TRIVIA WINNER: Congrats to David Rolfes of Las Vegas, NV, who correctly identified George Culver as the Reds pitcher who tossed a no-hitter in 1968. The Prize: Starbucks Gift Card.
NEW TRIVIA CONTEST: By answering the TRIVIA QUESTION CORRECTLY you are automatically entered into a weekly drawing for a Starbucks Gift Card. YOU MUST ENTER VIA THE EMAIL AT THE END OF THIS COLUMN. Don't forget to put your mailing address in with the answer so if you win we can send you the gift card in the mail.
NEW TRIVIA QUESTION: It came in the 9th inning of the last game of the 1961 season. Who hit the final home run for the Los Angeles Angels?
ANSWER to the Trivia question in the previous column: George Culver was the Reds pitcher who tossed a no-hitter in 1968.
With a team full of everyone else's castoffs and few rookies, the 1961 Los Angeles Angels made their debut on their way to becoming one of the most successful expansion franchises in baseball history. With an impressive win in their very first game 7-2 over Baltimore, half the line-up would be out of baseball the next season or playing for different teams.
Eli Grba, the former Yankee got the call. His battery-mate was Del Rice who broke in, in 1945 with St. Louis and spent many years with the Braves. The most impressive player on the day along with Grba however, was the aging 36 year old Ted Kluszewski. The big former Reds slugger known for his sleeveless baseball card, homered in his very first Angel at bat with a man on in the first inning to give the Halos a 2-0 lead. He did it again in the third with two men on. Klu would go on to smash 13 more on the year. It was his final season in the big leagues.
Also impressive was Bob Cerv, another former Yankee who gave the Angels their very first back-to-back home runs following Kluszewski in the third. Outfielder Cerv would hit five more all season. The rest of the line-up on the first Angels Opening Day looked like this.
Eddie Yost at third, Ken Aspromonte at second, Fritz Brickell at short with an out field of Albie Pearson and Ken Hunt. Both Lou Johnson and Julio Becquer also played. Yost played his 18th and last season in 1962 with L-A, Aspromonte was waived in July and picked up by Cleveland, Brickell played only 21 games for the Angels and was out of baseball, Pearson became an Angel regular and led the AL in runs scored in 1962. He retired after the 1966 season, Hunt finished his career in 1964 with Washington, Johnson moved across town to the Dodgers and led them to the 1965 World Series where he hit two home runs and Becquer was sold to Philadelphia one month after his Angel debut.
Grba (11-13 in 1961), along with Big Klu, stole the show that opening day. Eli went the distance in pitching a six-hitter allowing the O's four walks while striking out five, in beating ace Milt Pappas. The 7-2 victory on April 11, would be the Angels last until April 28th as the Halos dropped eight in a row after the initial win.
The club would finish a respectable 70-91 in 8th place. However, Bill Rigney's club would storm ahead the following season. They finished 86-76 to finish in third place. Grba started Opening Day in 1962 and pitched well but got a no decision in a 2-1 loss to the White Sox.
The 1961 club was a power club. The top five smacked 118 homers between them with each eclipsing 20 homers. Hunt hit 25 and despite not being in the line-up on opening day Earl Averill hit 21, Steve Bilko hit 20, Lee Thomas had 24 and Leon "Daddy Wags" led the club with 28.