In the headline of his obituary, the Los Angeles Times called him the “Grandest Angel of Them All.” After a 35-year career in baseball that included 18 seasons in a Los Angeles Angels uniform, Arnold ‘Jigger’ Statz died at home in Corona Del Mar on March 16, 1988 at age 90. With Mike Trout not born for another three years, the headline was not hyperbole. To this day, Statz has the 4th most hits as a professional baseball player behind only Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, and Hank Aaron. Wondering why he isn’t as well known as these three Hall of Famers? 3,356 of his hits came as a member of the Angels back when they played in the Pacific Coast League.
Statz was born in Waukegan, Illinois and his family briefly lived in Alabama before moving to Massachusetts. Along the way he earned his nickname from his diminutive size and a mispronunciation of ‘chigger,’ the mite pest. The 5’7, 150 pound speedster achieved success on the diamond at Holy Cross and signed with the New York Giants after his sophomore year in 1919 and spent 8 seasons in the majors with the Giants (1919-20), Boston Red Sox (1920), Chicago Cubs (1922-25), and Brooklyn Robins (1927-28).
His best MLB season was with the Cubs in 1923 when he hit .319 with 209 hits, 10 home runs, and stole 29 bases, while playing a brilliant center field. In 1926, the Cubs sent him to the PCL and he hit .354 with 291 hits, 68 doubles, 18 triples, and scored 150 runs with an almost perfect fielding percentage of .997.
After playing for Brooklyn, he returned to LA for good in 1929. He starred as himself in the Paramount film ‘Fast Company’ and played for the Angels until 1942, turning down many opportunities to return to the major leagues to play for the Cubs. At the time, the Pacific Coast League was the only professional baseball on the West Coast so the quality of play and the salaries were similar to the major leagues.
“It was a warm climate, the intimate ballparks and the competitive salary that I liked about the Pacific Coast League,” he once explained during a magazine interview.
He would become a PCL legend, being voted to the All-Century team with Joe DiMaggio, and holding the league records for most games, singles, doubles, triples, runs, putouts, and assists.
While his 4,000+ hits left his mark on baseball history, he may have been an even better fielder. Hall of Famer Duke Snider whose career in New York overlapped with Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle called him “the greatest center fielder I ever saw.” Statz was known for his tremendous speed, positioning and that he cut out the palm of his glove to get a better feel for the ball.
He finished his career as a player-manager for the last three seasons before retiring in 1942. He would scout for the Cubs on the west coast for many years and also managed their farm team in Visalia for a couple seasons. A tremendous golfer who had won many amateur championships before, during and after his baseball career, he was known to golf with billionaire Howard Hughes, a 2 handicap golfer.
Statz would eventually retire to Leisure World in Laguna Hills in the 1970s and after his wife’s passing, he moved to Wavecrest in Corona Del Mar with family for his final years.