The Royals are having another one of those summers. You know the type I’m talking about, the soul-crushing .400 summers where there doesn’t seem to be much hope. The type of season where you actually get a little jealous of the fans in say Tampa or Milwaukee, cities that are enjoying winning baseball. There’s something about having a winning baseball team that adds joy to a city summer. Every city with a winning baseball team has a little more swagger. Think Chicago when the Cubs are winning. Or Boston. It’s the same with Kansas City. When the Royals are winning the city has a little more joie de vivre.
These losing summers, and there have been a lot of them, get me thinking about the old Kansas City Athletics. The Athletics, though only in Kansas City for 13 seasons, perfected the art of the .400 summer. In fact, the Athletics’ all-time record in Kansas City was 829 wins and 1,224 losses - .404%. Unbelievably, they never had a winning summer. Oh-for-thirteen. Every time it looked like a new star player might be emerging, ownership, particularly Arnold Johnson, would trade the offender to the Yankees.
After Charlie O. Finley took over, he quickly tired of the losing, but the Athletics were in such a hole that Finley lost patience with the city and as you know moved them…just as they were getting good.
What would the best, all-time roster of the Athletics look like? Had the Athletics stayed in Kansas City, this list would be very different. It would have been dominated by names like Bando, Campaneris, Jackson, Tenace, Monday, Rudi, Fingers, Hunter, and Blue. Heck, you could almost put an all-star team together with the players that were traded away, guys like Roger Maris, Deron Johnson, Ralph Terry, and Clete Boyer.
Researching this led me to some interesting findings. There were no players who spent the entire 13 years in Kansas City. In fact, most Kansas City A’s careers ran about four years. Another tidbit: there were very few pitchers who had a winning record while on the Athletic staff. I’m not talking about some guy who went 2-1 in his only season in KC. I’m talking about pitchers who were there for a significant time. I only found two. There could be more. So here goes, the all-time best Kansas City Athletics.
Catcher - Hal Smith
This position is a bit of a black hole for the Athletics and Smith was the best of the bunch. Smith is best known for his heroic home run in the 1960 World Series, which set the stage for Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off blast. He played in Kansas City from August of 1956, when the A’s acquired him from Baltimore, through the end of the 1959 season, when he was shipped off to Pittsburgh and glory. Over 351 games, Smith slashed .287/.332/.421 with 25 home runs and 142 RBI. He was also versatile, occasionally filling in at third base and first base when needed.
First Base - Norm Siebern
Siebern was one of the few decent players the Athletics ever received back from their trades with the Yankees. He came at a cost, of course, the cost being Roger Maris. Siebern manned first for the A’s from the 1960 season through the end of the 1963 campaign. In a rare bit of almost perfect timing, Kansas City got the best Siebern years before they shipped him to Baltimore for Jim Gentile in November of 1963. Over 611 games, Siebern slashed .289/.381/.463 with 78 home runs and 367 RBI. He made two All-Star teams and picked up MVP votes in three seasons.
How good was Siebern? If you cherry-picked Eric Hosmer’s four best years in Kansas City, his slash over 637 games would be: .296/.330/.441 with 85 home runs and 370 RBI. Siebern’s four seasons were consecutive. Hosmer’s were not. Siebern was basically peak Eric Hosmer.
Second Base - Jerry Lumpe
Lumpe was another Yankee refugee. He came over in a May 1959 trade for Hector Lopez and Ralph Terry. In his college days at Missouri State, Lumpe was a teammate of Norm Siebern for a short time. Lumpe spent most of five seasons in Kansas City (1959-1963) and like Siebern, enjoyed his peak years for the Athletics. Over 715 games he slashed .279/.334/.377. He also had a little pop, recording 119 doubles, 29 home runs and 277 RBI, all good for 9 WAR. His best season came in 1962 when he hit .301 and recorded career highs in every offensive category while picking up some MVP votes.
Third Base - Ed Charles
Charles was a great story. He was stuck in the Milwaukee Braves system, blocked by Hall of Famer Eddie Matthews, and the Athletics pried him away (along with Joe Azcue and Manny Jimenez) for Lou Klimchcok and Bob Shaw, in what was one of their better trades.
Charles, like many of his Athletics teammates, was a versatile player, seeing time at second, short, first base and left field, but third base was his primary position and he hit the ground running in KC. In 726 career games spanning from 1962 through the early part of the 1967 season, Charles slashed .268/.337/.406 with 65 home runs and 319 RBI. Charles' two best years in KC were 1962, when he set career highs in home runs, stolen bases and batting average and 1966, when injuries limited him to 118 games, but he was still good for an OPS+ of 126.
Early in the 1967 season, the Athletics traded Charles, known as “the glider’ for his smooth play, to the New York Mets. Charles played a large role in the Mets 1969 World Series championship. His last major league home run came off Steve Carlton in a Mets win that clinched the National League East title. Charles was also a noted poet and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He passed away in March of 2018 and is buried in Ft. Leavenworth National Cemetery.
Shortstop - Bert Campaneris
Campy, as he was affectionately called, was signed by the Athletics as a free agent in April of 1961. He roared through the Athletics minor league system and by July 1964 was in the majors. In his debut on July 23, 1964, he hit a home run on the first pitch he saw, thrown by Jim Kaat. In the seventh inning, he hit another. Only four players have hit two home runs in their first game. Mark Quinn of the Royals was the third.
On September 8, 1965, Campy became the first player in Major League history to play all nine positions in a game. While on the mound, Campy threw left-handed to left-handed batters and righty to right-handed batters. On the field, Campaneris was an exciting, raw, energetic dervish. While in Kansas City, he led the American League in steals three times and in triples once and up MVP votes in two seasons. His Kansas City slash was: .261/.308/.365 over 500 games.
Campaneris ended up enjoying a 19-year career in which he led the league in steals six times and was a six-time All-Star and a three-time World Series champion. His career stolen base mark of 649 still ranks 14th all time.
Outfield - Gus Zerniel
“Ozark Ike”, as Zerniel was known as, was one of the most feared sluggers in the game during his prime. The Philadelphia Athletics acquired Zerniel from the Chicago White Sox in a three-team deal that also included Minnie Minoso, who moved from Cleveland to the South Side. In all, Zerniel spent seven seasons in Philadelphia and Kansas City. His Kansas City years spanned from 1955 to 1957, in which he slashed: .240/.301/.479 with 73 home runs and 197 RBI over 360 games. Zerniel led the league in home runs, RBIs, and outfield assists once and strikeouts twice. During the eight seasons from 1950 to 1957, Zerniel averaged almost 28 home runs per season.
Outfield - Bob Cerv
Cerv had one of the more interesting stories in Athletics history. When he was 12, he rode from their home in Nebraska to New York City with his father, to deliver eggs and milk. They took in a game at Yankee Stadium. After watching Lou Gehrig hit two home runs, the young Cerv told his father that he too would play in Yankee Stadium someday. After graduating from high school in Weston, Nebraska, Cerv enlisted in the US Navy and served aboard the destroyer Claxton. The Claxton survived several kamikaze attacks and fought in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Cerv made it out of the war unharmed then attended the University of Nebraska on the GI bill, winning All-American honors and eight letters in basketball and baseball. He signed with the Yankees after graduating and spent three stints in New York over the duration of his career. While in New York, he roomed with Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle during their infamous home run chase of 1961, an odd mix if there ever was one. Cerv and Maris, the quiet, unassuming midwestern boys, and Mantle, the flashy, hard-living man about town. Cerv was usually odd-man out in the Yankee outfield, so after the 1956 season, the Yanks sold him to Kansas City. Cerv hit his peak in the 413 games he played over four seasons in Kansas City, slashing: .288/.342/.509 with 75 home runs and 247 RBI. He set the Athletics season home run record in 1958 when he cranked out 38 long balls. He made one All-Star team and finished fourth in the 1958 MVP vote. A good athlete, Cerv played all three outfield positions.
Outfield - Roger Maris
Maris was a North Dakota high school legend. He was so good on the football field that the University of Oklahoma offered him a full ride. Instead, Maris signed with the Cleveland Indians and blazed his way through their minor league system. He learned how to pull the ball while playing at Class B Keokuk, where he slammed 32 home runs and drove in 111. He made his debut in Cleveland as a 22-year-old in 1957, and like many teams do, the Indians grew impatient waiting for Maris to adjust to major league pitching. The Athletics acquired Maris, Dick Tomanek, and Preston Ward in June of 1958 in exchange for Woodie Held and Vic Power. The trade was a bit of a risk for the Athletics as Held was a decent outfielder and Power was one of the better first basemen in the American League. Much to the consternation of Kansas City fans, the Athletics brain trust, if you can call it that, only gave Maris 221 games in Athletic uniform before shipping him to…you guessed it, the damn Yankees.
In those 221 games for Kansas City, Maris slashed .260/.331/.452 with 35 home runs and 125 RBI. He made the All-Star team in 1959 despite missing 45 games due to an appendix operation, which sapped his strength when he returned. Maris was hitting .328 prior to his appendix blowing up and looked like a sure-fire star with the bat and the glove. In an act of total management incompetence, the Athletics sent Maris, Kent Hadley, and Joe DeMaestri to the Yanks in December of 1959 in exchange for Norm Siebern, Marv Throneberry and two washed-up war horses, Hank Bauer and Don Larsen. Of course, Maris hit his stride with the Yankees, making three All-Star teams, winning two MVP awards and for good measure, in 1961 he broke Babe Ruth’s long-standing home run record by mashing 61 big flies. It was a stunning blow to Athletic fans to lose the talented and popular Maris right before he blew up.
Selecting the bench was the hardest part of this exercise as there are several players listed who you could easily argue they should be starters.
Harry Chiti - Chiti doesn’t make the team because of his stats. He was a decent player, slashing .255/.313/.400 with 19 home runs over three seasons. Every team needs at least two catchers and Chiti was the second-best in Athletics history, which shows you how bad the Athletics managed their catching needs.
Wayne Causey – Causey, a popular player during his time in Kansas City, was one of the rare ballplayers who had his peak years wearing the green and gold. The A’s picked him up in a January 1961 trade with the Baltimore Orioles. Over the next six seasons, Causey slashed .270/.350/.371 while playing all over the infield. He saw time at third, short and second, and picked up MVP votes after the 1963 and 1964 seasons.
Hector Lopez – The popular Panamanian makes the squad strictly for his bat. During his five seasons in Kansas City, covering 586 games, Lopez slashed .278/.337/.433 with 67 home runs, 99 doubles, 199 walks, and 269 RBI. He was versatile, spending most of his time at third base, but capable of playing second and left field. Kansas City naturally traded him to the Yankees in May of 1959, in a deal that brought Jerry Lumpe to the Athletics. Lopez played eight seasons in the Bronx, winning two World Series titles.
Dick Williams – Future Hall of Fame manager Williams was an underrated jack of all trades during his two seasons in Kansas City. He played in 257 games in the 1959 and 1960 seasons and slashed: .276/.327/.442 while playing every position but shortstop, catcher, and pitcher.
Vic Power – Power moved west with the Athletics from Philadelphia and enjoyed some fine seasons playing first base for the Athletics. In 582 games over most of five seasons, Power slashed: .290/.321/.435 with 59 home runs and 246 RBI while making two All-Star teams, winning a Gold Glove, and picking up MVP votes in four seasons. In June of 1958, the Athletics traded Power to Cleveland in a multi-player deal that brought Roger Maris to Kansas City. During his four seasons in Cleveland, Power put up nearly identical numbers that he complied in Kansas City. He ended his 12-year career with a .284 batting average.
Just missing the cut: Jim Gentile, Whitey Herzog, Lou Skizas, Dick Howser, Elmer Valo and Bill Tuttle.
Enos Slaughter - The Hall of Famer and longtime Cardinals star came to Kansas City when he was 39 and many thought he was over the hill. “Country” showed them wrong by slashing .302/.387/.427 in 199 games over two seasons while infusing the team with his boundless energy. The Athletics put Slaughter on waivers in August of 1956 whereupon he was claimed by the Yankees. There was some talk that a back-room deal had been swung, with the Yanks getting Slaughter in exchange for Bob Cerv, who was sold to Kansas City after the season ended. Given the incestuous relationship between New York and Kansas City management, anything was possible.
Harry Simpson - Nicknamed “Suitcase”, former Negro League star Simpson enjoyed two stints in Kansas City. The first ran from May of 1955 through June of 1957. That era ended with Simpson being shipped to New York, of course. The Yankees sent Simpson back to Kansas City in June of 1958 when they needed more pitching. The Athletics sent Simpson to the White Sox in May of 1959, ending the Simpson saga in Kansas City. Over those 389 games for the Athletics, Simpson performed admirably, slashing .291/.349/.458 with 40 home runs and 210 RBI while putting up an OPS+ of 115. Simpson made the All-Star team in 1956 and finished eleventh in the MVP vote.
Rocky Colavito - Prior to the 1964 season, Athletic owner Charlie O. Finley decided that he was going to remake the Athletics into a home run hitting team. To do that, he sent three players to Detroit in exchange for Colavito. Though he only played one season in Kansas City, the Rock did not disappoint. He slashed .274/.366/.507 with 34 home runs, 83 walks and 102 RBI. Colavito made the American League All-Star team and picked up some MVP votes. After another last-place finish, Finley abandoned the power strategy and traded Colavito to Cleveland in a three-team deal.
Jim “Catfish” Hunter - Kansas Citians only got to see the beginning of his brilliant Hall of Fame career, but those first three seasons were still good enough to land Hunter on this staff. Hunter made his KC debut as a fresh-faced 19-year-old in 1965. Hunter only went 30 wins and 36 losses in his 97 appearances for Kansas City, but you could see the stardom coming. He made the All-Star team his last two seasons and on September 24th of his rookie campaign, he twirled a two-hit shutout against the Boston Red Sox in a game at Municipal. Hunter also won the last game in Athletics history, pitching a three-hit shutout against the Chicago White Sox on September 27th, 1967. Hunter went 224-166 over his 15-year career. He was an eight-time All-Star, won a Cy Young in 1974 and was part of five World Series championship teams.
Jim Nash – Like Hunter, Nash was another of Finley’s young guns. He debuted with the Athletic in 1966 as a 21-year-old and put up a spectacular 12-1 record with a 2.06 ERA in 127 innings over 18 games. He fell off to 12-17 in 1967, battling shoulder problems that would plague him for the remainder of his career.
Alex Kellner – Kellner was another player who made the trip west from Philadelphia. He was already 30 when he made his Kansas City debut, but over the next three and a half seasons, the left-handed Kellner was solid, putting up a 24-19 record over 85 appearances.
Bud Daley – Daley was a left-handed knuckleball pitcher who also threw two different speeds of curveballs. He was highly effective during his time in Kansas City, going 39-39 in 118 appearances with an ERA of 3.93 while playing for some terrible teams. He made the All-Star team in both 1959 and 1960 and picked up MVP votes both seasons. He called his appearance in the 1960 All-Star game, held at Municipal, the greatest thrill of his career. The Athletics, of course, traded him to the Yankees in June of 1961. Daley went on to win two World Series titles with New York before retiring after the 1964 season.
John Wyatt – A former Negro League player, Wyatt was one of the more colorful characters in Athletics history. Noted for having a language all his own, Wyatt put up a 27 and 28 record over a six-year career that spanned 292 appearances. He saved 72 games for the Athletics and made an All-Star team in 1964, when he led the American League with 81 appearances. The Athletics traded the right-handed Wyatt to Boston in June of 1966, and he played a pivotal bullpen role for the Sox 1967 impossible dream season.
Jack Aker – Aker was originally signed as an outfielder, before making the transition to the mound in 1960. A sidewinding, sinkerball pitcher, Aker made 166 appearances for the Athletics between 1964 and 1967, going 15-15 with a 3.38 ERA. He recorded 47 saves, including a league-leading 32 in 1966.
Tom Gorman – Gorman, who came over from the Yankees in a cash deal in March of 1955, was somewhat overlooked during his five seasons in Kansas City. Gorman appeared in 214 games, posting a 26-29 record and a 3.84 ERA. He pitched 515 innings and recorded 34 saves.
Ray Herbert – The Athletics purchased Herbert from the Tigers in May of 1955 and over the next five seasons, he was a workhorse, appearing in 152 games. He compiled a record of 37 and 48 while pitching 782 innings. Used primarily as a starter, the A’s traded Herbert to the White Sox in a multi-player deal in June of 1961. In 1962, he posted a career-best 20-9 record for Chicago and made the All-Star team.
Wally Burnette – Forgotten except by the most hard-core Athletic fans, the knuckleballing Burnette only played three seasons in the majors, all with Kansas City. Between 1956 and 1958, Burnette appeared in 68 games, going 14-21 with a 3.56 ERA over 262 innings of work.
Just missing the pitching cut: Orlando Pena, Bill Terry, Jim Archer, Art Ditmar, Moe Drabowsky, Virgil Trucks and Ed Rakow.
The Athletics had an unusual thing going on. Even though the team was a haven for over-the-hill and underperforming players, it was a breeding ground for Hall of Fame managers. Dick Williams, Whitey Herzog, Tony LaRussa, Dick Howser and Tommy Lasorda all played for the Athletics. All won World Series titles as managers. When it comes to selecting the best Athletics manager, well, that is a tough one. The team had ten different managers in their thirteen-year Kansas City run. None were able to achieve a winning record. If I had to pick the best, I’m going with:
Harry Craft – Craft, a former outfielder with the Cincinnati Reds, took over from Lou Boudreau on August 6th, 1957, and willed his charges to a 23 and 27 finish. In 1958, he guided the Athletics to arguably their best season, a 73-81 record with several of the players on this hypothetical roster I put together – Chiti, Power, Lopez, Smith, Cerv, Tuttle, Maris, Simpson, Herbert, Daley and Gorman. The good times didn’t last. The Athletics went 66-88 in 1959, and that was it for Mr. Craft. Bob Elliott replaced him for the 1960 season.