The History of the Los Angeles Kings
By Chris Oakley
adapted from material previously posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In the first six chapters of this series we recalled William Randolph Hearst’s creation of the Continental League and the Los Angeles Kings; the 1935 CL-MLB merger and subsequent MLB reorganization; the Kings’ postseason triumphs and heartbreaks in the late ‘30s and the firing of manager Al Bridwell after they lost the 1940 World Series; the Kings’ spectacular 1941 season; L.A.’s World War II doldrums on the diamond; and the Los Angeles postwar resurgence which led to a World Series victory against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. In this installment, we’ll look back at the Kings’ 1948 and 1949 pennant runs and the return of Al Bridwell as Kings manager after the firing of Harry Hooper.
The stands at Hearst Palladium were packed like sardine cans on the opening day of the 1948 MLB season-- and it wasn’t just because of the natural hoopla that attends any baseball club’s first game of the season or the unfurling of the Kings’ 1947 World Series pennant over the Palladium walls. What may have been the most compelling reason to come out to the ballpark to see the defending World Series champions face the Cleveland Indians toed the mound in the form of veteran pitcher Leroy "Satchel" Paige, who after years of toiling in the Negro Leagues was finally getting the chance to strut his stuff in MLB. Paige would be the first black pitcher to start an MLB regular season game, and fans were itching to see what the flamboyant former Kansas City Monarchs ace could do against the Purple & Gold.
Fittingly, the Kings’ leadoff batter that day was another highly distinguished Negro Leagues alumnus: Larry Doby. Back in his days with the Newark Eagles, Doby had faced Paige quite a few times, and so he had a fairly good idea what to expect from the ex-Monarch when the two squared off in Paige’s American League debut. However, knowing what to expect and effectively countering it were two different things-- as a frustrated Doby would soon learn when Paige struck him out with three fastballs in a row.
Doby’s second at-bat against Paige didn’t go much better than his first; Paige retired him on a grounder to Cleveland second baseman Joe Gordon. By then, Los Angeles was trailing 2-0 and a visibly agitated Harry Hooper was pacing in the Kings dugout muttering to himself at a clip that made his players-- and his boss William Randolph Hearst -- question whether Hooper might not be starting to have some sort of a psychological breakdown. Hooper himself later admitted to worrying he might need to check himself into Bellevue.
On his third at-bat Doby finally managed to get on base, drawing a walk to set up a Stan Musial RBI double which cut Cleveland’s lead to 2-1. Musial himself then scored on a Jud Farber single to tie the game at 2-all; the Kings went on to beat the Indians 3-2 in ten innings on a sacrifice fly by Joe Dimaggio. But Paige won his personal duel with Doby, holding the Los Angeles center fielder hitless the entire game. This fact would not be lost on either team as the regular season wore on, or when they met in the playoffs that October...
....but in the meantime L.A. had to fend off challenges from its division rivals. One such challenge came from a surprisingly solid Chicago White Sox team that in mid-May succeeded in splitting a four- game set against the Kings at Comiskey Park and winning two out of three games at Hearst Palladium in early June; a worried Harry Hooper confessed to sportswriters after Los Angeles lost the finale of the three-game swing, "The Sox could really give us some headaches down the road."1
And then of course there were the Kings’ traditional arch-foes, the San Francisco Prospectors. The ‘Spectors were just two games in back of Los Angeles at the time Hooper made his rueful admission about the White Sox-- and under the leadership of their new manager, former Chicago Cubs slugger Hack Wilson, they were making a hard charge to further narrow the gap between themselves and the Kings. By the second week of June a mere half-game stood between the Purple & Gold and second place, and some sportswriters on the East Coast had even started to speculate about a possible Yankees-Prospectors clash in the 1948 ALCS.
San Francisco tied Los Angeles for first in the AL West standings after the Prospectors split a doubleheader against the Kansas City Longhorns and the Kings dropped the opener of a four-game home stand with the Philadelphia Athletics. For what seemed like the hundredth time since he’d first taken the manager’s job, Hooper started hearing rumors he was about to get pink-slipped-- and he got heartily sick of them.
So for that matter did his players, who took out their frustrations by winning the next three games of their series with the A’s and then racking up an additional five wins during an eight-game road swing on the East Coast. By the 4th of July Los Angeles enjoyed a four-game edge over San Francisco in the AL West; as of the All-Star break that lead had grown to 6½ games. At the 1948 MLB All-Star Game, Larry Doby and Joe DiMaggio constituted a ferocious one-two punch for the American League, contributing six hits and four runs to the AL’s 10-2 drubbing of the National League.
By August 1st, Los Angeles was ten full games ahead of San Francisco in spite of Hack Wilson’s best efforts to overtake the Kings for the AL West pennant, and some Purple & Gold fans were smugly certain their team had the division as good as won. But a funny thing happened on the way to their coronation: on August 8th Jud Farber hurt a ligament in his right knee while attempting to stretch a double into a triple during the sixth inning of a night game against the Boston Red Sox. He would be sidelined for nearly a month-- just at the exact moment when the Kings most needed his services for the home stretch of the regular season.
During that month, L.A.’s division lead began to shrink; by the end of August it was danger of disappearing altogether. But fate smiled on Los Angeles in the form of Preston Ward, a onetime Dodger prospect who had been terrorizing opposing pitchers during a four-year stint in the Kings’ minor league system. His bat had been especially feared when he was with the Kings’ Double A affiliate in San Bernardino: there he had led his league in home runs, RBIs, and doubles. Ward made his official MLB debut on August 31st in a Kings road game against the Tigers; it was a fairly auspicious debut, as he went two for four at the plate and had two stolen bases. Ward also played a key role in the 9th inning double play that won the game for Los Angeles.
With Ward capably manning the hot corner in Farber’s absence, the Kings’ lead in the AL West standings reversed its decline and started to expand again. Los Angeles officially clinched its third consecutive postwar division title with a three-run shutout of the Philadelphia Athletics on September 22nd; next on the Purple & Gold’s to-do list was a showdown in the 1948 ALCS with the Cleveland Indians, the improbable AL East division champs.
The odds appeared to be on Los Angeles’ side when the Kings went to Cleveland Municipal Stadium for Game 1 of the 1948 ALCS. But as any good magician could attest, appearances can be deceiving: the Indians pounced on L.A. early, peeling off seven first inning runs on the way to a ten-run shutout of the Purple & Gold. Winning pitcher Satchel Paige went the full nine innings that afternoon, racking up twelve strikeouts and holding Los Angeles to a measly four hits. Larry Doby, in his first postseason appearance, went 1 for 4 at the plate against Paige, striking out twice and lining a fly ball to outfielder Thurman Tucker to end the game.
Things didn’t get much better for Los Angeles in Game 2. In fact, for one player they got exponentially worse: Stan Musial went 0 for 3 that afternoon, the beginning of a postseason slump that would keep dogging him throughout the rest of the ’48 ALCS. Taking advantage of Musial’s misfortunes at the plate, Cleveland took an early 4-1 lead in Game 2 and cruised to an eventual 7-1 victory that put the Kings on the brink of elimination as the ALCS came west to Hearst Palladium for Game 3.
Nobody had to tell Mel Deutsch what was at stake when he took to the mound to face Cleveland in Game 3 of the ’48 ALCS. Deutsch himself had said to a Los Angeles Times sportswriter after Game 2: "It’s gonna kill me if we don’t make it to the World Series." After having felt the exhilaration of being a Series champion in 1947, the last thing he wanted was to see the Kings’ season come to an early end at the hands of the Indians. Likewise Joe DiMaggio, who had gone 0 for 3 in Game 1 and 1 for 4 in Game 2, dreaded the prospect of seeing his team swept out of the playoffs and came to Hearst Palladium determined not to let L.A.’s Series hopes die.
Fortunately for Deutsch’s self-esteem, Lady Luck was on the Kings’ side in Game 3: over seven-plus innings, Deutsch struck out 13 batters and held Cleveland to just four hits and one run. DiMaggio combined with Preston Ward to produce six hits and five runs in what would turn out to be a 7-2 Los Angeles victory.2 With the win, the Kings averted the sweep and put themselves in position to send the ALCS back east to Cleveland for a fifth and deciding game if they could first take Game 4. Satchel Paige, the hero of Game 1 for the Indians, was tentatively penciled in to start the fifth game for Cleveland if the series went the distance. Fans filed into Hearst Palladium hoping that there would indeed be a Game 5...
....and they got their wish. In a comeback that would have amazed even Lazarus, the Kings rallied from a 4-2 seventh inning deficit in Game 4 to beat the Indians 6-5 in ten innings. Jud Farber, making what would turn out to be his final ALCS appearance, took advantage of an infield error by Cleveland with two outs in the ninth to steal home for the game-tying run; Larry Doby won it for Los Angeles with a solo home run to center. With just one more win, the Purple and Gold could punch their ticket to a second straight World Series.
Knowing Doby had struggled mightily and with little result against Paige in previous Kings-Indians matchups, Harry Hooper made the rather controversial choice to bench him for Game 5. Reserve outfielder Jim Delsing would start in Doby’s place for the ALCS finale. Although at the time the decision was highly unpopular with Kings fans as a whole and Doby’s supporters in particular, it would later turn out to be the right call. Delsing went three for four at the plate, giving the Kings a 2-0 lead through five innings and tying the game 4-4 in the seventh after a solo homer by Cleveland utility outfielder Wally Judnich put the Indians ahead 4-3.
With Jud Farber being rested by Hooper in advance of a possible World Series start, Preston Ward once again came up big at third base for the Kings; in the top of the eighth he gave Los Angeles a 5-4 lead on an RBI sacrifice fly, and in the bottom of that same inning Ward short-circuited a Cleveland rally with an inning-ending force play to Stan Musial at first.
In the bottom of the ninth Butch Wensloff slammed the door on the Indians to seal a 6-4 King victory and Los Angeles’ second consecutive post-World War II American League championship. Next on Harry Hooper’s to-do list: prepare his ballclub for a World Series showdown with the National League champion Boston Braves...
....who were riding a tidal wave of momentum following a thrilling and highly successful NL East pennant run and a sweep of the NL West champion St. Louis Cardinals in the 1948 NLCS. The Braves boasted what may have been the NL East’s best pitching staff that season; they were certainly gifted with the National League’s most dominant 1-2 starter combo in righthanded pitcher Johnny Sain and lefty Warren Spahn. Spahn in particular won so consistently that he inspired a phrase repeated by rueful opponents all over the league: "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain."
But it was the Braves who would be praying for rain when the Kings arrived at Braves Field for Game 3 of the 1948 World Series after the teams split the first two games of the Series at Hearst Palladium. The Purple & Gold were still somewhat bitter about their 1946 ALCS defeat by the Red Sox, and they were eager to extract some revenge against the city that had dashed their American League title dreams two years earlier. By the time Johnny Sain took the mound for the first pitch of Game 3, Los Angeles was out for blood.
And they got it. Stan Musial started the offensive barrage with a one-out double to right field, breaking out of the slump that had been dogging him throughout the ’48 ALCS with a vengeance; four pitches later Buddy Rosar drove a long single to straightaway center to score Musial and give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead. Larry Doby extended that lead to 3-0 on a two-run homer that traveled so long it nearly cleared the Braves Field roof. By the time Sain was pulled from the game midway through the fourth inning, the Kings were ahead 6-1 and in position to increase that edge even further thanks to a two-out walk by Russ Derry that had loaded the bases for Larry Doby. Doby, in turn, blasted an RBI double to the gap in left field to put Los Angeles ahead 8-1 and leave Braves feeling so dejected they started to file out of Braves Field in droves before the fifth inning was over.
The Kings finished the day with a 12-3 victory and a 2 games-to-1 edge in the World Series. Boston fans crossed their fingers in the hope Warren Spahn could turn the momentum of the Series back in the Braves’ favor....
...a hope that for a brief time seemed to have been fulfilled. Spahn held the Kings to just three hits and two runs as Boston rolled to a 5-2 victory in Game 4; Braves shortstop Alvin Dark personally contributed three runs to that victory with a bases-loaded triple in the fifth inning. Lefthander Clyde Shoun came on in relief of Spahn in the eighth and was credited with the save; Spahn himself registered ten strikeouts and played a part in a critical double-play in the top of the seventh inning.
But Boston was sent crashing back to earth with a thud in Game 5. Bill Voiselle, the Braves’ starting pitcher that day, blew a no-hit bid in the seventh inning when he surrendered what would turn out to be the last postseason home run of Jud Farber’s career; on the heels of that misfortune, Voiselle then had the bad luck to yield back-to-back RBI doubles to Buddy Rosar and Stan Musial, breaking what had been a 1-1 tie and giving Los Angeles a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The Purple & Gold went on to win the game 5-2 and returned to Hearst Palladium with a 3 games-to-2 Series lead.
Game 6 was the straw that finally broke the Braves’ back. In the top of the third inning Boston manager Billy Southworth got ejected by the first base umpire after a heated argument over what Southworth saw as a questionable force play call on the umpire’s part; in the bottom half of the inning Larry Doby broke the game open with a one-out grand slam off Boston Game 6 starter Glenn Elliott. From there, everything that could possibly go wrong for the Braves did go wrong-- and to the tenth power to boot. In the fourth inning Boston second baseman Eddie Stanky committed an error that allowed Los Angeles to score two more runs and extend its lead to 6-0; in the fifth Joe DiMaggio padded that lead still further with a solo shot to centerfield that made the score 7-0.
By the time the Braves finally got on the scoreboard with an Alvin Dark sacrifice bunt in the seventh inning, most of the modest party of Boston fans who had traveled cross-country to see the game had long since filed out of Hearst Palladium in despair. Many of the rest left the stadium after Preston Ward, the eventual ’48 World Series MVP, hit a two-run homer to right field to extend the Kings’ lead to 9-1. In the top of the ninth Mort Cooper’s brother Harry, the Game 6 starting pitcher for L.A., struck out the side to clinch a 10-1 win-- and the Series pennant --for the Purple & Gold. It was the Kings’ second World Series title of the Harry Hooper era and fourth in franchise history; in some quarters Hooper was now being lauded as the greatest manager the game had seen since John McGraw. In the afterglow of Los Angeles’ six-game conquest of the Braves it seemed to Kings fans like nothing could stop their team from repeating as Series champs in 1949...
....but during the offseason the Kings experienced a series of unexpected blows that would sharply disrupt its chemistry going into the ’49 regular season. What may have been the most painful of those blows happened on January 16th, 1949 when Jud Farber was killed in a car crash on the Pacific Coast Highway en route home from a personal appearance at an elementary school in Fresno. Grief-stricken over the untimely death of their hero, the school’s students put up money to build a monument to Farber near the site of the fatal crash; in his old hometown of Biloxi, Missisippi flags were lowered to half-mast--a tribute usually reserved for the passing of statesmen or war heroes. Four days after Farber’s death, President Harry S. Truman opened his inaugural address by asking for a moment of silence in memory of the great infielder.
By the time Farber was laid to rest, Kings pitching great Mort Cooper was locked in a contract standoff with the Kings front office; Cooper wanted a three-year deal, but Kings GM Fred Haney and principal owner William Randolph Hearst were only willing to agree to a two- year deal. The impasse was still going on when the Kings reported for spring training a month after Jud Farber’s death. Matters finally came to a head on March 3rd, 1949 when Mort Cooper, his brother Harry, and catcher Buddy Rosar personally confronted Hearst at his San Simeon estate and demanded that he either give Mort the three-year deal or trade the longtime Purple & Gold pitching ace to another team. Hearst chose the second option: on March 4th, Los Angeles residents opened their morning papers to see the stunning headline YANKS TAKE COOPER BROTHERS, ROSAR IN SIX-PLAYER DEAL. As retaliation for their ultimatum Hearst had traded all three players to New York in return for Tommy Henrich, relief pitcher Joe Page, and a then little-known minor league prospect from Oklahoma named Mickey Mantle.
New Yankees manager Casey Stengel was more than happy to accept the unexpected windfall coming his way from southern California. In the 1949 regular season Buddy Rosar, backing up fourth-year Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, hit .329 for the Bronx Bombers with a career-high 38 home runs; the Cooper brothers combined for thirteen wins, four saves, and a 1.42 ERA as New York cruised to the AL East division title. In the deciding game of the 1949 ALCS, when the Yankees faced the Kings in a rematch of their 1947 postseason showdown, Mort Cooper notched thirteen strikeouts against his former team to win the game and the American League pennant for the Bombers. From there, Cooper went on to pitch a three-run shutout against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first game of the 1949 World Series; he would eventually share Series MVP honors with Yanks outfielder (and future Baltimore Orioles manager)Hank Bauer.
As heartbreaking as the 1949 ALCS defeat was for Kings fans, an even worse disappointment lay in store for them just down the road. In late August of 1950, after leading the AL West by a respectable margin for most of the 1950 MLB regular season, the Kings started to slump; around this same time the San Francisco Prospectors embarked on a surge that would gradually narrow the gap between themselves and Los Angeles. By the final week of the regular season only half a game stood between the ‘Spectors and first place.
In the last game of the season San Francisco pulled into a first- place tie with Los Angeles after the Prospectors beat the Kansas City Longhorns and the Kings dropped a night contest against the St. Louis Browns. This set the stage for a tiebreaker game to be played at Marin County Memorial Stadium to decide the AL West crown. Los Angeles named Mel Deutsch as its starting pitcher for that showdown; San Francisco countered with Lew Burdette.
For seven full innings in the tiebreaker game, Deutsch and Burdette put on a pitching clinic for the fans, both flirting with a no-hitter before Stan Musial doubled to center field with one out in the eighth. Yet for all of Lew Burdette’s heroics on the mound that afternoon, it would ultimately be his bat that won the day for San Francisco: in the tenth inning, with the score tied 1-1 and Prospectors infielder Bobby Thomson having stolen second base, Burdette slammed a long single out to right which sent Thomson sprinting around third and then charging across home plate for the winning run. The Kings’ four-year reign as the AL West’s dominant franchise was over.
As had been the case more than once in the past when the Purple and Gold fell short of the brass ring, rumors again started to circulate that Harry Hooper was about to be fired. This time, the rumors turned out to be true-- on October 7th, 1950, the same day that the Yankees defeated the Prospectors in the fifth and deciding game of the 1950 ALCS, Hooper was officially dismissed after nine years as Los Angeles skipper. Former Kings infielder Lou Finney, then third base coach for the team’s Single A minor league affiliate in Pismo Beach, was named as Hooper’s successor for the 1951 MLB season. Finney’s tour of duty as Kings skipper would be short and disastrous; it started with a 7-0 Opening Day loss against the Detroit Tigers and ended with Finney’s angry resignation on June 19th following an argument with Fred Haney over what Haney saw as questionable strategy moves on Finney’s part during a 9-2 Kings pounding by the Washington Senators. In the time between these twin embarrassments, L.A. sank to fourth place in the AL West standings and was confronted with the very real and depressing possibility of a finish rivaling the worst days of their World War II-era exile in the American League cellar.
On June 20th, in his last significant personnel decision as the Kings’ principal owner, William Randolph Hearst announced that former Kings manager Al Bridwell would be called out of retirement to return as skipper of the team he had led to its first World Series pennant fifteen years earlier. By that time Hearst had less than two months to live and his sons were assuming an ever greater share of the burdens of team ownership; George Randolph Hearst, his less-than-distinguished stint as Los Angeles GM now little more than a distant unpleasant memory, had returned to Hearst Palladium in a somewhat humbler and more effective role as a special advisor for business affairs to Fred Haney.
Bridwell officially kicked off his second tenure as Kings manager on June 22nd with a 6-3 win over the Red Sox in Boston. From there, Los Angeles compiled a .748 winning percentage as the Purple & Gold clawed their way back into the thick of the AL West pennant race; by August 13th they were just two games behind the San Francisco Prospectors in the division standings.
The next day, during the sixth inning of a Kings-Indians game at Hearst Palladium, the PA announcer broke the news to a stunned crowd that William Randolph Hearst was dead. Hearst’s passing changed the team’s collective psyche forever; like him or hate him, he’d been a constant presence with the franchise from its earliest days; with him gone, the Kings would now have to redefine their team identity, and this would prove something of a distraction for Al Bridwell and his players as the 1951 MLB season approached its climax.
Hearst’s demise also overshadowed what under normal circumstances would have been the biggest sports story of the year to come out of Los Angeles: after fifteen seasons in the major leagues Joe DiMaggio, the California Clipper, was finally calling it quits...
To Be Continued
 “Kings Skipper Concedes Chi-Town A Threat To His Pennant Hopes”, Los Angeles Times, June 4th, 1948.
 Harry Dorish came on to relieve Deutsch in the eighth and gave up a ninth inning RBI double to Indians outfielder Thurman Tucker. However, he quickly bounced back from that mishap to strike out the next two batters he faced and end the game.