If you are trying to decide whether to root for the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Houston Astros based on Culver connections, you may have a tough time deciding. Both teams have been heavily influenced by Culver alumni.
The Dodgers would not be in Los Angeles if not for team owner and president Walter P. O’Malley ’22. O’Malley (above) made the move from Brooklyn to L.A. in 1957, which brought Major League Baseball to the west coast.
And the Houston Astros would not be playing in Minute Maid Park without Talbot Smith W’45, ’50, who served three stints in several capacities with the club, helping to design the park. In fact, the 30-degree hill that was in center field until this season was named Tal’s Hill in his honor.
Culver’s professional sports history officially begins with O’Malley in 1941. That is when he was appointed the attorney for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was a part-owner and general counsel when club president Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson in 1947. In October 1950, he became president and chief stockholder of the ball club, a position he held for 20 years.
O’Malley’s tenure included the 1953 “Boys of Summer”; hiring Walter Alston as manager in 1954; the controversial move from Brooklyn to L.A.; and naming Tommy Lasorda to replace Alston in 1977. Legendary broadcaster Vin Scully was also hired in 1950 and remained with the Dodgers through 2016.
On March 17, 1970, Peter O’Malley became club president and Walter became chairman of the board, a position he held until his death in 1979. The O’Malley family were still the owners when the Dodgers won their last World Series in 1988. The family sold the team in 1998.
Former Astros Director of Baseball Operations Talbot Smith joined the Astros when they were founded as the Colt .45s, following baseball executive Gabe Paul in a move to Houston from the Cincinnati Reds. Smith remained as the team’s farm system director, then assistant to the president. He was promoted to vice president, player personnel, after the 1965 season.
Smith stayed until 1973, when he became the executive vice president and head of baseball operations for the New York Yankees under the new ownership group led by George Steinbrenner ’48. After two-and-a-half years with the Yankees, Smith became the general manager of the Astros on Aug. 7, 1975. He was named team president in 1976. Under his direction, Houston went from last in the National League West to winning its first division title in 1980. He also brought Nolan Ryan to Houston in November, 1979.
After a change in ownership in 1980, he formed Tal Smith Enterprises to advise MLB clubs on how best to handle salary arbitration cases. In 1994, he returned to the Astros as president of the baseball operations, served as an interim GM, and assumed his previous position with the appointment of Ed Wade as GM by then-owner Drayton McLane, Jr. During that time, Smith helped McLane with the design of the Astros’ Minute Maid Park, which opened in 2000.
The Astros won the National League pennant in 2005, making their first appearance in the World Series. Smith served as president of baseball operations until after the 2011 season. The Astros were moved to the American League West in 2013.
Along with his work on Minute Maid Park, Smith is cited for his work on the design and construction of the Houston Astrodome in 1963, which included finding an alternate surface for the team to play on indoors – AstroTurf.
O’Malley and Smith were each recognized by The Sporting News as Executive of the Year. O’Malley received the award in 1955 and Smith in 1980. O’Malley was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Both are also members of the Culver Athletic Hall of Fame.