Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Posted by on Oct 27th, 2011 and filed under Viewpoints. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Celeb Baseball Games Funded Two Strike Park

The Crescenta Valley, due to its proximity to Hollywood, had always had its share of famous film-star residents, but there was one that stood out. La Cañada resident Dennis Morgan was one of the top leading men of the ’40s and ’50s, and during the height of his fame he was actively involved in our community. So involved in fact that he was named the “mayor” of Crescenta-Cañada and had his hand in nearly every community function, including helping to start the still popular Montrose Christmas Parade.

His pet project, though, was creating a park for the hundreds of local “baby boom” kids that had nowhere to play other than in the increasingly busy streets of CV. A baseball fan, Morgan was taken with a slogan warning kids of the dangers of playing baseball in traffic, saying that “a kid playing ball in the street started with two strikes on him, and strike three would be getting hit by a car.” He decided to pay for a local park with money raised through celebrity baseball games, the “Two Strike Series.”

Morgan was an incredibly likable guy and had close friends both in Hollywood and in professional baseball, so he put out a call for volunteers. Both camps responded and a galaxy of movie stars and major league players lined up for a spot on the roster of the Two Strike Series, the games to be played at Brookside Park in Pasadena and Stengel Field in Glendale.

Here’s a sample of the movie and baseball stars that played during one of the games on Oct. 24, 1948:

On the movie team were names that are still familiar today – Dennis Morgan and his co-star in many films Jack Carson, Errol Flynn, Roy Rogers, Mickey Rooney, Oliver Hardy and Gene Kelly. Other names that were big in their time, but are lesser known today, were John Garfield (“Four Daughters”), Dane Clark (“Action in the North Atlantic”), Harry Von Zell (radio announcer – won lasting blooper fame for introducing the president as “Hoobert Heever”), Bill Goodwin (radio announcer –  “Burns and Allan Show”), William Bendix (limb amputated in “Lifeboat”), Peggy Ann Garner (“A Tree Grows In Brooklyn”), Lola Albright (TV’s “Peter Gunn”), John Carroll (infamous Hollywood playboy), Forrest Tucker (TV’s “F Troop”), Richard Arlen (“Wings”), John Archer (“Destination Moon”), George Mann (“Neptune’s Daughter”), Eddie Bracken (“Miracle of Morgan’s Creek”), William Frawley (Fred Mertz – “I Love Lucy”), Alan Hale (“Robin Hood”), Lloyd Bacon (director – “42nd Street”) and Dorothy Malone (Academy Award – “Written on the Wind”).

On the major league team were Bob Dillinger (Browns, Athletics, Pirates, White Sox), Vern Stephens (Red Sox Hall of Fame), Jimmy Dykes (White Sox), Babe Herman (Dodgers), Peanuts Lowery (Cubs, Reds, Cardinals), Lefty O’Doul (Yankees, Giants, Phillies, Dodgers), Al “Gorilla” Zarilla (Browns, Red Sox, White Sox), Red Adams (pitching coach – Dodgers) and Catfish Metkovich (Red Sox, Indians, White Sox, Pirates, Cubs, Braves), plus famous welterweight boxer Jimmy McLarnin.

The uniforms were loaned from the Warner Bros. prop department.

The tone of the game was to be light, and was billed as “comedy and straight” baseball. A pregame rally was held the Saturday night before the game in Montrose. The stars and professional ball players were paraded down Honolulu Avenue to a stage where music and comedy entertained the crowd.

A couple more of these celebrity ballgames were put on until enough money was raised to create Two Strike Park near the top of Rosemont Avenue, near where hundreds of new homes were being built for young families. The park was given to the community by Dennis Morgan who I think probably had a blast putting on those ballgames. That his name is nowhere on the park demonstrates the kind of guy he was. It was only a few years ago that a fan of Morgan’s movies placed a plaque at the park recognizing Morgan for his contribution.

Two Strike Park has an incredible story behind it and it really must have been an amazing time to live in CV!

Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. Reach him at lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

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