Sep 20, 2021
We revisit LA's spirited pre-majors Pacific Coast League rivalry (begun in Episode 208: The Hollywood Stars - With Dan Taylor) with a look at the team ultimately responsible for the demise of both - the Los Angeles Angels.
Baseball author Gaylon White (“The Bilko Athletic Club: The Story of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels”) helps us set the table for the club’s background story as the city’s preeminent minor league baseball franchise - seen through the lens of its triumphant pennant-winning season of 1956, its penultimate before the National League’s Dodgers took over town.
Comprised of major league castoffs and unproven rookies, the Angels that season were centered around a bulky, beer-loving basher of home runs named Steve Bilko - a former St. Louis Cardinal whose headline-grabbing exploits at the plate led the PCL in eight different categories and the club to a dominating 107-61 record - 16 games ahead of their nearest challenger.
In addition to earning national Minor League Player of the Year honors that season, Bilko also became an instant celebrity in Los Angeles - earning as much (if not more) than some of his better-known major league colleagues, as well as unwitting fame the eponymous lead character for of the Emmy Award-winning Phil Silvers Show.
When the Angels and the Stars left town in 1958, so did Bilko - this time for a few more cups of coffee in the bigs, including, ironically, the first two seasons of the major (AL) league expansion version of the Angels in 1961-62 - the inaugural season of which was played in the same Wrigley Field that housed him and its predecessor.