How the Angels were ripped off by Walter O’Malley

On this date, Gene Autry was awarded an American League franchise in Los Angeles. It would be the start of a four year strained relationship between Autry and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley.

O’Malley called Autry his friend invariably. But in the meantime he did everything to make the latter’s life impossible.

Walter O’Malley and Gene Autry

O’Malley didn’t want to share the LA market. He leaned on Commissioner Ford Frick, and the commissioner decreed that O’Malley deserved compensation for allowing a competing team into “his” territory. O’Malley came up with all kinds of ridiculous demands: indemnifications, the right to dictate the expansion team’s television policy and an agreement that the expansion team could not play at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the Dodgers were playing at the time. Hearing that, former slugger Hank Greenberg, who was trying to win a bid for the AL Los Angeles franchise, walked away. This caused a chaos in the American League’s expansion attempts. With a franchise already awarded to Washington, the league had to have a tenth club to balance the schedule, and time was slipping away. This is where Gene Autry entered the stage. As the American League appeared to become the laughingstock because of the looming failure of expansion, the MLB owners embraced Autry as their savior.

But O’Malley demanded a hefty price. The new team would have to pay him $350,000 for the right to play in the Los Angeles area. Instead of sharing the 90,000-seat LA Coliseum with the Dodgers, the American League club would play its first season in the city’s minor-league ballpark, Wrigley Field, with room for about 22,000. O’Malley knew that the new team would lose money. When Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, Autry would be O’Malley’s tenant in his new park at Chavez Ravine, paying a minimum $200,000 in rent, or 7.5 percent of gate receipts. O’Malley would keep all parking revenue and some of the take from concessions.

But that was not all. O’Malley charged his “friend” Autry the water use and toilet paper use of Dodger home games, all the darkened lightbulbs and all the landscaping even though the Angels only drew a fourth of what the Dodgers were drawing attendance-wise. O’Malley also let his “friend” Autry pay $ 300,000 for the naming rights as O’Malley still owned the Angels moniker, even though he had moved the PCL team to Spokane.

Former Angels catcher and manager Buck Rogers once stated that the relationship between the Dodgers and the Angels like master and servant. So it was time for the Angels to move out of Dodger Stadium. Eventually, it was Walt Disney who convinced Autry to move to the booming Anaheim Area. Autry knew it was time to hit the road and start to build an own fanbase and identity.

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