The History of the Los Angeles Kings
By Chris Oakley
adapted from material previously posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In the first nine 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; and the uproar among Kings fans over Dodger owner Walter O’Malley’s decision to move his franchise from Brooklyn to southern California in 1957. In this segment we’ll look at the Dodgers’ purchase of land in the San Fernando Valley for a new home field, the Kings’ remarkable run to the 1958 World Series and their epic Series rematch with the Milwaukee Braves, the evolution of Purple & Gold right-hander Don Drysdale into one of the best starting pitchers in MLB history, and the heartbreaking climax of the Kings’ 1959 AL West pennant race with the Chicago White Sox.
(This chapter of ‘Bases Loaded’ is dedicated to longtime Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard, who died on July 11th, 2010 at the age of 99 just as the final draft of Part 9 was being completed. Sheppard, nicknamed "the Voice of God" because of his elegant speaking style, was one of the greatest PA men in baseball history, and whether you were a Yankee fan or not his character and class made him someone who richly deserved the admiration of his many listeners and peers. Rest in peace, Bob.)
Given the intensity and animosity of previous Kings-Dodgers World Series showdowns, you might think baseball fans in the Los Angeles area would have been uniformly appalled by Walter O’Malley’s transplant of the Bums onto the Purple & Gold’s home turf. But this wasn’t necessarily the case-- in fact, a surprisingly substantial number of L.A. area residents regarded O’Malley as something of a modern folk hero, the man who would finally end the Hearst family’s domination of professional baseball in southern California. It was with these people in mind that O’Malley secured a patch of land in the San Fernando Valley on which he intended to build a new stadium for the Dodgers that would rival(if not surpass) Hearst Palladium for grandeur. In the meantime, the Dodgers would play their home games for the 1958 season at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the one sporting venue in the City of Angels bigger than the Palladium. It was the first salvo in a what would be a long-running battle for the hearts and minds of SoCal baseball fans as the 1960s loomed on the horizon.
The second salvo came in late March of 1958 when the Kings traveled to the Dodgers’ preseason workout complex at Vero Beach, Florida to take on the Bums in one of their last spring training tune-ups before the 1958 MLB regular season got started. That game saw the first head-to-head matchup between two pitchers who five years later would square off in one of the most memorable World Series games of all time-- Dodgers lefty Sandy Koufax and Kings right-hander Don Drysdale, both then in their third year in the majors. While both men still had a ways to go before attaining the All-Star status they would enjoy in later seasons, they were already establishing reputations for terrifying opposing hitters in their respective leagues.
Said reputations would be enhanced following the Drysdale-Koufax spring training showdown; Drysdale allowed just one run and four hits over six innings, while Koufax gave up no runs and only two hits. The Dodgers went on to win the game 2-0 and sportswriters across America began praying for a rematch between Koufax and Drysdale in the World Series; they’d have to wait five years or so before their prayers were answered, but the wait would turn out to be worth it and then some...
The Kings opened their 1958 regular season at William March Rice Field1 in Houston, Texas, the new home of the team formerly known as the Philadelphia Athletics. Rice Field had originally been built in the expectation that it would be housing the Minneapolis Ramblers, but when circumstances canceled the Ramblers’ bid to leave Minnesota the business group that had sponsored Rice Field’s construction decided to offer it to the Athletics as their new home stadium and the Athletics were quick to accept the invitation. Ultimately Rice Field would be only an intermediate stop for the Athletics en route to their eventual subsequent West Coast home in Oakland, but in the meantime its stands would be packed with loyal spectators who had been starved for major league baseball for decades.
Those spectators packed the stands to near-bursting for Los Angeles’ season opener; Preston Ward, who would retire from the big leagues the following year, would record the first hit ever made at Rice Field when he doubled to left with one out in the third inning. That was about the last time until the eighth when much of anything went right for the Purple & Gold-- shortly after getting his double, Ward was picked off trying to steal third, and two batters later Ed Bailey had the bad luck to ground into an inning-ending double play. When the A’s came to bat in the bottom of the fourth inning, they lit up an unfortunate Carlo Montoya for seven hits and three runs; by the time Montoya was pulled from the game with one out in the fifth, the Kings were trailing 5-1 and were in danger of coughing up still more runs as Houston had managed to load the bases thanks in part to a rare Stan Musial error while trying to pick off A’s outfielder Bill Tuttle at second base.
Los Angeles went on to lose to the Athletics 8-2, and some of the more pessimistic members of Southern California’s sports press corps predicted that if the Kings’ Opening Day performance was any indication they’d be out of pennant contention by the first week of June at the latest. But as they and the rest of the American sporting public were about to learn, nothing could have been further from the truth...
The day after the Kings’ 8-2 drubbing by the A’s, Don Drysdale took the mound for his first start of the 1958 season. Like the rest of his teammates he was boiling mad about the way their ’58 debut had had gone, and he channeled that anger into a laser-like concentration on the goal of striking out as many Houston batters as he could. Some sportswriters think this game may have been the moment when Drysdale established himself for good as a bona fide major league All-Star; it was certainly the first step on the road to reaching that plateau. In six innings’ work he gave up just two runs and one hit while striking out seven of the first eight batters he faced.
When he left the game in the seventh inning with one out and Los Angeles ahead 6-1, the Kings infield gave him a round of applause and several pats on the back. And he deserved every last one of those plaudits: he would finish the day with nine strikeouts overall and a 7-2 Kings win to his credit. By the time the Purple and Gold went home to Southern California for their first series of the year at Hearst Palladium, talk had already started to circulate among some Kings fans of Drysdale as a possible Cy Young Award winner-- and a ten-strikeout performance against San Francisco in L.A.’s home opener would help to encourage those expectations.
By the time June 1st came around the Kings, far from being out of the pennant race, were just two games behind Kansas City in the AL West division standings. They closed the gap to just half a game after sweeping a four-game home series against the Chicago White Sox, and on June 10th they beat the Red Sox 4-2 to tie Kansas City for first place. During that span Drysdale pitched his first shutout of the season and second baseman Charlie Neal, a former Dodgers standout who had been signed by the Kings as a free agent after the ’57 season ended, became only the fourth player in franchise history to hit for the cycle in a regular season game.2
On June 12th they officially claimed sole possession of the top spot in the division with a thirteen-run shutout of the Prospectors at Marin County Memorial Stadium. Many of the same L.A. area sports media correspondents who had given the Purple & Gold up for dead after their disastrous Opening Day performance began to undergo a change of heart; those who had believed from the beginning that the Kings could contend for another pennant found sweet vindication in the 13-0 demolition of their team’s foremost archrivals. By the end of the month, Los Angeles would be four games ahead of Kansas City in the AL West standings and some of the more optimistic members of Kings fandom were beginning to anticipating a possible October showdown between the Purple & Gold and the defending World Series champion Milwaukee Braves.
The Kings went into the All-Star break with a 5½-game edge over the Longhorns in the AL West, and many people thought they could well stretch that lead to a full seven games once the break ended and the regular season resumed. But Los Angeles hit a stumbling block, losing two games of a three-game home series with the Detroit Tigers to start the second half of the ’58 campaign; that reduced the Purple & Gold’s hold on the top spot to just 3½ games, and that lead would shrink even further after the Yankees swept L.A. in a doubleheader. The thought of missing the playoffs was reprehensible to Kings fans-- and to GM Fred Haney, who turned to his farm system to provide a remedy for the mini- slump his franchise was in.
The remedy came in the form of Orlando "Baby Bull" Cepeda, a six-foot-two infielder from Puerto Rico whose father Pedro had been a star in the Caribbean leagues for many years and had encouraged his son to embrace the game at an early age. After seeing Cepeda’s major league debut in the second game of a double-header against the Red Sox up in Boston, Mickey Mantle was moved to comment to one of his teammates in admiration: "This kid’ll be around a long time." Mantle didn’t know how right he was-- Cepeda’s career in MLB would span sixteen seasons and almost as many ballclubs.
Cepeda’s first major league homer helped clinch a win over the Baltimore Orioles during a critical Purple & Gold home stand in the first week of August. By August 17th, the Kings had left Kansas City and San Francisco in their rearview mirror; Chicago would formally be eliminated from the pennant race two weeks later. Los Angeles would officially clinch the ’58 AL West division title with a 4-1 win over the Indians at Cleveland Stadium on September 13th, and from then on there would be little left for Al Bridwell’s team to do except fine-tune themselves mentally and physically for what everybody knew was going to be a brutal fight against the AL East champion Yankees in the 1958 ALCS.
Although nearly a year had passed since New York upended Los Angeles in the ’57 ALCS, the pain of that defeat felt as raw as if it had happened just yesterday. So when the American League rivals met in the Bronx for the opening round of their ’58 rematch, every player in the Kings locker room had one thought above all else in the front of his brain: get in the first blow against the Pinstripes. Whether they were newcomers to the postseason like Cepeda or time-tested vets like Mickey Mantle, Al Bridwell’s crew wanted to win the 1958 ALCS in the worst way.
The atmosphere in Yankee Stadium was unrelentingly hostile to the visitors; even before the game started the NYPD had to haul at least thirteen people to jail on charges of disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct after a brawl broke out between a large group of drunken Yankee fans and a smaller but equally drunken party of Kings supporters. And before the end of the second inning, another fan had been tossed out of the stadium when he lobbed a beer cup at Charley Neal’s head. In spite of all the turmoil, however, the Purple & Gold managed to scratch out a 4-2 win when all was said and done.
Things weren’t much more peaceful in the second round of the ‘58 ALCS; in fact, for a while it looked as if they were about to get even worse as rumors circulated there was a sniper lurking in the bleachers who wanted to kill Al Bridwell. Fortunately for all parties concerned, however, it proved to be a false alarm as the "sniper" was discovered to have actually been a stadium janitor who was using his broom handle to shoo away some pigeons in the rafters and had it pointed in such a way that from certain vantage points it vaguely resembled a gun. Once the dust from that particular alarm had settled, the Bronx Bombers had a field day with the Kings, pasting them 6-1 and evening the series at one game apiece as the ALCS contestants headed back to the West Coast for Games 3 and 4.
Game 3 of the 1958 ALCS saw Don Drysdale take the next step of his evolution into one of the greatest pitchers of baseball’s modern era. Before a raucous Hearst Palladium crowd, Drysdale threw a one-hit gem against the Yanks; he lasted eight innings and racked up sixteen strikeouts, including two K’s on Yankee catcher Yogi Berra. By way of contrast New York’s Game 3 starter, Duke Maas, barely made it through the fourth inning before he got chased off the mound.
Drysdale got considerable offensive support from his teammates, starting with an RBI double by Charley Neal early in the second inning and concluding with a Mickey Mantle seventh inning homer to center field that just barely missed clearing the Palladium roof. When it was all over, the Purple & Gold had hung a 13-1 blowout on the Yankees and were on the verge of earning a World Series meeting with the Milwaukee Braves. And Yanks manager Casey Stengel, whose job security had been pretty tenuous in the first place since their 1957 World Series defeat by the Braves, was facing the not-too-appealing possibility of getting a termination notice from his bosses once the ’58 ALCS was done.
Said termination notice would be countersigned by traditional Kings postseason mainstay and ’58 ALCS co-MVP Stan Musial3 in Game 4. In the fifth inning, Musial hit a bases-loaded single off starting pitcher Tom Sturdivant that effectively broke the Yankees’ back and ensured a series-clinching victory for Los Angeles. Orlando Cepeda put a dramatic postscript on the Musial single with a two-run homer to center field. The final score: Los Angeles 9, New York 2.
With the Kings’ return ticket to the World Series punched, the next order of business was to re-tool their offense to counteract the methodically precise pitching of the defending Series champion Braves. On the other side of the coin, L.A.’s starting pitchers’ rotation was assigned the unenviable task of trying to silence the formidable bats of the Braves’ starting nine-- with special priority accorded to the mission of neutralizing the swing of Braves right fielder Henry Aaron, who although he’d only been in the majors three years at that time was already developing a reputation as an overpowering home-run hitter and looked to enhance that reputation at the Purple & Gold’s expense.
Milwaukee’s County Stadium was packed to the gills for the first game of the 1958 World Series. While the game itself was a powerful attraction for the 41,000-plus spectators who filled its seats that day, there was one thing above all else that had them on the edge of their individual and collective seats: the question of whether Henry Aaron could get a hit off L.A. Game 1 starting pitcher Don Drysdale. Aaron’s Braves teammates didn’t seem to be having much luck on that score, as second baseman Red Schoendienst and shortstop Johnny Logan both struck out and third baseman Eddie Matthews was retired on a pop fly to Mickey Mantle in the outfield.
Aaron won the first round of his personal duel with Drysdale, slamming a triple to right field that put him in position to score from third base on a sacrifice fly or bloop single. But that would prove to be a hollow victory as Drysdale struck out the next batter, Milwaukee first baseman Joe Adcock, then threw Aaron out at home plate while the Braves right fielder was trying to score on a single by left fielder Wes Covington. In the top of the fourth inning Preston Ward broke a scoreless tie with an RBI double that brought Stan Musial home from second base; in the fifth inning, when Aaron faced Drysdale at the plate for the second time in Game 1, Drysdale avenged his earlier embarrassment at Aaron’s hands by retiring the Braves left fielder on a grounder to first base.
Desperate to pull their irons out of the proverbial fire, the Braves took their Game 1 starting pitcher, Warren Spahn, off the mound in the eighth inning and replaced him with reliever Bob Trowbridge in hopes Trowbridge could stop the Kings or at least slow them down. But Charley Neal would proceed to dash those hopes with a solo homer that put Los Angeles ahead 2-0; Larry Doby put the exclamation point on the afternoon with a ninth inning RBI bunt single that secured a three-run complete game shutout win for Don Drysdale in his World Series debut.
Game 2 of the ’58 World Series got off to a better start for the Braves but would have just as disappointing an ending for their fans; in the ninth inning Milwaukee frittered away a 4-2 lead, allowing the Kings to force the contest into extra innings and then win on 6-5 on a tenth inning home run by Ed Bailey. Though few if any people dared to make any firm predictions on how the Series would eventually turn out, the prevailing mood within the L.A. locker room was that both time and momentum were on the Kings’ side....
...and a 2-1 loss to the Braves at Hearst Palladium in Game 3 of the Series did little to diminish that mood. The Game 3 loss, the lone postseason defeat for Carlo Montoya in the Kings’ ’58 playoff run, was viewed by Bridwell and his players as little more than a speed bump on the road to regaining the Series championship. And if the bleachers at County Stadium in Milwaukee had been crowded for the first game of the Series, that was nothing compared to the sea of humanity which jammed every available seat at Hearst Palladium for Game 4.
This time it didn’t take very long to decide who would win the day; the Kings chased Braves starting pitcher Carl Willey back to the locker room with four unanswered runs in the first inning. By the time Braves closer Don McMahon took the mound in the bottom of the second, Los Angeles was ahead 5-1 and Milwaukee fans were tearing their hair out in utter frustration that things had gone so wrong so completely for their club. A weak fly to right by Braves pinch hitter Bill Bruton put the finishing touch on a 12-3 Los Angeles drubbing of Milwaukee. It would take a miracle, the Braves realized, to push the World Series to a sixth game.
But miracles were in short supply-- at least as far as Milwaukee was concerned. For Los Angeles miracles seemed to be turning up, like bananas, in bunches. Lew Burdette, the Braves’ originally scheduled starting pitcher for Game 5, was benched on disciplinary grounds after several black Kings employees accused him of taunting them with racial slurs; rains which had threatened to force the game’s postponement or at least delay the first pitch suddenly subsided in favor of a more typical Southern California sunshine; Kings reliever Luis Arroyo, who had missed the first three games of the Series due to illness, turned up at Hearst Palladium on the morning of Game 5 looking as fit as the proverbial fiddle; and Kings utility infielder Eddie Bressoud, who’d been slumping in the 1958 MLB playoffs, broke out of that slump with a vengeance by slamming an RBI line drive to left field in the second inning of Game 5.
Don Drysdale, the Kings’ Game 1 hero, worked his magic on the mound again as their Game 5 starter; he took a no-hitter bid deep into the seventh inning before Eddie Matthews broke it up with a two-out single. By then, of course, the Purple & Gold were ahead 5-0 and the Braves had gone through three different relievers in a desperate 11th- hour effort to stave off elimination. Larry Doby ballooned L.A.’s lead to 9-1 with an eighth-inning grand slam; in the ninth, the Los Angeles bullpen shut the door on the Braves for good.
When a grounder by Milwaukee catcher Del Crandall scooted into Charley Neal’s glove for the final out of the Series, the ovation from the Palladium spectators was so loud it could have been heard all the way to San Francisco. For the seventh time in franchise history, and the fourth time in a decade, the Los Angeles Kings had achieved the distinction of being the best team in Major League Baseball. The post-game celebrations in the Kings clubhouse were long and raucous-- and so was the victory parade which rolled down Hollywood Boulevard three days after the Purple & Gold’s Series-clinching win.
The Kings opened their 1959 American League season with a 4-2 win over the Longhorns in Kansas City. In the hoopla surrounding the unfurling of their ’58 World Series championship banner and their win on the road to kick off the new campaign, there seemed to be little, if any, reason to doubt an eighth Series pennant was just around the corner-- and as the wins mounted and Los Angeles staked itself to an eleven-game lead in the AL West division standings, only the gloomiest pessimist or a die-hard Prospectors fan would have been so rash as to broach the idea the Purple & Gold couldn’t repeat as world champions. By the All-Star break, L.A. was seventeen games ahead of its nearest pursuer in the pennant race and a ticket to the 1959 ALCS seemed to be just a question of playing out the string the rest of the season.
But midway through the second week of August, the Kings’ luck abruptly started to change for the worse. Mickey Mantle, who’d long been injury-prone to begin with, wound up on the shelf yet again after spraining his right leg while chasing down a fly ball during a Kings-Red Sox doubleheader in Boston; two days later, Preston Ward was hit with a five-game suspension after getting in an altercation with Sox outfielder Carl Yazstremski. The Kings left Boston having lost four of five games at Fenway Park, and the team’s collective mood would get even more sour after they heard that the Chicago White Sox had swept a three-game series with the Athletics in Houston.
The Kings’ abysmal performance at Fenway was just the first act in a protracted breakdown that would put their once rock-solid grip on the AL West crown in mortal jeopardy. By the end of August their lead in the division had shrunk from seventeen games to nine; at the same time the Purple & Gold were falling apart, the Chicago White Sox had caught fire and capitalizing on their unexpected second chance to get back in the pennant race. In early September L.A.’s lead dropped to a paltry four games as they lost eight of nine home contests, including three straight to the Detroit Tigers. The same ballclub that less than a year earlier had been triumphantly hoisting a World Series pennant above their home stadium now seemed to have transformed into a walking symbol of Murphy’s Law.
While the Purple & Gold’s fortunes continued to sour, the White Sox kept scratching and clawing their way towards the peak of the AL West standings. By the final week of the ’59 MLB season they had done what many sportswriters both in and out of Chicago previously thought was impossible and propelled themselves into a first-place tie with Los Angeles. On September 27th, the White Sox and the Kings faced off at Comiskey Park in the regular season finale with the AL West title at stake. Don Larsen, playing what would prove to be his final game in a Los Angeles uniform, was the Kings’ starting pitcher that day; Chicago countered with right-hander Bob Shaw, a former Tiger who’d been traded to the White Sox during the 1958 season and up until that afternoon had had more losses than wins on the mound when he faced the Kings.
Los Angeles landed the first punch courtesy of a third inning sacrifice fly by Stan Musial that scored Ed Bailey from third base; Chicago tied the game in the fourth inning courtesy of a solo home run by White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox. The game remained tied right up until the top of the seventh inning, when Larry Doby hit a one-out double with runners on first and third to put the Kings on top 3-1. After that hit, it looked like a sure bet the Kings would be going home to California to host the AL East champion Cleveland Indians in the first game of the 1959 ALCS.
But Dame Fortune, having already kicked L.A. in the teeth more than once in the home stretch of the regular season, gave them yet another sock in the jaw in the eighth inning. An error by Preston Ward allowed Sox center fielder Jim Landis to score an unearned run from second base and cut the Kings’ lead to 4-3, and in living rooms all over southern California Kings fans got a foreboding feeling in their stomachs that the rug was about to be pulled out from beneath them.
White Sox catcher Sherm Lollar would be the one to pull it. Just after the Ward error, Lollar doubled to right field; third baseman Bubba Philips brought him home with a rocket of a line drive single that tied the game once more going into the ninth inning. With a man on first and nobody out, the baseball gods seemed to be (for a change) smiling on the normally unlucky South Siders; with one good fly ball Philips could at least get to third, and if the next Chicago batter were lucky enough to make an extra-base hit the Sox might be able to take a one-run lead going into the ninth inning.
Sure enough reserve outfielder Del Ennis, who’d been sent in to pinch-hit for White Sox left fielder Al Smith, roped a triple to right and sent Bubba Philips rocketing home to put Chicago ahead 5-4. Sox fans were ecstatic; their Kings counterparts looked like they’d just heard the world was coming to an end. In the ninth inning, reliever Ray Moore put the last nail in L.A.’s coffin by striking out the side. The Sox had won 5-4 and capped one of the biggest late season revivals in American League history, yanking the AL West championship from the shell-shocked fingers of the Purple & Gold.
Chicago went on to beat the Indians three games to two in the ‘59 ALCS and battle the Los Angeles Dodgers tooth and nail before finally losing to them in seven games in the 1959 World Series. Meanwhile, the dethroned Kings were left with a host of questions about what had gone wrong-- and a lot of hard choices as the 1960 season loomed....
To Be Continued
 Named in honor of the founder of Houston’s Rice University, a philanthropist and highly successful businessman who was born in Massachusetts but lived much of his life in Houston.
 The first three were Jimmie Foxx(1929, when the Kings were still a Continental League club), Jud Farber(1948, in one of his last regular season home appearances at Hearst Palladium before his death), and Larry Doby(1956, on the same day the Kings officially clinched the ’56 AL West Division crown).
 He shared the award with Orlando Cepeda.