The History of the Los Angeles Kings
By Chris Oakley
adapted from material previously posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In the first three 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; "California Clipper" Joe DiMaggio’s legendary 56-game hitting streak; and the Kings’ no-holds-barred showdown with the Yankees in the 1941 ALCS. In this installment we’ll review the Kings’ 1941 World Series clash with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the heartbreaking fashion in which that clash ended for Los Angeles.
By all rights the 1941 World Series should have been a walk in the park for the Kings. They had demonstrated their ability to withstand even the toughest pressure on the field, and furthermore they were facing an opponent whose reputation for ineptitude was the stuff of comic legend. Prior to their Series battle with Los Angeles, Brooklyn hadn’t competed in the Fall Classic since 1920, when despite a valiant effort they succumbed to the Cleveland Indians; one Chicago oddsmaker was so sure the Bums would be easy prey for the Purple & Gold that he took the first game of the 1941 Series off his match boards. Just about every West Coast newspaper-- and a considerable number of East Coast papers too --was predicting the Kings would need, at most, only five games to dispose of the Dodgers.
This attitude, naturally, did not sit well with Dodger boss Larry MacPhail. He was irritated about the national press acting as if the 1941 World Series was merely a coronation ceremony for Hearst’s 800-pound gorilla of a franchise; in a team meeting held on the eve of Game 1, he told his players and coaches he wanted to see Los Angeles ground into the dirt. Not that they actually needed such a directive: Leo Durocher, Brooklyn’s skipper at the time, thought Harry Hooper was an overrated dope and was bent on proving it. Harold "Pee Wee" Reese, Brooklyn’s celebrated shortstop, went on record in the New York Post as saying he wanted to get a homer off Dizzy Dean the first time that he came to bat.
Dodgers reserve catcher Dixie Walker had a few bones to pick with the Kings himself; he’d once tried out for a spot on the Los Angeles roster only to be flatly rejected by the Kings brass, and he’d never forgiven them for it. To him, the World Series was a perfect opportunity to even the score for past hurts, and although he seldom talked about it openly even to his closest teammates he cherished the hope that he would be the man to drive in the run that beat the Kings and brought the Series championship pennant to Flatbush.
But perhaps the player most eager for a fight with Los Angeles was second-year Brooklyn outfielder "Pistol" Pete Reiser; Reiser had read what LA sportswriters, particularly those working for Hearst Corporation-owned newspapers, were saying about the Dodgers and he didn’t like it one bit-- least of all the disparaging comments about his own fielding abilities. In his hotel room on the eve of Game 1 of the World Series he promised himself that the first time he came up to bat he would smash a home run into Hearst Palladium’s upper deck, then stroll over to the Kings’ dugout after he crossed home plate and spit in Harry Hooper’s face. He hated the purple and gold that much.
A vigilant home plate umpire, and Reiser’s own teammates, would deter him from keeping the second part of that pledge. As far as the first part was concerned...suffice it to say that Reiser would write a dramatic chapter in a World Series filled with drama.
The Kings and the Dodgers took the field for Game 1 of the 1941 World Series under a typically bright southern California sun. As one might expect for a sports event being held in the dream capital of the world, there were a sizable number of VIPs in the stands; as film idol and devoted Kings fan Humphrey Bogart would later put it, "We had just about everybody in Hollywood there except Bugs Bunny, and I think even he would’ve showed up if he could have gotten the time off."1 The mood among the Hearst Palladium crowd was a relaxed, confident one; all the signs that afternoon seemed to point toward a decisive Los Angeles win over Brooklyn. The Kings had home field advantage, they had baseball’s best hitter batting cleanup, they had their top pitching ace on the mound, and they were facing an opponent notorious for collapsing under pressure. What, Kings fans asked themselves, could possibly go wrong?
The answer came in the form of a triple by Dodgers first baseman Dolph Camilli on the third pitch of the game. Brooklyn catcher Mickey Owen then socked a bullet single past the glove of an astonished Stan Musial to bring Camilli home for the first run of the game; Brooklyn third baseman Cookie Lavagetto then homered on a 3-2 fastball, and to the shock of Kings fans the Bums were ahead 3-0. Dizzy Dean was gone by the end of the third inning, chased back to the showers courtesy of a one-out bases loaded double by Dodgers second baseman Billy Herman; from inside his luxury box high above third base William Randolph Hearst shook an indignant fist at Brooklyn’s bench, ranting and raving as if Herman had personally insulted him by hitting that double.
But the Kings wouldn’t go down without a fight. In the bottom of the sixth inning Los Angeles started an offensive barrage of their own with a Jud Farber solo home run that broke up Dodger starting pitcher Kirby Higbe’s shutout bid. Stan Musial got on base after a Higbe curve hit him on the left shoulder, setting the table for an RBI double by Gabby Hartnett that cut the Bums’ lead to 5-2; two at-bats later, Joe DiMaggio whacked a two-run homer into the Hearst Palladium upper deck to bring Los Angeles to within a run of the Dodgers at 5-4.
A sacrifice bunt by Mort Cooper tied the game with two outs in the eighth inning. Lou Finney, by then a utility player and like Gabby Hartnett approaching the end of his career, tried to put the Kings in the driver’s seat with a home run only to have the ball hook foul at the last second and disappear into the outstretched glove of Brooklyn outfielder and ex-Cardinal Joe "Ducky" Medwick; Medwick, a key star of the fabled ‘Gashouse Gang’ in St. Louis’ victorious 1934 World Series run, was hoping to pick up a second Series ring with the Bums.
In the top of the ninth, "Pistol" Pete Reiser came to bat with two outs and the hopes of the entire borough of Brooklyn resting upon his shoulders. The first two pitches to Reiser were strikes. Then Hearst Palladium became as quiet as a mausoleum as the next three pitches to Reiser went sailing wide to run the pitch count up to 3-2; when Reiser fouled off four pitches in a row, the suspense became unbearable for both Kings fans and Dodgers fans. Extra innings loomed as a distinct possibility...
....but then Reiser managed to connect on a curve ball which under most circumstances would have sailed right past him for strike three. The ball went soaring almost into the clouds and eventually came back to earth in the hands of a lucky fan from Sacramento sitting high in the grandstands. The second Reiser crossed home plate, his teammates mobbed him in celebration of a hard-fought 7-6 Brooklyn victory. Kings fans trudged out of Hearst Palladium in dejection and a visibly irate William Randolph Hearst stormed out of his luxury box in disgust, his face beet-red as he made threats at the top of his lungs to fire both Harry Hooper and then-Kings general manager J.A. Robert Quinn, who’d first been hired by Los Angeles in 1933 and had been a key player in overseeing the team’s transition from the Continental League to the American League.
Game 2 of the 1941 World Series didn’t do a great deal to improve Hearst’s mood; if anything, it made that mood exponentially worse. The Dodgers jumped out to a big lead early on and never looked back, going on to win 10-2. Pee Wee Reese and Dodger third-string catcher Robert "Bobby" Bragan, one of the unsung heroes for Brooklyn that year, would combine for six RBI’s in Game 2 while pitcher Whitlow Wyatt racked up twelve strikeouts against the Purple & Gold. Joe DiMaggio had one of the worst postseason performances of his career that afternoon, going 0 for 3 and getting thrown out trying to steal third base in the fifth inning.
As the series shifted to Ebbets Field for Game 3, the Kings had just one thing on their minds: avenging their defeats in the previous two games. The Dodgers, meanwhile, aimed to push Los Angeles to the brink of elimination. Something was going to have to give...
....and that something was the Dodger pitching staff. In the top of the ninth, with the Kings trailing 3-2 and Brooklyn just one out away from taking a three games-to-none lead in the 1941 World Series, Joe DiMaggio made up for his terrible day in Game 2 by stealing home on a wild pitch by Bums starter Luke Hamlin to tie the game for Los Angeles. Then Gabby Hartnett, in the final home run of his nineteen- season career in the majors, smashed an 0-2 fastball into the Ebbets Field grandstands to give the Kings a 4-3 victory and crush Dodger fans’ hopes for a Series sweep.
Game 4 found Harry Hooper and company confident they could tie the Series at 2-all and force a Game 6 back at Hearst Palladium. And up until the eighth inning of Game 4, they seemed to be right on the money in that assessment; Mort Cooper, the Los Angeles Game 4 starting pitcher, had virtually silenced the Brooklyn bats while a solo homer by Stan Musial had given the Kings a 1-0. But with two outs in the top of the eighth and two strikes on Dodgers second baseman Billy Herman, the Kings’ dream turned into a full-blown nightmare. What should have been strike three on Herman instead scooted through Hartnett’s hands when the pitch came over the plate too fast; a flustered Hartnett took the ball and, in a desperate attempt to salvage the final out, threw the ball towards first base only to have Herman beat it to the bag by a cat’s whisker.2 Three pitches later, Cookie Lavagetto doubled to left to score Herman and tie the game; in the ninth inning, a Pee Wee Reese RBI single clinched a 2-1 Dodgers victory.
Los Angeles never recovered from the Game 4 collapse. Two days after the Bums’ comeback win, Brooklyn hammered the final nail in the Kings’ coffin with a three-run shutout of LA in Game 5; Pete Reiser, the Dodgers’ Game 1 hero, helped Brooklyn’s cause again with a fourth inning RBI double. When relief pitcher Van Lingle Mungo struck out Jud Farber to end the game, it sparked a wave of euphoria Dodger fans had never known before-- and wouldn’t know again until 1955, merely two years before the club decamped for the West Coast. Brooklyn had won its first World Series championship.
Just over two months after Farber’s Series-ending strikeout, Kings fans were confronted with something a lot worse than just losing a World Series championship. On a deceptively quiet Sunday morning in early December, the United States was abruptly plunged into the Second World War when Japanese carrier planes bombed the US Pacific fleet to smithereens at Pearl Harbor; this meant that most if not all of the major leagues’ best players would be drafted for service in the U.S. armed forces or else find it necessary to secure civilian defense industry jobs for the duration. No ballclub would be spared, not even the Kings-- in fact, within a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Joe DiMaggio was reporting for duty with the U.S. Army Air Corps and Jud Farber had volunteered to serve in the anti-submarine warfare branch of the US Atlantic fleet. The Kings, previously one of the dominant clubs in the American League and before that the top club in the Continental League, were in for some lean times over the next few years...
To Be Continued
 Bogart was so passionate about the Kings that he had a rider included in his contract with Warner Brothers which provided for the star to receive telegraphed updates about Kings games whenever he was shooting on location overseas; for domestic location shoots he had a radio in his trailer which was tuned to the Kings’ national radio network.
 The photo of Herman’s sprint to first base, printed the next day in the New York Post under the caption “The Strikeout That Wasn’t”, earned the photographer who took it a Pulitzer Prize nomination and is today considered one of the most famous photographs in baseball history.