The History of the Los Angeles Kings
By Chris Oakley
adapted from material previously posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In the first ten chapters of this series we recalled 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; and the Purple & Gold’s heartbreaking collapse in the final weeks of the 1959 MLB season. In this chapter we’ll look back at the Kings’ return to the playoffs in 1960 and L.A. outfielder Mickey Mantle’s highly memorable 1961 home run race with Yankees slugger Roger Maris.
1960 was largely expected by sportswriters and fans to be a rebuilding year for the Los Angeles Kings. Preston Ward had retired; Charley Neal had been traded to the San Francisco Giants for two minor league outfielders and a promising young infielder named Felipe Alou; Ed Bailey had sustained an arm injury in spring training which would keep him on the sidelines for much of the regular season; Larry Doby, then in his final MLB season, was struggling at the plate and the subject of persistent trade rumors; and Carlo Montoya was in the minors trying to work out control problems which had been plaguing him since the final weeks of the 1959 season.
But if there’s one thing that has remained consistent about the national pastime throughout its long history, it’s this: a team’s luck can change in a hurry and when you least expect it. After a slow start in which the Kings could barely manage to reach the .500 mark and even threatened to drop out of playoff contention before the first day of summer, Felipe Alou began turning out hits like the garage rock bands that suddenly seemed to be cropping up in every suburban neighborhood in southern California. By mid-June, the Purple & Gold had returned to their usual spot: in the thick of the AL West pennant hunt. They climbed to the top of the division standings just after the All- Star break with a nine-game win streak on the road; in their first game back home at Hearst Palladium after the break, they swept the San Francisco Prospectors in an evening doubleheader during which Felipe Alou got his first career American League grand slam.
In August the Kings faced their toughest test of the season with a four-game road stand in Baltimore against the Orioles. When the two franchises had previously squared off that year, a three-game late May set at Hearst Palladium, the Orioles had won two of those games. The Purple & Gold were determined not to let history repeat itself. So Al Bridwell, in a risky move that could easily have backfired on him, radically changed his starting lineup on the eve of the series opener, moving Felipe Alou up to the leadoff spot in L.A.’s batting order and dropping Mickey Mantle down to eighth even though Mantle was having one of the best years of his career while Alou had tapered off somewhat after his torrid start.
As it turned out, Bridwell made the right call. The Kings took three of the four games in that Baltimore set; a rejuvenated Alou improved his season batting average by twenty points and Mantle further boosted his already impressive career home runs total. By the time the Purple & Gold left Baltimore, they were enjoying a respectable seven-game edge over San Francisco in the AL West. Los Angeles would clinch the division championship in late September with a five-run shutout of the Longhorns in Kansas City...
....and from there, another ALCS battle with the Yankees loomed. By this time TV cameras were as common at ballgames as peanuts and hotdogs, and full-fledged national television broadcast networks were making it possible to carry the playoffs and the World Series to corners of America that had never seen an MLB postseason game before(or at least gone a long time without seeing one). The Kings would be one of the greatest beneficiaries of the marriage of baseball and TV, gaining legions of new fans by virtue of the greater national exposure the young medium offered; they would even manage to win a few followers in the midst of Yankee country.
A small but devoted group of those followers, who dubbed themselves the Royal Court of the East, traveled out west to see the opening game of the 1960 ALCS. They saw one of the best postseason games ever played at Hearst Palladium-- for seven full innings New York starting pitcher Ralph Terry and Los Angeles starter Don Drysdale went toe-to-toe like heavyweight boxers, trading strike for strike and out for out. Neither team even got a man on base until the bottom of the eighth inning, when Stan Musial doubled to center field with two outs. The Kings finally prevailed 4-3 on a two-run homer by Larry Doby with one out in the ninth.
And close games would be the rule rather than the exception from that point on: of the remaining four games of the 1960 ALCS, three would be decided by just one run, and out of those three two games would go into extra innings. The only case in which either of the contestants won by more than a single run was in Game 4, when a second inning grand slam by Yankee outfielder Tony Kubek paved the way for a 7-3 New York drubbing of the Purple & Gold.
Game 5 was the longest playoff contest the Kings had yet participated in over their nearly four-decade history. In terms of both chronology and number of innings played, the game was a marathon: it took seventeen innings and nearly six hours for Los Angeles to scratch out a 13-12 victory over the Bronx Bombers and secure a spot in the 1960 World Series against the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates. The Purple & Gold were exhausted by the time Mickey Mantle caught the final out....
...and that exhaustion may have been a critical factor in the Series’ eventual outcome. While the Pirates had had a pretty long road to hoe themselves in getting to the Fall Classic-- they needed a one-game playoff to win the National League East pennant and a late innings rally in Game 4 to eliminate the NL West champion Milwaukee Braves in the 1960 NLCS --the Bucs were somewhat fresher for the fight than the AL contestants. One Pittsburgh player who was especially fired up for the 1960 World Series was second baseman and NLCS Most Valuable Player Bill Mazerowski, who from his first day in the majors had been eager to see whether he could clear the legendary outfield wall at Hearst Palladium but up until now hadn’t gotten the chance because he was a National League player. In the ’60 Series he would finally have his opportunity.
A combination of serious jet lag and excellent Pirates pitching silenced L.A.’s bats in the first game of the 1960 World Series; the Kings didn’t even get a man on base until the second out of the fourth inning, by which time Pittsburgh had already reeled off six hits and three runs. The Kings ended up losing the game 8-2, and to add insult to injury the Los Angeles infield was charged with three errors in the sixth inning. The lone Kings player to get an extra-base hit in the Series opener was Stan Musial, whose eighth inning solo homer provided one of the two L.A. runs.
The Purple & Gold had considerably better luck in Game 2, overcoming an early Bucs lead to pull out a 5-3 comeback victory. Don Drysdale, the Los Angeles starting pitcher that day, racked up fourteen strikeouts in eight innings; Ed Bailey drove in the game- winning run with a tenth-inning bullet single up the middle which scored Larry Doby from second base. Pirates catcher Smoky Burgess tried to tag Doby out at home, but the relay throw from third base was wild and pulled Burgess off the bag by at least half a foot.
With the first two games of the ’60 World Series split between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, there was an electric atmosphere at Forbes Field going into Game 3. Both the Pirates and the Kings knew that the outcome of the third game might well determine the course of the rest of the Series; nobody was going to hold anything back, especially not when a bloop single might make the difference between winning a world championship and coming in second. Indeed, in the first inning of Game 3 Pirates center fielder Bill Virdon cut his lower lip while sliding into second after shortshop Dick Groat grounded out to Stan Musial at first base-- and that was the mildest physical injury anyone playing sustained that day. Kings pitcher Reynaldo Montoya, who would announce his retirement shortly after the Series ended, actually had his nose broken in the fourth inning when a line drive by sixth-year Pittsburgh right fielder Roberto Clemente glanced off Montoya’s face. The Kings took a 4-2 lead well into the eighth inning only to see it vanish by way of a two-out RBI double from Pirates third baseman Don Hoak, who in the seventh inning had made two critical force plays to squash an L.A. offensive surge that could have blown the game wide open for the Kings; Pittsburgh hung on to win 6-5, with former Dodger reliever Clem Labine being credited with the victory for the Bucs.1
The Purple & Gold rallied from their Game 3 setback to defeat the Pirates 9-2 in Game 4, but in Game 5 the air started to leak out of Los Angeles’ balloon once and for all. In the third inning of that contest Roberto Clemente broke a scoreless tie by hitting his first career postseason grand slam and in so doing paved the way for an 11-3 Pittsburgh drubbing of the Kings which gave Danny Murtaugh and his crew a three games-to-two Series lead as the Fall Classic headed back to Hearst Palladium for Game 6.
A glum silence hung over the Kings clubhouse in the wake of their Game 5 loss-- a silence that quickly gave way to a profanity-laced tirade from Al Bridwell. At the peak of his harangue, he got so worked up he nearly popped a blood vessel in his left eye. Stung by their manager’s scolding and the thrashing the Pirates had inflicted on them, the Kings went into Game 6 determined to take Pittsburgh apart. And take the Bucs apart they did: Los Angeles erupted for nine runs in the first two innings of Game 6 en route to a 10-1 blowout of Pittsburgh which tied the Series at three games apiece and set the table for a Game 7 showdown no one on either side would ever forget...
While Bill Mazerowski’s ninth-inning home run may be the most famous highlight of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, the rest of the game didn’t lack for dramatic moments either. L.A. starting pitcher Don Drysdale and his Pittsburgh counterpart Vern Law traded strikeouts for over three innings before Smoky Burgess doubled off Drysdale with one out in the fourth. Mickey Mantle homered off Law with men on first and third in the bottom of the fourth for the first runs of the game; Dick Groat tied the score with a bases-loaded double in the fifth. In the seventh inning Orlando Cepeda tripled to center field to give Los Angeles a 9-7 lead only to see Don Hoak even the score up again with a line drive to right in the eighth.
In the ninth inning Bill Mazerowski came to the plate with a man on first and two outs. The first two pitches to Mazerowski blazed past him for strikes; the next two were fouled into the bleachers(and no doubt became souvenirs for some lucky fans). Relief pitcher Ken Johnson, who the Kings had brought out to replace Don Drysdale in the eighth inning, then proceeded to run the count up to three balls and two strikes. The crowd at Hearst Palladium, and millions of TV viewers and radio listeners across America, held their collective breath while waiting to see what Mazerowski and Johnson would do next.
Johnson released his payoff pitch....
...then proceeded to gape in horrified disbelief as Mazerowski swung like a lumberjack and smashed the ball into the Palladium upper decks. The Pirates had won the game 10-9 and the Series four games to three; it was, as one Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sportswriter would say in his account of the Bucs win the next day, "David beating Goliath by TKO". Mickey Mantle wept for two full hours after the game was over and his sullen teammates cleaned out their lockers in a leaden silence more befitting a cemetery than a major league ballpark. By contrast, a carnival-like atmosphere surrounded the victorious Pirates on their plane ride back to Pittsburgh-- and it didn’t stop when they got off the plane either: thousands of Bucs fans jammed into Forbes Field for a welcome-home rally to honor the 1960 World Series champions.
During the off-season the Kings top brass had to deal with an unexpected turnover in their coaching ranks. Unable to come to terms with the team’s front office on a contract extension, Al Bridwell resigned as manager in January of 1961. With spring training less than a month away, the Purple & Gold were without a skipper; there wasn’t too much time to locate and choose a successor to Bridwell before the regular season began.
Enter Harry Hooper, who since being fired by the Kings a decade earlier had been dividing his time between doing color commentary for NBC’s West Coast TV baseball broadcasts and working as a special player development consultant for the San Francisco Giants. He’d been hoping for another opportunity to manage in the big leagues, and in spite of the way his maiden voyage with Los Angeles had ended he was highly receptive when the Kings asked him to return as manager. Four weeks after the franchise initially contacted Hooper to inquire about the possibility of his returning to Hearst Palladium to succeed Al Bridwell, a gala press conference was held at the Wilshire Hotel to officially announce Hooper’s return as the Purple & Gold skipper. In exchange for letting him out of his consultant’s contract a year ahead of schedule, the Giants received a highly respectable compensation payment and three of the Kings’ minor league prospects.
Though neither Hooper nor anyone else realized it at the time, he’d returned to Los Angeles just in time for the surpassing of an MLB record once thought to be unassailable: Babe Ruth’s single season home runs total. Thanks to new ballparks as well as the creation of new teams and the relocation of existing ones, a climate existed in which hitters would have more opportunities to pass Ruth’s tally of 60 homers than had existed at any time since Ruth first established that record in 1927. Two men were particularly well-situated for an attack on the record: the Purple & Gold’s own Mickey Mantle and New York Yankees outfielder Roger Maris, a North Dakotan whose talent at the plate was equaled only by his shyness around the press.
The race between Maris and Mantle for the honor of succeeding Babe Ruth as single-season home run king began very early in the 1961 MLB regular season-- to be more specific, with the fourth pitch of the Kings’ season opener against the Kansas City Longhorns. Mantle, who was batting cleanup for L.A. that afternoon, launched a 2-1 fastball deep to center field; the solo round-tripper set the table for a 5-2 L.A. win. Around dinnertime that night, Mantle picked up a copy of the evening edition of the Los Angeles Times and read the news Maris had belted a three-run homer in a 6-4 Yankees loss to the San Francisco Prospectors. The race for the home run crown was on...
....and for most of the first half of the season it would be practically neck-and-neck between the two hard-slugging outfielders. Indeed, by the time the MLB All-Star break arrived, Mantle and Maris literally were neck-and-neck in the home run chase; they were tied for the American League lead with 33 homers each. It wasn’t till the first week of August, when the notoriously injury-prone Mantle got sidelined yet again by way of a sprained foot, that Maris started to pull ahead for keeps. In spite of the psychological toll that the stress of so much press attention was taking on the Yankees outfielder’s delicate psyche, Maris kept pushing along towards the goal of surpassing Babe Ruth’s single season plateau. Maris tied Ruth’s record on September 13th with a fifth-inning grand slam in a 14-9 New York pounding of the Athletics in Houston.
The next day the Yankees officially clinched another AL East division with a five-run shutout of the Athletics, but Maris went 0-for-4 at the plate including two strikeouts. Some of the more cynical factions of the New York sports media hinted that Maris might fail to break Ruth’s record before the season passed the 154-game mark; should that turn out to be the case, these cynics suggested an asterisk be put next to Maris’ name in the record books when he finally did get that sixty-first homer.
That kind of talk burned Maris; he resolved to make the cynics eat their words and choke on every last bite. When the Yanks returned to Yankee Stadium on September 16th to begin their final home stand of the regular season-- a four-game string against a characteristically inept Cleveland Indians squad --the six-foot-even North Dakotan came to the plate loaded for bear. In the third inning, with Cleveland and Los Angeles tied 1-1, Maris stepped up to face number four Cleveland starting pitcher Barry Latman, a right-hander and former White Sox who in spite of the Indians’ lackluster performance that season had been able to earn thirteen regular season victories going into his head-to-head showdown against Maris.
After running up a full count on Latman with the first five pitches he faced, Maris fouled the next three into the stands. The tension at Yankee Stadium was so thick you could have cut it with an axe. On his ninth pitch to Maris, the right-hander delivered a change- up he hoped would strike the New York slugger out-- but Maris, acting out an inverted version of the old poem "Casey At The Bat", mashed the ball for his sixty-first home run of the season and officially assumed Babe Ruth’s former mantle as all-time single season home run champion. The crowd erupted in a standing ovation as Maris circled the bases and Cleveland manager Jimmy Dykes dejectedly watched the record-setting gopher ball disappear into the Yankee Stadium bleachers. Latman would be gone from the game by the end of the fifth inning and the Yankees would end up winning 6-2 to secure home field advantage for the 1961 ALCS.
Maris had gotten his sixty-first homer well ahead of the 154- game mark, essentially squashing any talk of putting an asterisk next to his name in the record books. But neither he nor the Yankees were finished reaching for glory yet: eager to avenge their 1960 ALCS loss to the Purple & Gold, the Bronx Bombers had made it their mission to demolish Harry Hooper’s crew in the 1961 American League playoffs. And the number one target on New York’s hit list was the Kings’ greatest starting pitcher, Don Drysdale.
Drysdale wasn’t concerned about this in the least; if anything, he was as eager to take on the Yanks as they were to face him. The ‘61 ALCS promised to be an absolute barn-burner....
To Be Continued
 Labine replaced starting pitcher Reynaldo Montoya in the fifth inning.