Somewhere in my skimpy collection of Star memorabilia is an 8 x 10 of a knuckleballer with the beguiling name of Kewpie Dick Barrett. What makes the picture so memorable is not the dimpled doll face perched atop his 45-year-old body. It is the short pants Kewpie Dick is wearing.
He was with Hollywood for only half of 1950, but he arrived just in time to take the mound with his knobby knees showing. The idea of putting the Stars in shorts originated with—wouldn't you know it?—a sportswriter. After seeing British soccer teams wearing shorts, Braven Dyer of the Los Angeles Times put the bug in Hollywood manager Fred Haney's ear. Flannel was baseball's fabric of choice back then, and in the summer it could turn a uniform into an oven. So Haney took a chance and sent his sheepish players onto the diamond with the breeze blowing up their britches.
"The nicest thing any of the other teams said to us was, 'Hello, sweetheart.' " former second baseman Gene Handley recalls.
Nobody rode the Stars with more delight than Oakland catcher Eddie Malone. "I called 'em a bunch of Boy Scouts," he says. A year later, however, Malone found himself playing for Hollywood. "The first time I walked in the clubhouse," he says, "the guys were all lined up, and there was Haney at the end of the line. He was holding a pair of them short pants. When he give 'em to me, he said, 'Now you're a member of the Scout troop.' "
As it turned out, Malone was more than happy to trade a few skinned knees for the drop in temperature when he played in shorts. Gilmore Field's female patrons certainly didn't mind the change in fashion, at least if you judged by the way they whistled at outfielder Clint Conatser. And Bill Veeck thought enough of the idea to borrow it in the late '70s, when he was making his last stand with the White Sox. But the Stars stayed with shorts for just three seasons before relegating them to the back of the closet.
If you want an epitaph for the experiment, Handley is happy to provide one: "Just another Hollywood stunt."
Carlos Bernier would be leading off first base and Gene Mauch would be scooping up a handful of dirt to throw in his face if he dared to try stealing second. You knew that Bernier would and that the hostilities would escalate from there, for these were the Stars and the Angels, two teams that couldn't play a weeklong series without spilling blood. Even their radio announcers, the Angels' Bob Kelley and the Stars' Mark Scott, hated each other. So it's no surprise to hear that Bill Sweeney, when he managed the Angels, once offered a cashmere suit to the first man to start a fight with the Stars. Sweeney withdrew the offer because the heat-seeking Mauch look four games to tangle with Bernier.
Maybe Mauch minded losing out on the suit then, but he doesn't anymore; indeed, he sounds like he got everything he wanted. "There was a high throw," he says, "and when I came down, I landed on Bernier. Just kind of walked all over him." The memory elicits a chuckle. "God, we had some fun back then."
If you measure fun in bruises and bloody noses, the Stars and the Angels may have had more of it than anybody. "Best rivalry I've ever seen, even better than the Dodgers and Giants," says Ben Wade, who formed his opinion while sandwiching a three-year stay in Brooklyn between two tours as a Star. Even when everybody knew the Dodgers would soon be moving to L.A. and there really wasn't anything left to fight for, you could still find Angel southpaw pitcher Tom Lasorda—yes, that Tom Lasorda—knocking down the Stars' Spook Jacobs and Jacobs bunting the next pitch up the first baseline so he could get a piece of Lasorda. The result was a donnybrook for old times' sake. "Spook wound up going around the whole infield, swinging at everything in a gray uniform," says former Hollywood publicist Irv Kaze. But the beauty of the craziness between the Angels and the Stars was that it wasn't confined to red-asses like Lasorda and Jacobs, Mauch and Bernier. It worked like a full moon on even the gentlest souls.
Take burly Frank Kelleher, nicknamed Mousey by his Hollywood teammates and, in Handley's estimation, "as good a fella as ever lived." He wasn't anymore of a brawler than Joe Hatten, the Angel lefthander who lived by his curveball, not his dukes. But after Kelleher got six straight hits against L.A. in '53, everybody in Gilmore Field's overflow crowd knew Hatten would have to forget his manners. He did it by burying a fastball in Kelleher's back.