There's no big mystery here. The '64 A's are consistently listed as one of the worst teams of all time. it's obvious now, but to a 9 year old kid whose whole world was baseball, 1964 looked like the year we were going to have a winner at last. Seroiusly. Why? Two words; Rocky Colavito. Here was a real All Star, a power hitter feared by pitchers throughout the league, and somehow Finley's crew had gotten him out of Detroit in exchange for a couple of middling to bad pitchers and Jerry Lumpe, a good MI.
With Colavito in RF and big Jim Gentile at 1B, the middle of the lineup looked like a real MLB team should. A young Dick Green took over for Lumpe at 2B, and Wayne Causey started nearly every game at SS. My hero, Ed Charles, was firmly ensconced at 3B. Unknown to me, the A's had acquired Nellie Matthews from the Cubs for Fred Norman, who would blossom as an effective starter years later. Matthews was handed CF, and he stunk; out of baseball by '66. LF was patrolled by Manny Jimenez, whose dazzling .301 BA in his rookie season still had me convinced he was good, George Alusik (10 HR's!), Jose Tartabull, and occasionally the 22 year old Ken Harrelson. Charlie Lau and Dave Duncan both spent some time behind the plate that year, but the non-descript Doc Edwards was there most of the time. To top it off, a 22 year old Cuban import named "Dagaberto" was on the bench, ready to push Causey for the starting job. To my 9 year old eyes, this was a team for the ages.
And the offense, for the most part, didn't disappoint. Colavito and Gentile had 34 and 28 HR's, respectively. Causey had his career year (.281/.377/.386), Charles banged out 16 HR's, and Dick Green, well, he was Dick Green. This was arguably Colavito's best year, with a career high 137 OPS+. What could possibly go wrong? Three things; pitching, pitching and pitching.
The inspiration for this post was this man.
He was a dependable, old-fashioned fireman who would later get a win in the '67 Series for Boston. In '64, he logged 128 innings, all aut of the pen. He gave up only 111 hits with a 1.273 WHIP and was selected to the All Star team. Looking at his stats, one thing jumped out at me; he surrendered 23 HR's! The most he ever surrendered in any other season was 12. Then I started examining the rest of the staff; virtually everyone on the staff gave up prodigious numbers of HR's: Orlando Pena- 40, Diego Segui- 30, John Donoghue-24, Moe Drabowsky-24. Even 19 year old Blue Moon Odom surrendered 5 in 17 innings, while Aurelio Monteagudo (who?) contributed 11 in 31.3 innings. A barely used Jack Aker allowed 6 in 16.3 innings and recorded 6 HBP's! All told, the staff surrendered a staggering 220 HR's while compiling an ERA of 4.71. This would be bad today; it was unspeakably atrocious in '64.
So the season itself was bad enough, but in the off season Charlie Finley cemented his place as the most hated owner in the league by allowing this beauty of a trade:
"January 20, 1965: Traded as part of a 3-team trade by the Kansas City Athletics to the Cleveland Indians. The Chicago White Sox sent Cam Carreon to the Cleveland Indians. The Chicago White Sox sent a player to be named later, Jim Landis, and Mike Hershberger to the Kansas City Athletics. The Cleveland Indians sent Tommy John, Tommie Agee, and Johnny Romano to the Chicago White Sox. The Chicago White Sox sent Fred Talbot (February 10, 1965) to the Kansas City Athletics to complete the trade."
This, of course, was how Colavito left KC. True, his numbers declined shortly thereafter, but Hershberger and Landis combined never produced as much offense as Colavito, and Talbot was a non-factor for his entire career. The A's "improved" from 57-105 to 59-103 in '65, but the OF of Landis, Hershberger and Tommie Reynolds may be the worst starting OF of all time.
Then, a few years later, names like Monday, Jackson, Bando, Rudi, Hunter, Dobson, Lindblad, etc. started showing up in the box scores. Success was imminent, and it soon happened; in Oakland. Finley finally sprouted horns and a tail, abandoning all pretense of humanity. Long before steroids and HGH, he robbed me of my childhood innicence, so please bear with me if I'm a little too cynical and prone to gallows humor where the current Royals are concerned; I was already crushed before most of you were born.