Jack Nicklaus made his professional golf debut in 1962. Tennis star Rod Laver won all four of the Grand Slam titles. A musical group from Liverpool, England named the Beatles released their first single, “Love Me Do” and music would never be the same. The Cuban Missile crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. On May 19, Marilyn Monroe sang a sultry Happy Birthday Mr. President to John F. Kennedy. In August, she was found dead of an apparent drug overdose. Or of a homicide, depending on who you ask. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth and President Kennedy asked Congress for $531 million to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
What was Kansas City like in 1962? It was a lot smaller for one thing, with the metro population hovering just north of 600,000 people. The interstate Highway system was still in its infancy. I-70 and I-35 still bisected the city, but the southern Kansas suburbs were still separated from the metro area. The Kansas City Chiefs were still in Dallas, known as the Texans, but the city did have the Kansas City Steers, one of the best teams in the fledgling American Basketball League. The Steers, led by former University of Kansas star Bill Bridges, had the best record in the ABL’s two seasons of existence.
As for the Athletics, not much had changed since they arrived in 1955. By 1962, the team was on its fifth manager (in eight seasons). Attendance had dropped by over 50 percent since 1955. The team had put up 63, 52, 55, 73, 66, 58 and 61 wins in their first seven seasons with their highest finish being the sixth place they garnered in that 1955 campaign. The team’s roster was constantly in flux and poor personnel decisions had led them to trade away most of their best players. Many went to the Yankees, which helped foster a hatred of New York that lasted well into the Royals tenure.
In the off-season, the team made two good trades, both on December 15, 1961. With the first, they sent one-time prospect Lou Klimchock and Bob Shaw to the Milwaukee Braves for catcher Jose Azcue, Ed Charles and Manny Jimenez. Shaw was a loss. Klimchock never realized his potential. All three players acquired from the Braves played significant roles for the 1962 Athletics and Charles ended up being a steal. Charles, who had been blocked by Hall of Famer Eddie Matthews in Milwaukee, made his debut in 1962 as a 29-year-old rookie and over his six-year Athletic career, was worth 14.5 WAR and ended up being arguably the most valuable Athletic.
The second trade had the Athletics sending catcher Joe Pignatano to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for outfielder Jose Tartabull. Tartabull as you might have known, was the father of future Royal star Danny. Jose was not the slugger his son was. Jose stood 5’11 and tipped the scales at a svelte 165 pounds. He ended his nine-year career with exactly two home runs, both hit while a member of the Athletics. Jose was a decent platoon outfielder who occasionally hit for average.
The pre-season scoop on the Athletics went like this - the team had a fine young infield and that was about it. Their infield of Norm Siebern, Jerry Lumpe, Dick Howser and Wayne Causey had the highest combined batting average of any infield in major league baseball in 1961. The weak spots? Woeful lack of power (a league low of 90 home runs in 1961), no outfield and no pitching.
In 1961 the team wore a white pinstriped uniform at home with a large “A” on the left breast and a light grey with Kansas City written across the shirt on their road uniforms. The team wore a blue cap at home and on the road. The team made some slight adjustments to their jerseys in 1962, wearing a sleeveless, light grey shirt and matching pants on the road with Athletics in red block print across the front. The road uniform was worn with a red undershirt and red stirrups. The home uniform was identical with the exception that it was worn with a blue undershirt and blue stirrups. The team wore a blue hat with red bill at home and a white cap with red bill on the road. Both hats featured the interlocking KC logo.
In spring training, Tartabull and Jimenez played well enough to win spots on the roster. Also, on the roster was 26-year-old pitcher Dave Wickersham, who would end up pitching for the Royals in 1969. The pitching staff featured 23-year-old Norm Bass. Bass stood a stout 6’3 and 205 pounds and was athletic. His brother, Dick Bass, was an all-pro running back with the Los Angeles Rams for many years in the 1960’s. Bass had gone 11-11 for the 1961 Athletics and the team had high hopes for him.
For the Athletics though, pitching had always been their Achilles heel and 1962 was no different. Even though the team used 22 pitchers during the season, 85 percent of their innings went to a group of nine pitchers: Bass, Wickersham, Ed Rakow, Dan Pfister, Jerry Walker, Orlando Pena, John Wyatt, Bill Fischer and Diego Segui.
There were some interesting stories on that staff. Pena, who was acquired in an early August trade with the Milwaukee Braves, ended up going 6-4 with a 3.01 ERA in 13 appearances, giving hope that the Athletics had found a good, young arm. Pena would end up playing until 1975, enjoying an itinerant eight team, 14-year career.
The year also marked the debut for a 19-year-old lefty named Fred Norman, who would play until 1980 and enjoy some success with Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine of the mid-1970’s. Norman pitched well in two late season games, only allowing one run over four innings of work. On August 13, the team purchased reliever Moe Drabowsky from the Reds. Moe, one of baseball’s great characters, also played with the Royals in 1969-70.
The greatest story of the staff though, belonged to 35-year-old Granny Hamner. He wasn’t called Granny because of his age. His real name was Granville Hamner and by 1962 he was in the final year of an illustrious 17-year career. Hamner had made his debut way back on September 14, 1944 as a 17-year-old with the Philadelphia Phillies. The crazy part of his story is that Hamner spent most of his career as a shortstop and second baseman. He was described as “tough as nails” and was often noted to be the best clutch hitter in Phillies history. He hated the nickname Granny, preferring Gran instead. His personality was described as “mean, hot-tempered and plenty rough”.
Granny was a three time All-Star and picked up MVP votes in six different seasons as a position player. He led the National League in at-bats in 1949 with 662 and came to Kansas City with a .262 career batting average. It gets crazier. Hamner had split the 1959 season between Philadelphia and Cleveland, before being released by the Indians. He then spent the next three seasons in the minors, even dropping down to Class A Portsmouth in 1961 as a player/manager, trying to remake himself as a knuckleball pitcher. He went 5-4 with a 3.43 ERA for Portsmouth followed by a 10-4 mark in 1962 with Class A Binghamton. His 2.03 ERA at Binghamton, earned a call up to the Athletics in late July. Major league hitters did not treat the veteran well. He made three appearances, pitching a total of 4 innings, giving up 10 hits and 6 runs. Hamner retired from the game on August 8, 1962.
The season opened on April 10 and featured the Athletics hosting the Minnesota Twins. The Twins, in their second season in Minneapolis since moving from Washington, were starting to put together a formidable team. When they were the Washington Senators, they had been a bottom feeder, much like their brethren in Kansas City. The old saying went, “Washington: first in war, first in peace, last in the American League.” For the new, expansion Washington Senators, that still held true.
The Twins, however, were riding the considerable talents of a young Harmon Killebrew (48 home runs, 126 RBI) and Raytown native Bob Allison (29 home runs, 102 RBI) as well as stalwart pitching from Jim Kaat and Camilio Pascual to what would become a 91-71 second place finish in 1962. Naturally this begs the question as to how the Athletics ever let Allison leave the metro area? It wasn’t like Allison flew under the radar. He had been a standout outfielder and fullback for the University of Kansas baseball and football team for two seasons. He signed with Washington as a free agent in January of 1955 which I suppose explains most of it. At that time, the Athletics were just moving into Kansas City. The Philadelphia Athletics of Connie Mack had been near bankruptcy and followers of the Athletics don’t need to be reminded of how bereft of talent the major league team and the farm system was. In those days you had to spend money to sign talent. You had to have money to pay for scouts. The Athletics had neither money, or a strong scouting system and it crippled the team for many years.
For the opener though, the Athletics looked nothing like a last place team. Ed Rackow pitched a solid complete game, allowing seven hits, striking out four and only walking two. Rightfielder Gino Cimoli hit a sweet three run home run in the fourth to provide all the runs the team would need in a 4-2 victory. Cimoli had started his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. He played in the ’56 World Series for Brooklyn as well as the 1960 World Series as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Athletics had picked him up in the Rule 5 draft in November of 1961 from the Milwaukee Braves. The Braves were turning into a talent pipeline for the Athletics. Cimoli would go on to lead the American League with 15 triples in 1962. On opening day, the Athletics only collected five hits but made them count. 21,012 fans filed into the old ballpark to watch a game that lasted a crisp two hours, 15 minutes.
Kansas City couldn’t sustain the Opening Day momentum, losing their next three and finishing April with a 9-10 mark. In fact, they had a losing record every month of 1962 except for August, when they squeaked through at 16-15. They played decent at home, going 39-42, but only went 33-48 on the road to finish at a disappointing 72-90. They did play well against Washington, pistol whipping the hapless Senators by winning 15 of the 18 games the two teams played.
There were some notable games. On April 22, the Athletics played a twin-bill with the Chicago White Sox, winning the first game 7-1. That game marked the major league debut of a pitcher named Dave DeBusschere, who faced four batters. DeBusschere was only one of thirteen men to play both MLB and in the NBA. His baseball career lasted two seasons. His NBA career was much more substantial: two-time NBA Champion, eight-time NBA all-star and member of the NBA’s 50th anniversary All-time team. He also is a member of the college and professional basketball Hall of Fame, so you can see he made the right career choice.
Former Athletic Ray Herbert started that game for Chicago and the White Sox also gave former Indian great Herb Score two innings of relief. The Athletics captured a rare sweep that day, taking the second game by a score of 7-5 behind a five RBI game from Cimoli.
On April 27 in a game at Municipal, the Athletics pummeled the Baltimore Orioles 14-5. The Orioles featured a host of past and present Athletics and Royals, including Whitey Herzog, Jim Gentile, Charlie Lau, Jerry Adair, Russ Snyder and Ron Hansen. The Athletics delighted the home crowd by pounding out 18 hits off four Baltimore pitchers. Cimoli once again led the beatdown, going 5 for 5 with 11 total bases. Rakow scattered six hits over eight innings of work and Diego Segui worked a clean ninth to close out the victory.
Barely a week later, May 5, the Athletics opened a can of whoop ass on the Cleveland Indians, scorching five Indian pitchers for 21 hits in an enjoyable 18-6 win. Dick Howser had a great day, going 4-for-6 with four runs scored including a solo home run. Norm Sieburn went 5-for-6 with 5 runs scored. Manny Jimenez, Wayne Causey and pitcher Jerry Walker also hit home runs for Kansas City. In addition to hitting a home run, Walker picked up the win, improving to 4-1 on the young season. Walker, an Ada, Oklahoma product, hit four career home runs. Three of those came with the 1962 Athletics.
There were also some games that did not go the Athletics way. An August 26 game against the Twins, featured Bill Fischer for Kansas City and Jack Kralick for Minnesota. The game was a Sunday afternoon affair at old Metropolitan Stadium in front of 23,224 fans. Fischer was solid, allowing only eight hits and battling Kralick with a scoreless tie into the seventh before Minnesota used a one-out sacrifice fly to squeeze across one run. Kralick however was masterful, holding the Athletics hitless in the 1-0 Twins victory. The only blemish for Kralick was a one-out ninth inning walk to pinch hitter George Alusik. The no-no was the first and only thrown against the Athletics.
The 1962 team won 11 more games compared to the 1961 edition. Manager Hank Bauer seemed to be growing into the role of team leader. His coaching staff was stronger, featuring pitching coach Eddie Lopat. Lopat was known for his junk balls during his 12-year pitching career in which he won 166 games, primarily for the Yankees. He was a five-time World Series champ, so he knew how to win. Another coach on staff was Dario Lodigiani, who had spent three seasons playing for the Athletics in Philadelphia. Lodigiani was a childhood friend of Yankee great Joe DiMaggio.
Sieburn led the hitters in 1962 with an excellent .308/.412/.495 slash which included a team leading 25 home runs, 117 RBI, 110 walks and 114 runs. Sieburn also collected 185 hits (second on team to Lumpe’s 193) in what was truly one of the great offensive seasons in Kansas City baseball history. Sieburn was the only Athletic named to the All-Star team and finished seventh in the league MVP vote.
Ed Charles had an excellent year at .288/.356/.454 with 17 home runs and 74 RBI. Jerry Lumpe continued his strong performance with a .301/.341/.432 campaign which included 193 hits and a team leading 34 doubles as well as 10 home runs and 83 RBI, which were both career highs for him.
The team led the American League in triples and finished second in hits, stolen bases and team batting average. You could see signs that they were improving.
As for the pitchers, well….Rakow led the staff with 14 wins. He also led the staff with 17 losses. He threw a team high of 235 innings and led the staff with 159 strike outs. Such was the life of a Kansas City Athletics pitcher in those days.
Orlando Pena performed well in only 13 games, going 6-4 with a 3.01 ERA. Young Diego Segui got into 37 games and acquitted himself well, going 8-5 with a 3.86 ERA. Dave Wickersham appeared in 30 games and clocked in at 11 wins and 4 losses.
Overall, the staff was a dumpster fire. They were last in the league in ERA, runs allowed, earned runs, home runs allowed and walks. They were ranked ninth out of ten teams in wins and hits allowed. There was plenty of room for improvement.
The team made one significant signing during the year. On June 6, they signed 17-year-old free agent Tony LaRussa to a contract. LaRussa had grown up in Tampa, Florida and was a boyhood friend of future Royal star Lou Piniella. LaRussa didn’t have much of a playing career with Kansas City or any other team for that matter but think about this: starting with the 1956 signing of Tommy Lasorda, the Athletics had become an incubator for future managers. Not just run of the mill managers, but Hall of Fame quality managers. What caused that? From 1956 to 1962 they had on their roster Lasorda, Whitey Herzog, Dick Williams, Dick Howser and now Tony LaRussa. Howser is the only one of the group not enshrined in Cooperstown. All five of them led teams to World Series titles. I find that one of the more amazing things in the history of the Kansas City Athletics. Add Lou Piniella to the list (Sweet Lou played for the Royals from 1969 to 1973) and most likely will get the call from Cooperstown and you have an astounding collection of managerial talent. Must have been something in the water. Or the BBQ.
In the off-season, the Athletics also signed Dave Duncan, Paul Lindblad and Marcel Lachemann who would all play roles on future teams. After retiring as a player, Duncan gained renown as the pitching coach of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The team appeared to be heading in the right direction. They were getting younger and better. The oft-neglected farm system was slowly being rebuilt. Finley had dumped a considerable amount of money into Municipal Stadium. Despite things looking better, Finley was never satisfied. After the 1961 season, he was quoted as saying “Kansas City is a horse-shit town. No one will ever do any good here.” Following the 1962 season, Finley petitioned the American League for permission to move the team to the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. The move was voted down by other American League owners. For better or worse, Finley was stuck in Kansas City and Kansas City baseball fans were stuck with him.