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When Babe Ruth Played Against Walter Johnson in Orange County on Halloween

When Babe Ruth Played Against Walter Johnson in Orange County on Halloween

Close up of the pitching grip of American baseball player Walter Johnson (1887-1946) of the Washington Senators, United States, circa 1925. As a right-handed pitcher, Johnson played for the Senators from 1907 to 1927, later serving as manager of the Senators from 1929 to 1932. (Paul Thompson/FPG/Archive Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

John Moorlach

John Moorlach

10/31/2023

Updated: 12/21/2023

Commentary
It’s the late fall and we’re in Major League Baseball World Series season, the 120th anniversary of the first World Series between the National and American Leagues in 1903.
The biggest part of the story is how baseball was an East Coast sport since its inception in 1846, four years before California would even become a state. The first two National League teams would not arrive in the Golden State for another 112 years, with the New York Giants going to San Francisco and the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1958.
Orange County would be the first to host an American League team, the Angels, which began as a Pacific Coast League team in Los Angeles. Orange Countians would finally start to enjoy professional ball games when Anaheim Stadium officially opened in 1966 as the Angels made their way south.
In 2002, the Angels would rock the house in game seven of the World Series, defeating the San Francisco Giants 4 to 1 at home in Angel Stadium—their only World Series championship win to date. I’m sure every fan was honking their car horns all the way back to their homes. As someone lucky enough to be at that game, I know I did as I drove down my street.
Orange County also produced a major league pitcher of significance in Walter Johnson. Born in 1887, he is noted for pitching a 15-inning game as a Fullerton Union High School student against Santa Ana High School, garnering 27 strikeouts. The young man from Brea would go on to set a major league record of 3,508 strikeouts that would hold for 55 years.
In 1924, Walter Johnson found himself in the World Series pitching for the Washington Senators. He lost two games. The drama is provided in the Ken Burns series, “Baseball – 4th Inning: A National Heirloom.” On Oct. 10, Johnson was brought in to close the seventh game. He would do it. But it would take until the 12th inning to beat the New York Giants 4 to 3.
Three weeks later, on Oct. 31, Walter Johnson would play an exhibition game with many major league baseball players. He found himself pitching against Babe Ruth in a ballpark called the Brea Bowl. The small city, the eighth to be incorporated inside the borders of Orange County, would host thousands of guests to view “The Big Game.”
New York Yankees power batter Babe Ruth is seen in 1923. (AP Photo)

New York Yankees power batter Babe Ruth is seen in 1923. (AP Photo)

Baseball stars pictured as they attended the dedication and their induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Front row; Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Cy Young; Rear row left to right; Hans Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, Napoleon Lajoie, George Sisler, and Walter Johnson. (AP Photo)

Baseball stars pictured as they attended the dedication and their induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Front row; Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Cy Young; Rear row left to right; Hans Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, Napoleon Lajoie, George Sisler, and Walter Johnson. (AP Photo)

Babe Ruth had just won the American League batting crown with a batting average of .378 that included 46 home runs and 121 runs batted in. He was a national treasure at the time, and it was a big deal for him to come to Brea. Remember, there were no major freeways then, not even transcontinental flights, making a long train ride and vehicle shuttle a requirement. The Santa Ana Register noted that the entire population of Orange County was between 91,000 and 96,000 at that time.
This ball game was a very big deal. Unfortunately for locals, Ruth hit two home runs against Johnson, and his team celebrated a massive victory. But regardless of the outcome, plan on making a pilgrimage to the Brea Museum and Historical Society as it celebrates the centennial of this historical event in 2024. You’ll love seeing the photos of that era.
It would take another 34 years before residents in and around the city of Brea would be able to observe a major league baseball game.
There is plenty of evidence to prove that Orange Countians love baseball. Ocean View Little League would win the Little League World Series in 2011, the only Orange County team to do so since this international event began in 1947. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics world series would begin in 1957, with Concordia University Irvine winning in 2011, also the only Orange County team to do so.
Since the early 1950s, Orange County Mustang, Colt, Bronco, PONY, and Palomino teams have won 18 World Series in these divisions since 1970 (1970, 1971, 1983, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2012, 2022, 2022, and 2023). Cities with winning teams include Anaheim, Buena Park, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Los Alamitos, Mission Viejo, Orange, Placentia, and Tustin.
The County’s community colleges also have an impressive history of winning the California Community College Athletic Association championships. Starting in 1956, Orange Coast College has won seven times (1956, 1960, 1980, 2009, 2014, 2015, and 2019); Cypress Community College five times (1991, 1994, 1997, 2003, and 2013); Rancho Santiago Community College three times (1993, 1995, and 1996); and Saddleback Community College won it once in 2004.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division One Baseball Tournament World Series began in 1947 and California State University Fullerton won it in 1979, 1984, 1995, and 2004, competing against 63 other colleges around the nation.
For others who also enjoy sports history, a new PBS program, “Orange County History Hunters,” an OC World Production will be featured on KLCS at 5:00 p.m. every Monday. Its pilot features a small portion of the subject of baseball in Orange County and provides the history provided in this piece and much more. It will air on Nov. 6 and be available on YouTube Nov. 7.
The show features Chris Epting and I as co-hosts, and we share little known baseball trivia that will make you want to take someone special out to a ball game when the 2024 season begins in the spring. So, buy some peanuts and Cracker Jack and enjoy the show.
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John Moorlach

John Moorlach

Author

John Moorlach is the director of the California Policy Center's Center for Public Accountability. He has served as a California State Senator and Orange County Supervisor and Treasurer-Tax Collector. In 1994, he predicted the County's bankruptcy and participated in restoring and reforming the sixth most populated county in the nation.

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