Ty Buttrey, A Brave Decision

The decision of Halos reliever Buttrey to walk away from baseball tonight reminds me, as a Sheffield Wednesday fan, of a similar decision by an Owls footballer… And if the parallels continue… Buttrey will not be back as a player any time soon.

Angels in the UK Editor Matt Thomas, writes a View Over the Pond.

Tonight many Angels fans will be reflecting on the events of the past 48 hours or so, the confusion over the reluctance of Ty Buttrey to report for training and will no doubt be wondering if Buttrey will make a comeback. Most Angels fans outside of the United Kingdom would likely struggle to know who Sheffield Wednesday are, unless they are football (soccer) aficionados, but the decision of Halos reliever Buttrey to walk away from baseball tonight reminds me, as a Sheffield Wednesday fan, of a similar decision by an Owls footballer, in recent history. And if the parallels continue then, the chances are, Buttrey will not be back as a player any time soon.

Yesterday it was announced that Buttrey, a 28 year old pitcher born in North Carolina, had refused to report to the Angel’s alternate site, after being optioned by the Halos. The startling news was apparently a shock to Angels manager Joe Maddon, who had said that he had no idea that Buttrey intended to walk away from the game, and had hoped that despite failing to make the 2021 roster, Buttrey would improve on areas of his pitching and return in the near future. Tonight Buttrey made a post to his social media, making it clear that he had taken steps to leave the game, for good, and was brutally honest in his reasons, and I fully understand his reasoning, and support his decision fully.

Buttrey has made it clear that, at present, he has accomplished all he wanted in making it to the major leagues, and it is now time to re-evaluate his priorities…

Originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox as a fourth round draft pick, in 2012, Buttrey was picked up by the Angels via a trade in July 2018. Having spent the previous six years working hard to make the MLB, Buttrey made his major league debut two weeks later for the Halos and had good seasons in 2018 and 2019. However, as the COVID plagued 2020 played out it was clear that Buttrey was not enjoying sustained periods of quality and, ultimately, this dip in form and a lack of consistency led to him being optioned and losing his place for the 2021 season, just having gotten under way. In 2016, Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Jérémy Hélan, stunned the footballing world by similarly dramatically tearing up his contract and walking away from professional sport, despite the French international being tipped to be the next Patrice Evra.

Hélan, also 28, had been brought to mega-rich English club, Manchester City, as a young man with it all to prove, a move which caused some controversy at the time and, like Buttrey, Hélan never really made the first team roster at his first club. In similar fashion to Buttrey being sent out to gain experience in the lower reaches of professional baseball’s farm system, Hélan had a number of lower league loans before securing a permanent loan to Sheffield Wednesday, where he ultimately started to secure regular professional appearances. Also like Buttrey, towards the end of his Sheffield Wednesday career Hélan was somewhat inconsistent and erratic at times, and was finally sent out on loan again for a short while, before he announced his decision to quit.

I hope that Buttrey does find the motivation and love for the game to come back at some point, but also like Hélan I won’t hold my breath and I will fully support his desire to embrace life away from professional sport.

In a refreshingly honest and open post to his personal Instagram account, tonight Buttrey has made it clear that, at present, he has accomplished all he wanted in making it to the major leagues, and it is now time to re-evaluate his priorities and spend time doing things that, ultimately, mean more to him. Buttrey went on to make it clear that he no longer felt love for the game and, in truth, probably never did. He astonishingly claimed that his motivation had always been to prove the people in his life who told him he would not make it to the big leagues wrong. He wouldn’t be the first to feel that pressure, in any walk of life, if we are all really honest, haven’t we all?

Since Hélan walked away from Sheffield Wednesday, the France international team and football entirely he has never made any indication of a desire to return, and instead has remained private about his new life away from the game. Like the case of Hélan it is perhaps now obvious that erratic form was caused by off the field issues that were rooted in a rather conflicted sportsman, looking for a valid reason to keep pushing hard to reach the highest level. I had feared that Buttrey was suffering from demons, of late, and I am relieved that he simply wants to live his life on his own terms. Like Hélan, I hope that Buttrey does find the motivation and love for the game to come back at some point, but also like Hélan I won’t hold my breath and I will fully support his desire to embrace life away from professional sport.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

Johnny James, the First Angels ‘Victim’

James tried to break off a sharp curve one night at Wrigley Field and heard a bone in his arm crack. INCREDIBLY, his arm had been broken making the pitch and his career was over.

Angels in the UK Editor Matt Thomas, writes on the illustrious heritage of our Angels.

A popular urban story, associated with the Angels since the mid 1970’s at least, was that the organisation were cursed, though the far fetched story has died away somewhat since the victorious 2002 World Series team achieved their incredible feat. The main concept to the jinx was that the Big A had been constructed on an ancient Native American burial ground, something which was largely disproven in the 1990’s. This tall tale also somehow overlooked that a number of the supposed cursed Angels players had been with the Halos before the move to Anaheim and never played at Angels Stadium, but conspiracy theories have a habit of avoiding little things like facts. It was perhaps a tad unhelpful, in hindsight, for then General Manager, Harry Dalton, to attribute the death of Mikey Miley to the curse, in 1977.

Popularly attributed as the first ‘victim’ of the Angel’s curse was Idaho native, Johnny James, born in 1933 and still going strong in 2021, at the ripe old age of 87. James was acquired by the fledgling Angels in May 1961, from the New York Yankees, having made his big league debut in 1958. In a 1976 Sporting News article by Dick Miller, thought to be the earliest reference to the curse involving James, a career ending arm injury mysteriously occurred in the 1961 season. Miller wrote; “James tried to break off a sharp curve one night at Wrigley Field and heard a bone in his arm crack. INCREDIBLY, his arm had been broken making the pitch and his career was over.” But is this bizarre story a work of fact or fiction? Mainly fiction, but perhaps seeded in fact.

It appears that the simple truth is that James had been sent down to the minors, where he was recorded as being active in the 1962 season and did indeed suffer from numerous arm injuries.

Despite making his Yankees big league debut in 1958 James only made the one appearance, and did not appear in the majors at all in 1959. By the 1960 season the pitcher finally started to make an impression in New York, making 28 relief appearances. Through that 1960 season James appeared in 43 innings and saved 2 games, allowing 21 earned runs and striking out 29 batters, walking 26. He made just one last appearance for the 1961 Yankees, before being traded to the Angels, where he completed the 1961 season, finishing with a 5.30 ERA and striking out 43, whilst walking 54. James did not pitch the last two weeks of that season, though teammate Dan Ardell denied that James had broken his arm.

In April 1962 The Sporting News reported that James was seeking a place with the Angels and was at spring training, and even looked good. Intriguingly the same article said that James had been “laid up a few days with arm trouble but is all right again.” It appears that the simple truth is that James had been sent down to the minors, where he was recorded as being active in the 1962 season and did indeed suffer from numerous arm injuries. The 1963 Baseball Digest Mede reference to the aforementioned arm injury, but not a reference to a broken arm. Interestingly James ended his big league career as a perfect fielder, handling 25 chances (4 putouts and 21 assists) for a 1.000 fielding percentage.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

Baseball in Britain, A Complex Backstory

Many modern day fans of baseball in Britain believe unwaveringly that the game was brought to these shores by Sir Francis Ley and A. G. Spalding… this is in fact not true.

Angels in the UK Editor Matt Thomas, writes on the fascinating heritage of British baseball.

The origins of baseball are something of a contentious issue, as American as apple pie and interwoven tightly with the very fabric of American culture and heritage, but documented evidence does prove that baseball, like many things, has it’s roots in Europe. Despite A. G. Spalding’s efforts to credit Abner Doubleday with creating the game, the earliest known mention and illustration of baseball appeared in John Newbery’s A Little Pretty Pocket-Book in 1744, and on the 31st of March 1755 William Bray, an English diarist, noted that he had played “base ball” that day, proving the archaic roots of baseball. Even in the mid to late 1800’s, as ‘New York’ or ‘American’ baseball was being exported back to the United Kingdom, archaic forms of the game were still very popular and exist to this day in places such as Liverpool and Wales.

Many modern day fans of baseball in Britain believe unwaveringly that the game was brought to these shores by Sir Francis Ley and Spalding, with Derby County Baseball Club being the first British baseball club, established by Ley, from the efforts of Spalding’s tours. Where both characters were undeniably a huge influence on the popularisation of the sport in the 1890’s and the establishment of a formal professional league in Britain, this is in fact not true. As early as 1874 the Boston Red Stockings and others toured Britain, displaying their immense talent to huge crowds, with none other than Spalding as one of their roster. Sporting Life publications and newspaper clippings from these early tours make clear that, at that time, baseball equipment was made and supplied to clubs in Britain by John Wisden and Co., a name that most cricket fans would recognise instantly. Why would a company as large as Wisden be supplying baseball equipment, if clubs and players did not already exist?

This link to cricket goes deeper still, when we look at the figures behind the touring Boston Red Stockings (today the Atlanta Braves), who had been formed by the nucleus of former Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first openly professional baseball club in the United States, formed in 1869. At the very heart of both of those clubs was a Yorkshireman, player-manager Harry Wright. A centre fielder in that first professional club, Wright went on to introduce a number of initiatives to progress the ball game and it was towards the end of his playing days when he fought to export his beloved game back to the United Kingdom. Born in Sheffield, incidentally also recognised as the birthplace of modern football and the home of the oldest football club in the world, Wright had been taken to New York at an early age, where his father worked as a groundsman with St. George’s Cricket Club. Wright, like his father, played cricket, including against George Parr’s 1859 England cricket tour of the United States and the wider family were naturally able to pick up and excel in baseball.

The 1874 tour is today widely seen as a failure by many scholars of the game, and Wright’s Red Stockings returned to the States and joined the fledgling National League, organised in part by Spalding himself. Arguably more should be done today to recognise the efforts of Wright to bring baseball in the new ‘American’ format back to Britain. On their departure back to the States, the Sheffield Independent reflected on the tour by wondering whether the lack of new clubs springing up across the country could be due to the fact that baseball was not really a novelty on these shores, and because baseball was seen as inferior to cricket. Spalding, as one of the players on that tour, would have unquestionably been influenced by Wright and his cricket connections.

At the very heart of both of those clubs was a Yorkshireman, player-manager Harry Wright. A centre fielder in that first professional club, Wright went on to introduce a number of initiatives to progress the ball game and it was towards the end of his playing days when he fought to export his beloved game back to the United Kingdom.

In March 1888 the British newspapers picked up on a rumour that leading New York and St. Louis baseball clubs were poised to tour across the United Kingdom, in another attempt at creating a foothold for the now fully organised ‘American’ baseball, from the back of the efforts of Mr Folsam, the American Consul in Sheffield, who had been working hard to popularise the ball game in Yorkshire. Bizarrely, also in March 1888, the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News reported on the return of the President of a St. Louis baseball club, from his tour of Britain. “England is now educated up to American sports” he stated and went on to claim “the game was too much for them”. The publication, quite obviously tongue in cheek, went on to mock the English for being ‘dull’ and ‘slow’ in their ways.

This approach was hardly likely to win many fans in England, but the message was clear, Britain was ready for the taking if ball club Presidents in the States wanted to grasp the opportunities, and Spalding was one of many who did wish to. By November 1888 the first efforts to establish a formal league of baseball clubs in the United Kingdom, in the form of the ‘American’ game, was mooted by John Barnes, manager of the St. Paul Western League baseball club. Barnes’ plan was to introduce lecturers to promote the ball game academically, before establishing American style syndicates in London, Birmingham and other key principle cities. It was not until February 1889 that the immense wealth of Spalding began to buy up column inches in Britain for the upcoming world tour by the Chicago White Stockings and other elite American players, funded of course by Spalding.

Rather telling though was a letter to the Liverpool Echo, published on the 1st of March 1889, where a local resident called for Stanford Perry, Secretary of the local Liverpool baseball clubs, to put together an all-star Liverpool team from local baseball and rounders clubs to challenge the Chicago White Stockings, when they arrived in Liverpool. This again shows that baseball, or archaic regional variants of it, were fully established in some regions of the United Kingdom, prior to the all-conquering Spalding tour. Amusingly, despite this, a writer for the Manchester Times, on the 2nd of March 1889, claimed that no baseball clubs existed in the United Kingdom! Was the game so localised that clubs in Liverpool were not known by residents of Manchester? Or was the writer simply ignorant? The ties to the 1874 tour were inescapable, the teams relied heavily on cricket grounds and attracting cricket fans and players and George Wright, the brother of Harry Wright, was the umpire!

Spalding knew all too well that he was standing on the shoulders of the Wright family, as was made clear by the fact that he paid tribute to W.G. Grace as “the best known Englishman in the world”, on arrival at Gloucester Cricket Ground, on the 9th of March 1889. On the 13th of March 1889 the Sporting Life produced an in depth piece, covering the exhibition match at the Oval, and questioned exactly why the American visitors had placed so much emphasis on London and the south for their early games, when the people of Liverpool would be the best judge of a sport which they clearly would recognise as a development of their own locally played game, whereas baseball to Londoners was nothing short of a complete mystery. Spalding’s tour was given some added gravitas through the attendance of the Prince of Wales at the Oval and attendances were adequate, with over 8,000 fans attending the exhibition at Lords, on the 13th of March 1889. As the tour progressed the people of Yorkshire were given exhibitions in Sheffield and Bradford, and the tour did reach Liverpool eventually too.

On the 13th of March 1889 the Sporting Life… questioned exactly why the American visitors had placed so much emphasis on London and the south for their early games, when the people of Liverpool would be the best judge of a sport which they clearly would recognise as a development of their own locally played game, whereas baseball to Londoners was nothing short of a complete mystery.

The people of Yorkshire were clearly enthused about this new form of baseball, and on the 30th of March 1889 a large crowd amassed at Stott’s Refreshment Rooms on Parliament Street, in York, to form a new baseball club for the city, along the lines of the ‘American principle’. It was not until the 26th of March 1890, a full year later, that Ley began to develop his Ley’s Recreation Club into a baseball club, proper, at Ley’s Recreation Centre. Regardless of this fact Ley used his wealth to persuade the people of Britain that “we were really the first club formed in Great Britain” when discussing Derby, in 1890, to various media outlets. In fact a more accurate reflection of his part in the development of the ball game in Britain was published on the 10th October 1889, when the Derby Daily Telegraph reported that Ley had “introduced baseball amongst his employees”. It is without any doubt that Ley used his financial clout to make his Ley’s Recreation Centre the best purpose built baseball facility in Britain, it went on to become the Baseball Gound, home of Derby County Football Club.

It is equally important to note that Ley was not even present when the new National League of Baseball of Great Britain met at the Criterion, London, to formally establish the new baseball association in October 1889, though he was elected as a provisional officer. Representatives of Preston North End, Gloucester County Cricket Club, Essex County Cricket Club, Staffordshire County Cricket Club, Aston Villa and the National Rounders Association all were represented and elected as officers to the association, with Newton Crane elected to the chair. By July 1890 it was reported in various media outlets that over 90 baseball clubs had been formed in the wake of the Spalding tour, with the Dundee Courier reporting that “there are more baseball clubs in Yorkshire than in any other county”.

It is a thing of wonderment then that by the time the first fully professional National League of Baseball of Great Britain got underway only four clubs were permitted to compete for the championship, none of them in Yorkshire, Liverpool or even London. On the 5th of March 1890 the Sporting Life reported that the new association had appealed to Spalding to seed the new clubs with American professionals, and on the 6th of March 1890 the Leicester Daily Post reported that a twelve club National League would be formed, with teams to be based at Wolverhampton, Liverpool, Accrington, Manchester, Bolton, Stoke and Birmingham and that Ley would convert his existing Ley’s Recreation Club to become Derby Baseball Club. On the 6th of June 1890 the first annual meeting of the National League of Baseball of Great Britain was held at the Queens Hotel, Birmingham, with the constitution being drawn up and agreed upon.

The constitution broadly followed the rules and regulations of the American leagues, Thomas Slaney (President) and Harry Lockett (Administrator) of the Stoke Baseball Club, Francis Ley (President of Derby Baseball Club), William McGregor (President of the Aston Villa Baseball Club) and James Allard on behalf of the absent William Sudell (President of the Preston North End Baseball Club) were all in attendance, Morton Betts was in the chair. A National League schedule was confirmed for the four clubs, with Aston Villa hosting Stoke on the 21st of June on opening day of a 42-game season, as agreed upon. It is clear, in retrospect, that for whatever reason the initial plan for a fully national league had been side-tracked by a mainly Midlands based core of teams. With Ley supplying the pennants and badges for the winning club and his self-publicity as the man who brought baseball to Britain, it is not hard to see where this influence may have come from.

This league did not take long to descend into chaos, with accusations of cheating and unsportsmanlike behaviour before, on the 4th of August 1890, the Secretary of Derby Baseball Club officially ‘retired’ the club from the National League, with immediate effect, citing financial losses and low attendances. Curiously, also on the 4th of August 1890, in a meeting at the Athenaeum, Derby, a new baseball club for the town of Derby was formed, with Ley elected as Chairman of the new club, and it was announced that his old club had been dissolved. Ley agreed to the new Derby Baseball Club being tenants of the Ley’s Recreation Centre (the Baseball Ground) rent free until the club was making a profit and it was reported that “for all practical purposes it (the dissolved club) was Ley’s Recreation Club” and the new club would be the real Derby Baseball club. Ley also maintained his claim that his dissolved works club had actually won the 1890 National League pennant, that he had kindly funded the trophies for, and not Aston Villa.

It is important to realise, with the advent of modern research and access to digital files and archives, that we must revisit the influence of Spalding and Ley and the popularly held claim that Ley introduced baseball to Britain, accept that Derby County Baseball Club were not the first baseball club in Britain and look again at how the wealth and influence of Spalding left us with a narrative that went unchallenged for decades…

It is important, at this point, to make it clear that Ley’s Derby Baseball Club were not Derby County Baseball Club as is commonly believed, they were nothing more than Ley’s own works team, as is clearly documented. In fact, earlier in February 1889 the Athletic News, on covering Ley’s call for football clubs in Britain to form baseball clubs, reported that Derby County Football Club had made their own plans for a club of their own, to challenge Ley’s Derby club. On the 8th of August 1890 the Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal stated that Ley had confirmed that he intended to cease the activities of the club, and had refused Spalding’s request for Derby Baseball Club to finish their National League fixtures and it was confirmed that Reidenbach and Bullas, American professionals at Derby were in the employ of Ley, in order to allow them to play for Derby. This was important, as the fall out between the clubs centred around the use of fully professional baseball players by Derby, with other clubs claiming it was an unfair advantage.

On the 8th of August 1890 Morton Betts, Secretary of the National League of Baseball of Great Britain issued a statement, in response to continued “incorrect statements” given to regional press by Ley, on events leading up to Derby Baseball Club ‘retiring‘ from the National League. It was stated that on the 9th of July Ley had agreed to only use his professional American pitchers in games versus Aston Villa, and that under this new arrangement Derby lost four out of their six matches, harming their championship prospects to the degree that Ley broke a number of bye-laws under threat of his Derby club withdrawing from the league, including refusing to field a nine on the 6th of August 1890 and giving the League Board no option but to erase the National League record of Derby. On the 11th of August 1890 the Birmingham Daily Post reported that three of the four National League clubs were being financed by Spalding Bros, whereby Derby Baseball Club were financed by Ley himself and it was this that lead to various financial disagreements as the two wealthy individuals fought to control the British game.

By March 1890 Spalding had turned his attentions towards the north, with a number of clubs popping up across Scotland, some with Spalding’s financial backing. In August 1890 the Spalding 50 Guinea Cup was established in Aberdeen, and eventually Spalding began to pursue a failed attempt at creating a British collegiate baseball system, as was popular in the United States. It is important to realise, with the advent of modern research and access to digital files and archives, that we must revisit the influence of Spalding and Ley and the popularly held claim that Ley introduced baseball to Britain, accept that Derby County Baseball Club were not the first baseball club in Britain and look again at how the wealth and influence of Spalding left us with a narrative that went unchallenged for decades, as the popularity of baseball in the United Kingdom waned in the post war era. Clearly, there are inaccuracies that require revision as a new national interest in the sport develops in the 21st Century. We should rightfully be proud of our role as a sporting nation in celebrating our part in baseball heritage and use this as a basis to build a stronger baseball identity on this side of the pond.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

‘Mad Dog’ Lee Thomas

Known as ‘Mad Dog’ due to an incident on the Rio Hondo Golf Course that resulted in a three wood being launched into a tree…

Angels in the UK Editor Matt Thomas, writes on the illustrious heritage of our Angels.

Lee Thomas, a first baseman and outfielder of Illinois, was traded to the Angels in the first Major League Baseball season of 1961, having struggled to make the step up to the New York Yankees big league team, despite putting up respectable numbers in their minor league system. Understandably the Yankees, with the likes of Mickey Mantle amongst their stellar roster, found it difficult to find space for their talented rookie and at one point Thomas even considered walking away, until he eventually made the Major League for three at bats in 1961, prior to being traded away. Thomas hit 50 home runs in his first two seasons with the Angels and was honoured with an All-Star appearance in 1962. Known as ‘Mad Dog’ due to an incident on the Rio Hondo Golf Course that resulted in a three wood being launched into a tree, his playing career was eclipsed by his many years of service to baseball off the field.

Yankees superstars Micky Mantle and Roger Maris reportedly recommended Thomas to the Angels, recognising that despite his skill he was not likely to ever break through fully in New York. As his first full rookie season with the Halos was coming towards its end, Thomas achieved arguably his finest moment as an Angels player. On September 5th 1961, versus the Kansas City Athletics, Thomas achieved nine hits for the Halos in eleven attempts, in the twin bill, equalling a Major League record. In doing so he slugged three home runs, including a grand slam, and drove in eight runners. Not only will Thomas remain forever in the Angels annals of history for hitting their first ever three home run game, he also is in the history books as being the man who hit the first ever Angels grand slam, versus Baltimore Orioles, on June 6th 1961.

Not only will Thomas remain forever in the Angels annals of history for hitting their first ever three home run game, he also is in the history books as being the man who hit the first ever Angels grand slam…

As his career as a player was coming to an end and petered out with pinch hitting roles on a part time basis, and a spell with Nankai Hawks in Japan, Thomas knew he wanted to remain in baseball but not particularly within management. Having spent years in a number of roles, including travelling secretary and bullpen coach, Thomas was given the opportunity to show what he could do by former Yankees teammate Whitey Herzog, who appointed him as director of minor league operations at the St. Louis Cardinals. Thomas went on to be widely recognised as a key member of the Cards operation during a remarkable period of success, when they won National League pennants in 1982, 1985 and 1987 alongside the World Series of 1982.

In June 1988 Thomas moved to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he secured the role of vice president for player personnel and was named general manager later that season. On his first day the organisation were last place in the National League East and had finished last in the league in hitting and pitching. Slowly he built up a roster, through shrewd trades and free agent signings, that as he told the Los Angeles Times at the time, reminded him of that 1961 Angels team. From rock bottom Thomas took the Phillies to the 1993 pennant and narrowly missing out on the World Series win, losing to the Toronto Blue Jays. For his efforts he was named Sporting News Executive of the Year.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

Ted ‘Big Klu’ Kluszewski

The left handed first baseman of Polish-American ancestry arrived in Los Angeles at the tail end of a career that had sparkled with regular National League All Star appearances.

Angels in the UK Editor Matt Thomas, writes on the illustrious heritage of our Angels.

Angels fans who are not familiar with the name can be forgiven for forgetting him, having played just one injury ridden season for the Halos, the man famous for his short sleeves and big arms is hardly an iconic Angels player. But that one season just happens to be the inaugural 1961 season, and ‘Big Klu’ will forever have his named etched into the annals of Halos history, being responsible for the organisation’s first hit. Kids of the era were said to struggle not just with spelling Kluszewski but also pronouncing it, and whilst some quarters found his short sleeves to be something of a vanity issue, the sight of his well developed arms makes the adopted moniker quite suitable.

Having cemented his place in Cincinnati Reds folklore, the left handed first baseman of Polish-American ancestry arrived in Los Angeles at the tail end of a career that had sparkled with regular National League All Star appearances. In the 1955 season Kluszewski hit 47 homers, striking out 40 times, an incredible feat as demonstrated by the fact that no player has hit 40 homers and struck out 40 or fewer times in one season since, though Barry Bonds came close in 2004. His superhuman strength was widely appreciated whilst at the peak of his powers and he hit .300 seven times while on the Reds roster, whilst also leading the National League first baseman in fielding percentage for five straight years.

Battling cleanup, Kluszewski belted over right field off Milt Pappas in the first innings, in the process becoming the first Angels to hit a home run and simultaneously the first player to hit a two run home run.

In 1958 Kluszewski was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, then again to the Chicago White Sox in 1959. As a native of Chicago the trade offered Kluszewski the chance to be a home town hero, as the White Sox faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. But ultimately, despite him hitting two homers and driving in five in an 11-0 demolition of the Dodgers, the White Sox fell short of the big time. Whilst with the White Sox, in 1959, the organisation pioneered the addition of player names on jerseys, leading to a comical array of mis-spelled jerseys for Kluszewski. As the first ever expansion draft of 1960 approached, Kluszewski’s contract was left unprotected and the Angels, taking note of his 1959 World Series performance, where he hit .391 with 3 HR and 10 RBI, selected him in the draft, despite his clear back injury issues.

On the 11th of April 1961 the Angels faced the Baltimore Orioles on Opening Day. Batting cleanup, Kluszewski belted over right field off Milt Pappas in the first innings, in the process becoming the first Angels to hit a home run and simultaneously the first player to hit a two run home run. In the second innings, now facing reliever John Papa, he repeated the feat, but this time becoming the first Angels player to hit a three run home run. The name that kids, and kit men, had struggled to get right his entire career was entered forever into Halos history. Tragically Big Klu passed away at just 63 years of age, in 1988. Ten years later the Reds retired his jersey number in honour of his service and achievements.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

The Fallen Angel, Eli Grba

Gene Autry, keen to add proven talent and well known prospects to his new franchise, took the recommendation of Yankees manager Casey Stengel. Grba fit the mould perfectly, becoming the Angels’ first choice in the draft.

Angels in the UK Editor Matt Thomas, writes on the illustrious heritage of our Angels.

Eli Grba isn’t exactly a name that slips off of the tongue but it is a name that forever will be remembered by Angels fans, as an answer to a trivia question, something which Grba himself found a great amusement. Not only was he the first Angels player selected in the very first expansion draft, prior to the inaugural Halos season in the American League, but on the 11th of April 1961 he also threw the first pitch for the Angels. In winning that Opening Day game, versus the Baltimore Orioles, Grba secured another first, then added another as he was also named in the starting line up of the first Angels home game. On many counts Grba will be forever remembered as the ‘original Angel’ and by his own admittance the ‘fallen Angel’.

As the 1960 season drew to an end and with the New York Yankees chasing down the Orioles to the American League title, Grba found himself named in the Yankees World Series roster and appeared be set for a breakthrough. It was something of a surprise then that the Yankees chose not to protect their young pitcher in the upcoming draft. Gene Autry, keen to add proven talent and well known prospects to his new franchise, took the recommendation of Yankees manager Casey Stengel. Grba fit the mould perfectly, becoming the Angels’ first choice in the draft. Halos manager, Bill Rigney, appeared to be getting the best out of his starlet, and the 1961 inaugural season ended with Grba throwing eight complete games, including the Opening Day win over the Orioles.

Grba was apoplectic, asking at the time; “how a guy can be good enough to pitch the opening game two years in a row and then isn’t even good enough to pitch in the bullpen?”

The journey to the major leagues had not been easy for the bespeckled pitcher, having had his progress halted by military service in 1957 and 1958, and his fresh start with the Angels should have been the launching point of a steady career. The 1961 season saw Grba go 11-13 with the Angels in 40 games, starting 30 and ended with a 4.25 ERA, his best season in the majors. On the field there were perhaps hints that not all was well with him, a public feud with future Hall of Famer and former Yankees teammate, Micky Mantle, made him the talk of the town. Pitching for the first time in an Angels uniform at Yankee Stadium, Grba screamed abuse at Mantle as he rounded the bases, from his mound. It was no surprise that he had not been keen to join the Yankees when traded away by the Chicago Red Sox, so no love was lost.

Despite being named starting pitcher in the Angels Opening Day rosters for both 1961 and 1962 Grba was proving to be inconsistent with form and was used increasingly as a reliever, until 1963, when he was sent down to the minor leagues. Grba was apoplectic, asking at the time; “how a guy can be good enough to pitch the opening game two years in a row and then isn’t even good enough to pitch in the bullpen?” Alcoholism was gripping Grba by 1963 and it never allowed him to recover to the major leagues, despite numerous attempts, including one with his beloved Chicago White Sox. His life became that of a journeyman ball player, who enhanced his earnings by doing odd jobs. Following a drunken fall, in 1981, Grba finally found the spark to get sober and stay sober, and eventually a route back into baseball as a profession.

In his later career a sober Grba held down a number of roles, including in the Philadelphia Phillies’ wider system, thanks to 1961 Angels teammate, Lee Thomas, then the Phillies’ general manager. He also spent time as pitching coach with the Vancouver Canadians [his Canadians baseball cards were something of a must have for me, with my family ties to Vancouver], of the Milwaukee Brewers organisation. Grba always took great pride in his status as an Angel and of his place in the franchise history, but his proudest moment was arguably his return to Angel Stadium in 2011, when threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the season in celebration of the Angels’ 50th anniversary. On this 60th anniversary of that first season we as Angels fans once again remember Grba, the man who had to lose it all to find it all. In 2016 he wrote about his battle for sobriety and baseball in his book “Baseball’s Fallen Angel,” a must read for Angels fans in the UK and Ireland. Grba passed away in January 2019, at the ripe old age of 84.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

Leon Wagner, the First Angels Slugger

On one occasion, whilst on the road, he was reportedly warned by a gun carrying opposition supporter not to catch the next ball hit in his direction. Out of understandable fear for his life he intentionally dropped that next catching opportunity.

Angels in the UK Editor Matt Thomas, writes on the illustrious heritage of our Angels.

In honour of black history month (incidentally celebrated in February in the United States, but not until October in the United Kingdom and many parts of Europe) it is quite understandable for people to remember and celebrate the superstars of baseball, such as Jackie Robinson. But it is equally important that we look back to players less well remembered, to give a nod to their legacy and achievements too. Way back in 1961 the newly established Angels put together a roster that included few non-white faces, amongst them was a left fielder known lovingly as ‘Daddy Wags’.

Leon Wagner was born in 1934 in Chattanooga, Tennessee and served with the U.S. Army at Fort Carson, Colorado, before going on to break into the big leagues, in 1958, with the San Fransisco Giants. To say his playing style was, let’s say interesting, would be an understatement and it is from his below waist level movements and gesticulations that his nickname was derived, given by the press. But Wagner had another moniker that belies a much more important attribute, that of his family heritage. Wagner was not solely African-American, but also half Native American, and this provided him with the pronounced cheek bones that brought the affectionate ‘Cheeky’ nickname. Sadly racism was an ever present ire for Wagner, despite his talent and being well regarded by the media and most fans. On one occasion, whilst on the road, he was reportedly warned by a gun carrying opposition supporter not to catch the next ball hit in his direction. Out of understandable fear for his life he intentionally dropped that next catching opportunity.

Across the board Wagner posted career highs and appeared in both of the All Star games for the season, going on to be the voted the most valuable player in the second All Star game, the first American League player to receive the All Star Game Most Valuable Player Award.

Wagner arrived at the Angels after the start of the season, from the St. Louis Cardinals, with the Halos trading away Lou Johnson. It was a genius move that provided him with the opportunity to finally establish himself as a regular, and he certainly made the most of it, playing in 133 games and finishing the season at .280, with 28 home runs, and a .517 slugging percentage. In the 1962 season he batted .268 and amassed an amazing 37 home runs, the third highest in the American League. Across the board Wagner posted career highs and appeared in both of the All Star games for the season, going on to be the voted the most valuable player in the second All Star game, the first American League player to receive the All Star Game Most Valuable Player Award. When it came around to the most valuable player voting, that autumn, he finished behind only Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson and Harmon Killebrew. In truth the slugging ability masked that Wagner was also very error prone defensively, otherwise he would almost certainly have been a household name to this day.

The Angels fans had found their first slugger. Sadly for Wagner and to the bewilderment of many Halos fans, the 1963 season saw him traded to the Cleveland Indians, a move which devastated him. He loved the Angels and had found a settled way of life, living in a community he enjoyed being part of, and was notably unsettled by the move. Wagner ended his Angels career with 91 home runs, with 276 RBI in 442 games and a .490 slugging percentage, one of multiple records that are still top ten Angels records. He went on to play for the Indians until 1968, continuing to hit a good numbers of homers each season. Ending his career as a respected pinch hitter. Following his retirement from baseball he went on to enjoy a spell as an actor, including alongside Hollywood legend James Earl Jones in The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars, which portrayed life, somewhat contentiously, in the Negro Leagues. During his career he also was a somewhat successful businessman for a while, playing on his likeable persona to operate a clothing store using the angle; ‘Get your glad rags from Daddy Wags’. Wagner passed away in 2004, aged just 69, in tragic and avoidable circumstances. We remember the first Angels slugger, a man who many friends and Angels team mates believe never recovered from a broken heart.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, your view on anything Angels or would like to write for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

Don Sutton Remembered

On a personal note; Sutton’s years with the Angels happen to have coincided with the period of time I fell in love with the Halos and his acquisition coincided with a successful run to the top of 1986 American League West standings.

Angels in the UK Editor Matt Thomas, writes a View Over the Pond.

Last week the baseball world lost another Hall of Famer, before their time. Don Sutton was revered by the baseball world for his prowess and skill on the field, and his reputation as a broadcaster off it. On a personal note; Sutton’s years with the Angels happen to have coincided with the period of time I fell in love with the Halos and his acquisition coincided with a successful run to the top of 1986 American League West standings. That very same season Sutton reached the immense milestone of 300 career wins, joining a special group of select baseball players to do so. Today he sits notably tied with Angels legend Nolan Ryan at 14th on the all time wins list.

Having firmly established himself as a Los Angeles Dodgers living legend, with many years in the famous blue and white uniform, Sutton had found himself traded to the Oakland A’s (via brief stops with the Houston Astros then Milwaukee Brewers) but longed to return Southern California, to be closer to his family. The Halos offered him an escape and in his first full season, 1986, Sutton finished with a 3.74 ERA, playing an integral part in the Angels reaching the postseason for the first time since 1982, with the team sadly missing out on a trip to the World Series, to the Boston Red Sox.

Sutton will always be a Dodgers hero, but I for one am an Angels fan who looks back on a childhood where players like Sutton made the MLB stand out for all the right reasons.

At 41 years old in that 1986 season, to me as a child, Sutton looked really old, which makes it all the more remarkable that he posted stats that players years his junior would have been happy with, though I was too young to appreciate such things really, at the time. Passing away last week at just 75 years old, to me as an adult, seems no age. Quite frankly, I wish I had the energy to play a ball game in the local park every weekend, at a similar age to Sutton was when he was still performing at a very high level, game after game.

Sutton was the epitome of endurance; in his fifteen year initial stint with the Dodgers he averaged 249 innings per season. That staying power meant that by the time Sutton retired from his second stint with the Dodgers he had secured and amazing 3,574 strikeouts, seventh on the all-time list. If such a glittering and enduring career on the mound was not enough evidence of his staying power, Sutton went on to become an Atlanta Braves broadcasting legend, giving 26 years of service to them with the microphone. Sutton will always be a Dodgers hero, but I for one am an Angels fan who looks back on a childhood where players like Sutton made the MLB stand out for all the right reasons.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

Mota’s Magical Memories – Guest’s Corner

One of the best memories for me in the playoffs was having my dad in the booth as a fan, cheering the Angels on, and to see how happy he was for Mike Scioscia.

In Guest’s Corner; Angels, Fox West and MLB Network broadcasting guru, José Mota, provides insight into his career, talks former Angels Hall of Fame hopefuls and gives tips to UK baseball players.

After starting my broadcast career for Fox Sports in 1997, I was thrilled when the Angels gave me the opportunity to become a Major League broadcaster in 2002. Regardless of my strong ties to the Dodgers, for which I am totally thankful, my ultimate goal was to become a broadcaster for a franchise, bottom line. I actually got my first ever chance to broadcast for a big league team with the Dodgers, as I sat in to replace a great mentor, Hall of Famer, Jaime Jarrin, on Dodgers Spanish radio. Jaime and his beautiful family took a long-awaited vacation one season and he and the team called me in to work with his great partner back then, Pepe Yñiguez. But the Angels truly opened a door that I feel so blessed to have walked into, considering the many platforms I’ve been exposed to, and they’ve given me the opportunity to broadcast to the Latinos and to the English-speaking fans. I absolutely love the Angels fan base, as they have welcomed me into their homes now for 19 years. You rock!

My dad [baseball legend Manny Mota] has always been very proud of how good the Dodgers teams were that he was an integral part of, and very thankful for the opportunities to be part of World Series winners; he knew what it took to build and to prepare a champion. As for me… Talk about timing… I was fortunate and blessed enough to join the Angels in Spanish radio to enjoy the magical ride in 2002; what a season! Along with myself, also joining were Terry Smith and Rory Markas (RIP) as the new English-radio team. It was so wonderful to join Iván Lara, my new broadcast partner, such a great organization and a wonderful team. I felt right at home immediately after being hired by the Disney group, as I had been friends with Tim Mead (then the VP Communications, current president of the Baseball HOF) one of the best ambassadors this game has ever had, and a team that was managed by another old friend in Mike Scioscia. I met Mike when I was 15, when he played Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic for Licey. Along with him, many of the team’s coaches I had also met as a youngster. My father was very influential in me understanding the ups and downs of a long, winding MLB season, as as he always says “don’t get too high or don’t get too low” as you ride the wave. He saw the talent of that team and he was very optimistic that with Scioscia, Bill Stoneman as the GM, the coaches, and the hunger, that the team was going to be capable of doing great things… and he was right. One of the best memories for me in the playoffs was having my dad in the booth as a fan, cheering the Angels on, and to see how happy he was for Mike Scioscia.

Believe in the dream and don’t let anyone or anything stop you from pursuing what you love and believe in. There is no substitute for diligent work, for applying yourself, for having a drive to succeed, and for the discipline needed to get there.

Talking of great teams and players from the Angel’s past, it would mean the world and more for a country like Venezuela to see another great player represent them in Cooperstown. For the beautiful people from that beloved Latin corner, I will hold on to the hope that Bobby Abreu will get votes to escalate in the near future. In a fair world, there’s no doubt he’d be in the Hall of Fame. Bobby was a dynamic player, with multiple tools, which he knew how to utilize to make himself a force to help his team accomplish success on the field. Plus Bobby has always been a first-class citizen and truly deserves it! Similarly, Torii Hunter, a great friend, as is Bobby, the numbers, longevity, leadership are all there to make it to Cooperstown. The question becomes which players he comes closer to in terms of comparisons. I’d love to see them both get in, as they are outstanding fellas, humble, and giving. Both have helped me become a better broadcaster.

If I could give any advice to young UK baseball players, and players across the Commonwealth who represent the Great Britain team and their nations, is to believe in the dream and don’t let anyone or anything stop you from pursuing what you love and believe in. There is no substitute for diligent work, for applying yourself, for having a drive to succeed, and for the discipline needed to get there. Practice, practice, and practice more. Use tools like social media, the internet, YouTube, and specialized platforms that can teach you the game from the basic fundamentals. Watch the great players, watch the average players and know that there’s something to be learned from those that play or have played at the highest level. Be patient as your skills develop, and know that in baseball there’s a lot of failure, which will eventually serve the young player to build perseverance and to always find ways to improve. Think LIMITLESS. 

If you would like to take over Guest’s Corner, with a contribution for our UK readers and fan club members to enjoy, please get in touch.

A Recent Convert

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no super fan, while he lives for the long nights I tend to fall asleep listening to the game for a bit, then ask him who won when I wake up, unless it is a really important game.

Angels in the UK member Stacy Siviter, writes a View Over the Pond.

Hands up, I am a recent convert to baseball, having really fallen down the rabbit hole in the past year or so. I think it is important to clarify from the start that I love many sports, having previously been a regular on weekends at Belle Vue, the home of the Wakefield Trinity rugby league club. Over the years i have been really lucky to travel all over the globe, enjoying attending major sporting events such as the Olympic Games, World Cup rugby and so on. Living with a partner who loves sport and who has been immersed in it both as a fan and a participant (at international level no less) means that sooner or later I ended up supporting teams that my partner does, in this case the Angels. But with baseball it has been a slow process, with my interest gradually getting stronger over the years.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no super fan, while he lives for the long nights I tend to fall asleep listening to the game for a bit, then ask who won when I wake up, unless it is a really important game, obviously. And i have found that recently I seem to be convincing myself that more and more games are important enough to miss sleep for, this is normal, right? I will admit right now I am always reluctant to head over to Anaheim whenever he brings conversation of our holidays around to attending a game, I’d much rather be laid on a beach somewhere, with a bit of peace and quiet. But slowly and surely I have learned who the players are, I even have a favourite, Albert Pujols. Whilst I am not huge on the statistics myself, I much prefer the occasion of the games rather than the statistics of the fixtures, I really can’t help but admire how baseball has so many female fans who are stats mad.

Whilst I am not huge on the statistics myself, I much prefer the occasion of the games rather than the statistics of the fixtures, I really can’t help but admire how baseball has so many female fans who are stats mad.

Over time I have found myself building up a wardrobe full of Angels jerseys, clothing and my beloved Angels college varsity style jacket, though i do try to get jerseys with Pujol’s name and number where I can. I know that some fans are really counting down the days until his contract ends, but I will be really quite sad to see him leave, and I am glad I have gotten to experience seeing such a brilliant talent in an Angels uniform. And talking of uniform, I do wish the Angels would revert back to blue and white, the red uniforms just don’t do it for me. I know what you’re thinking reading this, typical woman!

My other half is also a baseball card collector, this is a hobby I indulge him in and if I intercept the mail I will demand to open the packs, for me that is the best bit. Looking for Angels cards together has helped me to get to know players from the past and present and it reminds me of collecting football (soccer) stickers as a girl. I apologise to women everywhere for not offering technical information, statistics or other assorted hardcore facts as part of my ramblings on how I became a Halos fan, I know I am doing a lot of very dedicated ball fans a disservice here. With that in mind I will give a huge shout out to the girls of the ‘Birds With Balls’ podcast here, flying the flag for female baseball fanatics on our side of the pond. Give it a listen.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.