The History of the Los Angeles Kings
By Chris Oakley
adapted from material previously posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In the first four chapters of this series we recalled 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; the Kings’ 1941 ALCS showdown with the Yankees; and their heartbreaking 1941 World Series defeat by the Brooklyn Dodgers. In this installment we’ll look back at the doldrums the franchise experienced during World War II and the beginning of the Kings’ postwar resurgence.
With many of Harry Hooper’s best players either retired or serving in the US war effort, the Kings would find it hard to keep their hold on the American League pennant; even their ability to retain the AL West division crown was open to question. But one thing that was not in doubt was William Randolph Hearst’s power to hire or fire whoever he chose-- the day after the Kings lost the fifth and final game of the 1941 World Series, Hearst abruptly sacked general manager J.A. Robert Quinn. In a move even some of his staunchest defenders would later concede had been a mistake, the newspaper tycoon-turned-sports mogul named his son George to replace Quinn as Los Angeles GM.
George Randolph Hearst’s grasp of the fundamentals of running a major league ballclub was at best shaky; during the first offseason of his brief1 tenure as Kings general manager, he made what sportswriters considered the most questionable personnel decision since Red Sox owner Harry Frazee traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1919--he demoted Mort Cooper, one of the American League’s best pitchers and a key ingredient in their 1941 ALCS triumph against New York, to the Kings’ Triple A farm team in Bakersfield. The official explanation was that Cooper’s control had started to slip a bit during the World Series and he needed to work on his mechanics before he could return to the majors.
Unofficially, it was widely suspected that the demotion was payback for some comments Cooper had made in a radio interview that were somewhat critical of George Randolph Hearst’s suitability for the Kings general manager’s position. But whatever the reason for young George’s decision, it would cost the Kings dearly in the 1942 regular season; Los Angeles lost seven of its first ten games that year and by May 1st was already twelve games below the .500 mark. The sports pages of SoCal’s major newspapers buzzed with rumors that Harry Hooper might soon be following his former boss J.A. Robert Quinn out the door; for that matter, Hooper’s future with the team was also a hot topic on the national sports scene. After a particularly humiliating Kings loss to the Browns at Sportsman’s Park in the second game of a doubleheader in early June, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch printed a column headlined by the question "HOW MUCH LONGER WILL KING HARRY WEAR HIS CROWN?"
It was a question Hooper himself wrestled with every game, and George Randolph’s frequent tendency to meddle in clubhouse decisions wasn’t doing anything to ease Hooper’s anxieties. When Hooper made the decision to drop Stan Musial to the number eight spot in the Kings’ lineup because Musial was in a slump at the time, George Randolph had a screaming fit over the change and confronted Hooper in the dugout at Hearst Palladium demanding that Hooper reverse the change; the two men almost came to blows before Musial personally intervened to smooth things over. George’s father made no public comment about the dustup, but privately he was furious with his son and dressed him down in a three-hour lecture at the Hearsts’ San Simeon estate loud enough to be heard through the mansion’s upstairs windows.
By the All-Star break the Kings were hopelessly mired at the bottom of the AL West standings and disgruntled team front office staffers were calling their boss "George Randolph Hitler" behind his back. West Coast sportswriters-- at least those not working for Hearst Corporation newspapers --were considerably more open in criticizing the Los Angeles general manager, calling him "a boy trying to do a man’s job"2 and "the worst thing to happen to California since the San Francisco earthquake"3. George’s father, not the most patient of men to begin with, threatened to fire his son as GM by September 1st if things didn’t start turning around soon. Even taking the wartime drain on professional baseball’s talent pool into consideration, it’s hard to see how young George could have done much to improve things at Hearst Palladium.
William Randolph Hearst made good on his threat and fired his son as Kings GM on September 1st, 1942; by then the Kings were 19½ games in back of Kansas City in the AL West and long since eliminated from the pennant race. The firing put something of a strain on the relationship between George Randolph Hearst and his father, but it cleared the way for Los Angeles to start rebuilding itself into a pennant contender. The rebuilding process would be a fairly slow one; the Kings finished the 1942 season 22 games out of first place and began the 1943 season in less than outstanding fashion...
....but the man chosen to succeed George Randolph Hearst as Kings general manager was quietly laying the foundation for a new era of greatness. Fred Haney, a former teammate of legendary Detroit slugger Ty Cobb and one of the most valued members of J.A. Robert Quinn’s senior staff during Quinn’s tenure as GM, had been appointed to the GM’s post the day after George was let go; rather than wait around for absent Kings stars to return from the battlefield or spend huge sums to lure other ballclubs’ stars to Los Angeles, Haney opted to make use of the Kings’ well-stocked farm system to plug the gaps in his team’s roster.
Haney’s approach started to pay off in mid-August of 1943, when the Kings took three out of four against the Indians during a road series at Cleveland Stadium. This started a modest surge which, while it may not have done much to help their pennant chances, did enable them to avoid the embarrassment of repeating their 1942 last-place finish; Los Angeles ended the 1943 season in fourth place in the AL West. One of the rare highlights of the ’43 campaign was when Mort Cooper’s brother Harry, then number four pitcher in the Los Angeles starting rotation, achieved the even more rare feat of hitting for the cycle and throwing a no-hitter in a 5-0 LA win over the Tigers in the Kings’ final road game of the year.
The 1944 season started out in mediocre fashion with the Kings losing five of their first ten regular season games. By the end of May, they were sixteen games out of first place in the AL West and yet another round of rumors had started to circulate that manager Harry Hooper was about to be fired; in early June, however, the Kings started to turn their fortunes around with a ten-game surge that would eventually put them in a tie for third place with Kansas City in the West division standings. On D-Day, as Allied troops were storming the beaches of Normandy, Stan Musial recorded his 250th career RBI in a 6-4 Los Angeles win over the Cleveland Indians.
That was about as close as Los Angeles got to the pennant that year; in mid-August they were officially eliminated from contention by the unlikeliest of champions, the normally inept St. Louis Browns, who would go on to win in an upset over the AL East champion New York Yankees in the 1944 ALCS before falling to their crosstown rivals the Cardinals in six games in the 1944 World Series.4 The Kings ended the regular season in fourth place in the AL West for the second straight year-- a fact that under normal circumstances would have been cause for serious grumbling among Kings fans but in 1944 was seen as a major improvement on the train wreck that the 1942 season had been.
In 1945, with the Second World War nearing its end, the Kings at last started to return to pennant-contending form. In late April of that year Jud Farber was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy and rejoined his old teammates in time for the start of a three-game home stand against the Philadelphia Athletics; in his first at-bat back with the Purple & Gold, Farber hit a two-run homer which paved the way for a 5-2 Los Angeles win that afternoon and a subsequent Kings sweep of the series. The sweep in turned fueled a surge of wins that would put LA in a tie for second with San Francisco in the AL West when the final German surrender was signed in early May.
In June of ’45, just before U.S. troops started their assault on the Japanese-held island of Okinawa, Joe DiMaggio returned to the Los Angeles roster when the Kings traveled to Cleveland for a doubleheader against the Indians. By his performance in that twinbill-- he went 3 for 6 at the plant and made two critical putouts at second base in the second game --fans could scarcely tell he’d been away from the majors for three innings, never mind two and a half seasons.
By the All-Star break, the Kings were in a three-way tie with the Prospectors and the Longhorns in the AL West. Of course, that didn’t last too long as the Purple & Gold hit a protracted dry spell starting in late July and extending into the third week of August; however, Los Angeles did well enough down the stretch to wrap up the 1945 season in third place in their division, their highest finish since 1941. With the team’s two biggest stars back in the fold and its minor league affiliates producing a steady flow of top quality talent, Kings fans were hopeful things would get even better in 1946.
Their hopes were amply rewarded; Los Angeles began the 1946 MLB season with a bang, clobbering the Detroit Tigers 17-3 and reeling off ten wins in their next twelve games. By May 1st the Kings were already leading the AL West by seven games and showed every sign of ballooning that lead to double digits-- and balloon it they did by virtue of a road sweep against the Chicago White Sox just before Memorial Day. On June 12th of that year the Kings recorded their biggest single-game triumph yet in their long feud with San Francisco, a 21-2 walloping at Hearst Palladium that had Prospectors fans dashing en masse for the exits before the fourth inning was over.
At the 1946 All-Star Game, the Kings were represented by a franchise-record six players(four in the starting lineup and two in the backup roster). Joe DiMaggio contributed three RBIs to the AL’s 13-0 demolition of the NL while Mort Cooper struck out the side in the fourth inning to squelch a potential National League rally. From there Los Angeles went about methodically eliminating the challengers to its claim on the AL West title, beginning with the Kansas City Longhorns in mid-August and ending with the Chicago White Sox in a doubleheader at Comiskey Park in the first week of September.
Los Angeles officially clinched the 1946 AL West division title with a 4-3 extra innings win against the Yankees on September 19th; it was the team’s first pennant in five years, and giddy Kings fans were partying well into the night in celebration of the momentous event. Up in Boston Joe Cronin, manager of the AL East champion Red Sox, braced himself and his players for what promised to be a battle for the ages in the 1946 ALCS. And unlike Brooklyn in the ’41 World Series, nobody was making the mistake of underestimating the Bosox; in fact, in their latest ALCS appearance Los Angeles would for once be playing the role of the underdog...
To Be Continued
 Though not brief enough as far as some Kings fans were concerned.
 From the June 28th, 1942 San Jose Mercury.
 From the July 10th, 1942 Los Angeles Times.
 It was the Browns’ only Series appearance before the moved east in the early ‘50s to become the Baltimore Orioles.