Long Beach is a city in which our wild hopes too frequently meet the same fate as a dinner plate at a Greek wedding.
An offshore international airport, a space-needle-y observation tower, Smithsonian West, a World’s Fair, Port Disney and DisneySea, a half-dozen Queen Mary do-overs. We’re hip deep in shards of shattered dreams.
The result of a lifetime of bitter disappointment precludes us from showing even an inkling of excitement over the prospect of Long Beach luring the Angels onto the correct side of the Orange Curtain to play in a dazzling waterfront stadium here in town.
The idea was analyzed in the Post by our sporting friends Mike Guardabascio and JJ Fiddler in a piece in which they kept admirable reins on any show of giddiness over the prospect of the Angels building a ballyard in Big Town. They are, like me and other right-thinking Angelenos, Dodger fans.
Guardabascio and Fiddler reached the guarded conclusion that the project, which would involve developing the 13-acre “Elephant Lot” on the waterfront behind the Long Beach Arena, is doable, but not overly likely.
The Elephant Lot, which traces its name back to the days when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus made annual excursions to Long Beach—in fact, the Greatest Show on Earth brought a three-night engagement to open the Arena in 1962.
That same year, the Angels moved from L.A.’s Wrigley Field to Dodger Stadium as a gaggle of second-class renters. To distance themselves from the name of the stadium, the Angels called the yard Chavez Ravine while they played there until 1965.
The Angels’ owner, Gene Autry, “the Singing Cowboy” who amassed great wealth by penning and singing the songs “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Here Comes Santa Claus,” knew from the start that there was no profit to be made by handing Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley an exorbitant rent check every season. So he set out to find a home field to buy for his club, and what better place than Long Beach, which still had a good amount of undeveloped land in the early 1960s. Club leadership was especially smitten with the area of what’s now El Dorado Regional Park, close to an array of freeways in Long Beach’s booming eastern section, which still held a whiff of bean fields and dairy land.
The Angels’ top brass—president Bob Reynolds, general manager Fred Haney, and business manager Cedric Tallis—scouted the city in 1963, and things seemed promising. Things always seem promising in the early stages of all Long Beach dreams.
Negotiations to bring the Angels to Long Beach exploded the following year, though, when Long Beach City Manager John Mansell, in the third year of the 15 in which he would lead the city, demanded that the name of the team be changed to the Long Beach Angels.
Autry would have none of it. He thought Long Beach sounded bush league and instead insisted the name be the Southern California Angels, to represent not only Los Angeles and Orange counties, but the growing Inland Empire as well. “That was unacceptable to us,” said Mansell (and the whole project, for that matter, was unacceptable to a group of citizens, led by future councilwoman Renee Simon, who protested the use of planned park land for the stadium).
And the rest, as they say, is Autry galloping off to Anaheim, a city that didn’t care what name he chose, at least for a few decades. Autry expanded his empire, at least in nomenclature, by calling his team the California Angels, a name that stuck for 31 years, until it was time for renovating the stadium, at which time Anaheim made the Mansellian demand that Anaheim be part of the Angels’ name and its stadium. That wasn’t the end of the Angels’ naming confusion, which peaked when they became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (and Grill).
And, if they make their humble return to Long Beach, as some hope, but none dare expect, you can bet the city this time will insist on Long Beach being part of the Angels’ name.
Unless that’s a deal-breaker.