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That Time Jerry Brown Saved Don Felder’s Little League Park

Former Eagles guitarist asked the gov to save his kid’s ballpark in Malibu

By Ken Kurson, March 19, 2019 12:47 pm

Don Felder played guitar in the Eagles for 27 years. Governor Brown helped save his kid’s Little League field in Malibu.

Don Felder was The Eagles lead guitar player for almost all of that band’s jillion-selling existence. That’s him on the killer solo in “One of These Nights.” And even though he’s a native Floridian, anyone who’s lived in the state for nearly 50 years and co-wrote “Hotel California” can be properly considered a Californian.

Felder’s 27 years with the band and brutal firing are ably chronicled in his better-than-average rock memoir, Heaven and Hell. Because his canning was related to politics—Felder and the late Glenn Frey nearly came to blows on stage in 1980 when Felder was perceived to have insulted Sen. Alan Cranston’s wife at a benefit concert that Frey had arranged—it’s worth taking a closer look at another political episode from the history of “Fingers” Felder.

At the end of the 70s, Felder’s oldest kid Jesse was an avid Little Leaguer. The teams played in the park known as just south of Pepperdine University on the Pacific Coast Highway. The state had decided to transform that park into the Malibu Lagoon Bird Sanctuary. The posh parents of the Malibu Little League did what they do best – lawsuits and public relations.

According to the Malibu Times, the players “went downtown in their Little League uniforms and picketed-and the TV cameras got wonderful footage.” This pr stunt was undoubtedly informed by precisely the same maneuver being deployed in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, the 1977 film in which a California baseball team attracts sympathy by appearing on local tv in its uniform.

Jerry Brown was then in the first part of the second term of his first stint as governor. His girlfriend at the time was Linda Ronstadt. In the early 70s, her backing band included Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner, who went on to form the Eagles. Unsurprisingly, The Eagles included Brown among the politicians for whom they raised money with benefit concerts.

Meanwhile, the Little League still needed a place to play.

Malibu Times’ encyclopedic publisher Arnold York reported that Brown “sent his then chief of staff, a young man named Gray Davis, to Malibu to see if a settlement could be worked out.” Gray Davis would of course go on to become governor himself. But back then, according to the paper, he “sat down in the living room of the Little League president and they worked out a deal. The Little League agreed to leave the lagoon forthwith, and the ball fields would be moved to Bluffs Park. The state agreed to help build the fields. Everybody signed a settlement agreement, which a judge approved, and then the Legislature had to actually pass a special law to make it doable.”

According to Felder, however, it was Brown himself who intervened to save the diminutive ballplayers. Speaking of the governor, Felder writes “He came over to my house, and he was cool. He even helped me find a new site for the Malibu Little League team when their baseball field was being turned into the Malibu Lagoon Bird Sanctuary. … I called him up and he sponsored a bill that set aside Malibu Bluffs Park for the Little League players, which was neat.”

Trying to clarify the matter, California Globe has requested comment from Don Felder. He has a new album, American Rock n Roll, scheduled to drop on April 5. The Globe has also reached out to Jesse Felder, who would have been about six at the time. This story will be updated when they respond. In the meantime, you can enjoy the title track, which features the 71-year-old musician in a guitar duel with Slash and name-checks a ton of artists who influenced ol’ “Fingers” Felder.

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