The History of the Los Angeles Kings
By Chris Oakley
adapted from material previously posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In the first five 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 World Series defeat at the hands of the Brooklyn Dodgers; the mediocre seasons the franchise endured over the three years the United States was involved in World War II; and the beginning of the Purple & Gold’s resurgence after the war ended. In this segment we’ll look back at the Kings’ 1946 ALCS loss to the Boston Red Sox and their triumphant 1947 World Series rematch with the Dodgers.
They didn’t call Ted Williams "the Splendid Splinter" for nothing. He’d been a persistent Kings nemesis almost from the moment of his arrival in the American League in 1939; as one of the few hitters in the AL East to have a batting average above .200 against Los Angeles, Williams had made life extremely hard for Harry Hooper’s pitching staff. Now, as the two American League rivals squared off for the first time in the postseason, Williams would make life next to unbearable for the Kings.
One of the more intriguing subplots of the Red Sox-Kings ALCS matchup was the element of sibling rivalry added to the mix by Joe DiMaggio’s younger brother Dom; Dom, a.k.a. "the Little Professor", was an outfielder for Boston at the time and had spent most of his baseball career in Joe’s shadow. It would be the first time Joe and Dom had ever competed against each other in the playoffs, and fans as well as sportswriters across the country were anxious to see if the Little Professor could finally step out of his more well-known brother’s shadow.
A sellout crowd jammed Fenway Park for the first game of the 1946 ALCS anxious to see whether the Red Sox could get past Hearst’s 800-pound gorilla of a franchise and return to the World Series after a 28-year absence.1 Boston starting pitcher Tex Hughson, the number one man in the Sox pitching rotation at the time, was especially eager to put the Purple & Gold in their place; his career ERA against the Kings was an embarrassingly high 8.34, and he was getting tired of being their punching bag. To the delight of Sox fans and the disgust of Kings batters, Hughson struck out seven of the first nine men he faced in Game 1 and retired the other two on short grounders to second baseman Bobby Doerr; Los Angeles starting pitcher Mel Deutsch coughed up six hits and three runs in just two innings’ work and was gone by the halfway point of the third inning. One of those three runs came on a solo homer by Sox third baseman Rip Russell, a player who ironically hadn’t been able to get a home run off Deutsch once during the entire 1946 regular season.
Fenway Park has long been known for its intimate dimensions, as author John Updike once observed in his famous "lyric little bandbox" comment. But for frustrated Los Angeles hitters trying to get men on base or runs on the scoreboard in Game 1 of the ’46 ALCS, it might as well have been the Grand Canyon. On those rare occasions when they managed to get the ball past the infield, it usually wound up in the outstretched glove of a Red Sox outfielder; at least three times that afternoon Ted Williams robbed the Kings of what in many other parks would have been a sure home run(or at least a ground-rule double). His fielding in Game 1 prompted Los Angeles sportswriters to dub him "the human vacuum cleaner" in rueful admiration. The Sox finished the day with a 5-0 win, leaving the Kings feeling utterly embarrassed...
....but that was peanuts compared to the mortification Los Angeles would endure in Game 2. Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky, whose defensive skills were matched by a solid bat, stomped all over Hooper’s pitchers in the second game, going 5 for 5 at the plate and personally driving home six of the fourteen runs scored by the Sox in their 14-2 pounding of the Kings that afternoon; in the fourth inning Harry Hooper himself was ejected after getting into a heated argument with the home plate umpire over a strike call on Stan Musial. Without Hooper’s presence in the dugout to steady them, the Purple & Gold starters were rattled by the relentless Red Sox offense, and the Kings returned to California for Game 3 with elimination staring them right in the face-- and harsh words from William Randolph Hearst ringing in their ears.
Game 3 saw the second-largest crowd Hearst Palladium had hosted so far since the Kings joined the American League; it also witnessed Joe DiMaggio draw the first ALCS ejection of his career and Jud Farber get charged with a fifth-inning error after dropping what should have been a routine pop fly; in spite of those misfortunes, Los Angeles managed to pull out a 5-4 win in eleven innings thanks to a bases-loaded Stan Musial single. Hopes were high going into Game 4 that the Kings could tie up the series and force a winner-take-all Game 5 back in Boston.
But the Red Sox would squash that hope emphatically. A fourth inning grand slam by Boston catcher Hal Wagner sparked an offensive torrent which would see the Kings trailing 10-1 by the bottom of the fifth; former Longhorn pitcher Hugh Casey2, making what would turn out to be the only American League postseason appearance of his MLB career, came on in the sixth to relieve Harry Cooper and surrendered two more runs, effectively finishing the Purple & Gold’s playoff run.
When the final out of the game landed in the waiting glove of Sox outfielder Catfish Metkovich, an almost funereal silence shrouded the Kings dugout. William Randolph Hearst, however, would be anything but silent in his reaction to the Kings’ ALCS defeat; he ranted and raved to his sons(and to Fred Haney in a long-distance phone call that same evening) about how "that incompetent clod Hooper has cost me the World Series again!" and dropped not-too-subtle hints to the press he might just replace Hooper during the offseason.
Instead Hooper convinced the Kings owner to give him one last shot at winning a Series championship in 1947. He gave Hearst a written and verbal pledge that if Los Angeles fell short of the Series title this them, he would immediately resign as Kings manager. It was a pledge the onetime Red Sox outfielder and incumbent L.A. skipper was hoping he wouldn’t have to keep; baseball had been his life for almost forty years, and if he had to leave his managing job now he wasn’t sure that he could find anywhere else to go....
As it turned out, Hooper would have plenty of places to go before his baseball days ended-- in fact, his stint as Kings manager during the ‘40s would be only one of five tours of duty he would serve as Los Angeles skipper before his death in 1974. But we’re getting somewhat ahead of ourselves here.
The Kings opened their 1947 MLB season with a blowout win over the St. Louis Browns on April 15th. That same day, the face of professional baseball in America was changed forever as ex-Kansas City Monarch and UCLA alum Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the National League. Hearst’s social and racial attitudes might have been-- to put it generously --politically incorrect, but he understood as well as anyone else did that Robinson’s arrival in MLB represented the opening of a vast untapped pool of talent and fans who could boost profits for all major league clubs, including his own. And Hearst very much wanted to take advantage of that pool.
Fifteen days after Robinson’s Brooklyn debut, the Kings announced the signing of Newark Eagles standout and South Carolina native Larry Doby to their roster. Doby, a highly talented outfielder, added new punch to LA’s already highly potent offense; as the American League’s first black player, he would attract as much scrutiny from the fans at Hearst Palladium as Jackie Robinson had the first time he stepped up to the plate at Ebbets Field. Doby’s first game in the American League would be a highly memorable one-- he contributed three hits and four RBIs to a 7-1 Kings win over the Yankees, and also turned in one of the most memorable defensive plays of the 1947 season when during the sixth inning he dived into the Hearst Palladium bleachers to rob New York fielder Tommy Henrich of what just seconds before had looked like a guaranteed home run.
By the second week of May, Los Angeles was leading the AL West by a full three games; it was also during the second week of May when Larry Doby got his first introduction to the storied LA-San Francisco rivalry. Coming up to bat in the fourth inning of the first game of a doubleheader at Rolph Field3, he was naliled in the chest by a high-and-inside fastball from Prospectors starting pitcher Lew Burdette, a righthander who intense dislike of the Kings was matched by an equally intense contempt for blacks. Doby had just barely started to make his way to first base when teammate Stan Musial, outraged by Burdette’s actions, charged from the dugout and knocked Burdette flat on his back with a tackle worthy of an NFL linesman. That tackle was the start of a bench-clearing brawl between the Kings and the Prospectors in which seven players, including Musial and Burdette, were ejected.
That incident lit a fire under the Kings and solidified the bonds between Doby and his Los Angeles teammates. Before the brawl, there’d been a few doubts expressed by L.A. sportswriters as to whether any of the team’s white players would be willing to stick their necks out for the sake of a black man; the Burdette skirmish squashed such doubts once and for all. In the process, it also started a run of victories that would increase the Purple & Gold’s AL West division lead; by the All-Star break Los Angeles was 11½ games ahead of its nearest pursuer, Kansas City, in the division standings.
In mid-July the Kings faced their toughest test of the regular season, an East Coast road swing that would see them play four games with the Red Sox, three games with the Yankees, a doubleheader with the Philadelphia Athletics, and three more games with the Washington Senators before heading home. Los Angeles performed magnificently in that fifteen-game span, sweeping their series in Philadelphia and New York, splitting their four-game set in Boston, and taking two out of three from Washington. By a helpful coincidence, LA’s division rivals had fallen into a tailspin around that same time; when Harry Hooper and his players returned to Hearst Palladium, it was with a 21-game division lead in their pockets.
Around the second weekend in August the Kings put the last nail in the Prospectors’ coffin with a sweep of a four-game home stand between the two teams at Hearst Palladium. Los Angeles officially clinched the AL West division pennant on September 18th with a 4-2 extra innings win over the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park; with the division title in hand, the Purple and Gold focused their attention on what was sure to be a hard-fought ALCS rematch with their 1941 foes, the Yankees. It had been six years since LA had squared off with the Bronx Bombers in the postseason, but to Yankee fans the 1941 ALCS defeat felt as if it had happened just yesterday and they were looking for payback any way they could get it.
During the first three games of the 1947 ALCS, it looked like they might have their wish; the Yankees split the first two games of the series in Los Angeles and won Game 3 at Yankee Stadium 10-5, a victory made possible in part by a fifth-inning grand slam by second-year New York catcher Yogi Berra. In Game 4 the Yanks jumped out to a 3-0 early lead and were up 7-1 on Los Angeles in the ninth inning with two outs; New York starting pitcher Bobo Newsom, who had kept the Kings’ bats on ice for most of the game, needed just one more strike to clinch the ALpennant for the Bronx Bombers and get them to the 1947 World Series.
He never got that third strike. Jud Farber, who’d been in a slump for most of the 1947 ALCS, broke out of that slump with a vengeance by slamming a double into right field; though at first it seemed like the last gasp of a dying ballclub, it turned out to be the first link in a chain of events which would spell disaster for the Pinstripes. Before the Yankees knew it, the game was tied 7-7 and a pennant that had been all but assured just minutes earlier was now seriously in doubt.
In the tenth inning Larry Doby won the game for the Kings with a two-run homer to center field. The final score was Los Angeles 9, New York 7 and Yankee fans walked out with a feeling of foreboding in the pit of their stomachs. Game 5 was set to be held at Hearst Palladium, and the momentum of the ’47 ALCS had shifted in favor of the Kings--a fact that disturbed Yankees manager Bucky Harris no end. Having to try and rebound to win the series in front of what was sure to be a typically raucous Hearst Palladium crowd was not one of his favorite things on his to-do list.
Sure enough, Los Angeles broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning of Game 5 on an RBI single by Stan Musial; Kings reliever Butch Wensloff shut down the New York lineup over the final three innings, and in the bottom of the eighth Joe DiMaggio added to the Kings’ lead with a solo home run. When Wensloff struck out the final Yankee batter to seal a 3-1 Los Angeles victory, jubilation swept southern California. For the first time since Pearl Harbor, the Kings would be playing in the World Series-- and as a bonus they’d have the opportunity to avenge their 1941 Fall Classic defeat at the hands of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
One of the most interesting subtexts of the 1947 World Series was the intense if unspoken competition between Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby for the loyalties of black baseball fans in America. Although the two men had broken into the majors within a short time of one another, Robinson was the better-known of the two baseball pioneers, something Doby found hard to tolerate. If he’d been playing in, say, Cleveland, he might have been barely noticed on the media radar-- if he happened to be noticed at all. The fact that he was playing in Los Angeles was a help in keeping his profile close to on a par with Robinson’s, but he felt he needed something big to change the fact that he was behind the Brooklyn outfielder in terms of name recognition.
As Doby came to the plate at Ebbets Field in the fourth inning of Game 1 of the World Series with the Kings and the Dodgers locked in a scoreless tie, Robinson stood poised deep in the outfield anticipating the possibility of needing to chase down a fly ball. Doby swung on a 2-2 changeup and blasted a line drive smack in Robinson’s direction. Just when it seemed like the Dodger outfielder might make the catch, however, the ball overshot his glove by less than an inch and Doby was safe on third with a standing triple. A sacrifice fly scored Doby for the only run of the game-- and the only one Los Angeles would need to win the game.
Dodger fans, who’d expected a repeat of Brooklyn’s 1941 World Series triumph, were shell-shocked by what had happened. So for that matter was Brooklyn manager Burt Shotton, who barely said two words to reporters at the post-game press conference. Dodgers outfielder Pete Reiser, on the other hand, was screaming blue murder about the way things had turned out; he claimed that a play ruled a foul ball by umpires in the fifth inning should in fact have been counted as a home run and that this call had robbed Brooklyn of what might have been its best opportunity for victory that day.
The next day Brooklyn lefthander Vic Lombardi took to the mound to start Game 2 for the Dodgers and hopefully turn things around for the Bums. The Kings, however, had other ideas; they lit Lombardi up like a Cuban cigar for six runs in the first two innings and forced Shotton to go to his bullpen in the middle of the third. Third baseman Spider Jorgenson hurt his knee trying to snag a Mort Cooper grounder in the bottom of the sixth inning, and from there on it was all over but the shouting as Los Angeles cruised to a 12-1 blowout out of the Dodgers and took a 2 games-to-0 Series lead as the action shifted to Hearst Palladium for Games 3 and 4. Some of the more pessimistic elements of the Dodger faithful feared that when the Series resumed, Los Angeles just might sweep the whole shooting match.
That pessimism was justified; in Game 3 of the 1947 World Series, the Dodgers blew a 4-1 seventh inning lead when an error by Brooklyn second baseman Eddie Stanky allowed Los Angeles to score three runs to tie the game, setting up the opportunity for the Kings to pull ahead of the Dodgers in the eighth. Rookie Los Angeles reliever Harry Dorish took full advantage of that opportunity, belting a long single out to right to score reserve outfielder Russ Derry from second base and give the Kings a 5-4 lead. A Stan Musial sacrifice bunt in the same inning would stretch that lead to 6-4, and Dorish would strike out the side in the ninth to preserve the win. There seemed to be nothing Brooklyn could do to hold back the Purple & Gold tsunami about to swamp them.
While there were a number of future Hall of Famers in the lineup of the 1947 Kings, it would be a relatively obscure player, journeyman catcher Buddy Rosar, who clinched the World Series championship for Los Angeles. Rosar, who since breaking into the majors back in 1939 had bounced around between five other ballclubs before signing with the Kings as a free agent after the 1946 season; in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4, with Los Angeles fighting to protect a 3-2 lead and Brooklyn having runners on first and second with two outs, he made a spectular defensive play that would have fans throughout the majors talking for years to come. Spotting Jackie Robinson trying for a steal at third base, Rosar whipped the ball to Los Angeles shortstop Cass Michaels, who promptly tagged Robinson out on the basepaths to end the game-- and the Series-- with a Kings victory.
The victory party back in LA for the World Series champs was long and loud; some of the most enthusiastic revelry after the Kings sweep of the Dodgers happened in the predominantly black district of Watts, which had embraced Larry Doby as a favorite son during the ‘47 regular season and continued that support throughout the playoff while most of the rest of black America was rooting for Jackie Robinson to take the brass ring in the ’47 World Series. Years later, one of Watts’ major streets would be renamed in Doby’s honor.
But regardless of one’s ethnic background, it was a great time to be a Kings fan. For the first time since 1939, Los Angeles could lay a valid claim to being the best team in baseball. The heartbreak of the Kings’ 1940 and 1941 Series defeats, and the tedium of their World War II-era doldrums in the lower levels of the American Leagues, was swept aside in the euphoria of their triumph against Brooklyn. That euphoria would still be running high when Hooper’s players reported for spring training prior to the start of the 1948 season...
To Be Continued
Prior to their 1946 playoff run
Casey had been released by the Longhorns in mid-June and signed with
 The Prospectors’ temporary home field during the 1946 MLB season while Marin County War Memorial Stadium was undergoing renovations; originally built as a football stadium, it was named after former San Francisco mayor James Rolph, who had been instrumental in securing both the Prospectors baseball club and an NFL expansion team for the city during his tenure.