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The last Kansas City Athletics game

Charlie O. skips town

Kansas City Royals v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The fans of the Kansas City Athletics had - what’s the right word? Endured? - a 13-year love/hate affair with their baseball team. To clarify, I think they loved the players, they just felt continually burned by the ownership. In the early years, fans poured into Municipal Stadium to witness Major League Baseball. As one year rolled to the next, it became obvious that the original Athletics owner, Arnold Johnson, had no intention of trying to build a winning team. The constant trading of the team’s best young players to the New York Yankees left the locals disillusioned.

In March of 1960, Johnson was felled by a cerebral hemorrhage during spring training. His widow was desperate to continue her life as a socialite and owning a baseball team in a small midwestern city didn’t fit that criteria. So, his estate sold the club to a Chicago businessman named Charlie O. Finley. Finley was a promoter extraordinaire and gave the locals renewed hope that one day, they might witness winning baseball in Kansas City.

Finley made an immediate splash by pointing a bus east (towards New York) and setting the vehicle on fire, proclaiming an end “to the special relationship with the Yankees”. Hard to imagine John Sherman being able to pull that stunt today without ending up in jail. Despite his meddling and abrasive personality, Finley made some changes that were good for the franchise (a commitment to beefing up the farm system and a series of excellent amateur drafts) as well as some changes that were strictly entertaining camp (a mule named “Charlie O”. The pennant porch. The bright uniforms. And who can forget Harvey, the baseball-delivering rabbit).

As the 1967 season drew to a close, fans of the Athletics had grown weary of Finley and his outrageous antics. The team had never enjoyed a winning record and Finley had made numerous overtures to move the team. Rumored stops included Seattle, Dallas, Atlanta, Milwaukee, New Orleans, San Diego, Louisville, Oakland and even a cow pasture outside of Peculiar, Missouri. In other words, just about every American city that did not have a baseball team. Finley was desperate to move. Finally, on September 14, Finley notified Kansas City city manager Carleton Sharpe that he did not intend to exercise his option to renew the lease on Municipal Stadium. Finley had engaged in negotiations with Seattle and Oakland, despite Kansas City voters overwhelming approval of a bond issue to build a new 45,000 seat baseball stadium with a unique “sliding roof”. When Finley uttered his famous oath, “Kansas City is a horseshit town. No one will ever do any good here”, the fans knew it was only a matter of time.

Unfortunately for the fans, Finley had accumulated a wealth of young talent that was soon to be leaving town. Currently on the major league roster were names like Bert Campaneris, Rick Monday, Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Catfish Hunter, Jim Nash, Chuck Dobson, and Blue Moon Odom. Percolating in the high minors were players like Rollie Fingers, Gene Tenace and two draft choices from the June 1967 amateur draft: Vida Blue and Darrel Evans. Of that group, Jackson, Fingers and Hunter would later be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, while Campaneris, Monday, Bando, Blue, Evans and Rudi would appear in a combined 23 All-Star games. It was a mind-blowing accumulation of young talent and it was a bad time for the Athletics to be leaving town.

So, it was against this backdrop that on Sunday October 1, 1967, the Athletics took the field for the final game of the 1967 season. The Athletics came into the game with a record of 61-99, while the Yankees stood at 71-90. Only 6,956 fans bothered to attend the afternoon game at Yankee Stadium.

Mel Stottlemyre took the mound for New York while 21-year-old Jim “Catfish” Hunter, already in his third complete season, took the hill for Kansas City. The Yanks pushed across an unearned run in the second, as Hunter gave up walks to Roy White and Frank Fernandez to lead off the inning. The Yankee duo then concocted a double steal and White scored the game’s first run when Athletics catcher Dave Duncan threw the ball into left field.

The Athletics drew even in the fourth when Ted Kubiak and Mike Hershberger collected singles and Rick Monday brought Kubiak home with a fly ball to center. The game remained knotted at one until the bottom of the seventh. Hunter caught too much of the plate and Frank Fernandez deposited the pitch deep into the left field bleachers to give New York the lead. The blow was Fernandez’s first and only home run of the 1967 season. Duncan made up for his throwing error by driving a Stottlemyre pitch into the right field stands leading off the eighth to draw the Athletics back into a tie.

In the bottom of the eighth, Hunter yielded a one out walk to Jerry Kenney before getting Tom Shopay on a pop up to first. With two outs, Hunter hung a curve and Yankee playboy Joe Pepitone got all of it, sending the pitch deep into the right field bleachers to put New York up by a score of 4-2.

The Athletics tried to mount a comeback in the ninth. Monday and Jim Gosger hit singles to start the inning. Yankee manager Ralph Houk, a World War II hero from Lawrence, Kansas, brought in Steve Hamilton, who got Ramon Webster on a groundout to second. That scored Monday, making it 4-to-3 New York. Tim Talton came on as a pinch hitter and the Yankees countered by bringing in Dooley Womack. Talton drew a walk to put the go-ahead run on base. Bert Campaneris, the American League steals leader, came on to run for Talton. Campaneris was really one of the underappreciated stars of Kansas City baseball history. In his four years in Kansas City, he led the American League in steals three times and in triples once, while drawing MVP votes in two seasons.

Kansas City Athletics Vs Boston Red Sox At Fenway Park
Bert Campaneris
Photo by Dan Goshtigian/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Womack bore down and got Duncan on strikes. Sal Bando then came on as a pinch hitter for Hunter. The game was only the 57th of Bando’s young career and he had not yet developed into the force he would become. From 1969 to 1976, Bando would make four All-Star teams, pick up MVP votes in seven seasons and serve as the de facto captain of the swashbuckling A’s. Womack retired Bando on a fly ball to right and with the out, the Athletics reign in Kansas City was over.

The game only took one hour and fifty-five minutes to complete. Hunter allowed just six hits, but two were home runs and that made the difference.

MLB Photos Archive
Jim “Catfish” Hunter
Photo by Louis Requena/MLB Photos

Barely a week later, Finley announced that he was moving the team to Oakland. On October 18, the American League owners voted to allow Finley to relocate his franchise. Missouri Senator Stuart Symington blasted Finley on the floor of the Senate, calling Oakland “the luckiest city since Hiroshima”. Political correctness was not a thing in 1967. Symington also fired a shot across the bow of Major League Baseball when he threatened to have the league’s anti-trust exemption revoked. Baseball commissioner Willian Eckert got the message and promised Kansas City and Seattle expansion franchises by the 1971 season. That was not good enough for Symington. You have to give Symington credit; he was a political hardass. To placate him, MLB bumped up the expansion dates to the 1969 season. Kansas City, with Municipal, was major league ready. Seattle was not. They hastily reworked Sicks Stadium, but the small venue affected profitability which resulted in the Pilots vacating Seattle after one season for the greener pastures of Milwaukee.

During their 13 seasons in Kansas City, the Athletics’ overall record was 829-1224 (.404). Their best season was the 74-86 mark they put up in 1966.

The losing didn’t carry over to Oakland. The young stars were maturing into a formidable team. They played to an 82-80 record in 1968, which was the first of nine consecutive winning seasons for the A’s. Included in that streak were five consecutive American League West championships (1972-75) and three consecutive World Series titles (1972-74). And despite the Royals ever improving fortunes in those years, many older Kansas City fans still held the belief that it was “our guys” winning those World Series titles for Oakland.

Of course, Oakland still had to deal with Finley and his ever-increasing erratic behavior, while the expansion Royals had a model ownership team in Ewing and Muriel Kauffman. Oakland began play in the new Oakland-Alameda Coliseum in 1968, while the baby Royals continued to play in aging Municipal Stadium until Royals Stadium was completed in 1973. As I write this in late 2020, both teams are still playing in those venues. The difference of course is that the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum is now a crumbling wreck of a building, while Royals Stadium (now Kauffman) has undergone a $250 million renovation and remains one of Major League baseball’s grandest palaces.

Time, as they say, heals all wounds. The Royals-Athletics rivalry burned hot in the 1970’s. Some of that was a carryover from the Chiefs-Raiders football rivalry, which is still burning hot today. Division realignment and interleague play has cooled off the baseball rivalry. All of the older stars are long retired. A few, like Hunter, are no longer living. When visiting Kansas City, I’ll often drive by 22nd and Brooklyn and reminisce about the old days. The Negro Leagues, the Athletics, the early Royals. The longest football game ever played. It was fun while it lasted.