Baseball in EArly Los Angeles


I’ve been doing a little reaserch into what people did for fun in the Los Angeles area during the 1920s and ’30s. And it seems that Angelinos were wild about baseball! Who knew?

From the early 1900s through the 1930s, Los Angeles had as many as 5 baseball fields operating simultaneously. Most hosted multiple teams from “Negro league,” “Mexican league,” Japanese-American, and all-white organizations, including the then-Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars. Baseball was a hot ticket starting in the early 1910s, and famous National League teams, like the Boston Red Sox, visited town to play against their Pacific League associates, as did traveling teams from various other leagues. Some of the fields came and went—one even changed location twice when the Vernon Tigers moved from Vernon to Venice and back again. And I mean they actually moved the whole stadium—but there was always someone playing ball somewhere.

If you were a baseball fan in that period, you could watch a live game any day of the year, at a selection of venues now-vanished, including Los Angeles’s Wrigley Field (owned and built by the same chewing-gum magnate who owned the Chicago Cubs), Washington Field, and White Sox Ball Park in what is now South Central LA, which promoted Winter League play among non-white leagues, and offered games “Saturday, Sunday, and Holidays.”

Baseball was so popular that visiting dignitaries and Hollywood celebrities would join the crowd to watch a game, rubbing shoulders with ordinary joes and janes at any ball park in town.

 

Black and white arieal photo of Washington Park baseball field circa 1924
(1924)- Aerial view of Washington Park, home of the Los Angeles Angels until 1926, when the team moved to Wrigley Field. Hill Street is visible parallel to 1st base line while Washington Blvd. is to the right. From 1903 through 1957, the Los Angeles Angels were one of the mainstays of the Pacific Coast League, winning the PCL pennant 12 times. The Angels, along with the Portland Beavers, Oakland Oaks, Sacramento Solons, San Francisco Seals, and Seattle Indians were charter members of the Pacific Coast League which was founded in 1903. Photo and information linked from WaterandPower.org
Black and White photo of wooden facade of old baseball field, circa1939. Foreground is cluttred with people, cars and vendor carts. The wall behind them reads
(ca. 1939) – View showing customers and vendors outside the White Sox Baseball Park in South Los Angeles. Sign on the stadium says “Winter League grand opening Oct. 9th.1939. Home of the Colored Elite Giants, White Sox Park.” Italian American brothers, John and Joe Pirrone, used their earnings from their wholesale fruit business to purchase the land to build White Sox Park in 1924. Joe Pirrone organized the California Winter League to lure Negro League teams to southern California to play against local semi-pro teams and minor league teams, including Japanese American and Mexican American teams. During the 1920s African Americans were barred from playing in Pacific Coast League parks including Wrigley Field and Gilmore Field in Los Angeles. According to William McNeil, “The California Winter League was apparently intended as a showcase for Negro league baseball. White Sox Park, which was strategically located in the predominantly black sections of the city, hosted the majority of league games.” Some of these teams included the Kansas City Royals and Monarchs, Philadelphia Giants, Detroit Giants and Nashville Royal Giants. There were also all-black teams from the sandlots of Los Angeles, such as the Royal Giants, Colored Giants, Monarchs, Stars and many others. White Sox Park was also the home of Mexican American baseball teams. Mexican American baseball teams and leagues dotted the southern California landscape “working to play, playing to work.” El Paso Shoe Store from San Gabriel fielded one of the strongest teams called, “Los Zapateros,” that played a majority of its games in White Sox Park. Hollywood celebrities, city political figures and the Mexican Consul attended games at White Sox Park. Information and photo linked from WaterandPower.org

*Author’s note: I was interested to see that in the photo of White Sox Park, the men in the foreground are a mix of white and non-white, though I only see one hat that might have been sheltering a woman. For more interesting photos of Baseball in Early LA, click on the photos or the links provided under the photos to go to the Water And Power Associates Baseball History page.

 

At the moment, I’m doing research into the progress of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic in the US, specifically in the Los Angeles California area, for background in a novel that’s set in the 1930s. If you were an adult in the 30s, you had probably lived through the infamous “Spanish” flu, And let me tell you, some of the details are tragic, strange, damned weird, and some of the suggested “cures” make our recent spate of whackdoodleness look quite ordinary (wearing red, slicing onions, breathing chlorine fumes, wearing a bag of camphor around your neck, taking five times the recommended dose of aspirin… just to name a few.)

The progress of the Autumn 1918 variant that was so lethal was first noted by the US Navy, specifically in Boston, August 29 1918, when three sailors from a ship newly-arrived from Europe were sent to sickbay with symptoms of influenza. By September 3, there were civilian cases in Boston and the surrounding area. Naval bases took strict quarantine measures quickly, but the horse had already fled the barn. According to the Schenectedy Digital History Archive’s series on how the epidemic effected that city (https://www.schenectadyhistory.org/health/morris/3.html):

The Navy tried vainly to stop the epidemic from depleting its ranks. After a successful quarantine of the Naval Training Station on Goat Island in San Francisco Bay, in which not one case of influenza was reported, Naval Surgeons could do nothing but shrug when men released from the confinement and given liberty in San Fransisco contracted the disease. Indeed, they could not keep the men confined forever. Overall, the Navy had reported 120,000 cases, nearly one fourth of its total strength, with 5,000 dead. (11)

The Army, with approximately ten times the manpower of the Navy, suffered over 25,000 deaths in the United States. (12) The epidemic peaked among Army personnel during the week of October 11, two weeks later than in Navy. This later peak is attributed to the inland location of most army bases. The mobilized Army also spread influenza more rapidly than it would have if America was at peace. Many outbreaks throughout the Mid-West and the South can be traced to troop movements between different camps.

What’s really striking to me is that the Navy’s fatality rate is so much higher than the Army’s. I know it doesn’t look it on casual glance, but note that the Army had “ten times the manpower of the Navy” so, if they’d had the same fatality rate, the numbers should have been more like 5,000 Navy and 50,000 Army, or 2,500 Navy to 25,000 Army. My conclusion is the necessary crew density of naval vessels lead to literally double the deaths. The Army spread it more, but the Navy had it worse.

And that brings me to Los Angeles, which didn’t have an Army base per se, but it did have a Navy yard and a Naval Reserve Station (the Los Angeles Harbor, as it was then known, is actually 18 miles away from downtown in San Pedro/Long Beach, but much of the story I’m working on takes place in and around those harbor towns and, due to the usual Los Angeles rigging, the harbor is attached to and part of the city by a long, narrow swath of land called the Downey Extension). And in spite of that, the infection and death rate in Los Angeles was lower than that in other towns with Navy bases (except for Seattle, which had the lowest fatality-rate of Navy towns, but that’s not part of this story).

Part of the explanation lies in the timing; as the epidemic swept on, it moved from East to West, and from Mid, to Southern, to Northern tier, like a bouncing ball, so L.A. got it late in game, when virulence was dropping (a bit.) And part of it is the fact that the Los Angeles metropolitan area was then, as it is now, very large, widespread, and full of pockets of extreme low-density. The topography breaks up livable areas, there was still a lot of agriculture taking up space, and Angelinos like to spread out, which probably contributed as much to the lower infection and fatality numbers as anything else did. Populations were lower then, sure, but the population of Los Angeles at the time was 570,000 people spread over 502 square miles , and that’s still a lot less dense than the 500,000 people packed into 46.9 square miles of San Francisco in 1918, which had a death rate almost 125% that of Los Angeles. But in spite of the Naval Ship Yard on San Pedro Bay, Los Angeles developed the epidemic late—the first cases being recorded at a Polytechnic High School in downtown on September 22 1918, almost a month after it was detected at the Boston naval base. (I can’t find any mention of where the students might have caught it.)

The Navy had already instituted quarantine measures on all bases, and officially closed the Naval Reserve Station in L.A. Harbor on September 28, and the Army quarantined the Arcadia Balloon School (yes, balloons) at the same time, although neither base had any recorded cases. (See The Influenza Archive’s page for Los Angeles: https://www.influenzaarchive.org/cities/city-losangeles.html).

The cities of Los Angeles, San Pedro, Long Beach, Pasadena, and others got together and set some guidelines on October 10, some of which were the sort of thing that you’d only need in Hollywood (no filming crowd or mob scenes, no spectators allowed onto film shoots, and especially no boxed lunches for said spectators), and the rest were pretty much what you’d expect. And even with various missteps, weirdness, human folly, and all the rest, the deadly 1918 wave of the epidemic was over by late January of 1919 and the Los Angeles area got off (relatively) lightly with a death toll of 2,713, or 494 per 100,000 population (per Los Angeles Times https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-03-16/los-angeles-spanish-flu-coronavirus).

And why do I care?

Well, the protagonist was thirteen during the epidemic, and his mother died in early 1919. While he’s convinced her death was suspicious, I began to wonder why no one else would have thought so, and how she came to be under a doctor’s care at the time—most illnesses and deaths, like most births, still happened at home, even among the wealthy. I hadn’t mentioned the epidemic in the current WoS (Work on Submission). Now that I’m starting on the second story, the fate of the protagonist’s mother is relevant, so I began to think “what if her death was attributed to the flu?” I’ve done a lot of reading in the past about the 1918 flu, but I’m having to go back and do some more, and more specific, reading about the epidemic in Los Angeles and Long Beach. On the one hand, I do love research and history. On the other… this is some depressing shit.

 

The 1918 Influenza epidemic lasted four months. It is the worst mass-death event in modern history.

I found it in a virtual drawer


I was going through a bunch of story files, looking for a prompt to get my brain back into writing-mode after a lot of revising, editing, and generally falling off the writer-horse, and I found this fragment, that I apparently started January 19, 2017, at 22:54:

My mother was murdered and my father disposed of the body, but that didn’t help him; he was convicted of it anyway and put in prison. But now there is a fingerprint—a bloody fingerprint—on the body of a homeless man, and the cops want me to provide a sample to see if the blood might be hers. The fingerprint is.

My life is upside down. After she vanished, I always believed she was dead, though it took a while to believe she was murdered and that my father did it. But the evidence piled up over years and… you know the rest. But a now a fingerprint. Now blood. My father isn’t a killer? After most of a lifetime of believing, it’s much harder to imagine that he didn’t kill her. It’s easier to think that the selfish, manipulative, evil man who’s lived in a nine-by-six cell since I was twenty did it, than to accept that maybe he was innocent and my mother just… abandoned us. Abandoned me with him. What sort of mother does that?

There’s a further note on the fragment that indicates I was thinking of using it as a part of Gattis File, Book 2, which was never completed once the publisher decided not to go ahead with more books. This fragment isn’t in the same style or genre (SF) as the Gattis materials, so I suspect it’s something I just typed up and then tried to find a place for, later. Maybe I’ll find something else for it to do….

 

Done-ish


I have finished the revision: 91,000 words of Paranormal Crime Noir set in 1934 Los Angeles. Now to read though it and send it on to my agent and Beta readers. Usually I feel relieved, tired, sad, and a little dissatisfied with my work at this stage. But I really like this one.

Now I worry that I have no taste, and it sucks. Writers…