* Born in Chicago, IL USA * Died 1960 in West Palm Beach, FL USA Arnold Johnson purchased the Philadelphia Athletics from Connie Mack's family in 1954 and moved them to Kansas City the following season. Arnold and his brother, Earl Johnson, were co-owners of the A's from 1954 to 1961, when they sold the team to Charlie Finley.
Buying, and moving, the Philadelphia Athletics
In December 1953, Johnson entered baseball through a real estate transaction by purchasing the top two playing venues of the perennial champion New York Yankees — Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and Blues Stadium in Kansas City, home of the Yanks' top farm club, the Kansas City Blues. Concurrently, struggling major league baseball teams—especially "second" teams in two-team cities—were abandoning their old homes for greener pastures elsewhere. Spurred by Kansas City officials, Johnson decided to bring a major league team to town, and found a target in the Philadelphia Athletics.
The Athletics of Connie Mack had once been one of the pillars of the American League, with nine pennants and five World Series wins to their credit. But the team's chronic failures on the field since the early 1930s and its lack of resources undermined it. In the 1940s, two fatal blows were struck.
First, in 1942, the Phillies of the National League were bought by wealthy lumber baron William B. Cox. The Phillies had long been the definition of baseball futility (they had only one winning season from 1918 to 1948), in part because their owners either didn't or couldn't spend the money it took to build a winner. They had played at Shibe Park as tenants of the A's since 1938. When Cox bought the Phillies, he proceeded to spend lavishly on young players, while the A's had no farm system worth mentioning. Cox was forced out after only one year for betting on his own team, but ultimately sold the team to DuPont heir Bob Carpenter, Jr., who also spent lavishly on young prospects. Many of these young players helped the once-moribund Phillies win their second-ever National League pennant in 1950. For most of the first half of the 20th century, Philadelphia had been an "A's town," even though the A's had fielded teams as bad or worse than the Phillies for a decade. However, the Phillies soon began outdrawing the A's, and by the end of the 1940s had passed their landlords as Philadelphia's favorite baseball team.
Second, a power struggle between two branches of the Mack family—essentially, Roy and Earle, Mack's two sons from his first marriage, were ranged against Connie's second wife and their son from that union, Connie Jr.--resulted in a dangerous depletion of capital. Roy and Earle eventually won the struggle, but it came at a price. They mortgaged the team to Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (now part of CIGNA). However, as the A's languished at the bottom of the standings, attendance dwindled, depriving the team of badly needed revenue that could have serviced the debt. Connie Sr., 87, retired as manager in the autumn of 1950, reportedly under pressure from Roy and Earle. He remained team president, but when he disappeared from the scene, a lot of goodwill disappeared with him. By 1954, the last-place Athletics were gasping.
Controversial tenure in Kansas City
Wooing Roy and Earle Mack, who represented their father as majority owners, Johnson finally convinced them to sell their shares for $3.5 million, then withstood a furious, eleventh-hour "save the A's" campaign from Philadelphia officials that nearly swayed Connie Sr.'s support of the deal. When the 91-year-old patriarch approved the transaction, the A's moved to Kansas City. Amid concerns of a conflict of interest, Johnson sold Yankee Stadium back to the Yankees as a condition of allowing the A's purchase. City officials bought Blues Stadium from Johnson and renamed it Municipal Stadium, heavily renovating it to bring it to major league standards.
Johnson showed his true colors in the lease he signed with the city. It contained a three-year escape clause allowing the A's to break the lease if attendance dropped below one million. Rumors swirled that Johnson intended to keep the team in Kansas City for only a few years before moving it to Los Angeles. If that was the case, it became moot when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved there for the 1958 season.
The team drew 1,393,054 fans in its first year in Kansas City, 1955—the third-highest figure in baseball (behind only the Yankees and Milwaukee Braves). However, the novelty wore off quickly as loss piled upon loss during the A's 13-year stay in Kansas City. The A's would never even approach their 1955 attendance figures again. Worse, Johnson's former business ties to the Yankees resulted in a series of trades with the Bronx Bombers that helped keep the New York dynasty afloat. Invariably, any good young player was traded to the Yankees for aging veterans and cash. Over the years, Johnson would trade such key players as Roger Maris, Bobby Shantz, Héctor López, Clete Boyer, Art Ditmar and Ralph Terry to the Yankees. In return, he did receive some talented younger players such as Norm Siebern and Jerry Lumpe, and the cash helped the team pay the bills. However, with virtually no exceptions, the trades were heavily weighted in favor of the Yankees. This made any fans, reporters and even other teams think that Johnson ran the A's as a Yankee farm team at the major league level. Ironically, Kansas City had been home to the Yankees' top farm team before the A's came to town.
According to The Baseball Hall of Shame by Nash and Zullo, "Johnson had been wheeling and dealing with Yankee owners Del Webb and Dan Topping even before he bought the A's. Webb and Topping held a second mortgage of Johnson's totaling $2.9 million. ...and it was Webb's construction company that remodeled Kansas City's stadium to meet major league specifications." The authors commented, 'No wonder Johnson was a Yankee puppet.'
In March 1960, Johnson was returning from watching his Athletics in spring training when he was fatally stricken with a cerebral hemorrhage. He died in West Palm Beach, Florida, at the age of 53. Later that season, his estate would sell its controlling interest in the team to Charles O. Finley, who would put an end to the A's being effectively a "farm club" of the Yankees (who would fall into mediocrity once this talent well dried up), and would eventually move the A's to Oakland and assemble a dynasty there in the early 1970s.
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