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A look back at old Royals programs

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Beer ads!!

I’ve been a baseball fan for as long as I can remember. Over the years I’ve kept just about every program of every game I’ve ever attended. For a long time, I wondered why, but now, writing for Royals Review and with the advent of Baseballrefernce.com, it’s been a fun walk down memory lane to revisit some of those old games.

The first program in my collection is from the 1966 Kansas City Athletics. It wasn’t even a game I attended. Some of my dad’s friends went to the game and brought back the Athletics 1966 yearbook for me. The front cover is long gone but featured prominently on page two is Charlie O. Finley and his family. No matter what the occasion, Charlie wanted everyone to know that he was the man.

Page four features the Athletics front office. Finley’s brother Carl was the business manager. Former Yankee great Ed Lopat was the Executive Vice President and another Yankee/Athletic player, Ed Robinson is listed as the Administrative Assistant. Robinson just celebrated his 100th birthday on December 15, 2020 and is widely known as the oldest living ballplayer, the last person alive who won a World Series with Cleveland and the last living ballplayer to play in Cleveland’s League Park. My son and I took a short tour of the remains of League Park a few years ago. It’s a strange feeling to stand in a place that Babe Ruth played and where a 17-year-old Bob Feller made his major league debut.

In the second row of photos is a snapshot of Gabby Hartnett. The Athletics point out that Hartnett is the only member of the Baseball Hall of Fame to work in the public relations department of a major league team. Before Johnny Bench came on the scene, Hartnett was widely considered the greatest catcher of all time. He was behind the plate when Babe Ruth hit his called shot home run in the 1932 World Series. He also caught Carl Hubbell’s run of strikeouts in the 1934 All-Star game. Cub fans will always remember Hartnett for his “Homer in the Gloamin’” towards the tail end of the 1938 season.

One photo on the bottom row sticks out: a fresh-faced, 37-year-old groundskeeper named George Toma. I still remember the first time I walked through the tunnel at Municipal Stadium and thought I would be blinded by the brilliant color of the green grass. The effect of seeing the brilliant colors of the field was a bit like when the movie Wizard of Oz transitioned from black and white to color.

Pages 10 and 11 are basically yearbook-style photos of the team. All the players are nicely dressed in sportscoats and thin ties, fashionable at the time. The 1966 A’s were a young team. And they were on the rise. Campy Campaneris. Chuck Dobson. Ken Harrelson. Jose Tartabull (father of Danny) and a very young Jim “Catfish” Hunter.

The player profiles are nicely done, with a story about each player and their minor and major league statistics. Page 34 shows the prospects for the future, and what a group it was: Sal Bando, Rick Monday, Jim Nash, John “Blue Moon” Odom. Not yet on the scene but on their way were Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace and Rollie Fingers. Charlie O. Finley did a lot of things wrong during his time in Kansas City but the one thing he did right was to assemble one of the greatest collections of young talent ever seen in an organization. It’s a shame that Kansas City fans were deprived of that dynasty.

The advertisements in the program were all local companies: Ashcraft, Inc., a local printing concern, the Glenwood Manor Motor Hotel, City National Bank, and Trust and Halls Department Stores. Of course, there are also two pages dedicated to Charlie O., the team's Missouri mule mascot. Charlie O even had his own Athletics hat.

All in all, it’s a top-notch program for the times and I’m thankful to have kept it through the years.

The second program in my collection comes from the 1972 Royals. This, too, came from a friend who attended the Brewers-Royals game on August 20, 1972. My summers were occupied with baseball games of my own but most around my small town knew of my dedication to the Royals and would often bring me artifacts from the games they attended. The Brew Crew prevailed in this game by the score of 2 to 1. Two future Royals, Jim Colborn and Ken Brett pitched for Milwaukee.

That Royals team was just starting to put it together with players like Amos Otis, John Mayberry, Lou Piniella, Freddie Patek, and Cookie Rojas. Paul Schaal had the third base job for another season. Richie Scheinblum was having a great year, hitting .315 and recently-acquired Steve Hovley got an at-bat as a pinch hitter. Speaking of Schaal, the guy was a very solid player, both on and off the field. In June of 1972, Schaal hit the last grand slam in Municipal Stadium history. During his colorful life, Schaal was also married nine times. Yes, you read that right. In 1972, he’s pictured with wife Billie, a nice-looking brunette.

Since 1966, the ad game had changed. The programs were now filled primarily with national ads. There were four ads for cigarettes and four ads for beer, something I doubt you’ll find in a modern program. One of the beer ads was for Hamms beer, from the land of Sky-Blue Waters. Beer aficionados might sniff at this, but I still like a Hamms now and then. There were still a handful of local ads, including one for longtime Royal’s supporter, Guy’s potato chips. And don’t forget Guy’s nuts. Seriously, that’s how the radio ad went.

Unlike his predecessor, Royals owner Ewing Kauffman put his ego aside and was not pictured until page 16. The Royals’ front office in 1972 featured GM Cedric Tallis, and scouting directors Lou Gorman (who would later run the Red Sox), Spencer “Herk” Robinson, and a very young (31) John Schuerholz - the latter two would eventually run the Royals and Schuerholz would win titles with both the Royals and Braves. That’s quite a collection of future general managers.

There’s also a nice story about the new stadium, rising from the ground out at I-70 and 435. And George Toma? Yep, he’s still there on page 36, leaning on a rake, looking a little older and wiser. There are two other things I like about this program. On page 34, taking up exactly one-quarter of the page, is a list of every player who ever played for the Royals, all 62 of them, including one of my favorites, George Spriggs. On page 40 is a pictorial dedicated to Gaye Leslie, a very cute Independence High School girl, who would come out between innings to entertain the crowd and perform small tasks like sweeping off home plate and toweling off the sweaty face of a Royals player. Today, we’ve got a hot dog shooting lion. Give me the pixie any day.

The Royals entered their fifth season in 1973 with a brand spanking new stadium and after a disappointing 76-78 finish in 1972, a new manager. Hall of Famer Bob Lemon had been let go and replaced by a younger firebrand named Jack McKeon. The 1973 program retained the same general design as the ’72 edition. There were slightly fewer sin ads: four for tobacco and only three for beer. There was a nice piece on the new stadium, christened “Royals Stadium”, and another solid write up on the 1973 All-Star game, which the Royals hosted in July. The family pics were once again solid gold. Most of the players and wives were decked out in mod clothes that were the fashion in the early 1970s. Paul Schaal, dressed in his mid-’70’s splendor, had moved onto another wife, Sharon, a beautiful blonde with a knockout smile.

The front office remained mostly unchanged. Spencer Robinson was now going by Herk. John Schuerholz had a head full of 1970s hair. George Toma donned a suit and tie for his picture, looking more like a high school math teacher than the world’s best groundskeeper. The Royals showed a nice commitment to early diversity. Of the 40 staffers pictured, 21 were women. There was a full-page ad reminding fans that Sears sold tickets to nearly all events in and around the metro area: Royals games, Six Flags, The Starlight Theatre, Kings basketball, the J.C. Rodeo, the Philharmonic, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus and a new amusement park up north on 435 called Worlds of Fun. The program also listed ticket prices for the new stadium: $1.50 for General Admission, $3.00 for Reserved Grandstand, $4.00 for Box Seats and $6.00 for Club Box Seats, the best in the house. For this game against the Red Sox, we sat in Field Box Seats about 25 rows up, in between first base and right field. They were awesome seats for $4.00 each.

The program also contained a short paragraph explaining the designated hitter rule, new for the 1973 season. Gaye Leslie was back, albeit with only one picture. The program also marks the first appearance of George Brett, having been called up from Omaha on August 2. In his early days, Brett wore number 25. He made the switch to his iconic number five in 1975 as a homage to Brooks Robinson.

The 1973 yearbook was also solid, with great writeups of each player, an interesting story about the Royals Baseball Academy and a review of the farm system. The farm writeup said to look out for Brett, Dennis Leonard, Tom Poquette, Mark Littell, and Frank White, all of whom would play major roles in helping the Royals become Western Division champs. The farm report whiffed on Frank Ortenzio, Kenzie Davis, and Pickle Smith. No worries though. Good times were not far away.

After finishing second in the American League West in 1973 with an 88-74 record, the Royals were a trendy pick to dethrone the World Champion Athletics. Unfortunately, the team took a step back, finishing 1974 with a 77-85 record. Almost 1.2 million fans poured into Royals Stadium that summer. We took in a game against the Angels on Saturday, August 3, and I got my first look at the Ryan Express. The Angels won this game by a score of 4-3. Strangely, it was the first time that I didn’t score the game. My 1974 scorebook is as clean and mint shape as when I forked over .50 cents to a vendor for it. The beer and cigarette ads of past years were disappearing with only two of each in this program, including a full pager from Schlitz that reminded fans that “when you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of beer”. There might be some debate about that today.

With interest rates on the rise, banks were the big new advertisers. Gone were the family photos and with them the question of who the new Mrs. Schaal for the summer was.

This Angels team had some talent. Mickey Rivers batted leadoff. Bobby Valentine still had some moments. Rookie Bruce Bochte was in his twelfth game of what would end up being a terrific 12-year career. Former Royals Bob Oliver and Ellie Rodriguez also played. Whitey Herzog was the third base coach for the Angels before making the move to Kansas City in late July 1975.

The program had a great story about Royal’s broadcaster Bud Blattner. More on him in a later story.

The program also had a concession menu with prices, and they are gold: A cheeseburger went for .95 cents. A Hot dog would set you back .50 cents. A 12-ounce draft beer sold for .60 cents and if you were really serious about getting smashed, you could get a 40 ouncer for $1.75. A tub of popcorn went for a dollar and you could buy individual cigars for .20 cents.

The 1974 yearbook was top-notch. Most of the Royals staff was intact. George Toma ditched the suit of past years and posed in a Royals cap and jacket, looking like a guy who was a little miffed to have to stop working for a photo. Gaye Leslie, in her last yearbook appearance, got a picture giving the hip to a Boston coach. One new addition to the Royals staff was a young Dean Vogelaar, the traveling secretary and assistant public relations director. Vogelaar would later play a huge role in helping the Royals win the Pine Tar game.

The 1975 season saw us in Royals Stadium for a July 6 game against the Chicago White Sox. It was what you would expect for July 6 in Kansas City – hotter than blazes. We had seats directly behind the White Sox dugout, which made begging for autographs much easier. Bucky Dent, Cecil Upshaw, Jesse Jefferson, and Terry Forster all signed my program, which was still just .50 cents. Banks, beer, and cigarettes still dominated the ad space. There was a nice piece about new Royal DH Harmon Killebrew. Killebrew made his major league debut way back in 1954 as an 18-year-old. He came to the Royals in January of 1975, hoping a change of scenery would fend off father time. It did not.

Though Killer was only 39, he was running on fumes. He hadn’t had a 100 RBI season since 1971 and had not had a 20-home run season since 1972. He hit a single in his first at bat, followed by two groundouts and a strikeout. You could tell by watching him that he was through. Baseball can be a cruel game. In real life, a 39-year-old is in the prime of his life, still a young man. In professional sports, a 39-year-old is ancient.

The 1975 Royals fashioned a 91-win season, good for second in the American League West. They had a handful of hitting stars: George Brett, Hal McRae, John Mayberry, Amos Otis and an up-and-coming Al Cowens. Frank White played shortstop that day. The game itself was forgettable, a 9-3 White Sox win. Claude Osteen, another ancient mariner (age 35) stifled the Royals on six hits. Kansas City went through four pitchers in an attempt to cool off the Sox, including their own old man, 39-year-old Lindy McDaniel. Chicago collected 17 hits, led by former Royal Pat Kelly and former Kansas City Athletic Deron Johnson, who had three apiece.

The 1975 Royals Yearbook, which set me back a buck and a quarter, was solid. The feature Royals Families made a comeback, with two pages of photos which included the McRae family showing a young future Royal Brian and the Cookie Rojas family, in which all of the guys are wearing white dress shoes, which were de rigueur in the mid-’70s.

The Rojas family looking sharp

The best shot has to be the Briles family. Nelson Briles, a very solid pitcher, came over from the Pirates in an off-season trade. In this photo. Nelson wore the ‘70’s well – disco style shirt, opened just enough to show off a chest full of hair. And the hair. Wow! Fashionably long, parted in the middle. Weren’t the ‘70’s great?

There was a new addition to the broadcast team: Fred White joined Bud Blattner and Denny Matthews. George Toma used the same picture from 1974. A legendary workaholic, Toma probably couldn’t be bothered with a new pic each season.

We’ll close this series with the 1976 program. The Royals hit the big time in 1976. National Geographic magazine did a feature on Kansas City in July, which was also the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. George Brett and Hal McRae battled to the final at-bat of the season for the batting title. Oh, and the Royals finally dispatched the despised Oakland Athletics to win their first American League West crown.

The Royals split their game program into first half-second half for 1976, which they dubbed the “Star-Spangled Summer”. The program still costs .50 cents and the design had changed slightly.

The player bios were a little smaller, but the writing was still top-notch. With Kansas City becoming more of a travel destination, hotels were the new advertiser. Fans were reminded, complete with a picture, that Halter Top day was on June 27.

Our first game of the summer was June 12 to see the remnants of the once-powerful Orioles. This game was memorable for many reasons, nearly all of them wonderful. Four frat-type guys were in our seats when we arrived and when they refused to move, a Royals usher grabbed the first guy by the back of his pants and the scruff of his neck and threw him down the steps of the stadium. The other three jumped to their feet and respectfully moved. My 15-year-old self-loved it.

It was the only time I saw Brooks Robinson play. Reggie Jackson hit a long home run in the 9th to make things interesting. Future Royal manager, Tony Muser, playing first base for Baltimore, took a bad hop ground ball off the bat of John Mayberry, right in the sack. Clank! Muser went down like he was shot with a deer slug but still managed to tag the base for the out. He left the game on a stretcher. Steve Busby started for Kansas City and pitched five innings. Little did I know that it was the beginning of the end for Busby. He made four more appearances in 1976 only throwing 21 more innings. He missed the entire 1977 season and would only appear in 40 more games between 1978 and 1980 before arm troubles forced him into an early retirement.

Late in the season, on September 5, we caught the Texas Rangers in town. The Royals came into the game with a record of 79-55 and a seven-game lead in the West. Texas came into the game at 61-73, but the records didn’t matter. Bert Blyleven was spectacular, shutting down the Royals on four hits. Kansas City got their only run in the sixth, when Brett tripled to the wall in right-center. Hal McRae brought him home with a single. With 27 games to play in the season, McRae held a comfortable lead in the batting race with a .346 mark. Brett was a way back at .330.

George got hot, hitting .350 over the last 27 games to finish at .333, while McRae cooled off a bit, only hitting .266 over that span, to finish at .332 in one of the closer batting races ever.

George Bernard Shaw once famously said that youth is wasted on the young. How right he was. Looking back, I wish I would have appreciated more to what I was seeing: The brilliance of Brett and McRae and Busby. The all-around spectacle of Reggie Jackson and Nolan Ryan. The history of players like Vada Pinson, Harmon Killebrew, Brooks Robinson and even Carl “Bleeping Yastrzemski. The underappreciated brilliance of a Bert Blyleven, Reggie Smith and Bobby Grich. Baseball is a beautiful game.