The early years of the Los Angeles Angels were overshadowed by the glamorous and winning Dodgers. After an inaugural season at Wrigley Field (the previous home of the Pacific Coast League’s Angels), the “Halos” cemented their second fiddle status by becoming tenants at Dodger Stadium in 1962. Fortunately for the Angels, this was a temporary arrangement until the owner, Gene Autry, could secure financing for his own ballpark.
The Angels needed to create a fan base separate from the Dodgers to succeed. After futile efforts in LA and Long Beach, the “Singing Cowboy” lassoed the public funds he needed from the city of Anaheim. The new stadium was ready for opening day in 1966.
In anticipation of the pending move to Orange County, Autry made a “quick draw” and re-christened the Angels “California” on September 2, 1965. This rebranding necessitated, for the following April, new caps with an interlocking “CA” replacing the “LA.”
For their 1966 set, Topps (per their pattern) did not want to use the old Los Angeles uniforms/hats for the newly branded California Angels, which resulted in the usual assortment of bare head shots, airbrushed logos, upturned faces and “mug shot” profiles. Topps apparently didn’t send a photographer to Holtville or Palm Springs for 1966 spring training so there are no ’66 Angels’ cards with players wearing the “CA” cap, even in the last few series.
The first card for the new “Disneyland” entry is the 1966 Jim Fregosi, card #5 in Topps’ numerical sequence. Interestingly, Topps decided to use California for the ’65 statistical line, even though the club was Los Angeles for the first five months of the season.
Several of cards are interesting, despite their generic nature. I like the almost interchangeable profile shots of veterans Jimmy Piersall and “Little” Albie Pearson.
I could no more give up oxygen than to not mention that George Brunet and Merritt Ranew would become Seattle Pilots. Merritt strikes a classic, catchers pose in a Cubs uniform. Topps loved this flattering photo of George so much that they used it in ’65 and again in ’66. The head shot precludes any chance of determining whether he is wearing undershorts.
This photo of Jim McGlothlin — apparently taken at age 12 — on the Angels Rookie Stars card serves as a foreshadowing of the first true California card. But, the young collectors would have to wait until ’67 to purchase packs containing authentic California Angels.
Jim McGlothlin’s solo card (#19) in 1967 is the first authentic California Angels card. The promising young hurler is shown with a “CA” on his cap and Angels on his road uniform in a photo taken in Cleveland. By the way, in 1969 Jim was the Angels’ opening day starter versus the Seattle Pilots in their inaugural game.
In a final note, Gene Autry missed out on a great promotion by not signing Don Rudolph and having him “don” a red nose appliqué while pitching.
Though you may hope I’m ambushed along the way, I will be “back in the saddle again,” riding north on El Camino Real to Oakland. Once there, we will “flash back” to ’68-when Topps’ airbrush guys took full advantage of the available “performance enhancers” over in Haight-Ashbury to produce some “far out,” psychedelic A’s’ caps.