Joe E. Brown (Elmer the Great, Some Like It Hot) in the dugout with manager Charlie Root.
"Every night was a carnival at Gilmore Field, especially 1949 and 1950... You'd start a ball game and look up in the stands and see George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, Cyd Charisse and Tony Martin, George Raft. Every night. It got so tickets were selling at a premium out there... It was very common in the late '40s for Mickey Cohen, the ex-gangster, to walk into Gilmore and sit directly behind the third base dugout with a couple of his muscles. He was a great fan. The theme song on the bench was that if anybody in that box said anything, just smile and wave."
--Chuck Stevens (Source: The Grand Minor League by Dick Dobbins
In 1946, Bob Cobb mounted a campaign to have the PCL officially made America's third major league. The league already paid competitive player salaries to those in the majors, and many players preferred the PCL because of the weather and nearly year-round schedules, so this was not a pipe dream.
Bob Cobb at the Brown Derby.
However, MLB Commissioner Kenesaw "Mountain" Landis decided that most of the stadiums in the league were not up to the standards of MLB, and there was also concern that there wasn't a large enough market base in the Northwest to support a major league franchise.
So, despite record crowds at the western stadiums, the major league owners continued to reject the Coast League's request for major league status. But Bob Cobb wasn't done yet. He continued to push for major league status into the fifties, saying all that was needed was a six-year moratorium on the major league's drafting of PCL players. After using that time to build up its team rosters, the league would be able to compete at the same level as the National and American Leagues. But MLB owners were unmoved (the fact that MLB owners didn't want to cut PCL franchises in on their profits, or pay to transport their teams over the Rocky Mountains, didn't help, either).
Despite the feud with the "Eastern League," there was plenty for the nearly 600,000 fans attending Stars games every season to cheer about: "The Hollywood Stars baseball team, owned by the Hollywood stars," as radio, TV and newspaper ads proclaimed, won pennants in 1949, 1952 and 1953, making them the most popular PCL team in the area.
This success, ironically, was made possible through an agreement the team reached with Branch Rickey, president of the major league Brooklyn Dodgers: Rickey gave them a fresh inflow of MLB talent to fill out the Hollywood roster, in exchange for the Stars giving Brooklyn the first shot at buying players on the Stars "reserve" list -- which protected certain Hollywood players from getting scooped by major league teams in the annual draft. In fact the team in '52 is considered by many to be one of the best minor league teams of all time. (Which in those rarified baseball times was actually saying something.)
Oakland Oaks rookie Billy Martin, covered in blood, was carried off the field in a game against the Stars. A baserunner spiked Billy in both legs at second base. In the dressing room, a doctor called in from the stands gave Billy a shot of whiskey, and trainer Red Adams and teammates held him down while the doctor stiched up the wounds without the benefit af any anesthetic.
Over the years, the Stars and the cross-town Angels, who seemed to win the pennant every other year, developed an intense rivalry. There seemed to be a brawl on the field every time they played. Angels manager Bill Sweeney once offered a cashmere suit to the first player to start a fight with the Stars. Angel infielder Gene Mauch almost won when he "sort of walked all over" Carlos Bernier, who had just slid into second base -- but Sweeney decided that Mauch had taken too long to instigate the fight. Mauch and Bernier fought more than once -- Mauch, who would go on to become one of the nicest MLB managers who ever lived, delighted in scooping up sand in his free hand to throw into Bernier's face every time the Star would steal second.
The Laker Girls? Nope -- it's the 1952 Stars' Cheerleading Squad.
During another game, the Stars fell so hopelessly behind the Angels that player-manager Bobby Bragan, who liked to smoke long black cigars through his catcher's mask, sent nine pinch-hitters (mostly pitchers) in for one batter, running in a new hitter for every pitch (Bragan was suspended, even though he pointed out that the tactic was legal).
Bragan was a truly colorful baseball character, who took delight in both torturing umpires and entertaining crowds. In 1953, Bragan was tossed from a game against their other Southern California rival, the San Diego Padres, after slamming his chest protector to the ground to protest what he considered some bad calls by the umpire. Ordered to pick up his equipment, Bragan refused and instead proceeded to remove his shin guards, mask, glove, and cap. Banished to the dugout, he added his uniform top, shoes, socks, and a few towels to the pile. Bragan and the Stars survived the ensuing fine and suspension to win the pennant handily.
Manager Fred Haney seems to be inspecting more leg than pant on a model as the stars unveil their new uniforms.
"WILL THE STARS SHAVE THEIR LEGS NEXT?"
On Opening Day in 1950 (April Fools' Day), the Stars debuted shorts, knee-high socks and rayon T-shirts as their new uniforms. Gene Handley later recalled, "The nicest thing any of the other teams said to us was, 'Hello, sweetheart.'" By 1953 they were back in long pants (shorts were a little too Hollywood).
If that didn't bring them enough notoriety, Jayne Mansfield was "Miss Hollywood Stars" of 1955. When she jogged (or should we say jiggled) out of the dugout, the male fans all howled and moaned -- and as she stood at home plate, her breasts higher and tighter than a Ben Wade fastball, all those clichéd sex/baseball analogies suddenly made sense. If Jane was too lurid for your taste, a teenage Elizabeth Taylor served as a bat girl.
Despite being the first baseball team to broadcast home games on television, the Stars were still the toughest ticket to get in town... But all was not well with the rest of the league. By the 1950's the attendance at PCL games began to drop off, when Mutual Radio began to broadcast a Major League Game of the Week. In 1950, the attendance fell by 15 percent from the previous season. The next season was even worse. The 1951 season saw a 30 percent decline, from 3.1 million to 2.2 million. But this situation did not stop the PCL owners from dreaming of major league status.
The major leagues were vulnerable now, because Congressional hearings were being held on baseball's exemption from anti-trust laws, and the situation involving the Pacific Coast League was receiving special focus. This was the best chance yet to attain equal status with the majors. So in August of 1951, the PCL announced that if it continued to be subject to the major league draft, the league would withdraw from Organized Baseball.
Finally, during the 1952 winter meetings, the PCL owners received news that the major leagues had finally buckled, and granted them a new "Open Classification" for their league, with a special AAAA designation. It allowed the PCL to set its own player salaries and provided five years of protection from losing players to the major league draft. It also gave the PCL first call on drafted players who were sent back to the minors. However, it did not give the league equal status, officially leaving it a step below the American and National Leagues -- and it made enemies in the major leagues.
Despite this new independence, Branch Rickey (now with the Pittsburgh Pirates) wanted to preserve his deal with the Stars, even though with the AAAA rating such agreements were now prohibited. So Rickey pulled a legally-questionable move by approaching Stars investors and buying up a one-sixth share of the team. The PCL objected loudly, but Rickey claimed he was just investing in a great baseball team, and the MLB Commissioner let the transaction stand.
THE BRAWL: During a Stars/Angels series at Gilmore Field in 1953, the greatest professional baseball fight of all time occurred in the sixth inning of a hotly contested game. Stars and Angels pummeled each other for about half an hour -- to the delight of the fans and the local television audience -- until Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker, watching the fight on television, called in every available police unit to Gilmore Field. Fifty police officers swarmed onto the field, into the melee. After half an hour of fighting, order was finally restored. Cops were stationed at each clubhouse, and only nine players were allowed outside at a time. They had to do it that way -- it was a doubleheader, and another game had to be played! (For newspaper accounts, click here.)
The Stars grew more popular as they continued to win pennants throughout the fifties. George Raft was known to take a different girl to each game, and CBS Television City was built next door -- so TV stars attended the games every night after work.
The star Star, Frankie Kelleher, left baseball in 1954 and his number 7 was retired by the team. The crowd gave him a grateful standing ovation for ten years of baseball thrills. Jayne Mansfield cried.
But through all of that, and despite nationwide MLB game-of-the-week radio and TV broadcasts, and despite Branch Rickey trying to dictate every team move from the front office of a different team, things were looking up for the Stars...
... Until the death knell sounded for them -- and the rest of the league -- when MLB allowed the transfer of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles and the New York Giants to San Francisco after the 1957 season.
With major league clubs now playing on the West Coast and fan interest switching to the larger leagues, the PCL could not compete. Its teams were summarily dropped back to AAA status by MLB, and became a group of traditional farm teams again (there has never been another "AAAA" league since). So even though the league survived, it never regained its previous popularity. The Coast League became just another minor league, and its stars could be moved up to the majors as the parent club saw fit.
The Stars found themselves unable to compete with the publicity juggernaut that was the Los Angeles Dodgers (Owner Walter O'Malley actually bought the rival Los Angeles Angels outright and exiled them to Spokane). Attendance plummeted.
Ex-Dodger pitcher Clyde King closed what would be the Stars' last season in Los Angeles by leading Spook Jacobs and a crew of Pirate projects and rejects to third place in the PCL.
In 1957, Angel southpaw Tommy Lasorda threw high and tight on Hollywood Star Spook Jacobs, knocking Jacobs down into the dirt. Jacobs bunted the next pitch up the first baseline... because he knew Lasorda would have to cover first. The now-traditional brawl followed as Jacobs battled the entire Angel infield, including Lasorda and Sparky Anderson.
The last game was played at Gilmore Field on September 5, 1957, before a crowd of 6,354 diehard fans. They cheered the Stars on to a 6-0 victory over the San Francisco Seals. Jayne Mansfield presented Bob Cobb with a new car before the game as fans gave him a standing ovation. "These years with the Stars have been the best of my life," he said as he held back tears.
Mexico City and Long Beach, California, made offers to buy the team, but on December 5, 1957, Utah businessman Nick Morgan finally purchased the Stars franchise for an estimated $175,000 and moved it to Salt Lake City -- the city which had relocated its franchise to Hollywood in 1926. After 19 years, the original stockholders all made a handsome profit from the sale, but nobody was happy about it. Baseball was still more of a pastime in 1957 than a business investment.
"Friendly Gilmore Field" was torn down in 1958 (the soundstages of CBS Television City now stand in its place). The only evidence of its existence are a few palm trees from the parking lot and a plaque attached to the front wall of CBS Studio 46, where the front entrance of the park was located. The plaque offers two photographic views of the field and commemorates the 1700 games of professional baseball played there (Bobby Bragan himself attended the dedication ceremony in 1997. There were no fights). The field lights were sold to the Dodgers' AAA farm team and are still being used at Avista Stadium in Spokane, Washington.
The Stars weren't just good for the community -- they were the community. Second baseman Lou Stringer and catcher Eddie Malone sold Chevrolets during the day. Pitcher Roger Bowman had an upholstering shop in nearby Santa Monica. Irv Noren ran a bowling alley. Less successful was coach Harry "The Horse" Danning's Hudson dealership in Culver City. (Getting paid seven grand a year for playing baseball doesn't mean you don't have to work for a living.)
Los Angeles Times columnist Alan Malamud wrote, years later: "For four or five years after the Dodgers came, I had this dream that there was still a PCL team at Gilmore. Every time I woke up, it killed me to find out I couldn't go to a game there."
|'57: STARS FALL|
The team (renamed the "Salt Lake City Bees" again) moved back and forth between the revamped PCL and smaller Pioneer League, and then finally were relocated to Washington in 1965 -- becoming the Tacoma Rainiers (they are owned today by the Seattle Mariners).
But now they're just a development team, with no movie stars in the stands, no parades with Jayne Mansfield... no tradition -- just a rainy place that players hope will be a short stop on the way to a better place in the majors.
You can't have Stars without Hollywood.
Click on the montage to view Image Gallery.
Written by Jeff Hause. Thanks to Vice President Mark Panatier of the A.F. Gilmore Company, for his assistance in the researching of this article.