Kansas City Athletics
Kansas City Athletics Logo
Kansas City Athletics
The franchise that would become the modern Athletics originated in 1901 as the new Philadelphia Athletics franchise in the American League. The franchise enjoyed tremendous success in its early years under Connie Mack but, after two decades of decline, left Philadelphia for Kansas City in 1955 and became the Kansas City Athletics. After 13 mostly uneventful seasons in the Midwest, the team moved to Oakland in 1968.
The Johnson era
From the start, it was clear that owner Arnold Johnson was motivated solely by profit, not because of any regard for the baseball fans of Kansas City. He had long been a business associate of Yankee owners Dan Topping, Larry MacPhail and Del Webb. He had bought Yankee Stadium in 1953, though the league owners forced Johnson to sell the property before acquiring the Athletics. He'd also bought Blues Stadium in Kansas City, home of the Yankees' top farm team, the Kansas City Blues of the American Association. After Johnson got permission to move the A's to Kansas City, he sold Blues Stadium to the city, which renamed it Kansas City Municipal Stadium and leased it back to Johnson. The lease gave Johnson a three-year escape clause if the team failed to draw one million or more customers per season. The subsequent lease signed in 1960 also contained an escape clause if the team failed to draw 850,000 per season.
Rumors abounded that Johnson's real motive was to operate the Athletics in Kansas City for a few years, then move the team to Los Angeles. Whatever Johnson's motives were, the issue soon became moot. The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season, thereby precluding any move there by the Athletics (although the Los Angeles Angels would begin play in the AL in 1961).
Whatever the concern about the move to Kansas City, fans turned out in record numbers for the era. In 1955, the new Kansas City Athletics drew 1,393,054 to Municipal Stadium, a club record easily surpassing the previous record of 945,076 in 1948 (To put this figure in perspective, in 1955 only the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Braves had higher home attendance than did the A's). What no one realized at the time was that number would never be approached again while the team was in Kansas City, and would remain the club record for attendance until 1982—the Athletics’ 15th season in Oakland.
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 led to accusations from fans, reporters and even other teams that Johnson ran the A's as a Yankee farm team at the major league level.
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.
The Finley era
On December 19, 1960, Charles "Charlie O." Finley purchased a controlling interest in the team from Johnson's estate after losing out to Johnson six years earlier in Philadelphia. He bought out the minority owners a year later. Finley promised the fans a new day. In a highly publicized move, he purchased a bus, pointed it in the direction of New York, and burned it to symbolize the end of the “special relationship” with the Yankees. He called another press conference to burn the existing lease at Municipal Stadium which included the despised "escape clause." He spent over $400,000 of his own money in stadium improvements (though in 1962 the city reimbursed $300,000 of this). He introduced new uniforms which had "Kansas City" on the road uniforms for the first time ever and an interlocking "KC" on the cap. This was the first time the franchise had acknowledged its home city on its uniforms. He announced, "My intentions are to keep the A's permanently in Kansas City and build a winning ball club. I have no intention of ever moving the franchise." The fans, in turn, regarded Finley as the savior of Major League Baseball in Kansas City.
Finley immediately hired Frank Lane, a veteran baseball man with a reputation as a prolific trader, as general manager. Lane began engineering trades with several other teams, including the Yankees, the bus-burning stunt notwithstanding. Lane lasted less than one year, being fired during the 1961 season. He was temporarily replaced by Pat Friday, whose sole qualification for the job was that he managed one of Finley's insurance offices. On paper, Friday remained general manager until 1965, when he was replaced by Hank Peters. After only a year, Peters was fired, and the team had no formal general manager until 1981. In fact, Friday and Peters were mere figureheads. With the firing of Lane in 1961, Finley effectively became a one-man band as owner, president and de facto general manager, and would remain so for the duration of his ownership.
Finley made further changes to the team’s uniforms. The Philadelphia Athletics wore blue and white or black and gray outfits through most of their history; in the last years in Philadelphia and the first in Kansas City, the team used a red, white and navy blue scheme. In 1963, Finley changed the team’s colors to “Kelly Green, Fort Knox Gold and Wedding Gown White” (which, although the kelly green was replaced by a darker, forest green shade in 1981, essentially remain the team colors today). In June 1963, Bill Bryson wrote of the uniforms,
Kelly green is the Athletics' accent color. It was more a nauseous green the players wore on their wholesome, clean-cut faces the first few times they had to appear in public looking like refugees from a softball league.
Finley replaced Mack's elephant with a Missouri mule—not just a cartoon logo, but a real mule, which he named after himself: “Charlie O, the Mule.” He also began phasing out the team name "Athletics" in favor of simply, "A's." Some of his other changes—for instance, his repeated attempts to mimic Yankee Stadium's famous right-field "home run porch"—were less successful. AL President Joe Cronin ordered Finley to remove the fence which duplicated the 296-foot right-field foul line in Yankee Stadium. Smarting from this draconian ukase, Finley had his PA announcer comment "That would have been a home run in Yankee Stadium" whenever a fly ball passed the limit in Municipal Stadium's outfield. That practice ended quickly, however, when it was apparent that other teams were hitting more "would-be" home runs than the A's.
While the A's were still dreadful in the first eight years of Finley's ownership, he began to lay the groundwork for a future contender. Finley poured resources into the minor league system for the first time in the history of the franchise. Mack never spent money on developing a farm system, which was a major reason his teams fell from contenders to cellar-dwellers so quickly. When Johnson bought the team in 1955, the A's had only three full-time scouts. While Johnson tried to make improvements, he wasn't willing to pay the bonuses necessary to get top talent.
However, Finley steadily built up the team's farm system until by 1966, it was one of the best in the majors. He was assisted by the creation of the baseball draft in 1965, which forced young prospects to sign with the team that drafted them—at the price offered by the team—if they wanted to play professional baseball. Thus, Finley was spared from having to compete with wealthier teams for top talent. The Athletics, owners of the worst record in the American League in 1964, had the first pick in the first draft, selecting Rick Monday on June 8, 1965.
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