They might as well have called it basebrawl—Gilmore Field showcased fights disguised as baseball games between the Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars during two games in a three-day span in 1953.
On July 31st, the Stars defeated the Angels 2-1 when Frankie Kelleher, a journeyman minor leaguer who spent the last 10 years of his 18-year career with the Stars, knocked a pinch single in dramatic fashion fit for the other kind of stars in Hollywood—a bottom of the ninth hit that sent shortstop Don Dahlke home from second base for the game-winning RBI.
An inning prior, quicker than a Hollywood starlet wannabe could bat her eyelashes, Angels first baseman Fred Richards and Stars third baseman Gene Handley scuffled when the former slid into third on a triple. They were ejected, consequently.
Two days after the Richards-Handley bout, the Angels and the Stars split a doubleheader—in the sixth inning of the first game, two battles detonated that made the Dempsey-Tunney fight look like a squabble in a sandbox.
When Kelleher got into his batting stance, Angels pitcher Joe Hatten readied his array of pitches—he chose to drill one right into Kelleher’s back. Combat ensued. First, it was Kelleher punching Hatten. Then, it was Angels first baseman Fred Richards “jump[ing] Kelleher, who whirled and began battling him. By this time, the infield was a mass of uniformed brawlers,” wrote Al Wolf in the Los Angeles Times.
Before the inning ended, another brawl erupted when pinch runner Teddy Beard slid into third base and, for good measure, spiked Angels third baseman Murray Franklin in the arms and chest. Wolf described, “As they clawed in the dirt, the diamond again became a mob scene, with a half-dozen fights going on simultaneously.” Among the several players injured were Eddie Malone of the Stars (spiked leg) and Bud Hardin of the Angels (black eye).
Pacific Coast League President Pants Rowland took action against the players’ wallets:
- Frankie Kelleher (Stars): $100
- Gene Handley (Stars): $50
- Teddy Beard (Stars): $50
- Fred Richards (Angels): $50
- Murray Franklin (Angels): $50
“Fist fights don’t belong in baseball and any repetition not only will bring larger fines but suspension,” declared Rowland. “Fights can easily precipitate riots in which innocent persons may be injured.
The LAPD contained the violence, thanks to television. Chief of Police William Parker watched the game at home on KHJ, reportedly tuning in at the moment that Kelleher sought revenge on Hatten. Parker then phoned in an order for his minions to head to Gilmore Field.
Baseball historian Richard Beverage, founder of the Pacific Coast League Historical Society and a former president of the Society for American Baseball Research observed that the PCL endured a downswing in 1953. “The league decision to refuse optioned players from the major leagues was now in force, and the concern of all was centered on where to find players,” wrote Beverage in his 2011 book The Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League: A History, 1903-1957. “The consensus was that the clubs would have to expand their own scouting staffs to sign and develop their own talent, but this would bean an immediate decline in the quality of play. Those players obtained from the majors outright would undoubtedly be those who were no longer prospects or were now on the downside of their careers.”
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 20, 2017.