seals, Oakland Oaks, Portland Browns, Sacramento Senators, and the wonderfully named Seattle Siwashes.
In just its second season of operation, the PCL became a Class-A league (at that time the top-rated minor league system). Typically, the best players west of the Mississippi River played either in the PCL or the Texas League. Often, the top players would earn more money out west than if they signed with MLB teams in the east.
The PCL operated from 1903-57 as essentially a “near-MLB” level league, boasting numerous stars, such as Frank Chance, Wahoo Sam Crawford, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams. Many of the best players in the PCL went on to star in the American and National Leagues.
But when MLB, led by Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley and Giants owner Horace Stoneham, fixed its aspirations on expanding into California, the PCL’s power was threatened.
The Hollywood Stars in the PCL
The Stars were members of the PCL from 1926-1935, and again from 1938-1957. Though Hollywood was rarely a top team (it captured three pennants in all those years), it was notable.
For a time, the Stars wore satin uniforms with gold lettering on the chest, and were innovators in marketing, media, and among the first teams to wear helmets regularly. They were often called the “Twinks” by fans and the media, which was short for “Twinkle,” as in the twinkle of bright Hollywood lights.
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The Hollywood Stars Were the First Team to Play at Wrigley Field
From 1926-35, and again in 1938, the Stars played their home games at Wrigley Field, which was built by and named for William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum magnate. Wrigley owned the Stars for a time, and also owned the Chicago Cubs. In 1927, the Cubs ballpark on the north side of Chicago was renamed Wrigley Field.
Thus, the Hollywood Stars were the first pro team to play in Wrigley Field, not the Cubs.
Dodgers and Giants Go West
By the 1950s, the PCL had severed its affiliation with MLB, no longer assigned as feeders to big league clubs. Instead, it attempted to sign young players and nudge its way into the discussion as a “major league” market. The rapid population growth and urban expansion in California’s biggest cities drew the attention of several MLB owners.
At league meetings in May of 1957, O’Malley and Stoneham announced they wanted to move the Dodgers and Giants out of New York and to the West Coast. A primary motivator was the lack of availability of cheap land to build modern ballparks in New York. Also, neither O’Malley nor Stoneham was thrilled about the revenue their teams were making as one of three teams packed into one metropolitan area (with the New York Yankees being the third).
AL and NL owners approved the transfer of the teams to California, and a few weeks later it was revealed that the Dodgers would go to Los Angeles, and the Giants would relocate to San Francisco. It was crucial that two teams move simultaneously to ensure there was a rivalry and reduce the need for cross-country travel.
In 1958, both teams played in their new cities, and in 1959, the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first West Coast team to win the World Series. The Dodgers broke attendance records in LA, and went on to win four pennants from 1959-66.
A casualty of MLB’s move west was the PCL teams in LA and San Francisco: the Stars and Seals. MLB had a territorial claim to the cities, and O’Malley and Stoneham understandably didn’t want competition for fans. The Stars and Seals were paid off and ceased to exist.
5 Facts About the Hollywood Stars Baseball Club
- Two of the early owners of the Stars were Victor Ford Collins and Robert H. Cobb, who also owned the Brown Derby restaurants, one of which was an iconic landmark and made appearances in several early era Hollywood films.
- Several celebrities were part owners of the Stars at various times, including Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, and William Frawley (a huge baseball fan who played Fred Mertz in I Love Lucy, TV’s first mega-hit show). Gene Autry, the “singing cowboy,” also was a minority owner of the Stars. Later, Autry brought a second major league team to Southern California, as owner of the expansion Los Angeles Angels in 1961.
- For many years in the 1950s, the PCL had a team in LA called the Angels, which developed a rancorous rivalry with the Stars. In 1957, the two teams had a brawl that lasted more than 30 minutes and was only halted when more than 50 police officers showed up at the ballpark in full riot gear. In the middle of that brouhaha was the Angels young left-handed pitcher Tommy Lasorda, who went on to a Hall of Fame career as manager of the LA Dodgers.
- The PCL season often consisted of 180 games or more because of the good weather in California. As a result, single-season stats would be pretty eye-popping. In 1925, Tony Lazzeri of the Salt Lake City Bees scored 202 runs, a league record. The record for hits was 325, and Lazzeri also held the PCL mark for homers with 60, and RBI with 222 (also in 1925). Future Hall of Famer Paul Waner smacked 75 doubles for the Seals in 1925.
- In part due to their proximity to the film and television studios in the area, the Stars were pioneers in media coverage of their team. In 1939, the team broadcast its first televised game, and in the 1940s the Stars became the first professional baseball team in any league to regularly air their home games in TV.