This piece aired as a part of KPCC's Saturday afternoon show, Off-Ramp. To hear the audio, click on the link below.
When most people hear the name “Wrigley Field,” they picture brick walls, deep dish pizza and the longest World Series drought in Major League Baseball. But two years before the Chicago stadium became known as Wrigley Field, there was already another ballpark with the same name 2,000 miles to the west.
Built in 1925, the first Wrigley Field was a perfectly symmetrical ballpark with more than 20,000 seats on the corner of 42nd Place and Avalon Boulevard in South Central Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Angels called the stadium home for thirty-three seasons until the migration of two major league New York teams in 1958 brought on the end of the Pacific Coast League in Los Angeles.
The New York Giants defected to San Francisco, the Brooklyn Dodgers settled into Los Angeles and with them came appearances by every National League star and for the Dodgers in particular, three World Series titles in less than ten years.
The Angels folded that same year, and for a time, Wrigley Field was without regular home games. Like so many other dormant structures in Los Angeles, it became a popular filming location. The movie version of Damn Yankees had ball players singing and dancing across the infield. TV shows like The Twilight Zone and The Munsters used the bleachers as a backdrop. But it was a baseball-themed sports show that left the most curious claim to fame:
Twenty-six episodes of Home Run Derby were filmed in the off-season of 1959. Some of the biggest names in baseball spent an afternoon hitting long balls onto the front lawns of neighboring houses, their second story windows clearly visible as the cameramen tried to track the hits.
Unlike most celebrity game shows these days, the sluggers in Home Run Derby were competing for serious cash. Over the course of six appearances, Hank Aaron took home over $12,000, the equivalent of more than a third of his year’s salary.
The show only lasted one season. Host and creator Mark Scott died suddenly of a heart attack a week after the last episode ran and the derby didn’t resurface until 1985 when Major League Baseball adopted the contest as an official part of All-Star Weekend.
In 1961, Gene Autry bought the Los Angeles Angels and brought the team back to life. They played their first year at the stadium where 248 home runs were hit in just over 80 home games, including two of Roger Maris’ record 61. That dubious ballpark record lasted more than 30 years, but the Angels only lasted at Wrigley for a season.
The following year, Dodger Stadium was completed, offering more than two and half times the seating of Wrigley Field.
Four years later, the Angels moved into an equally large home in Anaheim. Wrigley Field held on until 1969, hosting occasional concerts and rallies, including one by Dr. Martin Luther King, but it couldn’t sustain itself. The field was demolished and turned into a city park, burying most of its history along with it.