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The 1965 Kansas City Athletics

They’re growing them big on the farm

Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Athletics Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

1965 was the year that you finally realized the 1950’s was dead and gone. Kids were wearing their hair longer. The mini skirt first appeared. The Ford Shelby Mustang made its debut. Dr. Martin Luther King led a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. In St. Louis, the Gateway arch was completed. NASA kicked off the Gemini project with five manned launches. President Johnson launches his “Great Society”, the war in Vietnam heats up and Malcolm X is assassinated. Bob Dylan went electric and Watts went crazy.

In the world of baseball, the Houston Astrodome opened, and the newly renamed Astros began play there. The average major league salary was $17,000. Sandy Koufax had a season for the ages: 26 wins against 8 losses. He struck out a record 382 batters and threw a perfect game while posting an ERA of 2.04 over 335 innings. He was the unanimous winner of the Cy Young award and finished second in the National League MVP race to Willie Mays, who had a monster year of his own: .317 batting average with 52 home runs and 112 RBI and 118 runs scored. Zoilo Versalles of the Twins won the American League MVP. Koufax led the Dodgers to a seven game World Series win over the Twins.

1965 marked the eleventh season of Athletics baseball in Kansas City. The team not only had never posted a winning record, they had only posted four winning months out of 56 full months of play since moving to Kansas City for the 1955 season. Team owner Charlie O. Finley had a brief love affair with the home run in 1964, which led him to acquire sluggers Jim Gentile and Rocky Colavito. The 1964 Athletics did hit more home runs, but that infatuation ended when Athletic pitchers gave up a major league record 220 home runs. For 1965, Finley moved the fences back to make Municipal more pitcher friendly. Good thing too, as the Athletics were starting to acquire some young talent on the mound and in the field.

The year started off with a bang: January 20, Kansas City sent their home run and RBI leader, Rocky Colavito packing to Cleveland in a three-team trade. The Rock only spent one season in Kansas City, but it was a memorable one. In return, the Athletics received from the White Sox outfielders Jim Landis and Mike Hershberger and a young pitcher named Fred Talbot. Colavito naturally went on to lead the American League in RBI for the Indians.

In April, Finley relieved General Manager Pat Friday of his duties and hired Hank Peters. Peters, a World War II veteran, had been promoted from Director of Scouting. This was his first General Managers job as he went on to acclaim for not only building the championship teams of the A’s, but later the Orioles and the late 80’s Cleveland Indians. After reading his resume, I believe you cold make a solid case for Peters being a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with his later day Kansas City contemporary, Cedric Tallis.

The Athletics opened the season at home on April 12 and lost to Mickey Lolich and the Detroit Tigers, 6-2. They limped out of April with a 2-9 mark and to prove that wasn’t a fluke, they lost 20 of their 28 games in May.

On May 3, the team lost promising outfielder Joe Rudi to the Indians in the first-year player waiver draft. On the same day, they traded catcher Doc Edwards to the Yankees for Johnny Blanchard and pitcher Rollie Sheldon.

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

On May 13, Jim “Catfish” Hunter had recovered sufficiently enough from his previous years foot injuries, to make his first major league appearance. The Athletics had kept Hunter on their roster so they would not lose the talented youngster to the insane first year player draft. Imagine the Royals having to keep Bobby Witt Jr. on their 40-man roster to protect him. That’s what clubs were dealing with.

In this game against the White Sox, starting pitcher Diego Segui lasted 1 23 innings, giving up four runs. Moe Drabowsky came on in relief and did a little better, recording ten outs while only giving up one run. Then it was Hunter’s turn. The 19-year-old didn’t seem nervous about the situation. He struck out the first batter he faced, Ken Berry, and proceeded to retire six of the seven men he faced, allowing only a harmless walk. He ended his day by striking out slugger Bill “Moose” Skowron.

The Athletics season was already a dumpster fire and the youngster had showed great promise, so they decided to keep pitching him. In Hunter’s first game, Rene Lachemann, who had been signed in 1964, hit his first career home run for Kansas City. Hunter’s next appearance was on May 17talso against the White Sox. This outing didn’t go well, as the Hose tagged Hunter for six runs on seven hits in three and a third innings of work. Ken Berry got some revenge by drilling a home run, the first career home run given up by Hunter.

Hunter made six more relief appearances before getting his first start on June 20 against the Tigers. The game was the first of a doubleheader played at Tiger Stadium. Hunter was matched up against Detroit ace Mickey Lolich. Lolich faced four batters before departing with an injury and the Athletics leading 2 to nothing. Kansas City batted around in the first, jumping to a 6 -0 lead. Hunter breezed through the first inning, facing four batters and only allowing one walk. Kansas City tagged on two more runs in the second to go up 8 – 0. Hunter wobbled a bit in the second. Willie Horton, one of the Tigers fearsome sluggers, led off the inning with a booming home run to deep left. The shot must have rattled Catfish, as the next batter, Norm Cash, an excellent hitter in his own right, cranked one out to deep right. Catfish retired the next three batters to get out of the inning, but after giving up a walk and single to in the third, Sullivan gave him the hook. The Tigers continued to tag on runs, erasing the deficit and winning by a score of 12-8. Sullivan used six pitchers, trying to find someone who could shut the Tiger attack down. Diego Segui took the loss in relief, giving up four runs in just two thirds of an inning work.

Hunter picked up the first of his 224 career wins with a 10-8 victory over Boston on July 27 at Fenway. Hunter worked five innings, giving up five runs on seven hits. Kansas City batted around in the top of the first, pummeling Boston starter Jim Lonborg and reliever Dennis Bennett for six runs. They tagged on two more, highlighted by Bert Campaneris’ inside the park home run in the third, to stake Hunter to an 8-1 lead. 20-year-old Boston phenom Tony Conigliaro tagged Hunter with a grand slam in the third to cut the Kansas City lead to 8-5. Hunter appeared to be gaining strength as the game went on, retiring seven of the last eight batters he faced.

For the season, Hunter appeared in 32 games, recording an 8-8 record with a 4.26 ERA over 133 innings. The highlight of the year for Hunter was a September 25 game against the Red Sox at Municipal. The season was long gone by then and only 2,304 fans bothered to show up for the Friday night game. Boston came into the game at 60-95 while Kansas City came in with a record of 56-96. It still amazes me though that only 2,304 fans would come out for the game. Kansas City scored two in the first off Boston starter Earl Wilson and the rest of the game was all Catfish Hunter. Hunter was magnificent, retiring 17 of the first 19 Red Sox he faced, allowing only two harmless walks. Carl “Bleeping” Yastrzemski broke up the no-hitter with a double leading off the seventh inning. Hunter stranded Yaz by getting the next three batters. Hunter allowed a single to Eddie Bressoud leading off the eighth, then closed out the game by retiring the final six men he faced. It was truly a sign of what was to come from this young man: a complete game, two hitter. He struck out six and only walked four in a game that scored an 87. Not bad work for a 19-year-old who hadn’t played in a year. Now back to the season.

By May 15, with a record of 5-21, Finley and Peters had seen enough. They canned Manager Mel McGaha and hired 34-year-old Haywood Sullivan as his replacement. Sullivan, a former catcher for the Athletics, was the youngest manager in baseball. He would only spend one year on the job before defecting to the Boston Red Sox, where he helped build several pennant winners. The 1967 Red Sox used several former Athletic players (Jose Santiago, John Wyatt, Jose Tartabull, Ken Harrelson and Bill Landis) acquired by Sullivan to help them to the ’67 World Series. For Kansas City fans, this had to ring of Yankee déjà vu. Sullivan would eventually become a general partner in the Red Sox organization, reportedly turning a $200,000 investment into a $33 million cash out upon retirement.

On June 4, with the team sitting at 10-30, Peters traded Jim Gentile to the Houston Astros for Jim Hickman and Ernie Fazio.

On June 8, the team held the first pick in the first ever amateur draft and Peters scored big time. He selected Arizona State outfielder Rick Monday with the first overall pick and in the following rounds selected Joe Keough, Bob Stinson, Pete Koegel, Sal Bando, Scott Reid, George Lazerique, Bobby Brooks, Gene Tenace and Greg Garrett, all of whom had major league careers. I’m not certain that there has ever been a better draft in terms of the number of players who made the majors. Those players produced a combined 146 WAR over their careers.

With the season in the toilet, Finley reached into his Veeckian bag of tricks in an attempt to goose attendance.

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

He proclaimed September 8 would be Bert Campaneris day at the ballpark and that Campy would attempt to become the first major leaguer to play all nine positions during a game against the California Angels. It was a Wednesday night game and 21,576 fans made their way to 22nd and Brooklyn. This was the fourth largest crowd of the season for the Athletics. Campy came into the game with a .275 batting average and a league leading 48 stolen bases. Playing for the Angels were future Royals Jose Cardenal, Bobby Knoop, Ed Kirkpatrick and Paul Schaal.

Campy started the game at his usual shortstop position and had no chances in the first. He walked to lead off the Kansas City first, promptly stole second and scored on a double by Ed Charles to give the A’s a quick 1-0 lead against Dean Chance. Campaneris and second baseman Wayne Causey switched positions for the second inning and Campy got credited with an assist for tagging out Kirkpatrick in a rundown. In the third, Campy switched positions with third baseman Charles. Campy moved to left in the fourth and caught a fly ball off the bat of Jose Cardenal, who happened to be his first cousin. Campy played center in the fifth inning, but nothing was hit his way. Chance, meanwhile, found his groove after the first inning and retired 15 Athletics in a row. Campy moved to right field for the sixth inning and was charged with an error when he dropped a high fly ball off the bat of Jim Fregosi, which allowed a run to score. Campaneris moved to first base in the seventh and handled a short pop fly for the out.

Bert moved to the mound for the eighth inning and the first batter he faced was his cousin, Cardenal, who he retired on a pop up to second. Then Campy did an impression of Ricky Vaughn and threw ten consecutive balls, walking Albie Pearson and Fregosi. After allowing a run scoring single to Joe Adcock, Campy caught a break. He struck out Bobby Knoop as Fregosi tried to steal third. Catcher Bill Bryan threw out Fregosi for the inning ending double play. In an added twist, Campy had pitched ambidextrously, throwing lefty to left-handed batters and right for right-handed batters. This was also Campaneris’ only pitching appearance of his 19-year career.

Campy moved behind the plate for the ninth as Aurelio Montegudo took the mound for Kansas City with the Angels holding a 3-1 lead. Kirkpatrick led off with a single and Tom Egan walked. Paul Schaal lined out to center which moved Kirkpatrick to third. Dean Chance struck out for the second out. That brought up Jose Cardenal. The Angels attempted a double steal. Campy threw to second but Dick Green alertly cut off the throw and fired it back to Campy at the plate for the tag on the charging Kirkpatrick. Spanky’s only hope of scoring was to try to run over Campaneris and dislodge the ball. The collision was brutal. Campy held onto the ball for the third out but left the game with a shoulder and neck injury. Nothing like risking the career of your franchise player on a publicity stunt.

In the Kansas City ninth, Causey led off with a single. Chance got Charles on a fly ball before giving up a single to Jim Landis. Ken Harrelson came on as a pinch hitter and greeted reliever Bob Lee by ripping another single, scoring Causey. Lee retired Larry Stahl for the second out but Dick Green came through with a single to score Landis to send the game to extra innings.

The Angels loaded the bases off John Wyatt in the tenth but couldn’t score. The Athletics had men on first and third in the tenth but couldn’t score. The Angels finally broke through in the thirteenth against John O’Donohue and Diego Segui scoring two runs on no hits, two walks and an error. Kansas City couldn’t answer in their half and that was that, 5-3 California.

Finley’s most audacious publicity stunt occurred on September 25. He declared that day would be “Satchel Paige” day at the ballpark and not only that, but Paige would pitch against the Boston Red Sox. Over the years, there has been some discussion if this was an attempt by Finley to goose attendance or if Paige was short of qualifying for his Major League pension and Finley helped put him over the top. Either way, it was a night to remember for Kansas City fans. Paige was a living legend, one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. He had history with Kansas City, having played for the Monarchs in 1935 and from 1939 to 1947. He made his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1948. Paige’s date of birth was believed to be July 7, 1906, so he would have been 41 at the time of his debut. He pitched two seasons for Cleveland and three more for the St. Louis Brown’s, making two All-Star teams, before retiring at the age of 46.

Pitcher Satchel Paige Standing in Dugout
Paige with Monarchs

The Athletics did this event right. They held a luncheon earlier in the day and had invited former players from the Monarchs and the Kansas City Blue’s. Prior to the game, they held a three-inning exhibition game, which featured among others Buck O’Neil, Hilton Smith, Cool Papa Bell and Bullet Rogan.

Finley paid Paige $3,500 for the game and provided the 59-year-old with a rocking chair. Always a showman, Paige rocked prior to the game, attended by a pretty nurse who rubbed liniment on his right arm. It’s also uncertain if the lady was an actual nurse or a bunny from the Kansas City Playboy club. Finley was known to hire bunny’s and often attended events with one on his arm.

Satchel Paige in a Rocking Chair at a Game
Satchel Paige

Unbelievably, only 9,289 people showed up for the Saturday evening game. Paige faced four batters in the first. He got lead off hitter Jim Gosger on a pop up to first for the first out. Dalton Jones reached second on an error by Wayne Causey, who was playing third base. With Carl “bleeping” Yastrzemski at the plate, Paige threw one in the dirt. Catcher Bill Bryan corralled the errant pitch and threw out Jones who was trying to advance to third. Good thing too, as Yastrzemski, one of the best hitters in the American League rifled a double off the right field wall. As a child, Yaz had seen his father hit against Paige in a semipro game on Long Island.

Paige got out of the inning by getting Tony Conigliaro to bite on his famous hesitation pitch, which resulted in a fly ball to left. Kansas City scrapped a run together in the first on a Jose Tartabull single, a ground out and a run scoring single from Billy Bryan.

Paige sailed through the second inning on six pitches and made it through the third on eight. He only needed 28 pitches for the three innings of work.

Home plate umpire Bill Valentine said that Paige was really pitching, and the Red Sox were doing their best to hit him. “He kept the ball down, kept it moving below the knees. I’ll bet you he wasn’t throwing 80. They’d swing and say, “Son of a bitch, that was right there!”

Billy Bryan the catcher for the Athletics said Paige didn’t talk much before the game. “He didn’t have a lot of conversations with guys. He wouldn’t call you by name, he would just say, “Hey catch”. But we didn’t need to talk much. Just two fingers, fastball and change-up and sometimes he’d change up on his own.”

Gosger was the first and last out recorded by Paige and said that his two biggest thrills in baseball were batting against Paige and hitting a home run off Whitey Ford the only time he faced him. Paige even got to bat once in the game, striking out to end the second inning against Boston starter Bill Monbouquette. e came to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the second and struck out against

Paige came to the mound and took his warm up tosses before the fourth inning. Manager Haywood Sullivan came to the mound to get Paige and the crowd gave him a lusty booing. The boos soon turned to a rousing standing ovation for Paige who doffed his cap. The stadium lights were dimmed as fans lit cigarette lighters and joined the organist in singing “The old grey mare.”

Oh the old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be

Ain’t what she used to be, ain’t what she used to be

The old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be

Many long years ago

I’m not sure how I feel about that song. It’s maybe a little inappropriate, but what do I know. I think I would have chosen “A Hard Day’s Night”.

Sitting in the bleachers that evening was a nine-year-old from Independence, Missouri. Years later, Rick Sutcliffe, future Cy Young Award winner, said, “I’m quite sure that game had something to do with me wanting to be a baseball player.”

Satch with A’s staff

Once Paige departed, the complexion of the game changed. The Athletics nursed a 2 to nothing lead into the seventh inning, but Segui walked Tony Conigliaro then served up a game tying home run to Lee Thomas. The Sox iced the game in the eighth. Gosger hit a one-out single off Don Mossi. Sullivan brought in John Wyatt to try to save the game. Wyatt got Frank Malzone on strikes, before giving up a single to Yastrzemski. Tony Conigliaro then cleared the bases with an inside the park home run which hit off the center field all and bounced away from Tartabull. Monbouquette retired the last six Athletics he faced to give Boston the 5-2 victory.

Despite Finley’s best efforts, the Athletics finished at 59-103, last place in the American League. Minnesota, who just a few short years earlier had been the hapless Washington Senators, won the league with a mark of 103-60. The Athletics best month was June, when the went 12-16.

There wasn’t a lot of good news for the hitters or the pitchers. Ed Charles had the best statistical year at .269/.332/.388 with 8 home runs and 56 RBI. Campaneris led the team in hits with 156 and led the American League in stolen bases with 51. Hawk Harrelson led the team in home runs and RBI with 23 and 66 respectively. Jose Tartabull was the only player on the roster to hit better than .300 with a .312 mark in only 218 at bats.

The pitching staff finished at or near the bottom of the league in nearly all statistical categories. Early season acquisition Rollie Sheldon put together the best year with a 10 and 8 mark and a 3.95 ERA over 186 innings of work. Fred Talbot, another trade pickup, went 10-12 with a 4.14 ERA over 198 innings. Jim Dickson, John Wyatt and Wes Stock were workhorses out of the bullpen, appearing in 68, 65 and 62 games respectively.

1965 marked the year that Charlie O. Finley got rid of the sheep that had roamed beyond the outfield fence for so many years. “They ain’t performed.” crowed Charlie O. in typical blustering fashion. What type of performance Finley was expecting from the sheep remains in question. In place of the sheep and now departed shepherd, Finley brought in a 1,265-pound Missouri mule, named of course, Charlie O. The mule made road trips with the team in a trailer equipped with air conditioning and radio. He made several appearances in hotel lobbies, startling unsuspecting guests.

Charles O. Finley Riding Mule Mascot

Most Kansas City players didn’t know what to make of Finley’s predilection for animals around the ballpark. “First guy in checks the dugout for alligators,” says Wayne Causey.

One of Finley’s other experiments for the season was adding a “Pitch-o-meter” to the scoreboard. The meter ran off the time between pitches. Finley, like all of us type A personalities, was looking for a way to speed up the game. You have to admit, the guy was ahead of his time. He brought in colored uniforms, ball girls, was an early advocate of the designated hitter and now an early pitch clock. I personally like the pitch clock. It adds some tempo to the game and prevents a batter from stepping out of the box after every pitch to run through his OCD tendencies. How often have you heard the announcer say about the pitcher, “He’s got a fastball and curve. He’s working on his slider and changeup, but only throws them about 5% of the time.” So basically, the guy has two pitches, yet he’ll shake Salvy off five or six times. So now were sitting on a 45 second at-bat, waiting on a pitcher to decide if he wants to throw the heater or the curve. I say bring on the clock. As Jim Gaffigan says, “It ain’t brain surgery.”

The team’s attendance slipped to a league worst 528,344, the low water mark for the Athletics stay in Kansas City.

In October, the team sold pitcher and prankster Moe Drabowsky to the St. Louis Cardinals. On December 1 they traded Jim Landis and Jim Rittwage to the Indians for catcher Phil Roof and the return of Joe Rudi, in what would rank as one the best trades in team history.

Despite Kansas City fans disgust with the losing and with Finley in general, things were looking up. The farm system was starting to overflow with future stars such as Monday, Bando, Tenace, Odom and Fingers. Add in Catfish Hunter, Dick Green and Bert Campaneris and there was reason for optimism in Kansas City.