By Phil Ellenbecker
Hi, welcome to “The Swoonin’ A’s.” I’ve never tried to be a blogger before but I thought I’d try it by trotting out one of my favorite subjects — the hopelessly hapless Kansas City A’s, who spend 13 ignominous seasons at Municipal Stadium The Athletics’ finishes in those years in the American League, in order — sixth, eighth, seventh, seventh, seventh, seventh (consistency!), eighth, ninth, eighth, 10th, 10th, seventh and 10th (AL was eight team through 1960, 10 teams after that). Five last-place finishes, never better than .500, best record 73-39, .474 winning percentage in 1958, good for seventh place; most wins, 74 in 1’66, also good for seventh place, best finish for K.C. since the AL went to 10 teams and equivalent to its sixth in the first year in the city in ’55. Those were the best finishes for the A’s in their 13 years.
(The title for this blog comes from “The Swingin’ A’s,” the Athletics’ slogan during the late 1960s and early 1970s and which appeared on their team logo.)
For a truly informed opinion on the A’s in those years, find Bill James’ 1986 “Baseball Abstract” and read his essay on what it was like to be a fan of the A’s back then. An excerpt:
“Under current conditions it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for any baseball team to become as bad as the Kansas City Athletics were … Thirteen straight losing seasons … not many teams have ever had thirteen … even the Browns. Even the St. Louis Browns, the hapless Brownies … yes, even the Browns never had thirteen consecutive losing seasons.
“This one fact, however depressing, testifies only to the duration of the frustration; there was more to it than that. The A’s not only never had a winning record, they never came close to having a winning record. They were never in any danger of having a winning record.”
The most entertaining parts of James’ essay were about Charlie Finley and all the crazy ideas he brought aboard when he became the A’s owner in the 1960s. There were many, but my favorite was Finley’s effort to move the fences in at Municipal Stadium, because he figured the reason the Yankees won so many pennants was their short porch 296 feet, down the right-field line. The new right-field dimensions would be named “Pennant Porch.” When informed that current rules prevented him from moving in the fences closer than 325, Finley had a line painted in the outfield where he wanted to have the fences placed. Then he instructed the public address announcer to, whenever a ball was caught past the line, to say, “That would have been a home run in Yankee Stadium.”
When it became apparent that far more batted balls were flying beyond the pseudo fence line by opponents than Athletics, the order was withdrawn.
I came along too late as a Kansas City baseball fan for the A’s (I started with the Royals in 1969), but I developed an early interest in them when I discovered some 8×10 photos of A’s player that my brothers had collected on visits to A’s games when they were kids. (I can still recall some of them — Hector Lopez, Joe DeMaestri, Virgil Trucks, Ned Garver; wish I know what happened to them.) The fascination kept growing through the years.
What added to the fascination was how well the A’s did after they left Kansas City. Three straight world championships from 1972-74, and added success since then.
Along the way I’ve collected a few stories and box scores through the years, and now I’m attempting to put them together in a written fashion. I’ve tried to have fun with this, going beyond a straight-forward account to throw in some what I thought to be interesting sidenotes and trivia. In other words, I just wrote what I damned well pleased. Isn’t that what blogging’s all about?
This is by no means meant to be anywhere near a comprehensive look at the highs and lows of the Kansas City A’s from 1955-1967. It’s just some things I’ve come across. If anybody out there reads this and has anything to add — either story ideas or stories you have written — feel free to chip in.
Hope you enjoy and that this wasn’t a complete waste of time.
P.S. It’s just a coincidence, I believe, that each of these game accounts involve the Chicago White Sox, although the White Sox are one of my favorites teams besides the Royals. When the A’s and White Sox hooked up back then, wacky things seemed to happen.
Also, all of the detail in these accounts came from retrosheet.org and baseballreference.com, which I consider to be the greatest contributions ever to the internet.