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Mota’s Magical Memories – Guest’s Corner

One of the best memories for me in the playoffs was having my dad in the booth as a fan, cheering the Angels on, and to see how happy he was for Mike Scioscia.

In Guest’s Corner; Angels, Fox West and MLB Network broadcasting guru, José Mota, provides insight into his career, talks former Angels Hall of Fame hopefuls and gives tips to UK and Irish baseball players.

After starting my broadcast career for Fox Sports in 1997, I was thrilled when the Angels gave me the opportunity to become a Major League broadcaster in 2002. Regardless of my strong ties to the Dodgers, for which I am totally thankful, my ultimate goal was to become a broadcaster for a franchise, bottom line. I actually got my first ever chance to broadcast for a big league team with the Dodgers, as I sat in to replace a great mentor, Hall of Famer, Jaime Jarrin, on Dodgers Spanish radio. Jaime and his beautiful family took a long-awaited vacation one season and he and the team called me in to work with his great partner back then, Pepe Yñiguez. But the Angels truly opened a door that I feel so blessed to have walked into, considering the many platforms I’ve been exposed to, and they’ve given me the opportunity to broadcast to the Latinos and to the English-speaking fans. I absolutely love the Angels fan base, as they have welcomed me into their homes now for 19 years. You rock!

My dad [baseball legend Manny Mota] has always been very proud of how good the Dodgers teams were that he was an integral part of, and very thankful for the opportunities to be part of World Series winners; he knew what it took to build and to prepare a champion. As for me… Talk about timing… I was fortunate and blessed enough to join the Angels in Spanish radio to enjoy the magical ride in 2002; what a season! Along with myself, also joining were Terry Smith and Rory Markas (RIP) as the new English-radio team. It was so wonderful to join Iván Lara, my new broadcast partner, such a great organization and a wonderful team. I felt right at home immediately after being hired by the Disney group, as I had been friends with Tim Mead (then the VP Communications, current president of the Baseball HOF) one of the best ambassadors this game has ever had, and a team that was managed by another old friend in Mike Scioscia. I met Mike when I was 15, when he played Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic for Licey. Along with him, many of the team’s coaches I had also met as a youngster. My father was very influential in me understanding the ups and downs of a long, winding MLB season, as as he always says “don’t get too high or don’t get too low” as you ride the wave. He saw the talent of that team and he was very optimistic that with Scioscia, Bill Stoneman as the GM, the coaches, and the hunger, that the team was going to be capable of doing great things… and he was right. One of the best memories for me in the playoffs was having my dad in the booth as a fan, cheering the Angels on, and to see how happy he was for Mike Scioscia.

Believe in the dream and don’t let anyone or anything stop you from pursuing what you love and believe in. There is no substitute for diligent work, for applying yourself, for having a drive to succeed, and for the discipline needed to get there.

Talking of great teams and players from the Angel’s past, it would mean the world and more for a country like Venezuela to see another great player represent them in Cooperstown. For the beautiful people from that beloved Latin corner, I will hold on to the hope that Bobby Abreu will get votes to escalate in the near future. In a fair world, there’s no doubt he’d be in the Hall of Fame. Bobby was a dynamic player, with multiple tools, which he knew how to utilize to make himself a force to help his team accomplish success on the field. Plus Bobby has always been a first-class citizen and truly deserves it! Similarly, Torii Hunter, a great friend, as is Bobby, the numbers, longevity, leadership are all there to make it to Cooperstown. The question becomes which players he comes closer to in terms of comparisons. I’d love to see them both get in, as they are outstanding fellas, humble, and giving. Both have helped me become a better broadcaster.

If I could give any advice to young UK and Irish baseball players, and players across the Commonwealth who represent the Great Britain team and their nations, is to believe in the dream and don’t let anyone or anything stop you from pursuing what you love and believe in. There is no substitute for diligent work, for applying yourself, for having a drive to succeed, and for the discipline needed to get there. Practice, practice, and practice more. Use tools like social media, the internet, YouTube, and specialized platforms that can teach you the game from the basic fundamentals. Watch the great players, watch the average players and know that there’s something to be learned from those that play or have played at the highest level. Be patient as your skills develop, and know that in baseball there’s a lot of failure, which will eventually serve the young player to build perseverance and to always find ways to improve. Think LIMITLESS. 

If you would like to take over Guest’s Corner, with a contribution for our UK readers and fan club members to enjoy, please get in touch.

The Forgotten Age of Northern English Professional Baseball

The small trophy in our possession clearly hints at a past glory, a time of professionalism for our sport that has long since passed and the likes we are almost certain to never see again on these shores.

Angels Over the Pond founder, Editor and features writer, Matt Thomas, writes on the fascinating heritage of British baseball.

Left to right: Bellafoire, Coward, Howard and Ritchie

In June 2021 we happened to stumble across a small, quite damaged little trophy engraved “N of E Baseball League – 1937- runners up” for sale, and in desperate need of rescue. In June 1935 the North of England Baseball League was already established and making headway with it’s then semi-professional arrangement. The Merseyside region had taken advantage of it’s heritage locally of the Welsh and English version of baseball to forge ahead with introducing the ‘American code’ of the game in recent years, and the North of England Baseball League had been the logical next step. The standout team of the 1935 season were the champions Oldham Greyhounds, though another team with big ambitions were the amateur Rochdale Greys, who uniquely had a roster made up entirely of Mormon missionaries from Utah, and whose players refused to accept payment for their talent.

The North of England Baseball League was primarily made up of clubs based in what is now Greater Manchester, many who held links to professional football (Association Football or soccer) clubs in the region. This new league was at times met with some disdain from residents of the Liverpool area, who held the opinion that they had spent years popularising the ‘American code’ whilst Manchester did not and yet their clubs were being overlooked. The driving force behind the rise of ‘American code’ baseball in Lancashire as a whole had long been Littlewoods Pools owner, John Moores, who had financially invested heavily into his dream of professionalism in northern England. Legend has it that Moores’ obsession stemmed from a chance meeting with John Heydler, the President of the National League, whilst in the United States. It was said that Moores made Heydler a one dollar bet that one day professionalism would exist in England and that England would defeat the United States (more on this later). From this his National Baseball Association in England was born.

By November of 1935 the defeated North of England Baseball League Cup finalists, Bradford Northern (the baseball arm of the illustrious Bradford Northern rugby league football club), made the logical move from the North of England Baseball League to the new fully professional Yorkshire league, joining other rugby league heavyweights such as Hull Kingston Rovers, Wakefield Trinity and Castleford who also had baseball arms of their clubs in that league. Northern’s place in the North of England Baseball League was taken up by the newly formed Liverpool Giants Baseball Club. The logic behind the new Yorkshire league was that the north would have two separate professional leagues, with the North of England Baseball League (now becoming fully professional) and the new Yorkshire league covering the north of England, with London to have the third professional league.

The driving force behind the rise of ‘American code’ baseball in Lancashire as a whole had long been Littlewoods Pools owner, John Moores, who had financially invested heavily into his dream of professionalism in northern England.

In December the new Liverpool Giants Baseball Club announced that they had signed their first players, James Cawley, a pitcher who had been plying his trade on the amateur circuit in the Merseyside area, with the Albion Baseball Club. Cawley was reputedly the bearer of one of the hottest fastballs in England. The club also acquired catcher Alf Coward, Sam Casey for left field and rather interestingly signed a local boxer, Ken Robinson, as first baseman. The secretary of the club was elected, Mr T Wilson, with his headquarters being at 51 Alverstone Road. The new club hired Jim Kelly to play short stop and coach.

By March 1936 the National Baseball Association had restructured it’s association entirely, with their headquarters moving to London. Notably representatives of both Liverpool and Everton football clubs were elected to leading roles, and John Moores acting as President:

G R Holmes (Liverpool Football Club) – Chairman
Ernest Green (Everton Football Club Director/Chairman) – Vice Chairman
John Charles Rouse (Liverpool Football Club Director) – Treasurer
G F Gledhill – Secretary
Theo Kelly (Everton Football Club Manager) – Executive
J F Langford (Liverpool County Football Association) – Executive
S B Bryan – Executive
P O’Grady – Executive

Also in March it was confirmed that the Giants would represent the city in the now professional North of England Baseball League, with the Giants to be based at Stanley Greyhound Stadium (Stanley Track). Stanley Track was located on Prescott Road in the City, and offered decent facilities, with standard admission being 6d (six pence) and admission to the stands being 1s (one shilling). In an effort to recruit families the admission for women was half price and for children just 2d. It is interesting to note that for the 1936 season, across the three professional leagues in Britain, there was an agreed salary cap of £2 10s per game for baseball players, with the average player starting three games per week.

It was confirmed that the Giants would represent the city [of Liverpool] in the now professional North of England Baseball League, with the Giants to be based at Stanley Greyhound Stadium…

In the 1936 season the Giants believed that they had enough strength in depth to have a second team in the Division Two of the North of England Baseball League, the Liverpool Royals, whilst maintaining the Giants as genuine title contenders. Amongst the 1936 roster the Giants had a number of professional football players such as; Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper Alec Scott, and Port Vale full-back Harry Griffiths. A number of North Americans such as Edinburgh University player Ben Geringer (a native of West Virginia), Edward (Eddie) O’Melia (of Kansas City), Allan Forrest (of Scarsdale) and Canadian Bob Schofield were also on their books.

As early as May the local Liverpool press were bemoaning the fact that the new North of England Baseball League’s professional status had drained the local region of it’s best talent, including Littlewoods Baseball Club, the ‘works club’ of National Baseball Association President John Moores. The level of development in ‘the American code’ was so high in the Liverpool area that the new Yorkshire league was also tapping up their umpires. Towards the end of May 1936 an arrangement between the North of England Baseball League and London Major League that placed limits of transfers and fees was abandoned, with the northern clubs unhappy that this would result in a drain of the best professional talent to the London clubs.

In June Liverpool Giants signed a new catcher to their roster, D Wagner of the Oregon State League, in doing so releasing P Murray who joined former Liverpool area umpire William Cleasby, now coaching Bradford City Sox. Wagner faced serious competition for the catcher’s spot, with former Edinbrough University baseball player W Bellafoire, likely another American, becoming the latest star for the Giants. In July 1936, with the professional North of England Baseball League well under way, the amateur Liverpool Caledonians decided to take their star man, Everton and England footballer Dixie Dean, to challenge London side Harringay to a battle. Despite Dixie playing well the Liverpool amateurs were taught a harsh lesson by the Londoners.

Bootle Baseball Club welcomed Japanese baseball team Toyooka Maru to Merseyside. The fully amateur Bootle easily defeated the Japanese touring side 20 to 4 and it was noted that baseball in the area was now of such a high standard that these touring international teams would no longer have the upper hand when they came to England.

Around this time in 1936 the National Baseball Association turned their attention to grass roots baseball again in Merseyside and arranged baseball coaching and classes for a number of local schools. Over recent years Moores’ money had also extended to inviting international teams to challenge Lancashire baseball sides in England and July Bootle Baseball Club welcomed Japanese baseball team Toyooka Maru to Merseyside. The fully amateur Bootle easily defeated the Japanese touring side 20 to 4 and it was noted that baseball in the area was now of such a high standard that these touring international teams would no longer have the upper hand when they came to England.

By late July it was becoming obvious that the Manchester region had stolen a march on Liverpool, and that the formation of Liverpool Giants had been a season too late, as most of the local baseball talent had already been taken by the Manchester clubs for the previous season. This left the Giants with the task of finding and training up potential new professional players mid-season, and locals were unhappy that professional players born and bred in their region were leading men for rival Manchester clubs. The Liverpool Echo also encouraged locals to attend Giants games, as attendances were below the 10,000 expectation. They reported that the player’s jerseys were clearly numbered and play by play announcements were a feature over the stadium loudspeaker, and the informative club programmes enabled new spectators to easily follow play.

In August the Giants, despite a spirited first season in the North of England Baseball League, saw the championship go to the Rochdale Greys and they were forced to settle for an acceptable third place. The nearing end of the season saw the Giants turn their attention to recruiting North American talent, with Canadian second baseman Jack Ritchie signed to the roster alongside star pitcher Jack Lands, arriving from the Montreal Intermediate Baseball League. Lands apparently was an ice hockey goaltender, as it was reported on his acquisition that he had previously won the Dave Kerr Trophy twice in Montreal. Lands arrived in Liverpool with his new bride, having married three months prior, and used his move to Britain as a honeymoon! Both players also agreed to combine their duties with the Giants with coaching clubs in the amateur leagues.

The Giants made the decision to move from Stanley Track to their own privately owned, purpose built baseball stadium on Church Road, in Wavertree. The new ‘Giants Baseball Stadium’ had a capacity of 12,000 and comfortably allowed all spectators to see the diamond from all areas.

In January 1937 the Giants were rocked by the tragic news that W Thomas, of the club’s Management Committee, had passed away. Club Manager, W F Steel, and Secretary, L Wilson, both lamented the loss of such a knowledgeable baseball man and it was noted that the loss of Thomas’ newspaper coverage of baseball nationally (using the moniker ‘Chiming Bells’) would damage the growth of the sport. In March the Giants made the decision to move from Stanley Track to their own privately owned, purpose built baseball stadium on Church Road, in Wavertree. The new ‘Giants Baseball Stadium’ had a capacity of 12,000 and comfortably allowed all spectators to see the diamond from all areas.

In April it was announced that Liverpool football club winger Alf Hanson had signed for the Giants for the 1937 North of England Baseball League season, with Hanson reportedly then being one of the finest batters in the Merseyside area. The 1937 season began with the Giants retaining locally developed youth such as John Howard and Colin Grove, alongside established players such as catcher Eddie O’Melia, first baseman Bob Schofield and William (Billy) Brown. Canadian Albert (Al) Haley, a pitcher, was acquired by the Giants from Manchester Blue Sox, with John Howard, Jack Lands and Al Haley expected to be the three leading Giants starting pitchers in their rotation. Leading Merseyside amateurs, Liverpool Caledonians, were admitted to the league with Everton football great Dixie Dean combining professionalism in both sports. It was decided that clubs would no longer run reserve teams across the professional leagues.

In early May 1937 Liverpool football club threw a spanner in the works for the Giants, by declaring that Alf Hanson was barred from continuing in professional baseball, following the lead of Manchester City in banning dual sporting players due to the risk of injury. Everton though were to allow superstar Dixie Dean to continue to play for the Caledonians. In response the Giants signed former Liverpool player Lance Carr, a Blackpool Seagulls short stop who was then playing football for Newport County. The new Giants baseball stadium on Church Road was proving to be quite the draw, and it was announced that the Littlewoods works team would also use the new facility as their home ground, with Giants’ Jack Ritchie to act as their Coach, alongside former Liverpool footballer Cyrill Gilhespy.

Leading Merseyside amateurs, Liverpool Caledonians, were admitted to the [North of England] league with Everton football great Dixie Dean combining professionalism in both sports.

On the opening day of the 1937 season the Giants defeated Blackpool Seagulls easily, with new star pitcher Al Haley making light work of the Seagulls batters to the delight of the crowd at the new baseball ground in Wavertree. Towards the end of June the Giants were comfortably top of the North of England Baseball League but by mid-July their grip on the title had loosened significantly. Jack Lands, by now a relief pitcher, was traded to Blackpool Seagulls and the Giants acquired first baseman L Godin from Wakefield Cubs, of the Yorkshire league. In the season’s title run in the Giants ironically placed their hopes of overhauling leaders Oldham Greyhounds in the hands of their Merseyside rivals, the Liverpool Caledonians, who took on the Greyhounds in their final match of the season. Sadly for the Giants the Greyhounds proved their bogey side, in both league and cup competitions, and they had to settle for the North of England Baseball League runners-up spot.

In February 1938 it was announced that the North of England League and the Yorkshire league were making plans to amalgamate both professional competitions into one, with limits on professionalism. The thinking was that this would encourage greater attendances and interest from locals, though it must have been some disappointment to the Giants, who had seen their attendances improve since their move to their new stadium in Wavertree. Indeed the prophecy of Moores’ came true in 1938, when 10,000 excited fans packed into the new stadium to see the Giants’ own Jack Ritchie feature for England, against the USA touring side, which had arrived in Britain in preparation for the 1940 Olympics. In defeating the US team over the test the English became the first Baseball World Champions and Moores won his bet.

This new Yorkshire-Lancashire league came to fruition, with the Giants as members, but the interruption of World War Two destroyed baseball in England and the Liverpool Giants as a professional baseball club died with it. The USA team selected for the Olympics and defeated by England in the Baseball World Cup also saw their Olympic dream vanish. In fact it took the USA until 1974 to win their one and only amateur Baseball World Cup title. In July 1941 former North of England Baseball League players arranged to put a number of the league’s stars to work in an exhibition game, to assist the War Relief Fund, in Birmingham. In January 1950 representatives of clubs from Hull, Halifax, Liverpool, Oldham, Rochdale and Swinton met in Manchester and decided to revive a new North of England Baseball League but to no avail.

The small trophy in our possession clearly hints at a past glory, a time of professionalism for our sport that has long since passed and the likes we are almost certain to never see again on these shores. The trophy with base stands at a diminutive 15cm high (the trophy itself actually is slightly less than 11cm and clearly has been crushed at some point) and has been (badly) polished to within an inch of it’s life in the past. It’s importance would be unseen by the majority of the English population, who hold no interest in our game of baseball or it’s heritage. The Electro Plated Nickel Silver trophy was in quite a state when we acquired it, the black wooden base appears to be a later marriage and after us lightly cleaning and trying to preserve the trophy it became evident that at some time, after-the-fact, someone had crudely scratched the name ‘W E Pearce’ under the engraving. At the time of writing there is no evident player of this name for the Giants in the 1937 North of England Baseball League.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

Fritz Brickell, the Little Rabbit

“Brickell bounds around like a little rabbit, grabbing everything in sight and getting the ball away with amazing speed.”

Angels Over the Pond founder, Editor and features writer, Matt Thomas, writes on the illustrious heritage of our Angels.

At just 5ft 5in or thereabouts, Fritz Brickell was a player who was short in height, played short stop, was only in the Major Leagues for a short time and sadly lived a short life. A native of Wichita, Kansas, Brickell was the son of former Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies outfielder ‘Fred’ Brickell. The pair became the first father and son combination to be elected to the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame, in 1976. Brickell was picked up by the New York Yankees in 1953, spending eight years navigating the Yankees farm system, earning praise from Frank Haraway, who wrote; “Brickell bounds around like a little rabbit, grabbing everything in sight and getting the ball away with amazing speed.”

During those minor league years Brickell was proven to be a capable young player but doubts were evident over the amount of errors he made in the field, Brickell himself openly discussed that he had a tendency to rush his throws, but his skill in making double plays was noted as being of merit, despite his erratic throwing. On April the 30th 1958 Brickell finally made his big league debut for the Yankees as a defensive replacement, but his time in the spotlight was fleeting and he was sent back down to the minors. His progress was interrupted further when he suffered a broken ankle, in July, but the determined shortstop travelled to play in the Dominican league over winter to recuperate.

“I never really felt I had a chance to play in the big leagues… I only played a few innings, then back to the minors I went… You can’t do anything if you don’t get a chance to play.”

In June 1959 the Yankees chose to recall their diminutive player, and on the 25th of July Brickell hit his only Major League home run, but again he was returned to the minors by the Yankees shortly after. Interestingly the Baseball Digest reported that it was “questionable whether he could handle major league pitching”. Brickell obviously disagreed, he failed to report on his return to the minors and was fined for his behaviour. Brickell said; “I never really felt I had a chance to play in the big leagues… I only played a few innings, then back to the minors I went… You can’t do anything if you don’t get a chance to play.” On the 4th of April 1961, a week prior to Opening Day, Brickell was traded to the Angels for their inaugural season. Sadly just days later, on April the 8th Brickell’s father died unexpectedly.

On April the 11th Brickell started as shortstop with the Angels, becoming their first ever starting shortstop, versus the Baltimore Orioles. Despite an unexpected win for the team his personal performance was less than perfect. In the second inning Brickell’s two errors led to the Orioles putting down the first ever run against the expansion team, in the process Brickell became the first ever Angels player to record an error. The local press were scathing in their reporting of Brickell’s error strewn run of games with the Halos, and it was no shock when he was told his future lay elsewhere in May. After a short time in the majors in the proceeding months Brickell retired from the game and tragically passed away in October 1965 from cancer, at just thirty years of age.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

Twice an Angel, ‘Stout’ Steve Bilko

Bobby Grich recalled his days as a young fan of the Pacific Coast League Angels and said that Bilko “was our Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams all rolled into one.”

Angels Over the Pond founder, Editor and features writer, Matt Thomas, writes on the illustrious heritage of our Angels.

A native of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania ‘Stout’ Steve Bilko was a hard drinking, big hitting first baseman who carved out notoriety for his home run hitting, during his time in the Pacific Coast League. At the tender age of just 16 the ‘big boned’ Bilko escaped his job in Pennsylvania’s coal mines, to sign for the St. Louis Cardinals, eventually making his Major League debut in September 1949. By spring training of 1950 Bilko was topping a burly 260 pounds but despite his obvious power at bat it took until 1953 for a then 25 year old Bilko to finally cement a full season in the big leagues, finishing with 21 home runs and 84 runs batted in, but a tendency to strike out that was somewhat embarrassing.

At this point Bilko could have been forgiven for believing he had locked down his place amongst the Cards roster but fate intervened, when brewing magnate Gussie Busch bought the Cardinals from their disgraced owner, Fred Saigh. Bilko was subsequently sold to the Chicago Cubs, who sent him down to their Los Angeles based Pacific Coast League farm team, at the original Wrigley Field. The compact ball park was almost custom made for Bilko’s range and his home runs became a thing of local legend, with his local star status elevated further when local Los Angeles televising broadcasting beamed his exploits to families across the region, so much so that in 1955 his name was adopted by Phil Silvers for his Sgt. Bilko character.

The compact ball park was almost custom made for Bilko’s range and his home runs became a thing of local legend…

The Angels ball club steadily built a team with immense talent around their star man, known as the Babe Ruth of the Palm Tree Division. The Bilko Athletic Club, as they became lovingly known, were notorious for their hitting, with Bilko hitting a heroic 148 home runs in just three years, and being most valuable player in three consecutive seasons. Then in 1957 the Cubs sold the Angels franchise and Wrigley field to the Brooklyn Dodgers, with Bilko eventually being sold to the Cincinnati Reds. The stay in Cincinnati was short lived and he was traded to the Dodgers, by now settled in their new home of Los Angeles, and Bilko was given the reception of a returning hero by the Los Angeles locals. Sadly the move appeared, in hindsight, to be little more than a public relations stunt by the Dodgers, to ingratiate themselves with the locals.

By the time that the expansion draft occurred for the 1961 season Bilko had been demoted back to the minors by the Dodgers and had a brief but unsuccessful Major League return with the Detroit Tigers. At 32 years of age the Angels of the American League gave Bilko one last shot at the majors and a dream return home to his beloved Wrigley Field. When named in the opening day line up Bilko became the first player to play for both Angels teams. In the inaugural 1961 season Bilko appeared in 114 games and hit 20 home runs, 11 of them at Wrigley Field, including a homer that cleared the left field wall on the very last game played at the stadium. Perhaps most fittingly of all Bobby Grich recalled his days as a young fan of the Pacific Coast League Angels and said that Bilko “was our Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams all rolled into one.” Bilko passed away in March 1978 at just 49.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

Ken Hunt – Strongest Arm in the Majors?

Left unprotected by the Yankees Hunt found himself available for the expansion draft and, whilst working for a Minnesota radio station as a newsreader, he read that he had been selected by the Angels for the 1961 season.

Angels Over the Pond founder, Editor and features writer, Matt Thomas, writes on the illustrious heritage of our Angels.

Cited by writer Jeff Mays as a possible contender for being the first victim of the ‘Angels curse’ due to a career cut short well before his prime, Ken Hunt’s name belongs in the record books of Halos history as the first Angels player to hit a double, versus Boston Red Sox, in the 1961 inaugural season. A tall, powerful right handed batter and outfielder, the native of Grand Forks, North Dakota Hunt began his baseball career with the New York Yankees, where he roomed with his childhood friend, Roger Maris, in 1960. Hunt, like Maris, was an accomplished all round athlete and he signed for the the Yankees, in 1952. He performed well in their farm system until 1955, when army service somewhat interrupted his excellent progress.

Never one to miss out on his sporting opportunities Hunt remained active in baseball during his army service, and was recognised for his talent when named as one of the Fifth Army All Star team. Rejoining the Yankees, Hunt was called up to spring training in 1957 and again in 1959 but was unable to break though to the seniors, who bristled with immense talent such as Mickey Mantle. During this period Hunt also spent time playing winter baseball overseas, in Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Colombia. On September the 10th 1959 he finally made his big league debut for the Yankees, and in 1960 spring training he earned his spot on the Yankees Major League roster, but again found himself surplus by May. In September he was again called up by the Yankees, ending the season hitting .273 from 25 games.

Never one to miss out on his sporting opportunities Hunt remained active in baseball during his army service, and was recognised for his talent when named as one of the Fifth Army All Star team.

Left unprotected by the Yankees Hunt found himself available for the expansion draft and, whilst working for a Minnesota radio station as a newsreader, he read that he had been selected by the Angels for the 1961 season. Tommy Lasorda, employed at the time as a scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers said the Angels would “be surprised at his power once he really gets going.” Indeed Halos General manager, Fred Haney, was delighted with his new man, he said; “He can do everything. He’s fast, covers a lot of ground in center field, has a good arm, and hits with power” and it was reported by some that Hunt had the strongest throwing arm of all outfielders in the majors, at that time. Selected for the roster for the Angel’s first ever Major League game, versus the Baltimore Orioles, Hunt finally found himself as a regular starter and in 149 games that season he hit .255, smashing 25 home runs and had 84 runs batted in.

That 1961 season saw Hunt hit 29 doubles and he scored 70 runs, and his 25 home runs by a rookie was an Angels record for decades, until it was broken by Tim Salmon in 1993. Hunt also hit the Halos first ever triple, versus his old employers the Yankees, in that 1961 season. Overall, despite being prone to too many errors in the outfield, Hunt’s rookie Angels season was a huge success. In a spring exhibition game in preparation for the 1962 season disaster struck for Hunt when he tore muscles in his right shoulder and developed an aneurysm in his shoulder that required surgery. Despite attempts at a comeback with the Angels and later with the Washington Senators, his career seemed over before it’s peak, when he admitted defeat and decided to spend the 1965 season away from baseball.

Upon returning to Los Angeles to live, Hunt signed up to the Screen Actor’s Guild and appeared in an episode of The Munsters alongside his stepson, Butch Patrick, who played the Eddie Munster in the family favourite television show. Despite last appearing for the Senators in the Major League way back in October of 1964, he was then traded to the Chicago Cubs for the 1966 season, but ultimately never played for the Cubs, before retiring from baseball for good that season. In June 1997 Hunt settled down to watch the Angels on television, with a particular interest in checking on the progress of fellow North Dakotan outfielder, Darin Erstad. In the comfort of his home, watching his Angels play ball Hunt sadly passed away from heart failure, aged just 62 years old.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

A Family Tradition – Guest’s Corner

The big tradition for Seniors was to go to Myrtle Beach with your friends, after graduating, for a week. My Dad came home one night and asked if I would be willing to forgo that trip with my friends, if he could take me to Anaheim to watch an Angels game instead.

In Guest’s Corner; long time Angels fan Steve Crute gives an American perspective on being a Halos addict and his efforts to continue a special family tradition.

I grew up in a small town on the Virginia-North Carolina border, so it seemed a little strange that my favourite baseball team was the California Angels instead of the usual Baltimore Orioles, Atlanta Braves, or even the dreaded New York Yankees, that everyone else in town supported. How did I get to be an Angels fan? Well, game six of the 1977 World Series is the first game that I remember watching and Reggie Jackson hit those 3 mammoth home runs for those Yankees to beat the evil Los Angeles Dodgers. I became hooked on the sport that night and Reggie became my favourite player. When he signed with the Halos, I became an Angels fan. This meant looking at box scores that were two days old quite often just to see how they did. We didn’t have cable so unless they played on the game of the week or Monday Night Baseball, I was out of luck. I will never forget being in the mall in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania and my Mom spotted a glorious Angels satin jacket and immediately bought it. I wore it and later a newer one all through High School. I still have both jackets and no, they don’t fit anymore. In the spring of 1988, I was finishing up my Senior Year in High School and looking forward to going off to college in the fall. The Angels had broken my heart in 1982, came up short in 1985, and then crushed my spirit again in 1986, but now they had Wally Joyner so my sports fanhood was going to be okay. The big tradition for Seniors was to go to Myrtle Beach with your friends, after graduating, for a week. My Dad came home one night and asked if I would be willing to forgo that trip with my friends, if he could take me to Anaheim to watch an Angels game instead. I loved my friends (and I still do), but there was never a doubt that I would pass up the beach with them to go see my Angels play. It was rare to see them play on TV so a chance to see them play in Anaheim was just too good to pass up. It also meant flying on an airplane for the first time which would become a “rule” for me when I children of my own. It was just a matter of picking the dates of the trip.

We settled for a week in mid-July around the All Star break. My Dad knew we were going to fly into LAX so he figured we would rent a car there and drive down to Anaheim. As luck would have it, the Los Angeles Dodgers had a home game on that Sunday, before the All Star break. My Dad got two tickets to watch Orel Hershiser facing the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was picture day, so we got to walk on the field at Dodger Stadium and being a good sport, I even wore a Dodgers hat. This was the summer when Hershiser would set the scoreless innings streak, but on that day, the Pirates pummelled the Dodgers by a score of 7 to 2 as Bob Walk outduelled Orel Hershiser. We stayed in Los Angeles overnight and my Dad got his first big surprise of the trip the next morning. He couldn’t rent a car because he didn’t have a credit card. That’s right, he paid cash for the trip. This also explained why it was only the two of us on the trip. It amazed me then as an 18 year old and amazes me more even today. It turned out to be a blessing as we rode in a van or something that shuttled between Los Angeles and Anaheim, and the traffic was awful! While in the area we made sure to take in the sites. We went on a tour of Universal Studios and ventured to Disneyland, but the lines were too long so we ended up leaving after a couple of hours. My Dad took a trip to Tijuana the next day and I walked to the Big A to take a tour. I ended up being the only one, so the tour was probably a lot more detailed and took longer than with a group. I remember getting to see the Los Angeles Rams locker-room (the NFL team that played their games at the stadium still at the time), seeing the doors of the Angels locker-room (not open during homestands), and getting to walk on the dirt areas of the field. The guide let me know that only players were allowed on the grass and I respectfully stayed a few feet away. The highlight was getting to see the heavy punching bag that was hanging in the hallway from the dugout, that the manager had put up. He got tired of the guys beating the walls with their bats. To be fair, their best hits that year were probably on those walls.

The highlight was getting to see the heavy punching bag that was hanging in the hallway from the dugout, that the manager had put up. He got tired of the guys beating the walls with their bats. To be fair, their best hits that year were probably on those walls.

The night of the game came (July 14, 1988) and the Detroit Tigers were in town. They had future Hall of Famer Jack Morris pitching while our Halos sent out Kirk McCaskill to the bump. Our line-up featured greats such as Devon White, Johnny Ray, Wally Joyner, Chili Davis, Brian Downing, Bob Boone, and Dick Schofield. It also featured Jack Howell and Thad Bosley (yeah, not sure who he is either). We took our seats in Row T between home plate and the Angels dugout. I wanted to get a picture of Wally but was too cool to even think about moving closer to get a better picture. Dad informed me that he hadn’t brought me 2000 miles to get a blurry photo from 200 feet away, so I walked to the front row when Wally was on deck and got a good picture. It was an outstanding game that saw Devon White drive in both runs of the game for our Halos as they won 2-0, and both pitchers went the full distance. It only took two hours, but it felt like twenty minutes. Wally Joyner got two hits, so I was thrilled with the experience. The next day we flew out of Orange County and headed home to our little town in Virginia. I was as thrilled with the experience but had zero idea that it was just the start of a family tradition. I’ve often thought of that trip and how much my Dad had to do to plan it, pay for it, and then getting to spend time with him for those few days. He knew it meant a lot to me and still does, and the day when my oldest son, Jacob, was born I mentioned to Pop that I would have to keep that tradition going in a few years. My Mom later told me that hearing that from me meant the world to him. Remember how a random game brought Reggie Jackson to be my favourite player?

Well, it happened to Jacob in a similar manner. By the time he got into baseball, I had the MLB package to watch the Halos play. We were flipping through the options and came across a Arizona Diamondbacks game. The first thing he saw was the swimming pool behind the fence, then the cool logo, and then this crazy haired blonde that played with a reckless abandon became his favourite player. That player is Eric Byrnes, and he was fun to watch, and they do have cool logos so it was easy to root for them. This was a few years after they had won the World Series, so he didn’t even jump on the bandwagon. Little did I know that his choice would lead to such a treasured memory for this old man. I started talking to Jacob about his trip when he was in High School. He seemed way less interested in it than I was, but that was fine. Our tradition was going to happen. He graduated in early summer 2018 and we had set up a plan to go out which would allow us to take in two Diamondbacks games. It would be Jacob’s first time on an airplane. Told you it became a rule! The first game was against the Pittsburgh Pirates (we had watched this match up in PNC Park, a must visit for anyone interested) a few years earlier and then the New York Mets the night before we flew home. We were hoping to watch Zack Greinke pitch, but he was on the Wednesday start and we had already planned to go tour the Phoenix area. This was the only hiccup on the trip for us. We flew into Phoenix, rented a car (yes, I have a credit card), and then headed to the hotel. Immediate reaction was “It is SOOOO HOT here”. We later drove to the game, enjoyed a nice pregame dinner at a sports bar nearby, and headed over to Chase Field. It is a fantastic stadium. We did our usual sightseeing around the park, took a picture above the pool, and found our seats way up high. It wasn’t much of a game as Diamondbacks won 13-8 and to be honest we were tired from flying out earlier that morning. The highlight was seeing Jacob’s picture on the digital board the first time when I tweeted him standing next to their famous red seat. By the 6th inning, we joked that no one else had sent in pictures as he was displayed each inning.

I’ve often thought of that trip and how much my Dad had to do to plan it, pay for it, and then getting to spend time with him for those few days. He knew it meant a lot to me and still does, and the day when my oldest son, Jacob, was born I mentioned to Pop that I would have to keep that tradition going in a few years.

The next day we went sightseeing which included touring the stadium where the Arizona Cardinals play American football. Jacob was particularly excited when the guide at the Cardinals Stadium informed us, we were in the same locker-room as the New York Giants (Jacob’s favourite team) when they defeated the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. We enjoyed lunch at Whataburger and then drove to Tempe Diablo Stadium (Angels spring training site) to look inside. A nice worker saw us and opened the gate so we could walk around the park. I joked that if we had balls and a bat, we could probably have taken BP. We took a day trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on Thursday. Pictures do not do this place justice. It is amazing and our guide, Smokey, was nice enough to take a picture of us looking out towards the Canyon. This is a favourite of mine. Jacob’s favourite is the one where he pretended to be hanging on the side of the edge and sending that picture to his Mom back home. She didn’t like it as much as he did though. The drive back to Phoenix was peaceful as we were the only ones on the bus and the driver was nice enough to stop at an In-n-Out burger place after we mentioned we had never eaten at one. It was everything we had heard it would be and made a great day even better.

We spent most of our last day resting as we were exhausted. That night we went to the game versus the Mets. When we walked up to the ticket booth I asked where he wanted to sit, he threw out the normal “cheap seats”, but he got a big grin when I asked if it would be better to sit closer to the field. We sat down field level along the leftfield side and enjoyed a good game as his Diamondbacks would win 7- 3. His new favourite on the team, Goldschmidt, blasted a long home run in the first inning. We spent the part of the game walking around the concourse taking pictures with the oversized Diamondbacks legends as well as visiting all the areas we missed the first game. My favourite part of the game was visiting their Hall of Fame or display room and getting Jacob’s picture while he mimicked the look on Byrnes’ face in the picture beside him. There was nothing about either trip that I would change, the trip to Anaheim as a wide eyed 18 year old that grew to appreciate it more as the years went by, or as the much older Dad that had to make his son walk near the field to get a better picture before the game. I will admit that the most fun I had was when Jacob and I got to tell Dad all about our trip. They started talking the two different trips and laughing about dumb things I did on each. We lost Dad a few months later but I got to talk with him several times in his last days and I made sure to thank him again for starting our tradition. He wanted to know where my youngest son would want to go as they shared a love of the Atlanta Braves. Dad agreed it should be somewhere out west, but that it would be okay if the Braves were the opponent. I am looking forward to continuing the tradition in 2023 when Jackson chooses his stadium to visit. It doesn’t matter where just as long as I’m along for the trip.

If you would like to take over Guest’s Corner, with a contribution for our UK readers and fan club members to enjoy, please get in touch.

Albie Pearson, A Little Angel

“Dear Mr. Haney,” the letter read, “I know you’re forming a new ball club and I can be had for peanuts…

Angels Over the Pond founder, Editor and features writer, Matt Thomas, writes on the illustrious heritage of our Angels.

At just 5ft5” or thereabouts, the diminutive native of Alhambra, California, was often reported to be the shortest professional player in the big leagues, during his era in the game. A left handed centre fielder, Pearson initially joined the Boston Red Sox organisation, where he spent a number of years in the minors and was eventually traded to the Washington Senators, before he ever made a major league appearance. Making the breakthrough to the big time with the Senators, in 1958, Pearson excelled as a rookie and went on to win the American League Rookie of the Year award and hit .275 for the season.

In 1959 Pearson suffered with a lack of consistency, both through a hernia and chronic illness that resulted in his already small frame dropping to just 126lbs (9 stones) and he found himself being traded away to the Baltimore Orioles. The 1960 season saw Pearson again struggling to recover his form and he spent more time being sent back and forth to the minor leagues, until fate intervened and he discovered that the Los Angeles Angels had been granted an expansion slot. Pearson identified an opportunity to return to his homeland of California and, having always been forward in his letter writing (he previously successfully requested Senator’s President, Cal Griffith, allow him to attend early camp) he dug out his pen and paper to scribe a note to Angel’s General Manager Fred Haney.

He was, for a while, the darling of the Angels fans. His former teammate Bo Belinsky put it best when he said, “A lot of guys look up to the little man.”

“Dear Mr. Haney,” the letter read, “I know you’re forming a new ball club and I can be had for peanuts. I still can play and I feel I can help you at the gate because I was born in California and I got a lot of relatives. Please consider me.” Pearson was granted his wish, though just barely, when the Halos used their 30th and final pick of the draft to select him. With the Angels Pearson found form again in spring training and earned an opening day starting spot, versus his former employers, the Orioles. In fact, he was the only original Angel to start all three of their opening games of that inaugural 1961 season.

In these very first Angels games Pearson secured his place in Halos history, earning the organisation’s first walk and first single (he also went on to get the Angel’s first bunt single versus his other former club, the Red Sox, too) and he went on to hit .288 in the 1961 season. In the 1962 season Pearson hit .261 and he led the American League with 115 runs scored, then in 1963 he beat the legendary Mickey Mantle to the All-Star game. From being seen by many as something of a curiosity Pearson’s determination had earned him the respect of his peers and he was, for a while, the darling of the Angels fans. His former teammate Bo Belinsky put it best when he said, “A lot of guys look up to the little man.”

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

Ty Buttrey, A Brave Decision

The decision of Halos reliever Buttrey to walk away from baseball tonight reminds me, as a Sheffield Wednesday fan, of a similar decision by an Owls footballer… And if the parallels continue… Buttrey will not be back as a player any time soon.

Angels Over the Pond founder, Editor and features writer, Matt Thomas, writes a View Over the Pond.

Tonight many Angels fans will be reflecting on the events of the past 48 hours or so, the confusion over the reluctance of Ty Buttrey to report for training and will no doubt be wondering if Buttrey will make a comeback. Most Angels fans outside of the United Kingdom would likely struggle to know who Sheffield Wednesday are, unless they are football (soccer) aficionados, but the decision of Halos reliever Buttrey to walk away from baseball tonight reminds me, as a Sheffield Wednesday fan, of a similar decision by an Owls footballer, in recent history. And if the parallels continue then, the chances are, Buttrey will not be back as a player any time soon.

Yesterday it was announced that Buttrey, a 28 year old pitcher born in North Carolina, had refused to report to the Angel’s alternate site, after being optioned by the Halos. The startling news was apparently a shock to Angels manager Joe Maddon, who had said that he had no idea that Buttrey intended to walk away from the game, and had hoped that despite failing to make the 2021 roster, Buttrey would improve on areas of his pitching and return in the near future. Tonight Buttrey made a post to his social media, making it clear that he had taken steps to leave the game, for good, and was brutally honest in his reasons, and I fully understand his reasoning, and support his decision fully.

Buttrey has made it clear that, at present, he has accomplished all he wanted in making it to the major leagues, and it is now time to re-evaluate his priorities…

Originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox as a fourth round draft pick, in 2012, Buttrey was picked up by the Angels via a trade in July 2018. Having spent the previous six years working hard to make the MLB, Buttrey made his major league debut two weeks later for the Halos and had good seasons in 2018 and 2019. However, as the COVID plagued 2020 played out it was clear that Buttrey was not enjoying sustained periods of quality and, ultimately, this dip in form and a lack of consistency led to him being optioned and losing his place for the 2021 season, just having gotten under way. In 2016, Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Jérémy Hélan, stunned the footballing world by similarly dramatically tearing up his contract and walking away from professional sport, despite the French international being tipped to be the next Patrice Evra.

Hélan, also 28, had been brought to mega-rich English club, Manchester City, as a young man with it all to prove, a move which caused some controversy at the time and, like Buttrey, Hélan never really made the first team roster at his first club. In similar fashion to Buttrey being sent out to gain experience in the lower reaches of professional baseball’s farm system, Hélan had a number of lower league loans before securing a permanent loan to Sheffield Wednesday, where he ultimately started to secure regular professional appearances. Also like Buttrey, towards the end of his Sheffield Wednesday career Hélan was somewhat inconsistent and erratic at times, and was finally sent out on loan again for a short while, before he announced his decision to quit.

I hope that Buttrey does find the motivation and love for the game to come back at some point, but also like Hélan I won’t hold my breath and I will fully support his desire to embrace life away from professional sport.

In a refreshingly honest and open post to his personal Instagram account, tonight Buttrey has made it clear that, at present, he has accomplished all he wanted in making it to the major leagues, and it is now time to re-evaluate his priorities and spend time doing things that, ultimately, mean more to him. Buttrey went on to make it clear that he no longer felt love for the game and, in truth, probably never did. He astonishingly claimed that his motivation had always been to prove the people in his life who told him he would not make it to the big leagues wrong. He wouldn’t be the first to feel that pressure, in any walk of life, if we are all really honest, haven’t we all?

Since Hélan walked away from Sheffield Wednesday, the France international team and football entirely he has never made any indication of a desire to return, and instead has remained private about his new life away from the game. Like the case of Hélan it is perhaps now obvious that erratic form was caused by off the field issues that were rooted in a rather conflicted sportsman, looking for a valid reason to keep pushing hard to reach the highest level. I had feared that Buttrey was suffering from demons, of late, and I am relieved that he simply wants to live his life on his own terms. Like Hélan, I hope that Buttrey does find the motivation and love for the game to come back at some point, but also like Hélan I won’t hold my breath and I will fully support his desire to embrace life away from professional sport.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

Johnny James, the First Angels ‘Victim’

James tried to break off a sharp curve one night at Wrigley Field and heard a bone in his arm crack. INCREDIBLY, his arm had been broken making the pitch and his career was over.

Angels Over the Pond founder, Editor and features writer, Matt Thomas, writes on the illustrious heritage of our Angels.

A popular urban story, associated with the Angels since the mid 1970’s at least, was that the organisation were cursed, though the far fetched story has died away somewhat since the victorious 2002 World Series team achieved their incredible feat. The main concept to the jinx was that the Big A had been constructed on an ancient Native American burial ground, something which was largely disproven in the 1990’s. This tall tale also somehow overlooked that a number of the supposed cursed Angels players had been with the Halos before the move to Anaheim and never played at Angels Stadium, but conspiracy theories have a habit of avoiding little things like facts. It was perhaps a tad unhelpful, in hindsight, for then General Manager, Harry Dalton, to attribute the death of Mikey Miley to the curse, in 1977.

Popularly attributed as the first ‘victim’ of the Angel’s curse was Idaho native, Johnny James, born in 1933 and still going strong in 2021, at the ripe old age of 87. James was acquired by the fledgling Angels in May 1961, from the New York Yankees, having made his big league debut in 1958. In a 1976 Sporting News article by Dick Miller, thought to be the earliest reference to the curse involving James, a career ending arm injury mysteriously occurred in the 1961 season. Miller wrote; “James tried to break off a sharp curve one night at Wrigley Field and heard a bone in his arm crack. INCREDIBLY, his arm had been broken making the pitch and his career was over.” But is this bizarre story a work of fact or fiction? Mainly fiction, but perhaps seeded in fact.

It appears that the simple truth is that James had been sent down to the minors, where he was recorded as being active in the 1962 season and did indeed suffer from numerous arm injuries.

Despite making his Yankees big league debut in 1958 James only made the one appearance, and did not appear in the majors at all in 1959. By the 1960 season the pitcher finally started to make an impression in New York, making 28 relief appearances. Through that 1960 season James appeared in 43 innings and saved 2 games, allowing 21 earned runs and striking out 29 batters, walking 26. He made just one last appearance for the 1961 Yankees, before being traded to the Angels, where he completed the 1961 season, finishing with a 5.30 ERA and striking out 43, whilst walking 54. James did not pitch the last two weeks of that season, though teammate Dan Ardell denied that James had broken his arm.

In April 1962 The Sporting News reported that James was seeking a place with the Angels and was at spring training, and even looked good. Intriguingly the same article said that James had been “laid up a few days with arm trouble but is all right again.” It appears that the simple truth is that James had been sent down to the minors, where he was recorded as being active in the 1962 season and did indeed suffer from numerous arm injuries. The 1963 Baseball Digest Mede reference to the aforementioned arm injury, but not a reference to a broken arm. Interestingly James ended his big league career as a perfect fielder, handling 25 chances (4 putouts and 21 assists) for a 1.000 fielding percentage.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

Baseball in Britain, A Complex Backstory

Many modern day fans of baseball in Britain believe unwaveringly that the game was brought to these shores by Sir Francis Ley and A. G. Spalding… this is in fact not true.

Angels Over the Pond founder, Editor and features writer, Matt Thomas, writes on the fascinating heritage of British baseball.

The origins of baseball are something of a contentious issue, as American as apple pie and interwoven tightly with the very fabric of American culture and heritage, but documented evidence does prove that baseball, like many things, has it’s roots in Europe. Despite A. G. Spalding’s efforts to credit Abner Doubleday with creating the game, the earliest known mention and illustration of baseball appeared in John Newbery’s A Little Pretty Pocket-Book in 1744, and on the 31st of March 1755 William Bray, an English diarist, noted that he had played “base ball” that day, proving the archaic roots of baseball. Even in the mid to late 1800’s, as ‘New York’ or ‘American’ baseball was being exported back to the United Kingdom, archaic forms of the game were still very popular and exist to this day in places such as Liverpool and Wales.

Many modern day fans of baseball in Britain believe unwaveringly that the game was brought to these shores by Sir Francis Ley and Spalding, with Derby County Baseball Club being the first British baseball club, established by Ley, from the efforts of Spalding’s tours. Where both characters were undeniably a huge influence on the popularisation of the sport in the 1890’s and the establishment of a formal professional league in Britain, this is in fact not true. As early as 1874 the Boston Red Stockings and others toured Britain, displaying their immense talent to huge crowds, with none other than Spalding as one of their roster. Sporting Life publications and newspaper clippings from these early tours make clear that, at that time, baseball equipment was made and supplied to clubs in Britain by John Wisden and Co., a name that most cricket fans would recognise instantly. Why would a company as large as Wisden be supplying baseball equipment, if clubs and players did not already exist?

This link to cricket goes deeper still, when we look at the figures behind the touring Boston Red Stockings (today the Atlanta Braves), who had been formed by the nucleus of former Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first openly professional baseball club in the United States, formed in 1869. At the very heart of both of those clubs was a Yorkshireman, player-manager Harry Wright. A centre fielder in that first professional club, Wright went on to introduce a number of initiatives to progress the ball game and it was towards the end of his playing days when he fought to export his beloved game back to the United Kingdom. Born in Sheffield, incidentally also recognised as the birthplace of modern football and the home of the oldest football club in the world, Wright had been taken to New York at an early age, where his father worked as a groundsman with St. George’s Cricket Club. Wright, like his father, played cricket, including against George Parr’s 1859 England cricket tour of the United States and the wider family were naturally able to pick up and excel in baseball.

The 1874 tour is today widely seen as a failure by many scholars of the game, and Wright’s Red Stockings returned to the States and joined the fledgling National League, organised in part by Spalding himself. Arguably more should be done today to recognise the efforts of Wright to bring baseball in the new ‘American’ format back to Britain. On their departure back to the States, the Sheffield Independent reflected on the tour by wondering whether the lack of new clubs springing up across the country could be due to the fact that baseball was not really a novelty on these shores, and because baseball was seen as inferior to cricket. Spalding, as one of the players on that tour, would have unquestionably been influenced by Wright and his cricket connections.

At the very heart of both of those clubs was a Yorkshireman, player-manager Harry Wright. A centre fielder in that first professional club, Wright went on to introduce a number of initiatives to progress the ball game and it was towards the end of his playing days when he fought to export his beloved game back to the United Kingdom.

In March 1888 the British newspapers picked up on a rumour that leading New York and St. Louis baseball clubs were poised to tour across the United Kingdom, in another attempt at creating a foothold for the now fully organised ‘American’ baseball, from the back of the efforts of Mr Folsam, the American Consul in Sheffield, who had been working hard to popularise the ball game in Yorkshire. Bizarrely, also in March 1888, the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News reported on the return of the President of a St. Louis baseball club, from his tour of Britain. “England is now educated up to American sports” he stated and went on to claim “the game was too much for them”. The publication, quite obviously tongue in cheek, went on to mock the English for being ‘dull’ and ‘slow’ in their ways.

This approach was hardly likely to win many fans in England, but the message was clear, Britain was ready for the taking if ball club Presidents in the States wanted to grasp the opportunities, and Spalding was one of many who did wish to. By November 1888 the first efforts to establish a formal league of baseball clubs in the United Kingdom, in the form of the ‘American’ game, was mooted by John Barnes, manager of the St. Paul Western League baseball club. Barnes’ plan was to introduce lecturers to promote the ball game academically, before establishing American style syndicates in London, Birmingham and other key principle cities. It was not until February 1889 that the immense wealth of Spalding began to buy up column inches in Britain for the upcoming world tour by the Chicago White Stockings and other elite American players, funded of course by Spalding.

Rather telling though was a letter to the Liverpool Echo, published on the 1st of March 1889, where a local resident called for Stanford Perry, Secretary of the local Liverpool baseball clubs, to put together an all-star Liverpool team from local baseball and rounders clubs to challenge the Chicago White Stockings, when they arrived in Liverpool. This again shows that baseball, or archaic regional variants of it, were fully established in some regions of the United Kingdom, prior to the all-conquering Spalding tour. Amusingly, despite this, a writer for the Manchester Times, on the 2nd of March 1889, claimed that no baseball clubs existed in the United Kingdom! Was the game so localised that clubs in Liverpool were not known by residents of Manchester? Or was the writer simply ignorant? The ties to the 1874 tour were inescapable, the teams relied heavily on cricket grounds and attracting cricket fans and players and George Wright, the brother of Harry Wright, was the umpire!

Spalding knew all too well that he was standing on the shoulders of the Wright family, as was made clear by the fact that he paid tribute to W.G. Grace as “the best known Englishman in the world”, on arrival at Gloucester Cricket Ground, on the 9th of March 1889. On the 13th of March 1889 the Sporting Life produced an in depth piece, covering the exhibition match at the Oval, and questioned exactly why the American visitors had placed so much emphasis on London and the south for their early games, when the people of Liverpool would be the best judge of a sport which they clearly would recognise as a development of their own locally played game, whereas baseball to Londoners was nothing short of a complete mystery. Spalding’s tour was given some added gravitas through the attendance of the Prince of Wales at the Oval and attendances were adequate, with over 8,000 fans attending the exhibition at Lords, on the 13th of March 1889. As the tour progressed the people of Yorkshire were given exhibitions in Sheffield and Bradford, and the tour did reach Liverpool eventually too.

On the 13th of March 1889 the Sporting Life… questioned exactly why the American visitors had placed so much emphasis on London and the south for their early games, when the people of Liverpool would be the best judge of a sport which they clearly would recognise as a development of their own locally played game, whereas baseball to Londoners was nothing short of a complete mystery.

The people of Yorkshire were clearly enthused about this new form of baseball, and on the 30th of March 1889 a large crowd amassed at Stott’s Refreshment Rooms on Parliament Street, in York, to form a new baseball club for the city, along the lines of the ‘American principle’. It was not until the 26th of March 1890, a full year later, that Ley began to develop his Ley’s Recreation Club into a baseball club, proper, at Ley’s Recreation Centre. Regardless of this fact Ley used his wealth to persuade the people of Britain that “we were really the first club formed in Great Britain” when discussing Derby, in 1890, to various media outlets. In fact a more accurate reflection of his part in the development of the ball game in Britain was published on the 10th October 1889, when the Derby Daily Telegraph reported that Ley had “introduced baseball amongst his employees”. It is without any doubt that Ley used his financial clout to make his Ley’s Recreation Centre the best purpose built baseball facility in Britain, it went on to become the Baseball Gound, home of Derby County Football Club.

It is equally important to note that Ley was not even present when the new National League of Baseball of Great Britain met at the Criterion, London, to formally establish the new baseball association in October 1889, though he was elected as a provisional officer. Representatives of Preston North End, Gloucester County Cricket Club, Essex County Cricket Club, Staffordshire County Cricket Club, Aston Villa and the National Rounders Association all were represented and elected as officers to the association, with Newton Crane elected to the chair. By July 1890 it was reported in various media outlets that over 90 baseball clubs had been formed in the wake of the Spalding tour, with the Dundee Courier reporting that “there are more baseball clubs in Yorkshire than in any other county”.

It is a thing of wonderment then that by the time the first fully professional National League of Baseball of Great Britain got underway only four clubs were permitted to compete for the championship, none of them in Yorkshire, Liverpool or even London. On the 5th of March 1890 the Sporting Life reported that the new association had appealed to Spalding to seed the new clubs with American professionals, and on the 6th of March 1890 the Leicester Daily Post reported that a twelve club National League would be formed, with teams to be based at Wolverhampton, Liverpool, Accrington, Manchester, Bolton, Stoke and Birmingham and that Ley would convert his existing Ley’s Recreation Club to become Derby Baseball Club. On the 6th of June 1890 the first annual meeting of the National League of Baseball of Great Britain was held at the Queens Hotel, Birmingham, with the constitution being drawn up and agreed upon.

The constitution broadly followed the rules and regulations of the American leagues, Thomas Slaney (President) and Harry Lockett (Administrator) of the Stoke Baseball Club, Francis Ley (President of Derby Baseball Club), William McGregor (President of the Aston Villa Baseball Club) and James Allard on behalf of the absent William Sudell (President of the Preston North End Baseball Club) were all in attendance, Morton Betts was in the chair. A National League schedule was confirmed for the four clubs, with Aston Villa hosting Stoke on the 21st of June on opening day of a 42-game season, as agreed upon. It is clear, in retrospect, that for whatever reason the initial plan for a fully national league had been side-tracked by a mainly Midlands based core of teams. With Ley supplying the pennants and badges for the winning club and his self-publicity as the man who brought baseball to Britain, it is not hard to see where this influence may have come from.

This league did not take long to descend into chaos, with accusations of cheating and unsportsmanlike behaviour before, on the 4th of August 1890, the Secretary of Derby Baseball Club officially ‘retired’ the club from the National League, with immediate effect, citing financial losses and low attendances. Curiously, also on the 4th of August 1890, in a meeting at the Athenaeum, Derby, a new baseball club for the town of Derby was formed, with Ley elected as Chairman of the new club, and it was announced that his old club had been dissolved. Ley agreed to the new Derby Baseball Club being tenants of the Ley’s Recreation Centre (the Baseball Ground) rent free until the club was making a profit and it was reported that “for all practical purposes it (the dissolved club) was Ley’s Recreation Club” and the new club would be the real Derby Baseball club. Ley also maintained his claim that his dissolved works club had actually won the 1890 National League pennant, that he had kindly funded the trophies for, and not Aston Villa.

It is important to realise, with the advent of modern research and access to digital files and archives, that we must revisit the influence of Spalding and Ley and the popularly held claim that Ley introduced baseball to Britain, accept that Derby County Baseball Club were not the first baseball club in Britain and look again at how the wealth and influence of Spalding left us with a narrative that went unchallenged for decades…

It is important, at this point, to make it clear that Ley’s Derby Baseball Club were not Derby County Baseball Club as is commonly believed, they were nothing more than Ley’s own works team, as is clearly documented. In fact, earlier in February 1889 the Athletic News, on covering Ley’s call for football clubs in Britain to form baseball clubs, reported that Derby County Football Club had made their own plans for a club of their own, to challenge Ley’s Derby club. On the 8th of August 1890 the Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal stated that Ley had confirmed that he intended to cease the activities of the club, and had refused Spalding’s request for Derby Baseball Club to finish their National League fixtures and it was confirmed that Reidenbach and Bullas, American professionals at Derby were in the employ of Ley, in order to allow them to play for Derby. This was important, as the fall out between the clubs centred around the use of fully professional baseball players by Derby, with other clubs claiming it was an unfair advantage.

On the 8th of August 1890 Morton Betts, Secretary of the National League of Baseball of Great Britain issued a statement, in response to continued “incorrect statements” given to regional press by Ley, on events leading up to Derby Baseball Club ‘retiring‘ from the National League. It was stated that on the 9th of July Ley had agreed to only use his professional American pitchers in games versus Aston Villa, and that under this new arrangement Derby lost four out of their six matches, harming their championship prospects to the degree that Ley broke a number of bye-laws under threat of his Derby club withdrawing from the league, including refusing to field a nine on the 6th of August 1890 and giving the League Board no option but to erase the National League record of Derby. On the 11th of August 1890 the Birmingham Daily Post reported that three of the four National League clubs were being financed by Spalding Bros, whereby Derby Baseball Club were financed by Ley himself and it was this that lead to various financial disagreements as the two wealthy individuals fought to control the British game.

By March 1890 Spalding had turned his attentions towards the north, with a number of clubs popping up across Scotland, some with Spalding’s financial backing. In August 1890 the Spalding 50 Guinea Cup was established in Aberdeen, and eventually Spalding began to pursue a failed attempt at creating a British collegiate baseball system, as was popular in the United States. It is important to realise, with the advent of modern research and access to digital files and archives, that we must revisit the influence of Spalding and Ley and the popularly held claim that Ley introduced baseball to Britain, accept that Derby County Baseball Club were not the first baseball club in Britain and look again at how the wealth and influence of Spalding left us with a narrative that went unchallenged for decades, as the popularity of baseball in the United Kingdom waned in the post war era. Clearly, there are inaccuracies that require revision as a new national interest in the sport develops in the 21st Century. We should rightfully be proud of our role as a sporting nation in celebrating our part in baseball heritage and use this as a basis to build a stronger baseball identity on this side of the pond.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

‘Mad Dog’ Lee Thomas

Known as ‘Mad Dog’ due to an incident on the Rio Hondo Golf Course that resulted in a three wood being launched into a tree…

Angels Over the Pond founder, Editor and features writer, Matt Thomas, writes on the illustrious heritage of our Angels.

Lee Thomas, a first baseman and outfielder of Illinois, was traded to the Angels in the first Major League Baseball season of 1961, having struggled to make the step up to the New York Yankees big league team, despite putting up respectable numbers in their minor league system. Understandably the Yankees, with the likes of Mickey Mantle amongst their stellar roster, found it difficult to find space for their talented rookie and at one point Thomas even considered walking away, until he eventually made the Major League for three at bats in 1961, prior to being traded away. Thomas hit 50 home runs in his first two seasons with the Angels and was honoured with an All-Star appearance in 1962. Known as ‘Mad Dog’ due to an incident on the Rio Hondo Golf Course that resulted in a three wood being launched into a tree, his playing career was eclipsed by his many years of service to baseball off the field.

Yankees superstars Micky Mantle and Roger Maris reportedly recommended Thomas to the Angels, recognising that despite his skill he was not likely to ever break through fully in New York. As his first full rookie season with the Halos was coming towards its end, Thomas achieved arguably his finest moment as an Angels player. On September 5th 1961, versus the Kansas City Athletics, Thomas achieved nine hits for the Halos in eleven attempts, in the twin bill, equalling a Major League record. In doing so he slugged three home runs, including a grand slam, and drove in eight runners. Not only will Thomas remain forever in the Angels annals of history for hitting their first ever three home run game, he also is in the history books as being the man who hit the first ever Angels grand slam, versus Baltimore Orioles, on June 6th 1961.

Not only will Thomas remain forever in the Angels annals of history for hitting their first ever three home run game, he also is in the history books as being the man who hit the first ever Angels grand slam…

As his career as a player was coming to an end and petered out with pinch hitting roles on a part time basis, and a spell with Nankai Hawks in Japan, Thomas knew he wanted to remain in baseball but not particularly within management. Having spent years in a number of roles, including travelling secretary and bullpen coach, Thomas was given the opportunity to show what he could do by former Yankees teammate Whitey Herzog, who appointed him as director of minor league operations at the St. Louis Cardinals. Thomas went on to be widely recognised as a key member of the Cards operation during a remarkable period of success, when they won National League pennants in 1982, 1985 and 1987 alongside the World Series of 1982.

In June 1988 Thomas moved to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he secured the role of vice president for player personnel and was named general manager later that season. On his first day the organisation were last place in the National League East and had finished last in the league in hitting and pitching. Slowly he built up a roster, through shrewd trades and free agent signings, that as he told the Los Angeles Times at the time, reminded him of that 1961 Angels team. From rock bottom Thomas took the Phillies to the 1993 pennant and narrowly missing out on the World Series win, losing to the Toronto Blue Jays. For his efforts he was named Sporting News Executive of the Year.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.