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Bases Loaded, Part 16:
The History of the Los Angeles Kings
by Chris Oakley
Adapted from material previously posted at


In the first 15 chapters of this series we reviewed William Randolph Hearst’s creation of the Continental League and the Los Angeles Kings; the 1935 CL-MLB merger and subsequent MLB reorganization; the Kings’ postseason triumphs and heartbreaks in the late ‘30s and the firing of manager Al Bridwell after they lost the 1940 World Series; the Kings’ spectacular 1941 season; L.A.’s World War II doldrums on the diamond; the Los Angeles postwar resurgence which led to World Series victories against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and the Boston Braves in 1948; the heartbreak of their 1949 ALCS defeat; their collapse in the home stretch of the 1950 baseball season; Hearst’s death late in the 1951 season; the retirement of “California Clipper” Joe DiMaggio; the return of Al Bridwell as Kings manager in 1952; the Kings’ epic playoff runs of the mid-1950s; the uproar among Kings fans over Dodger owner Walter O’Malley’s decision to move his team from Brooklyn to southern California in 1957; O’Malley’s purchase of land in the San Fernando Valley for a new Dodgers home field; the Kings’ remarkable run to the 1958 World Series championship; the evolution of Purple & Gold right-hander Don Drysdale into one of the best starting pitchers in MLB history; the Purple & Gold’s heartbreaking collapse in the final weeks of the 1959 MLB season; the Kings’ return to the postseason in 1960 ; L.A. outfielder’s outfielder Mickey Mantle’s highly memorable 1961 home run race with New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris; the Kings’ 1961 ALCS showdown with the Yankees; their 1961 World Series triumph over the Cincinnati Reds; L.A.’s disappointing 1962 season; the Kings’ 1963 ALCS clash with the Yankees; their 1963 World Series pasting at the hands of the Dodgers; Orlando Cepeda’s departure from Los Angeles; and the Kings’ somewhat lackluster 1964 season. In this segment we’ll recall the introduction of the Kings’ new manager for 1965 and the team’s heartbreaking playoff defeats during the next two seasons.


The Kings’ search for a successor to Harry Hooper finally ended a week before Christmas Day 1964, when former Yankees pitcher Hank Borowy accepted a five-year contract offer to assume the helm in Los Angeles. He was inheriting a franchise still having morale problems after its ’63 World Series pounding and its less-than-stellar 1964 MLB season. But Borowy wasn’t deterred; he saw a good deal of potential in the Purple & Gold’s lineup and thought 1965 could be the beginning of a resurgence for the Kings. He also liked what he saw in the new crop of farmhands emerging from the ranks of the Kings’ minor league system and the Caribbean-based winter league teams that provided additional talent for the big club. One prospect he was especially impressed with in spring training was a Venezuelan transplant named Cesar Tovar who’d led the Pacific Coast League in home runs and RBIs the previous season as cleanup hitter for the Kings’ Triple A affiliate in Bakersfield. To Borowy, Tovar represented the potential missing piece in the puzzle of how to make Los Angeles a bona fide power in the AL West again.

So when a case of intestinal flu forced Felipe Alou to miss the Kings’ 1965 season opener against Houston, Borowy called up “Pepito”, as Tovar was affectionately known by his friends, to fill the breach in L.A.’s batting order. This he did magnificently, going 3 for 4 at the plate and driving in two RBIs-- one of them on a game-winning home run --in a 10-8 Los Angeles victory over the Athletics. The Purple & Gold went on to win six of their next seven games, and before the end of April Los Angeles had pulled into a tie with the Prospectors for first place in the AL West standings; on May 5th the Kings took over sole possession of the division lead with a two-run shutout of Boston at Hearst Palladium.


Los Angeles spent most of the next two and a half months of the ’65 regular season sitting atop the AL West ladder; at the time of the All-Star break that year the Kings were enjoying a twelve-game edge on then-second place Chicago. Unfortunately for Purple and Gold fans, it was right about this time that the wheels started to come off of the proverbial truck for Hank Borowy and company. On the team’s first road swing after the All-Star Game, Mickey Mantle was sidelined by injuries yet again after dislocating his knee and breaking the little finger on his throwing hand during the second game of a doubleheader against the Longhorns in Kansas City.

While Mantle was recuperating from those injuries, Don Drysdale was served with a ten-game suspension for getting in an altercation with an umpire over a questionable strike call at a game against the Cleveland; the Kings lost six of those ten games. By the time Drysdale returned to action Los Angeles had fallen back into second place in the AL West standings and was in danger of dropping to third. Those who thought things couldn’t much worse than that were proven wrong in short order; on August 10th a struggling Dean Chance was sent down to the minors after blowing three potential saves and surrendering nine runs in just four games. He would spend most of the next month down at Bakersfield trying to get his groove back while his teammates thrashed about in third place trying return to the top of the standings.

By September 13th it was all over but the shouting; even with Chance back to his customary winning form Los Angeles couldn’t regain the drive and resilience that had put it in first place from April to July. They were officially eliminated from the pennant race with an 8- 7 nighttime loss against the Washington Senators at Hearst Palladium on September 22nd. The Kings ended the season in third place in the AL West, leaving some in the SoCal sports media to wonder if Borowy might be headed for as swift an exit as the one which had cut short Harry Hooper’s second stint as L.A. skipper. But Borowy would return for the 1966 season, and would be assisted in his bid to reach the playoffs by a decision made at the major league owners’ annual winter meeting....


The 1966 MLB season opened with the American and National League structures having undergone something of a makeover. The East and West divisions in each league were now joined by a Central division, and in the playoffs the two leagues’ championship series would be preceded by a divisional series comprised of the three divisional champions and a so-called ‘wild card’ team to be determined by which one of the three divisions’ second-place finishers had the highest winning percentage. While purists among the baseball fan crowd objected to this change, a more open-minded segment of fandom embraced it as a lifeline for teams which otherwise might not have an opportunity to reach the postseason.

Certainly Kings fans weren’t going to protest; indeed, if some of them had had their way the change would have been instituted at least a decade earlier. Those who remembered the heartbreaking end of L.A.’s 1962 season couldn’t help but wonder what might have been if the Kings had gotten a second chance to make the playoffs. Students of the long- running Kings-Prospectors rivalry were particularly eager to see how a potential wild card race between the two clubs might liven things up. And the Purple & Gold’s accounting staff were positively salivating at the thought of the extra dollars which would be coming through Hearst Palladium’s ticket windows.

The Kings began their quest for a return to the postseason with a three-run Opening Day shutout of the Miami Marlins(formerly known as the Washington Senators) at Hearst Palladium. They went on to win six of their next seven games and by the third week of the 1966 season had put themselves right in the thick of the AL West pennant race; on May 10th they pulled into a tie for first place with Kansas City after they swept a doubleheader against the Indians in Cleveland. By June 1st Los Angeles held a four-game edge over San Francisco in the West division standings and showed every sign of expanding that lead before they hit the All-Star break.

But things in baseball don’t always work out that way. On June 2nd the Kings lost the second game of a doubleheader against the White Sox in Chicago; that marked the beginning of a nine-game slump during which San Francisco charged ahead of the Purple & Gold in the AL West pennant race. By the time the Kings broke out of that slump, they were five and a half games behind the Prospectors. The gap expanded to six and a half games after the Kings dropped two out of three against the Red Sox in Boston; by the end of June the gulf between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the AL West standings was threatening to mushroom to double digits. Independence Day found the Purple & Gold trying to keep themselves from dropping into a third-place tie with Houston-- and the Hearst family deciding the time had arrived to inject some fresh blood into the Los Angeles pitching staff.

On July 8th, 1966 the Kings traded Chance and two minor league prospects to the National League’s Dallas Stars for George Culver, a 6-foot-2 right-hander who had a terrific throwing arm but couldn’t seem to adjust to the NL style of baseball. Culver immediately paid off substantial dividends for his new club, pitching a shutout against the Yankees in his first start for Los Angeles and flirting with a no- hitter in his second. Within three weeks Culver had recorded five wins in six starts for his new team and the Kings clawed their way back up to second in the AL West. Although the odds of them winning a division pennant were still slim at this point, they had a very good chance at earning the American League’s first-ever wild card playoff berth.

In mid-August the Kings eliminated the then-fading Kansas City Longhorns from wild card contention with a sweep of KC at Prendergast Field; they officially clinched the American League wild card spot on September 12th with a 5-3 comeback home win against the Orioles. Their reward for perseverance was a divisional playoff showdown against the AL West division champion San Francisco prospectors, marking the first time in the rival franchises’ 36-year histories that they had met each other head-to-head in the postseason.

The divisional playoff was in a best-of-three format, with the Kings traveling to San Francisco for the series opener and hosting the second game in Los Angeles; if necessary, the two teams would return to San Francisco for a third game. Kings fans were hoping their team could avoid the third game; the ‘Spectors had largely dominated the Purple & Gold during the regular season, and if San Francisco won the first game of the series they would have home field advantage for the rubber match. Conversely, by the same token, Prospectors were just as nervous about their team going to Hearst Palladium for the second game of the series-- an L.A. win in the first game would put the Kings in a position to sweep San Francisco.


For the first game of the best-of-three showdown the Kings turned to their ace pitcher, Don Drysdale, to shut down the rather formidable Prospectors batting order. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, and for Drysdale himself, San Francisco had a good deal more pop in their bats than the Kings had anticipated and lit the veteran right- hander up for five first inning runs en route to an 8-4 victory over the Purple & Gold. It was a long and somewhat gloomy plane ride back to LAX for Hank Borowy and his players, who were returning to Hearst Palladium in an 0-1 hole going into Game 2.

The mood wasn’t any happier among the crowd which nervously filed into Hearst Palladium for the second game of the series; one New York Daily News sportswriter covering the divisional playoff would note that the tension among fans that afternoon was reminiscent of the anxiety pervading Kings fandom during the latter stages of the 1963 World Series. Even Homer the First’s usual pre-game dance to inspire the team and its spectators seemed a tad listless, as if he along with everyone else were waiting for some preordained catastrophe to unfold within the Palladium’s massive outfield walls. And sure enough, L.A.’s pitching staff got lit up for four runs in the first inning of Game 2 of the Kings-Prospectors series. But this time the Kings rallied from San Francisco’s initial blows and put together their own hitting surge to beat the Prospectors 8-5 and send the divisional playoff right back to San Francisco for a winner-take-all third game.

For the finale of the Purple & Gold’s first-ever divisional postseason series, Hank Borowy turned to George Culver as his starting pitcher; San Francisco countered with 6-foot-4 Hollywood, California native Larry Dierker, an imposing right-hander who had started his MLB career with the Dallas Stars and had joined Los Angeles in the spring of ’66 as a free agent after the Stars released him. Though Culver had a slim height advantage, Dierker had a greater pitching velocity; on the shoulders-- and throwing arms --of these two men rode the ultimate conclusion of L.A.’s historic playoff showdown with San Francisco.

Dierker proved to have the stronger shoulders, carrying the Prospectors to within two strikes of a no-hitter and recording a 13-4 victory to clinch the series for San Francisco. As he and his jubilant teammates basked in their triumph and packed their bags to fly out to Baltimore to take on the AL East division champion Orioles in the 1966 ALCS, a mournful Kings club shifted its focus to preparing itself for the 1967 MLB season. The Orioles would go on to defeat the Prospectors three games to two in the ALCS and then sweep the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1966 World Series.


Those who’d been hoping to someday see a rematch between Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the World Series were disappointed when Koufax announced his retirement. Few people felt this more keenly than Drysdale himself; Koufax’s departure from the majors meant that Drysdale would now be denied the opportunity to avenge the two World Series defeats he’d endured at the hands of Koufax. But there was no time for him or any of his Kings teammates to dwell on what might have been-- the start of the 1967 MLB season was fast approaching. There was a lot of work to be done in spring training, especially where the Purple & Gold’s defense was concerned; Los Angeles had failed to turn nearly a third of its attempted double plays during the 1966 regular season, and the double play had also been the Kings’ Achilles heel in the ’66 American League divisional playoffs.

Accordingly, Borowy put his infielders through a spring training regimen which would have taxed the stamina of the hardiest Roman gladiator. But the payoff was well worth the toll the regimen took on those infielders; the Purple & Gold opened their ’67 regular season with a seven-game win streak and were 10½ games ahead of San Francisco in the AL West standings by the end of April. In July the team sent eight players to the 1967 All-Star Game, with four of them being named to the American League’s starting lineup. In early August, the Kings got a much-needed break in their pennant drive when Orlando Cepeda, who’d often killed Los Angeles when the Kings were playing the Orioles in the months after the Cepeda-Snyder trade, was sent down to the minors after falling into an 0-for-34 hitting slump. (Cepeda would be released during the 1968 season and sign up with the San Francisco Giants as a free agent.) They clinched the AL West division pennant on September 19th with a doubleheader sweep of the Kansas City Longhorns at Prendergast Field; the sweep also clinched home field advantage for the Kings in the 1967 American League division playoffs against the AL wild card entry Chicago.

Los Angeles easily prevailed over the White Sox in the divisional series, with Don Drysdale shutting down Chicago’s bats for eight full innings in the second game to earn a five-run shutout win and advance the Kings to the 1967 ALCS. With AL East champion Boston having made equally short work of AL Central champions Detroit in its own division series, the stage was thus set for a rematch of the epic 1946 Red Sox- Kings ALCS showdown. With both conventional wisdom and Las Vegas odds favoring Los Angeles since they would have home field advantage in the second Boston-L.A. American League pennant clash, fans throughout the southern California region were eagerly anticipating a Purple and Gold drubbing of the Red Sox to avenge the heartbreak the Kings had endured twenty-one years earlier.

But the Red Sox would have none of it. In the fifth inning of Game 1 of the ’67 ALCS, Boston second baseman Mike Andrews would for all practical purposes erase the Kings’ home field edge with a grand slam off Bill Monbouquette in what would turn out to be the veteran L.A. right-hander’s last postseason appearance of his career. Three innings later Boston starting pitcher Jim Lonborg struck out the side to squash a potential game-tying Los Angeles rally; the Sox went on to win the game 10-6, and from there momentum would carry them to a five- run shutout of the Kings in Game 2.

A sixth inning Felipe Alou RBI double in Game 3 prevented Boston from sweeping the ALCS and paved the way for a 5-4 extra innings L.A. victory. But the real test for both the Kings and the Red Sox would be Game 4. Whoever won that contest, baseball experts agreed, would for all intents and purposes win the series, because if Boston prevailed they would clinch the American League pennant; conversely, by the same token, a Kings victory would tie the ALCS and send it back to Hearst Palladium for a fifth and deciding game with the momentum being turned back in favor of the Purple & Gold. Next to the first Super Bowl, Game 4 of the Red Sox-Kings ALCS may have been the most watched TV sporting event of 1967.


If Charles Dickens had written the story of Game 4, he might have titled it “A Tale Of Two Homers”. Both the game’s most crucial moments turned on home runs. In the third inning Mickey Mantle, now the Kings’ all-time career leader in postseason home runs, broke a scoreless tie with a solo shot to deep center; with L.A.’s pitching staff keeping the Sox bats quiet all the way to the end of the eighth, it looked as if that solo shot might be all the Purple & Gold needed to punch their ticket to the 1967 World Series. But in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs on Boston and Los Angeles ready to celebrate its first trip to the Fall Classic since 1963, a walk put Sox catcher Elston Howard on first base and brought outfielder Carl Yazstremski to the plate for an at-bat which could make or break the season for both teams.

What happened next has since been immortalized in New England sports legend. Yaz crushed a 2-2 fastball into the bleachers to give Boston a 2-1 ALCS-clinching win; in one of those cosmic coincidences which seem to be an integral part of baseball, the homer landed just a few inches from where Mantle’s solo blast had alighted. A jubilant Red Sox clubhouse swarmed around Yazstremski as he crossed home plate, while a morose Kings squad was left to begin packing up their gear for a long(in more ways than one) plane ride back to LAX. Once again, the Purple & Gold would be on the outside looking in while two other clubs battled for the World Series championship....


To Be Continued


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