The History of the Los Angeles Kings
By Chris Oakley
adapted from material previously posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In Part 1 of this series we recalled how William Randolph Hearst established the Continental League as a competitor to the American and National Leagues and started the Los Angeles Kings as a charter member of the CL; how the Kings asserted themselves as a bona fide American League power following the 1935 CL-MLB merger; the Kings’ breathtaking triumph over the New York Yankees in the first-ever ALCS; and the euphoria that surrounded the franchise as it prepared to face the National League champion New York Giants in the 1936 World Series. In this second episode, we’ll follow the Kings’ fortunes(and misfortunes) in the 1936 Series, relive their exciting playoff runs of the late ‘30s and 1940, and also witness the beginning of one of the most of the most exciting streaks in professional baseball history in the second month of the 1941 MLB season.
The Polo Grounds were packed like a sardine can on the day of the first game of the 1936 World Series. New Yorkers from all five boroughs, no matter which team they had rooted for during the regular season, were hoping to see the Giants wipe the floor with Los Angeles that day; former Yankees star Babe Ruth, who’d retired at the end of the previous season, spoke for millions of New Yorkers when he told an Associated Press sportswriter: "I want to see Hearst’s fancy boys sent home with their tails between their legs cryin’ for their mamas."
But things didn’t quite work out that way; Dizzy Dean pitched eight stellar innings against the Giants and held them to just three hits while Jimmie Foxx, the Kings’ star infielder at the time, drove in four runs en route to an 8-2 Los Angeles shellacking of New York. Foxx, who’d been with Los Angeles since 1928, had a reputation as one of the fiercest competitors in baseball at any level of the game, a fact which led one of his teammates to quip that "Foxx wasn’t scouted, he was trapped".
In Game 2 of the World Series Dizzy Dean’s brother Paul, better known in the press as "Daffy", went up against Hal Schumacher of the Giants. Kings fans had hoped history would repeat itself; however, New York had other ideas and it was Los Angeles that got shellacked this time, coughing up nine runs in the first two innings alone en route to a 14-1 drubbing at the hands of the Giants. As he was leaving his Polo Grounds luxury box after the game, a disgusted William Randolph Hearst was muttering unkind observations about Kings manager Al Bridwell’s sexual orientation along with threats to do Bridwell violent physical injury if the Kings lost Game 3 at Hearst Palladium.
Hoping to catch the Giants by surprise in Game 3, Bridwell made the decision to start Syd Cohen, usually part of the Kings’ bullpen, against "Fat" Freddie Fitzsimmons of the Giants. Normally Ed Morris, a former Red Sox starter who had been signed by the Kings back when Los Angeles was still part of the Continental League, would have been the one to face Fitzsimmons; however, there were fewer scouting reports in the National League about Cohen than there were about Morris, and so Bridwell gambled that Giants batters would have a harder time getting hits off Cohen.
Bridwell’s gamble paid off and then some; before a sellout crowd at Hearst Palladium, Cohen pitched what would turn out to be the best game of his career, racking up fourteen strikeouts over eight innings. Jimmie Foxx repeated his Game 1 heroics, knocking in three runs and stealing two bases en route to a 7-4 Los Angeles victory. The fans who watched the Kings’ Game 3 win included some of the superstars of the entertainment business; in fact, movie idol Clark Gable threw out the ceremonial first pitch that day and stayed until the seventh inning stretch. Gable had a bit more stake in the outcome of Game 3 than most of the other people in attendance; he owned a modest but profitable minority stake in the Kings’ Triple A affiliate in Bakersfield, and at least two of the players in the Los Angeles starting lineup that day were Bakersfield alumni.
It was Game 4 of the 1936 World Series, however, that would solidify the Kings’ reputation for persevering under pressure. Before another sellout crowd at Hearst Palladium, Los Angeles turned in what may have been the greatest single-game performance in Series history, staying neck-and-neck with the Giants through ten and a half innings before finally squeaking out a 2-1 victory on a two-out home run by Kings catcher Gabby Hartnett. Hartnett’s homer led newsreels across America the next day and still figures rather prominently in baseball highlight reels more than seven decades later.
If any baseball game ever deserved the label "pitchers’ duel", Game 4 of the 1936 World Series qualified to the tenth power. Game 1 winning pitcher Dizzy Dean and Giants lefthander Al Smith, the New York starting pitcher that afternoon, both had no-hitter bids going through the first seven innings of Game 4; Smith’s no-hit attempt was broken up on a one-out eighth inning single by Los Angeles infielder and Yankee castoff Wally Pipp, while Dean’s ended on a ninth-inning solo homer by legendary slugger and future Giants manager Mel Ott. Yet it was the Hartnett home run in the eleventh inning that people would remember most-- with the count at one ball and two strikes, the Kings catcher slammed a 2-2 curveball by Smith into the Hearst Palladium grandstands. In fact, the Hartnett homer almost cleared the Palladium roof.
Ed Morris finally got his chance to pitch in the World Series when Bridwell penciled him in as the Kings’ starting pitcher for Game 5. Morris, however, couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity, being touched by the Giants for five runs in the first two innings and taken out of the game before the end of the fourth inning as New York sailed to a 9-3 victory and forced the Series back to the Polo Grounds for Game 6. Hearst and Bridwell were both at their wits’ end; they knew that if the Giants won Game 6 it would force a winner-take-all Game 7. And that in turn meant Game 1 losing pitcher Carl Hubbell would be on the mound as New York’s Game 7 starter seeking redemption. 3000 miles west in Los Angeles, Kings fans braced themselves for the worst.
Sure enough, the Giants thrashed the Kings in a five-run shutout in Game 6; Jimmie Foxx had his worst performance of the Series in that game, going 0 for 4 at the plate and striking out twice. Syd Cohen, back in his normal role as a reliever, gave up four hits and two runs in the final innings. Giants fans salivated at the prospect of giving Hearst’s team a rather sizable slice of humble pie...
....yet in the end it was New York who ate that slice-- and gagged on every last bite. Los Angeles touched Carl Hubbell for six runs in the first inning of Game 7 and had chased him off the mound before the end of the fourth; Wally Pipp and Jimmie Foxx were involved in a sixth inning Kings double play that squelched a potential Giants rally. Gabby Hartnett had a hand in the Kings’ 11-4 triumph, hitting a bases-loaded double in the third inning and picking Mel Ott off at second base during the seventh inning when Ott attempted a steal. But perhaps the most important name on the Los Angeles roster was one most fans east of the Missisippi hadn’t heard much of before the Series: Jud Farber, known to his teammates as "the Biloxi Bullet" because of his baserunning speed. Farber, a reserve third baseman who had been called up from the Kings’ Triple A farm team in Bakersfield late in the 1936 regular season, had started every World Series game for the Kings since Game 2; now, in the Series’ grand finale, he would prove to be the most crucial ingredient in Los Angeles’ quest for its first World Series championship.
What might have been his finest moment of the Series-- maybe even his entire career --came in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 7, when the Giants had a runner on third with only one out and were threatening to rally. Syd Cohen, pinch-hitting for the Giants’ shortstop, belted what looked like a seemingly uncatchable line drive down the left field line; however, to the surprise of nearly everyone at the Polo Grounds-- and to the Giants’ dismay --Farber lunged over and grabbed the ball almost like it was standing still, then threw the New York runner out at home plate. That play effectively crushed the Giants’ last hopes of winning the Series and would earn Farber the first World Series MVP award ever given.
The Kings returned to a tumultuous welcome home when they flew back to Los Angeles the day after they won Game 7 of the World Series. The parade given to honor their triumph over the Giants was an even bigger affair than the one held to celebrate their ALCS victory over the Yankees; UCLA actually cancelled classes that day in order to let students and faculty attend the festivities.
The Kings repeated as AL West division champions in 1937, and in doing so set up an ALCS rematch with the Yankees. This time, the Kings would be starting the playoffs in enemy territory; Yankee Stadium was host for the first two games of the 1937 ALCS, and Los Angeles would need to win at least one of those games to keep alive its hopes for a return to the World Series.
The 1937 ALCS marked the coming of age for a young outfielder who was then in his rookie season in the majors; ironically, this second-year player who would one day be viewed as the heart and soul of the Los Angeles Kings originally hailed from San Francisco. His name was Joe DiMaggio, and he’d been called up from the Kings’ AAA affiliate in Bakersfield two months into the regular season with the hope that he might add some extra punch to the Los Angeles offense.
He not only fulfilled that hope, he also showed outstanding ability on the defensive end; during the 1937 regular season he’d personally accounted for at least twenty percent of all the Kings’ unassisted putouts. In Game 2 of the 1937 ALCS, with the score tied 1-1 in the sixth, DiMaggio would prove his value on both ends of the ball. In the top of the sixth, the "California Clipper", as he would later be known by sportswriters, slammed a bases-loaded double into center that gave Los Angeles a 3-1 lead; in the bottom of the inning, he robbed Yankee outfielder Jake Powell of a potential game-tying home run by diving towards the bullpen to make a catch which would later be highlighted on newsreels throughout America.
Thanks in part to that catch, the Kings went on to win the ALCS three games to two and thus set up a World Series rematch with the New York Giants. Bill Terry and company were eager for revenge on their West Coast foes from the previous year’s Series....
....and they got it in droves. To the delight of New York fans, the dismay of Los Angeles fans, and the astonishment of just about everyone else, the Giants swept the mighty Kings in the 1937 World Series; Carl Hubbell won both his starts in the Series, striking out 11 batters in a row in Game 4. In Game 3 Giants catcher Gus Mancuso hit what may have been the longest-traveling home run in World Series history, a two-run blast which soared 541 feet toward the deepest part of the Hearst Palladium grandstands and wound up atop the Palladium roof. Some people believe that under ideal conditions, the ball could have left the Palladium altogether.
But while William Randolph Hearst might have felt let down by his team’s less-than-outstanding performance in the 1937 World Series, at least he could take comfort in the fact that they had retained the American League championship. In the 1938 MLB season he wouldn’t even enjoy this satisfaction-- after leading the AL West for most of that year, the Kings suffered an astonishing mid-September collapse, losing six of seven games during a crucial late season road swing and falling 4½ games behind the San Francisco Prospectors before finishing the season eight games out of first place. An irate Hearst confronted Al Bridwell in the Kings clubhouse after the team’s home finale against Detroit and warned him that contract extension or not, he would be fired at the end of the 1939 season if he came up short yet again in the quest for another World Series championship.
Sure enough, when an injury-depleted Kings roster fell twelve games behind the Chicago White Sox eight weeks into the 1939 season, rumors began to circulate Bridwell would be gone by the All-Star break if not sooner. But Bridwell surprised everybody by leading his team on an early June tear through the rest of the American League; on July 1st, Los Angeles swept a doubleheader with the hapless Kansas City Longhorns to tie Chicago for first place in the AL West divisional standings. Bridwell’s men took sole possession of first with an extra innings win over the Cleveland Indians two days later.
Los Angeles led the division the rest of the way, clinching the division title on September 22nd with a two-run shutout of the Red Sox at Fenway Park. With the division championship safely in their back pockets the Kings set their sights on defeating the Yankees-- still the dominant team in the AL East --in the 1939 ALCS. They accomplished that goal in emphatic fashion, sweeping the Yanks in the best-of-five series.
The real test of the 1939 Kings’ postseason mettle would come in the World Series against the National League champion Cincinnati Reds. The Reds were a formidable team that year, having survived their own grueling pennant race for the NL West and come back from a 5-2 deficit to beat the NL East champion Giants in the fifth and deciding game of the 1939 NLCS. When the Kings showed up at Crosley Field1 for the first game of the 1939 World Series, the stands were packed like a sardine can in anticipation of a pitcher’s duel between Dizzy Dean, then in his ninth year with Los Angeles, and Reds ace Johnny Van Der Meer, the only pitcher in baseball history to throw back-to-back no-hitters.2
They got that duel and then some; Dean and Van Der Meer each took a no-hit bid through seven innings. Van Der Meer’s ended when new Los Angeles first baseman Lou Finney, who the Kings had signed in spring training after trading Jimmie Foxx to the Philadelphia Athletics, hit a bases-loaded double in the top of the eighth inning to put the Kings up 2-0; Dean’s was broken up by a bunt single from Reds outfielder Harry Craft. Los Angeles went on to win the Series opener 3-1, then survived a 7-3 shellacking by Cincinnati in Game 2 to take Game 3 at Hearst Palladium 5-4.
Game 4 was a nail-biter; it went scoreless for the first six innings, and in the seventh Cincinnati had runners on second and third with only one out. Sensing that his team-- not to mention his job -- was in trouble, Kings manager Al Bridwell went to his bullpen and gave the task of saving Los Angeles’ season to Paul "Daffy" Dean, who had been moved to the Kings’ bullpen during the 1938 season and was now their top relief pitcher. Daffy Dean struck out both batters he faced to pull Los Angeles’ irons out of the fire, then scored in the eighth inning on a Gabby Hartnett sacrifice bunt to give the Kings the only run they would need in a 1-0 win.
Game 5 saw the Reds come back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Los Angeles 5-3; with the Series heading back to Crosley Field for Game 6, many Cincinnati fans thought it was inevitable that the Reds would now seize the momentum from "Hearst’s fancy boys", as Babe Ruth had disparagingly called them, and win the Series in seven games. But as anyone who follows baseball can tell, it’s an unpredictable sport, and in Game 6 of the 1939 World Series the wheels came off the truck for Cincinnati after Joe DiMaggio hit a third inning grand slam to power Los Angeles to a 6-1 triumph over the Reds and give the Kings their second World Series champion in franchise history.
The Kings and Reds squared off in the Series again in 1940, but this time it would be Cincinnati that prevailed. The Reds jumped on Los Angeles early and often in the first game of the 1940 World Series and came away with a four-run shutout win; in Game 2, they recovered from a 4-2 sixth inning hole to beat the Kings 7-5. After Los Angeles took the third game of the Series 3-0, Cincinnati crushed the Kings 12-3 in Game 4 to push Al Bridwell’s team to the brink of elimination. Again, rumors would start to circulate that Bridwell was about to be fired, and this time the rumors would prove to be true-- following a jaw-dropping breakdown by the Kings in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 1940 World Series in which a Lou Finney error allowed the Reds to score three unearned runs en route to an 8-4 Series-clinching victory, Hearst decided that Bridwell had to go.
Two months after the 1940 World Series ended Bridwell’s former third base coach, onetime Red Sox outfielder Harry Hooper, was named to take over as Los Angeles skipper. Though neither Hearst nor Hooper realized it at the time, it was the beginning of a long and tumultuous relationship between Hooper and the Hearst family.
Hooper’s appointment as new Kings manager would also give him a ringside seat to one of the most phenomenal feats in baseball history. On May 15th, 1941, in the sixth inning of a Kings home game against the Chicago White Sox, Joe Dimaggio-- then in his fifth season with Los Angeles --hit a single off White Sox starting pitcher Bill Dietrich. It seemed like a routine hit at the time, and was little-noticed in the Kings’ 14-1 demolition of Chicago, but in fact it would turn out to be the beginning of a hitting streak that would put DiMaggio on the road to immortality.
Few people paid much attention to DiMaggio’s streak before it reached five games in a row; when it extended to ten games, it began to attract a bit more interest; once it had reached fifteen games, it became a national obsession; by the time the streak reached twenty games, it was readily apparent that something extraordinary was going on. After DiMaggio hit safely in his 25th consecutive game, talk began to circulate that was a genuine threat to tie if not surpass the 44-game hitting streak notched by National League slugger Wee Willie Keeler of Brooklyn during the 1897 baseball season....
To Be Continued
 The Reds’ home ballpark until 1970.
 Van Der Meer accomplished the feat during a May 1937 doubleheader against the Brooklyn Dodgers; the doubleheader was also notable for the fact that it marked the beginning of night games at Ebbets Field, the Dodgers’ home stadium at the time.