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The 1967 Kansas City Athletics

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The last dance.

Oakland Athletics Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

As I write this, the country is going through the COVID-19 lock down. In 1606, when theaters were shut down from the bubonic plague, William Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Macbeth. When sheltering in place from the bubonic plague in 1665, Isaac Newton invented calculus and began working on his theories of gravity. Me? Aside from a normal workday and binge-watching Longmire, I’ve been churning out the year by year reports of the Kansas City Athletics. Hardly stuff that will be remembered in 400 years. If Shakespeare and Newton were the Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw of their day, I’d be some obscure middle infielder banging around rookie league ball.

1967 was the Summer of Love. Jimi Hendrix and the Doors released their debut albums, Otis Redding was killed in a plane crash and the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine hit newsstands. The Vietnam War was ramping up and the United States was consumed by anti-war protests and race riots. Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee perished when their Apollo capsule caught on fire on the launchpad. Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the Governor of California and McDonald's rolled out a new sandwich called the Big Mac.

In the sports world, the American Basketball Association was formed, and millions of young ball players fell in love with the red, white and blue ball and the three-point shot. The Green Bay Packers squeaked by the Dallas Cowboys in the Ice Bowl then went on to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the first Super Bowl. UCLA won the first of what would become seven consecutive NCAA basketball titles. In February, Muhammad Ali defended his heavyweight title against Ernie Terrell. Terrell made the mistake of calling Ali by his birth name of Cassius Clay. The enraged Ali pummeled Terrell, repeatedly shouting, “What’s my name!” Ali was later stripped of his World Heavyweight boxing title for refusing to be inducted into the United States Army. Ali famously said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong. No Vietcong ever called me N*****.” Jack Nicholas won the US Open and the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup.

In baseball, young superstar Tony Conigliaro was beaned by Jack Hamilton, nearly killing him. The Minnesota Twins held a one game lead with two games to play but lost both games, and the American League pennant, to the Boston Red Sox. The Sox had a magical summer, led by Triple Crown winner and American League MVP Carl “bleeping” Yastrzemski. Yaz put up a .326 season with 44 home runs and 121 RBI to lead the Sox to the World Series. The Red Sox were managed by former Kansas City Athletic Dick Williams. Waiting for them in the Series was Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals. Gibson won three games in the series as the Cardinals took the title in seven games. Tom Seaver announced his arrival by winning the National League Rookie of the Year.

For the Kansas City Athletics, 1967 was the end of the road. Owner Charlie O. Finley had been trying to move the franchise for several years. He had dalliances with Atlanta, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Seattle, Louisville and Peculiar, Missouri among others. The civic leaders of Kansas City, the fan base and other American League owners were weary of Finley’s antics. The team’s lease to Municipal Stadium would expire at the end of 1967 and most were resigned to the idea that Finley would finally move the team.

Oakland was the latest flavor of the month for Finley, but the city had no local television channel that could air games, which would deprive him of a major source of revenue. Oakland did, however, have the new Oakland-Alameda Coliseum nearing completion. Kansas City proposed a downtown multi-purposed domed stadium, but Finley rejected the idea because he did not want to share the facility with the Kansas City Chiefs. Instead, the city proposed a site in the Leeds district at the intersection of I-70 and I-435. In June of 1967, Jackson county voters approved a $102 million bond measure to build a baseball and football stadium on the site in what would be known as the Truman Sports Complex.

In the off-season, the team lost several earlier contributors in the Rule 5 draft: Bill Landis, Tommie Reynolds, Manny Jimenez and Rick Joseph. The fact that they lost these guys, three of whom were starters not long before, to no ill effect on their team, just show how much their talent level had improved.

In spring training, manager Alvin Dark was raving about the young guys. “I’m just tickled to death. I’ve got the greatest bunch of boys I’ve ever had. I didn’t realize there were this many good kids left in the whole world.” Finally, the Athletics had a core group of “good, young kids” who would not be shipped to the Yankees on the baseball version of the underground railroad. The advent of the amateur draft and the Athletics good fortune to make excellent draft choices, had restocked the big club and the farm with an abundance of talent. Many sportswriters and scouts predicted that the Athletics could score an upper division finish in 1967 and some boldly thought a pennant may be only two years away.

In March, the Athletics got their first Sports Illustrated cover, a colorful montage of 22-year-old Jim Nash, who went 12 and 1 in 1966. In camp, Dark had an astounding collection of 15 pitchers whose average age was 21.8 years.

Charlie O. Finley had been unusually quiet most of the spring. His only announcements were that the team would wear gold batting helmets and become the first team in the majors to wear white shoes. Said Finley, “the shoes will be made from the rare albino Kangaroo. They will have Kelly green laces to give them an even more colorful look.” Evidently, people of the world at that time thought nothing of slaughtering rare albino kangaroos to make baseball cleats.

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

Many scouts thought the key player for the Athletics was 26-year-old catcher Phil Roof, who came over from Cleveland in a December 1965 trade that also returned Joe Rudi to the Athletics. Roof had been stuck behind Joe Torre in Milwaukee and never got much of a chance. Roof was considered a good handler of pitchers. Never much of a hitter, 43 career home runs and a lifetime batting average of .215, he nonetheless carved out a 15-year career with his game calling skills.

First base would be manned by Ramon Webster. John Donaldson and Dick Green would split duties at second base. Bert Campaneris was the shortstop and third would be manned by a platoon of Ed Charles and Danny Cater. Cater had been acquired from the White Sox in a May 1966 trade for Wayne Causey and had hit .278 in 1966, which was fifth best in the American League. The outfield would be manned by Rick Monday, Jim Gosger, Mike Hershberger, Joe Nossek and Roger Repoz.

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

The season opened at home on April 11. Almost 21,000 fans came out that evening to watch Jim Nash and Jack Aker outduel Sudden Sam McDowell and the Cleveland Indians by a score of 4 to 3. This was the first of a five game home stand, which saw the Athletics emerge with a 3-2 record. The team then embarked on a ten game road trip, which didn’t go well. They only won three of the ten and came back to Kansas City on May 2 with a 6 and 9 mark.

On May 10 they made a controversial trade that sent longtime mainstay Ed Charles to the New York Mets in exchange for outfielder Larry Elliot. Elliot had played in 157 games over parts of four seasons, but never appeared in another big-league game. Evidently Nolan Ryan wasn’t available. The Athletics did have Sal Bando waiting in the wings, but he wasn’t quite ready yet. Charles, meanwhile, had three more productive seasons with the Mets before retiring after their 1969 World Series winning season. That was a nice ending for a class act.

On May 16, the team released pitcher Wes Stock, who immediately joined the coaching staff as a pitching coach. June brought a flurry of activity. The third installment of the amateur draft was held on June 6th. The Yankees held the first pick and selected high school first baseman Ron Bloomberg. John Mayberry went to Houston with the sixth pick. Kansas City held the seventh pick and whiffed big time, taking Santee, California high school pitcher Brian Bickerton, who never reached the majors. Future Royal Wayne Simpson went to Cincinnati with pick #8. Kansas City hit it out of the park with the second-round pick, nabbing a Louisiana high school pitcher named Vida Blue. In the seventh round, they scored again with Darrell Evans and in the eleventh picked up third baseman Eric Soderholm, who did not sign. The 1967 draft produced some significant talent with players such as Jon Matlack, Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, Dave Kingman, Jerry Ruess, Don Baylor, Ralph Garr, Richie Zisk, Davey Lopes and Dusty Baker coming out of this class.

In three short seasons, the Athletics had used the draft to completely re-tool their system, nabbing Rick Monday, Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, Reggie Jackson and Vida Blue. Those five players alone accounted for 261 WAR over their careers. Add in amateur free agent signings such as Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter and Joe Rudi and well, you could see that contention was coming.

On June 9, Kansas City got sellers remorse and purchased Ken Harrelson back from the Washington Senators. The Hawk had gotten off to a slow start for Washington, hitting only .203 in just 26 games. Back in Kansas City, Harrelson caught fire and slashed .305/.361/.471 in 61 games before talking his way out of town. Harrelson and Finley had a very public spat all summer with the key blow from Harrelson, when he said, “Finley is a menace to baseball.” That pearl earned him his outright release on August 25. He was quickly scooped up by the Boston Red Sox and played a key role in their stretch run to the 1967 pennant. In 1968 he naturally blew up and had a career year, slashing .275/.356/.518 with 35 home runs and a league leading 109 RBI and a third-place finish in the American League MVP voting. That seemed to be how it worked with the Kansas City Athletics.

After defeating Washington on August 19, Finley made another change, firing Manager Alvin Dark and replacing him with coach Luke Appling. The team was sitting at 52-69 at the time. Appling became the ninth and final manager of the Kansas City Athletics. The change didn’t do much good as the Athletics went 10-30 under Appling to close out the year.

On the field, the Athletics went through what might best be described as a sophomore slump. Their young pitching staff took a serious step back. They got 134 starts and 943 innings from Catfish Hunter, Jim Nash, Chuck Dobson, Blue Moon Odom and Lew Krausse, but they had a combined won-loss record of just 45-69. Hunter led the team with a 2.81 ERA. The A’s pitching staff finished dead last in the American League in wins (62), losses (99), ERA (3.68) and runs (660).

MLB Photos Archive
A young Catfish Hunter
Photo by Louis Requena/MLB Photos

The batters were almost equally inept, finishing near the bottom of the league in runs scored, hits, walks and batting average. Bert Campaneris was their most valuable offensive force, slashing .248/.297/.331 while leading the American League in stolen bases with 55. Ken Harrelson, in his abbreviated stint, had the highest batting average at .305 while Rick Monday led the team in home runs and RBI with 14 and 58.

The team went 37-44 at home and 25-55 on the road to finish at a disappointing 62-99. They didn’t have a single winning month in 1967 and only played .500 ball against one opponent, winning 10 of 18 from the Chicago White Sox. Like any season, there were some highlights. Despite only posting a record of 13-17, Catfish Hunter was developing into one of the best pitchers in the American League. For starters, he was in his third season and still only 21 years of age. His ERA of 2.81 ranked just outside of the top ten in the league (Luis Tiant of Cleveland was tenth at 2.74). Granted, 1967 was a prelude to the Year of the Pitcher, but there were signs that Hunter was one the verge of greatness. During the season he threw three complete game three-hitters, only giving up two runs in those 27 innings of work. He made his second All-Star game, where he threw five innings of for-hit relief in a game that went 15 innings. Unfortunately, the third of those four hits were a solo home run off the bat of Tony Perez in the top of the fifteenth inning, which ultimately gave the National League a 2-1 victory.

Jim Nash, who was brilliant in his 1966 debut, struggled to a 12-17 mark. His ERA was a respectable 3.76 and he had some moments. On May 12, he twirled a two-hitter against the Minnesota Twins. On July 23, he tossed a brilliant three-hitter against the Chicago White Sox in a Sunday afternoon game at Municipal with 22, 174 in attendance. Nash’s undoing was allowing back to back hits leading off the second, a double by Jim King and a single by Ron Hansen, which plated the only run of the afternoon. Nash didn’t allow another hit until Pete Ward nicked him for a single leading off the White Sox ninth. Unfortunately, his teammates couldn’t put anything together against Gary Peters and Hoyt Wilhelm. The White Sox duo scattered six Athletic hits and didn’t allow a single base runner to get to third, as the A’s went down by a score of 1-0. 1966 ended up being the high point of Nash’s career. Arm problems sapped his immense potential and limited him to 201 career games. He called it quits after being released by the Phillies in March of 1973 with a career record of 68-64.

There were a couple of long home runs hit in Municipal that summer. Orioles first baseman Boog Powell, who was a fearsome slugger for the better part of the ‘60’s and 70’s, hit one onto Brooklyn Avenue in a June 15 game off Jim Nash. Norm Cash also hit one onto Brooklyn, though I couldn’t find the exact date. Cash hit two in Kansas City that summer, the first on June 6 off Lew Krausse. The second came on August 26 against Catfish Hunter. Maybe one of our readers can help solve that mystery?

The biggest news of the summer was the debut of some highly touted rookies. Ted Kubiak, signed as a free agent after the 1961 season, made his debut on April 14 against the Orioles. Kubiak went on to have a ten-year career for five teams in which he collected 565 hits.

Catcher Dave Duncan made his return to the big leagues in 1967. Duncan had appeared in 25 games during the 1964 season, as an 18-year-old. He was vastly over-matched, as most 18-year olds would be, but he did collect 9 hits in 53 at bats, including a home run, the first of his career, off Juan Pizarro of the White Sox. After spending two seasons in the minors, he came back to appear in 34 games. He still was over-matched at the plate, only hitting .188. Duncan later went on to renown as a pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Joe Rudi, signed by Kansas City as an amateur free agent, lost to Cleveland in the first-year player draft, then re-acquired from the Tribe, made his debut on April 11 as a 20-year-old outfielder. Rudi made a quick trip through the Athletics minor league system with brief stops in Daytona Beach, Wytheville and Modesto before making the big-league team out of spring training. He had a 19-game cup of coffee in 1967 and even collected his first major league hit in the third inning of his debut game against Sudden Sam McDowell. I always thought that Rudi was one of the most undervalued members of the 1970’s Oakland powerhouse teams even though he only accumulated 26 WAR over his 16-year career. He ended his career with three All-Star appearances, three Gold Gloves and picked up MVP votes in four seasons. He finished second in the MVP vote in both 1972 and 1974. The Athletics won three World Series titles with Rudi patrolling left field.

One reason why Rudi may have been overlooked and underappreciated was because of the guy who played right field during those years. That’s correct. Reginald Martinez Jackson, one of the elite few who can be identified by his first name - Reggie. Jackson made very brief work of the A’s minor league system: 34 games in the Instructional League and 68 more games in A-ball, all in 1966. After fulfilling a military commitment, he started the 1967 season in AA Birmingham, but with the big-league club struggling, he was called up and made his debut on June 9 against Cleveland. He went hit less in that first game, a doubleheader, but in the nightcap picked up his first hit, a triple leading off the fifth inning against former Kansas City hurler Orlando Pena. Reggie got into 26 games between June 9 and July 2 before making the trip back to Birmingham. Jackson didn’t stir the straw much only hitting .189 in his first swing through the American League.

The Athletics recalled him on September 15 and in his third game back, he smashed the first of his 563 career home runs, a solo shot off Jim Weaver of California. During his often brilliant 21-year career, Reggie played for four teams. He was a 14 time All-Star and a five-time World Series champion. He picked up MVP votes in 13 seasons, winning the award in 1973. His best season was 1969 and he should have won the MVP that year but finished a disappointing fifth.

He was bestowed the nickname “Mr. October” for his playoff and World Series heroics which were well deserved. He was an outspoken and exciting player and often clashed with Charlie Finley and later George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner and Finley were without a doubt, two of the most difficult personalities of the era. Jackson was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1993. During his time, Jackson was one of the most exciting players to watch. Who can forget his massive home run off Dock Ellis in the 1971 All-Star game? Or the three dingers he hit in the 1977 World Series?

In the summer of 1982, I stepped onto an elevator in Crown Center. Next to me stood Reggie Jackson. I was so surprised that I couldn’t even utter a hello. I was surprised that he was not a particularly big man. The record says 6 foot and 195 pounds, and I would guess that to be about right. But he could generate tremendous power out of that 195 pounds. Along with his 563 career home runs, Jackson collected 2,584 hits. He also struck out an astounding 2,597 times. That number is still the most of any big-league ballplayer in history. Reggie wore the Golden Sombrero 23 times in his career, also a Major League record. Even his strikeouts were entertaining. His cut would often be so violent and massive, that he would almost corkscrew his body into the dirt.

I saw Reggie homer three times in Kansas City: the first when he was playing for Baltimore, the second when playing for the damn Yankees and the third while playing for the Angels. During his career, Reggie scorched the Royals for 37 home runs. He hit six in Municipal against the Royals and hit another twelve in Royals Stadium. The three I witnessed were virtually identical, each landing about 410 feet away on the grass underneath the scoreboard in straightaway center field. He never homered in Kansas City as a member of the Athletics.

The final game in Kansas City was played on Wednesday September 27. The Athletics swept a twi-night doubleheader from the White Sox by the scores of 5-2 and 4-0. the last game was the Catfish Hunter three-hitter I mentioned earlier. Only 5,325 fans bothered to come out to the park that day.

The last game was played on Saturday September 30 in New York City. New York fans weren’t much better as only 5,350 came out to see the Yankees win by a score of 5-4. Tony Pierce pitched well for Kansas City that day, only allowing 2 runs over 7 innings of work. The game was tied at two going into the bottom of the eighth, but Lew Krausse gave up a walk and three singles and the Yanks pushed across three runs. The Athletics made a game out of the ninth. Rudi led off with a walk. Sal Bando hit a one-out triple to score Rudi. Jim Gosger, who had homered earlier in the game, hit a sacrifice fly to pull the A’s within one. Dooley Womack retired Tim Talton on a fly to left and that was it for the Athletics in Kansas City.

Once the season ended, and their lease at Municipal expired, Finley petitioned the American League for permission to move to Oakland. The owners, tired of fighting him, finally granted permission and the Athletics time in Kansas City was over.

Epilogue

In 13 seasons, the Athletics never enjoyed a winning year. Their best win total was a 74-86 mark in 1966. Their worst was a 57-105 clunker in 1964. Beginning play in 1955 the team only had nine winning months of play out of 78 full months. They went through nine managers in 13 seasons. They never had a Rookie of the Year, Cy Young winner or Most Valuable Player, though they did trade an MVP away (Roger Maris). They never had a pitcher throw a no-hitter and never had a batter hit for the cycle. They did have the first player in history to play all nine positions in a game. They also had a mechanical rabbit, a mule, sheep and a shepherd, one owner beholden to the New York Yankees and another owner best described as slightly eccentric.

In 1964, they became the first team to have a female radio announcer. To entice more women to baseball, Charlie O. Finley hired Chicago weather girl Betty Crawford to do radio broadcasts. As much as he was despised in Kansas City, and most of that was well deserved, Finley was ahead of his time. He broke the old boys club on uniform color. He employed ball boys (and later ball girls – the most famous being Debbie Fields of Mrs. Fields cookie fame. He proposed the idea of a pitch clock to speed up the game and experimented with a colored ball for better visibility. He was one of the first proponents of the designated hitter. He was not above employing various promotions to bring fans to the ballpark, the greatest which was having Satchel Paige come out of retirement and pitch three innings for the Athletics.

Three players drafted or signed in the Kansas City years eventually were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame: Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers. There are a few others who could be elected to the Hall of Very Good such as Bert Campaneris, Joe Rudi, Vida Blue and Sal Bando. There were four players who played for both franchises, all pitchers: Dave Wickersham, Moe Drabowsky, Aurelio Monteagudo and Ken Sanders. Joe Keough just missed that distinction. He was drafted by the Kansas City A’s in 1965, made his debut with Oakland in 1968 before coming to the Royals in the expansion draft in 1969.

When the move to Oakland was announced, Missouri senator Stuart Symington said, “Oakland is the luckiest city since Hiroshima.” Political correctness really wasn’t a thing yet in 1967.

The Athletics did develop a phenomenal coaching tree. Tommy LaSorda, Whitey Herzog, Dick Williams, Dick Howser and Tony LaRussa all played for Kansas City and later went on to brilliant careers as managers. Another coach in the organization in 1967, John McNamara at AA Birmingham, later managed the Boston Red Sox to the 1986 World Series. Former player Hank Bauer also enjoyed success as a manager and Charlie Lau and Dave Duncan became two of the most respected coaches in the game.

Here we are 53 years down the road and I think the hardest part for me, and many other older fans was seeing the success that these players had once they moved to Oakland.

In 1968 the franchise recorded an 82-80 record, their first winning season since the 1952 Philadelphia Athletics went 79 and 75. That 1968 season started a run of eight consecutive winning seasons which saw the team finish first or second in the American League west every season. That run was culminated by three consecutive World Series titles (1972-73-74). Despite all of that winning, attendance always lagged in Oakland, much as it had in Kansas City. The A’s only drew more than one million fans twice (1973 and 1975) and barely at that. Their winning streak was finally busted in 1977 when they went 63 and 98 under the direction of former Royals skipper Jack McKeon.

No, the hard part was seeing Reggie and Sal and Bert and Rollie and Catfish and Vida and the rest of the crew that was drafted and developed in Kansas City, win those titles. Deep inside, many of us, me included, thought those World Series titles should have belonged to Kansas City. To its credit, Kansas City quickly adopted their new team, the Royals, and under the direction of their brilliant General Manager Cedric Tallis and excellent owner, Ewing Kauffman, quickly assembled a formidable foe to the Oakland dynasty. The new team turned in a winning campaign in just their third season and by 1976 had wrested away the American League West crown from the Athletics.

By 1973 the Royals had surpassed the Athletics in attendance and have outdrawn their rival in nearly every year since. And the sports complex that was being built for the Athletics? Well, we all know how that turned out. Royals Stadium, now Kauffman, is one of the showcase stadiums of major league baseball. The A’s meanwhile are still playing in Oakland-Alameda Coliseum which has most charitably been described by players and reporters as a dump. The move also ignited a hated rivalry between the Athletics and the Royals. The rivalry has cooled significantly over the years, but from 1969 to say, 1980, it was white hot. Kansas City fans have always despised the Yankees, but for many years our main business was hating Charlie Finley and his team. And business was good, especially when we started winning and they were in decline. It didn’t hurt that the Kansas City Chiefs main rival was the Oakland Raiders. The A’s-Royals rivalry was a natural fit.

All of you have heard the term, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I believe in retrospect, that is very true with the Kansas City Athletics. Charlie O. Finley was so convinced that Kansas City would not support a baseball team. And he was very wrong. All Finley needed to do was get out of his own way and let things develop, but his personality would not allow it.