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.

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