Autry, the singing cowboy, nurtured Angels into winners
By CRAIG MUDER
November 11, 2009
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – He’s the only man with five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the man who brought “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to life.
But for millions of baseball fans, Gene Autry was an Angel.
|Gene Autry is one of 10 executives up for Hall of Fame election by the Veterans Committee. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)|
Autry, who owned the Los Angeles/California Angels from their birth in 1961 until his death in 1998, is one of 10 finalists on this year’s Veterans Committee executives/pioneers ballot at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Veterans Committee will vote on Dec. 6 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 7. The results of the Veterans Committee election for managers/umpires will also be announced on Dec. 7.
The 10 candidates on the executives/pioneers ballot are: Sam Breadon, John Fetzer, Bob Howsam, Ewing Kauffman, John McHale, Marvin Miller, Gabe Paul, Jacob Ruppert, Bill White and Autry. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010.
Born Sept. 29, 1907, near Tioga, Texas, Orvon Gene Autry became one of America’s brightest stars as a singing cowboy of the 1930s and 1940s. A chance encounter with entertainer Will Rogers in 1927 started him on his way, and by 1931 he had his first hit with “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine.”
Over the next 20 years, Autry recorded standards like “Back in the Saddle Again,” “Here Comes Santa Claus”, which he wrote, “Rudolph” – which has sold more than 10 million copies – and “Frosty the Snow Man.” He also appeared in almost 100 films – growing to become the No. 1 western star at the box office from 1937-43. He also served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, piloting men and freight between Burma and China.
By 1960, Autry’s financial empire allowed him to purchase a stake in the newly formed Los Angeles Angels, who would debut in the American League in 1961.
“When I first came out to California, I had a lot of friends in baseball,” Autry said. “I bought some stock in the old Hollywood Stars, in the Pacific Coast League. So when the American League decided to expand, we put in an application for the franchise in Los Angeles and got it.”
The rechristened California Angels moved Anaheim, Calif., in 1966 – four years after posting a surprising third-place finish (86-76) in their second season in 1962. But the Angels managed only three winning seasons in the next 15 years.
Then in 1979 – behind future Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Rod Carew and AL MVP Don Baylor – the Angels advanced to the postseason for the first time, where they fell to the Orioles in the ALCS.
The Angels won the AL West again in 1982 and 1986, only to lose each time in the ALCS. But Autry’s hands-on management style kept the team consistently competitive.
“I don’t live with the disappointments,” Autry said. “I try not to place blame or carry it with me.”
In 1982, the Angels retired No. 26 in honor of Autry – the team’s “26th man.” It remains one of only six numbers retired by the organization.
In 1995, Autry sold part of his stock in the Angels to the Walt Disney Co., and the following year he sold controlling interest to Disney – with his remaining stock to be transferred to Disney after his death.
Autry died Oct. 2, 1998, at the age of 91.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.