The History of the Los Angeles Kings
By Chris Oakley
adapted from material previously posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In the first two chapters of this series we chronicled William Randolph Hearst’s creation of the Continental League and the Los Angeles Kings; the reorganization of the American and National Leagues after the 1935 CL-MLB merger; the Kings’ playoff triumphs and defeats in the American League in the late 1930s; LA manager Al Bridwell’s firing after the Kings lost the 1940 World Series; and the beginning of "California Clipper" Joe DiMaggio’s legendary hitting streak. In this episode, we’ll look back on the moment DiMaggio officially set the record for most consecutive games with safe hits and recall the Kings’ quest to reach the 1941 World Series.
With the possible exception of Joe DiMaggio himself, few people were happier about DiMaggio’s hitting streak than Kings manager Harry Hooper. The California Clipper’s surge at the plate was fueling a run of consecutive sellouts at Hearst Palladium; it was also putting the Kings in the thick of a three-way battle with San Francisco and Kansas City for first place in the AL West. Not since his early days as a Red Sox outfielder had Hooper been so excited to be part of baseball.
For that matter, William Randolph Hearst was enjoying the streak too-- and not simply because the Kings’ consecutive home game sellouts were helping to further increase his already considerable fortune. In DiMaggio’s full-throttle style of play, Hearst saw an example of the same relentless determination to achieve greatness that had previously spurred Hearst’s own push to the top of the American business world. Hearst admired that quality and pulled for DiMaggio to top Wee Willie Keeler’s mark for most consecutive games with a safe hit.
The same day that DiMaggio batted safely in his 35th consecutive game, Los Angeles took a half-game lead in the AL West by sweeping a doubleheader with the Chicago White Sox. In the seventh inning of the second game of that doubleheader, something occurred which could have derailed DiMaggio’s season: the bat he’d been using since the hitting streak began disappeared. Fortunately, a clubhouse attendant found a new bat for him and the streak rolled on until it reached 40 games in a row...
By virtue of being located in what even in the 1920s was a hub of American pop culture, the Los Angeles Kings had naturally attracted a lot of attention from the national press since day one. DiMaggio’s hitting streak amplified the media spotlight’s glow a hundredfold; by the time DiMaggio tied Keeler’s record with a solo home run in the second inning of a Kings-Tigers game in Detroit on July 1st, the press boxes at American League stadiums had gotten so crowded with reporters keeping tabs on the California Clipper that trying to move around in them was like trying to move around a sardine can. At times it seemed like every radio in southern California was tuned in to a Kings game to follow DiMaggio’s run toward baseball history; certainly all of the radios at Hearst’s San Simeon estate were dialed to Kings broadcasts.
On July 2nd DiMaggio, his old bat recovered after an eagle-eyed shoeshine boy spotted it at a Lansing pawn shop, officially surpassed Wee Willie Keeler’s consecutive-game hitting mark by dropping a bloop single into right field to record his 45th straight game with at least one hit. Despite the fact that Detroit was trailing 6-2 when DiMaggio got the history-making single, the crowd at Briggs Stadium1 bestowed on him a standing ovation in recognition of his accomplishment. Newspaper headlines trumpeted the story of the California Clipper’s feat across America in extra editions that evening; newsreels in US movie theaters later that week prominently showed clips of DiMaggio’s bloop single landing in center field and the Kings outfielder’s teammates swarming from their dugout to applaud him.
The streak would reach 56 games before it was finally broken by a journeyman pitcher for San Francisco during a Kings-Prospectors doubleheader at Marin County War Memorial Stadium.2 In the first game of that doubleheader, DiMaggio struck out swinging in his first two at-bats; on his third, San Francisco infielder Ken Keltner retired the California Clipper by snagging a ground ball at the third base line; on his fourth and final bat, DiMaggio was walked.3 Los Angeles won both games of the doubleheader, but most of the talk the next day centered on the end of DiMaggio’s run.
Yet even in the midst of disappointment Kings fans found a reason to celebrate; by sweeping the doubleheader with San Francisco, Los Angeles took a 2½ game lead in the AL West, and just a few days after his record-setting surge ended DiMaggio started a new hitting streak, this one lasting thirty-one games. By the time San Francisco was officially eliminated from the AL West pennant race in mid-August, the Los Angeles outfielder would turn out to have hit safely in 87 of 91 games.
The 1941 AL West pennant race would eventually come down to a four-game road swing by the Kings through Kansas City. It was near the end of the third week of September by then, and the Kings’ lead in the division was only half a game; if Kansas City could take just two of those four games, they would knock Los Angeles down to second place in the division and go on to win the AL West crown. Conversely, if the Kings won three of the four games in the series they would effectively dispose of their last remaining obstacle to winning the division and reaching the 1941 ALCS.
The Longhorns prevailed in the series opener, posting a two-run shutout on Los Angeles. The Kings bounced back to take the second and third games, winning the third on a two-out Jud Farber RBI double. All of MLB held its breath to see who would prevail as the Kings and the Longhorns took the field at Prendergast4 Park for the series finale...
Along with DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams’ .406 batting average, one of the highlights of MLB’s 1941 regular season was the drama-packed final game of the Kings’ September four-game road stand in Kansas City. In the eighth inning alone the lead changed half a dozen times; Los Angeles starting pitcher Dizzy Dean no-hit the Longhorns through the first five innings before giving up a double to Kansas City infielder Lou Boudreau with one out in the bottom of the sixth. Back in southern California, millions of people were glued to their radios following the action at Prendergast Park. Even astronomers at LA’s famous Griffith Observatory were keeping an ear peeled for news of how the Kings were faring.
In the top of the ninth, with two outs and the score tied at 6-6 and extra innings a distinct possibility, Joe DiMaggio stepped to the plate against Longhorns relief pitcher Hugh Casey with Jud Farber on second base after a one-out double. If DiMaggio could get the ball far enough into the outfield, Farber would score the winning run and the Kings would effectively clinch the AL West division crown. But if he struck out, the game would stretch into extra innings-- and that left open the possibility for a Kansas City comeback win which would give the Longhorns the pennant.
Casey’s first two pitches to DiMaggio were curveballs; both went for strikes. His third pitch went high and outside to bring the count to 1-2, and at that point you could literally hear a pin drop up in the stands at Prendergast. The California Clipper then fouled off six pitches in a row, building the suspense up still further. Making one more attempt to get that third strike, Casey whipped a fastball toward DiMaggio...
....and watched in disbelief as DiMaggio lined a screaming double into right field. Farber whipped down the basepath from second to third like a runaway train, then fairly glided towards home plate; when he crossed home plate his teammates joined him en masse to revel in their 7-6 pennant-clinching victory. With the AL West division crown firmly in their hands, there was nothing left for the Kings to do but finish out their remaining home games and prepare themselves for a showdown with the Yankees in the 1941 ALCS. It would be Harry Hooper’s postseason baptism of fire, and Los Angeles fans were anxious to see how the new Kings skipper would fare against the AL East’s top dogs in the fight for the American League championship.
Beyond the spotlight of the impending showdown between Hooper’s Kings and Joe McCarthy’s Yankees, the seeds were being planted for a social metamorphosis that would transform both baseball and America. After seeing how Hearst’s Continental League had revolutionized white baseball, two African-American business partners in San Francisco had pooled their resources in the mid-1930s to form their own league, the Western Colored Professional Baseball Association, to compete with the mainstream Negro Leagues for the hearts and dollars of black fans. And just as the Continental League had eventually merged with the American and National Leagues, so too would the WCPBA be absorbed by the Negro Leagues.
One of the WCPBA’s most successful ballclubs was the Pasadena Skylarks; in the first decade of their existence, they made the WCBPA playoffs every year and enjoyed an estimated average regular season winning percentage of .913.5 The Skylarks also boasted one of the most talented lineups of any baseball team in any league. Case in point: the number two pitcher in their starting rotation, Leroy "Satchel" Paige, a former Kansas City Monarchs standout who’d gone over to the Skylarks in 1939 after a Pasadena scout saw one of his more impressive performances on the mound and offered him an equally impressive deal to sign with the ‘Larks.
To say that Paige was a great pitcher would be like saying da Vinci was handy with a paintbrush. The Skylarks starter displayed a versatility on the mound that had to be seen to be believed; one black sportswriter quipped after seeing Paige in action, "When he pitches, he usually throws everything but the kitchen sink-- and sometimes he throws that too."6 As if to back up the writer’s claim, during a game against the Baltimore Elite Giants in June of 1940 Paige struck out five batters in a row on fifteen different pitches. Modern baseball scholars estimate that at the peak of his career, Paige could throw a fastball at speeds just under 110 miles per hour.
One of the Skylarks’ most devoted fans was a UCLA alumnus who would one day become an outstanding ballplayer himself-- an ex-Georgia sharecropper’s son by the name of Jackie Roosevelt Robinson. During the late 1930s, Robinson would often go to Skylarks home games in the summer and listen to them on his dorm room radio in spring and fall; when he was drafted into the Army following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor he took a ‘Larks pennant with him to his barracks; and after his discharge from the Army in 1945 he earned a spot on their roster as part of their infield. That spot would, in turn, pave the way for Jackie’s history-making entry into the majors in 1947.
A sellout crowd packed Yankee Stadium for the opening game of the 1941 ALCS. Tommy Henrich, one of the Yankees’ most gifted fielders and a highly potent slugger to boot, had been entrusted with the all-important cleanup slot in their batting order; Los Angeles countered by inserting Joe Dimaggio in the cleanup position in their own lineup. For Kings manager Harry Hooper and Yankees skipper Joe McCarthy, it was a battle of wits and wills that would define the rivalry between their respective clubs for years to come.
The Bronx Bombers opted to start their ace lefthander Vernon "Lefty" Gomez in the series opener; LA countered with their reliable war horse Dizzy Dean. Yet when the smoke cleared it would be a relief pitcher, Mort Cooper, who made the critical difference for the Kings. Cooper, whose brother was also a pitcher, had the daunting task of trying to contain the most formidable lineup in the AL East-- and he passed that test beautifully. In the bottom of the eighth inning, with Los Angeles trailing 3-1 and the Bronx Bombers threatening to break the game wide open, Cooper shut the New York bats down with a series of fastballs and changeups that would have down Christy Matthewson proud. After a solo homer by Joe DiMaggio and a game-tying RBI single by Jud Farber, Cooper once again struck out the side; more than a few sportswriters and baseball historians have credited Cooper’s relief performance with paving the way for the tenth inning rally that gave the Kings a 5-3 win to open the ALCS.
New York tied the series with a comeback win of its own in Game 2, and as the series shifted cross-country to Hearst Palladium for the next two contests it was abundantly clear that the Yankees would not go quietly. In fact, Yankee manager Joe McCarthy earned himself the dubious honor of the earliest ejection in MLB playoff history when he was given the heave-ho in the second inning of Game 3 after vehemently arguing with umpire Harry C. Geisel over a disputed hit that McCarthy felt should have been ruled an error. The hit in question came off the bat of Stan Musial, who was already shaping up to be a major Yankee nemesis and would eventually turn out to be among the deciding factors in the outcome of the 1941 ALCS. Musial, a onetime Cardinals prospect who’d been brought to Los Angeles in a trade with St. Louis during the offseason, had established himself as a highly capable successor to Jimmie Foxx at first base and was being widely touted as a possible AL Rookie of the Year candidate; naturally this made him a target for the ire of Yankee fans.
Musial’s third inning putout of Tommy Henrich and fifth inning RBI double helped pave the way for a 4-2 Los Angeles win in Game 3. Now the Kings only needed to take Game 4 to clinch the American League pennant and advance to the World Series for the fifth series for the fifth time in franchise history. Not surprisingly, the Yanks had other ideas, and the stage was set for what promised to be one of the most hard-fought baseball showdowns ever seen in the five-year history of the ALCS. The Los Angeles police and the L.A. County sheriff’s office were both placed on full alert to keep the crowds from getting out of hand during their post-game celebrations if the Kings should clinch the pennant that day; a detachment of the California Highway Patrol would also be on hand.
The precautions would turn out to be unnecessary; behind a two-HR performance from shortstop Phil "The Scooter" Rizzuto and fourteen strikeouts from starting pitcher "Spud" Chandler, the Yankees thrashed the Kings 14-3 and sent the ALCS back to New York for a winner-take-all fifth game. Fans of the National League champion Brooklyn Dodgers, who’d survived a grueling battle for the NL East division crown and a no-holds-barred in 1941 NLCS clash with the NL West champion St. Louis Cardinals, were nervously awaiting the results of the ALCS finale-- as much as they disliked the Yankees, they were particularly uneasy about the prospect of their "Bums" having to travel three thousand-odd miles across the country to face Hearst’s gold-and-purple juggernaut.
The day of the 1941 ALCS finale was a crisp, clear one; the game time temperature stood at about 54 degrees and concessionaires were doing a brisk business selling cocoa and hot coffee. Radio announcers calling the game were expecting a torrent of home runs that afternoon, since cold and dry weather generally tends to be highly conducive to multiple homer blasts. Joe McCarthy and Harry Hooper both paced their respective dugouts like caged lions, each determined to send the other home for the winter.
For the first five innings Kings starter Daffy Dean7 and Yankees lefthander Marius Russo kept the scoreboard blank; it wasn’t until the bottom of the sixth that the first run of the game was scored courtesy of a double by Yankees catcher Bill Dickey that brought Phil Rizzuto home from second base. Los Angeles tied the score an inning later on a solo homer by Gabby Hartnett, who was nearing retirement and hoping to finish his 19-year-long MLB career on a high note. But in the bottom of the eighth the Yanks loaded the bases with nobody out and it looked like the 1941 season would end in disappointing fashion for the Kings.
Harry Hooper was on the horns of dilemma: should he leave Daffy Dean on the mound and risk having the Bronx Bombers crack this game wide open, or send for a reliever and take a chance on hurting Dean’s pride going into the World Series(should Los Angeles make it that far)?
He decided to leave Dean in the game. Daffy rewarded his gamble by striking out the side to end the eighth; in the top of the ninth Stan Musial blasted an RBI double into right field to put the Kings ahead 2-1. Now the game, the series, and the season rested in Dean’s hands as the Yanks came to bat one more time in the bottom of the ninth. Daffy retired the first two men he faced on short-hop grounders to second base, then proceeded to strike out New York pinch hitter Frankie Crosetti to end the game. When Daffy got that third strike, jubilation swept over all of southern California like a tidal wave-- the Kings were going back to the World Series...
To Be Continued
 The Tigers’ home field at the time of DiMaggio’s hitting streak.
 The Prospectors’ home ballpark until the early 1960s.
 Interestingly enough, the Heinz 57 ketchup company was prepared to give DiMaggio a $15,000 prize if his hitting streak had extended to 57 games.
 The Longhorns’ home stadium in those days; it was named after powerful Kansas City politician James Prendergast.
 Admittedly a rough estimate, given that like most black professional baseball associations of that era the WCPBA had little money to pay for someone to keep regular statistics on its games.
 Quoted from the May 17th, 1940 edition of the Chicago Defender.
 Daffy had been moved back to the Los Angeles starting rotation at the beginning of the 1941 MLB regular season.