The Athletics staying in Kansas City
By Chris Nuttall
Author’s note: Before a major computer crash, I had the start of 2 timelines. One was Babe Ruth as a Red. There wasn’t a lot different, except a cheating scandal involving Hal Chase – Chase is traded to the Giants in mid-1917, a bit earlier than OTL – and a few others, who are found to have thrown the 1917 World Series. (Chase is more open.) This led to William Howard Taft as Commissioner for a few years, & someone followed him. If I’d found a way to integrate the majors earlier it could have kept going, but the earliest easy place was 1937-9. Ruth would be in 3-5 World Series, win a couple, and have about as many home runs as OTL, while Lou Gehrig would be the start of the Yankee dynasty we all know. Ruth would own Cincinnati, they’d have a bigger, newer park than OTL’s Crosley Field, which lasts till Great American Ballpark, but otherwise, not as many butterflies as one thinks, so I’d forgotten about it before the crash, anyway.
The other? The Athletics staying in Kansas City. It was about a different Commissioner, such as Curtis LeMay. I don’t remember a lot of the early part that I had done, it was only up to 1970 anyway. But, I wanted to do it as a shorter piece, anyway, just to give the basic detail. Then, I’ll do more if I have time.
Part 1: The Curse of Bud Selig
Who knows what might have happened had a different man been named Commissioner of baseball in late 1965. Well, January of ’66, really – that’s how long it took deadlocked owners once news leaked out that William Eckert was being considered, a man who knew nothing of the game. Well, okay, it might have been Zuckert who was considered, and Eckert recommended, but some owners got them confused, the press got more mixed up about each man’s credentials, and the whole thing fell apart for both men.
They couldn’t have kept the Braves from moving to Atlanta, though some like to dream. The city had exhausted all legal challenges, and the Commissioner wasn’t in office a few months when Atlanta played its first game. The Commissioner, in this case, was Curtis LeMay, who referred…Zuckert…we think. No, he referred Eckert. Or…well, owners were looking at Zuckert, when…let’s just say they finally offered LeMay a ton of money. Senator Symington finally pushed him into it, telling him, “Do something about Finley!”
(Note: I’m not being too facetious in writing this alternate history of the deal, given that LeMay referred one and owners got him confused with the other. It’s quite plausible that confusion could lead to leaks and neither man being named.)
Anyway, it’s what followed, involving Tom Seaver, that brought on what some in Atlanta called “The Curse of Bud Selig.”
The head man of baseball had decided that Seaver could sign with the Braves. Seaver had been part of exhibitions that meant he was no longer eligible under NCAA rules. He was going pro, that was certain. But, rather than make the Braves – as some suggested – cause them to lose the rights to Seaver, the new Commissioner decided the Braves hadn’t been flagrant in what they did, so they could just keep him.
Commissioner LeMay tried to alleviate Selig’s hurt feelings; he promised that Selig would get an expansion team. However, when the Braves – behind Seaver’s 25 wins and Hank Aaron’s 44 home runs – won the N.L. pennant at 97-65 (by 3 over the surprising Mets, 7 over the Cubs), Selig proclaimed: “That should be our pennant! They better enjoy this World Series, because that’s more than they deserve, and all they’re going to get!”
(Note – Aaron hit 5 of his 44 against expansion teams, he’d be expected to hit 8 all things being equal. His average increases, too, a bit, to about .305, given how he did in OTL.)
Baltimore, of course, easily dispatched the Braves in 6. The Braves surprised them by winning game 2 in Baltimore, but the Birds and Jim Palmer overpowered the Braves in game 3. Tom Seaver got back at Mike Cuellar with a win in game 4, but the Orioles came back to win game 5 versus Phil Niekro, 7-4. They captured the World Series in Game 6, with an easy win back home in Baltimore. Still, many considered this the best Braves’ squad in history, certainly on a par with 1957. Indeed, many said Hank Aaron would have won the MVP award were it not for Seaver siphoning off some votes, giving the award to Willie McCovey in a very tight vote. Still, the Orioles had gone 109-53.
(Note: They lost Wally Bunker and Moe Drabowski to the Royals, 2 hurlers who did quite well for an expansion club. Put them in instead of the worst 2 Oriole hurlers, and it’s a wash, even with no expansion teams to play. They’d have more like 103-105 wins in 1970, though, before another 100+ win season after expansion in ’71.)
Baseball clearly needed to be split into divisions by 1969. The N.L. pennant race had been very good and very close; the Cubs fell flat at the end, after leading by as many as four as late as August 22nd. But, the Mets got to within 1.5 of the Braves before the end. The Braves and Cubs had fought hard all the way before that. The World Series featured very close games in games 2, 4, and 5, and excited the Deep South when college football would normally dominate. Still, there were rumblings about the Senators – who had finished 6th, 30 games behind the Orioles – and the Phillies – who had been totally putrid – moving, even with what had happened to Kansas City’s Athletics. It was by no means certain, but there were plenty of cities who craved teams.
The N.L. had begun back in ‘67 to explore expansion by 1971. And, Charlie Finley was making lots of noise, despite the fact that he was no longer in baseball. He would be again, however, with expansion; not that owners were all that thrilled.
More on that in a moment. First, some player moves of note.
Part 2: Clendenon, Allen, trades, and player rights
In the time that cities fought for the right to new teams, existing teams showed there was easily room for 100 new players. Because more holes needed filled as time wore on, there was lots of trading, especially in the 1968 offseason. However, one man threw a big hitch into some of the trades; a man named Donn Clendenon.
A native of Atlanta, he hadn’t wanted to go to Houston in a trade, talking about retiring instead. (Note – this is OTL.) The Pirates found another player to go instead, but still wanted to trade him, with some of their other young talent coming up. The Astros felt they had a decent shot at contending with another veteran slugger, in a league they sensed was growing very balanced.
With no expansion team to claim Rusty Staub would be the centerpiece, there was no way for Commissioner LeMay to see a trade was vital, like if Staub had been part of the trade to an expansion club. However, as teams talked, the problem became trickier.
Clendenon was approached by the Players’ Association, and convinced that – instead of retiring, since the Pirates really wanted to send him to Houston – he should be willing to challenge the Reserve Clause. He felt he wouldn’t be playing more anyway, so he said, why not? He sued to challenge their right to trade him when another attempt was made.
What had happened was, the Mets looked like they could contend, with the right pieces. They began to inquire about the rights to Clendenon. They had plenty of spare parts, especially in pitching, but they needed offense. Meanwhile, the Phillies wanted more power to go with Dick Allen, who was perceived as a major malcontent. The Mets felt Allen was younger, could possibly play third, and would cost little more than Clendenon would, for much more production. The wheels began turning on a trade with the Phillies, as the Mets realized Clendenon might not report anywhere. The Phillies traded Allen in June, for good young players like Duffy Dyer and pitcher Gary Gentry. Then, the Phillies tried to acquire Clendenon, and Clendenon refused to report.
The Phillies were absolutely woeful, at 54-108, in 1969. They were 18-34 when they finally pulled the strings on the Allen deal. The Mets were more willing to consider such a big deal, because they didn’t just have the Cubs, who were in first by 3 at the time over Atlanta, to hop over. The Reds, Giants, and Dodgers were also ahead of them at this point, but just barely. The Mets knew they had a good shot at contending, if not outright winning, but for now they were in sixth.
Their first pennant wouldn’t come until 1972, but the excitement over this ’69 team pushed them to front page status, ahead of the Yankees.
The Mets sent a number of promising players, including Gentry, former first round pick Dyer, and outfielders, promoting Amos Otis to the majors. It was a little early for Otis, who blossomed in ’70. Otis stabilized an outfield in ’72 that featured Rusty Staub – who was injured for a little over half the year – and aging Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee..
The Cardinals might have considered Allen, but were nowhere near contention. They were in 9th when the Allen deal was made; only the woeful Phillies separating the two-time defending N.L. champs from the basement. (The Cards were way ahead of the Phillies.) They decided not to panic; 1965 hadn’t been a great year, either, though this team was supposed to be better. As it was, they rallied to 80-82, thanks to the strong pitching of Gibson and Carlton. Only Brock and Gibson were deemed safe – not even Carlton was, as he became embroiled in a contract dispute. They wound up making a number of trades in the offseason.
Allen felt really good with the Mets; he’d been freed from a horrible situation in Philadelphia, where he’d hinted at a trade demand. The New York press, always eager for a story, provided him a mouthpiece to air all sorts of dirty laundry about the Phillies – including his side of an incident in 1965 that Phillie management tried to sweep under the rug. The fact other ex-Phillies agreed with his side, and that it involved an original Met, Frank Thomas, made it juicier, and it earned him some sympathy at first. As long as the Mets kept winning, his antics were okay; Allen was seen by some as divisive, but he was newsworthy, and he quickly lifted the Mets to third.
He couldn’t field at third, though, where the Mets wanted him. Ed Kranepool did well at first. So, the Mets moved him to left later that summer, where he was less of a liability. He slumped at first in New York, since Shea Stadium was such a pitchers park, but he still grabbed a lot of attention and put fans in the stands, to see if he’d hit one of his long home runs. Many recall the Phillies’ first visit to Shea since the trade, when he blasted what some say was a homer of over 500 feet. He seemed to glare at the Phillies’ dugout all the way around the bases. A reporter asked him afterward about it, and he said, “I wanted to go to Jersey to see a horserace, but I wasn’t going to miss this chance. I’d been waiting to pay them back for how they treated me all these years!”
The scowl from Philadelphia was mostly gone. Still, comments like that – wanting to go see a horse race way over in New Jersey – and a few other issues involving showing up a little late meant Gil Hodges had a lot to handle. He called someone he knew from his playing days, one very familiar with racial taunts and the eye of what seemed to be an entire nation. Maybe he could help.
Allen didn’t mind New York too much – it was diverse enough, and it provided him with media attention. Still, he’d ruffled feathers even his first few weeks in New York. Hodges asked Jackie Robinson to work with Allen personally. It helped for a while, but Hodges was worried that he might need to hire Jackie as bench coach as 1970 wore on, and Jackie Robinson was starting to become ill by this time.
Allen made what many called an unintended peace gesture at first, after what Jackie – and Hodges, and Roy Campanella, etc. – told him. On the one-year anniversary of the trade, he said, “You people are all just upset ‘cause that no good Walter O’Malley stole your Dodgers out from under you. You should have some sympathy for me; our race has been havin’ Walter O’Malleys steal from us for generations!” He then said, “If it’ll make you feel better, maybe we oughta just rename the Mets the ‘Brooklyn Dodgers’.” He then challenged O’Malley to sell the naming rights!
As one Philadelphia paper put it, “He gets hung up on names for weird reasons. Now he’s trying to get all of Brooklyn on his side, while antagonizing all the former Giant fans.”
New York’s press honeymoon wore off in 1970. The Reds raced to an incredible record after 100 games. The Mets were out of things very early, and struggled to get to .500. Allen’s lack of production – because of the big ballpark, and lack of protection in the lineup – compared to last year was blamed for the Mets being unable to recapture the magic. They had been the trendy pick to win it all in 1970. With the media coming down on him more, the team itself didn’t seem to support Allen like he wanted. The fact Allen slumped to .278 didn’t help; he had 32 homers, but failed to reach 100 RBIs. He was walked a lot, and missed over 20 games with injuries. Still, some wondered – do they trade him, or get help behind him? Could trading him net both offense and another good pitcher besides Koosman?
Things had coming to such a head some say Phillie management would have suspended him for something in ’69 had he remained with them. The Mets’ big improvement after acquiring him meant his trade value wasn’t bad. Still, in 1970, the Mets finished 22 behind the Reds, in 6th. The Cardinals and Phillies were in 9th and 10th, respectively, showing that a couple smaller trades between them hadn’t worked out well for either side. But, the Mets felt that perhaps Carlton – who had done quite poorly because of the distractions of the dispute – could give them some help.
They knew they needed offense, too, though. And, they didn’t seem to be able, for sure, to get a pitching ace and good power for Allen. Besides, fans came to see him in droves. Claims he was divisive were now spread to an entire metropolitan area, as he talked a few more times about the Dodger move, but seemed to ignore the Giants. But, at least he was trying. And, with him permanently in left – though he spelled Kranepool at first some – his defense was up to mediocre, enough so that he was compared to Babe Herman less and less. He was having fun.
But, the White Sox came, then, and offered Tommy John. A multi-player deal was worked out, and the White Sox, with Allen’s potent bat at first full-time now, improved almost 30 wins from 1970 to 1971; in ’71 they snuck ahead of the Yankees for 4th in the new A.L. East, at 82-80. The following year, he’d lead them to a division title. His offensive production picked up, and the White Sox had found the man who would bring fans back to the ballpark.
As one later writer said, “Hodges tried as best he could to draw analogies to things he’d seen in his playing days. He felt if Allen looked at things from a different perspective, he would lose some of his stubborn streak. Allen had issues that went beyond the ball diamond. Still, you had to give Hodges credit for trying whatever he could.”
The same stands that – after his Brooklyn comments – saw numerous banners signed “Giants fan” saying “We were robbed, too!” saw another big banner unfurled on the last day of the 1969 season. It read “Wait Till Next Year!” An average of 28,000 fans had come to see the Mets the following year, 1970, and life in the Big Apple was good. “Next year” would come, in 1972. But first, there was expansion. That, alone, was a mess.
Part 3: Expansion – Not As Easy As it Seemed
Commissioner LeMay had promised Bud Selig two things: He’d urge owners to look into expansion, with Milwaukee being the first city, and he would no longer tolerate owners moving willy-nilly, as the Braves had.
He knew he’d been too late to save the Braves. If someone stepped in before ‘65, maybe, but if baseball had stopped the move in ‘66, they’d have found themselves sued by the Braves’ owner and by Atlanta. He was military, but good enough at politics to realize what he had. However, he also had the ear of Senator Symington, who – after the long, drawn-out deadlock over who would be Commissioner – personally went up and begged him to serve. Symington had been fearful that Finley would take advantage of the lack of a Commissioner and wear A.L. owners down till he moved.
LeMay had stepped in. In late 1967, Finley again planned to move. Owners were ready to okay it, but LeMay - in addition to pushing for overseas trips (like the Dodgers’ in ‘66) and doing other things to help in the business area - had done baseball a big favor. He’d looked for a new owner behind the scenes. Eventually, he found one. He told Finley he had two options. Keep the team there, or sell the Athletics to Ewing Kauffman.
“You mean the A’s,” Finley retorted.
“’A’ is right – with you, it stands for ‘absurd,’ or ‘anarchy,’” LeMay responded. He was military, yet political enough to know he’d have to give something to get along with owners. So, he promised Finley, “If you choose to give up the Athletics, and keep on your best behavior, you will be considered highly for an expansion team, if you can raise the funds. However, I have learned that – had other owners not felt forced by the death of Arnold Johnson – you never would have gotten a team in the first place.”
Finley threatened to sue, but realized he’d have no support, with how he’d antagonized owners. However, he insisted that he had run the A’s well, and that he could put enough together to get an expansion club. He could always find others to lend money. And, he knew there would be at least one team in trouble, as the Senators had been bleeding red ink, and were about to be sold, as they would soon be to Bob Short..
Short had bought the Lakers, moving them from Minnesota to Los Angeles. Attendance at Senators’ games floundered through 1969, even as they finished at 79-83. It might have been a little better, had there been divisions, and had they had a chance to beat bad teams. Now, the situation was more than hopeless. Fans couldn’t see 3rd or 4th as possible; they finished well into 6th. (Note: they were 86-76 in OTL, and while 4th, looked very promising, whereas here, they’d be nowhere near 5th). Fans lost interest. They were more interested in the Redskins; the Senators’ best club still couldn’t finish .500.
As expansion was discussed into 1969, a couple cities were obvious; San Diego was at the top. They had a name – the Padres – and assurance they’d get a club. Milwaukee was the other. The White Sox struggled enough it was possible they could move with another owner getting an expansion club, but when Finley suggested this, with him getting the Chicago club, Symington barked, “I’d rather give Al Capone an expansion club in Chicago!” LeMay, not yet as unnerved by Finley as the esteemed Senator had been, simply said it made more sense for Chicago’s current owners to keep trying, while Selig got the expansion club. “Milwaukee has a perfectly good stadium, just like San Diego, and good ownership, which is what we want,” he added.
The other two cities were murkier. Montreal looked possible for a time, but then they couldn’t reach a stadium deal as 1968 wore on, so it seemed they might not get a team. Still, the potential owner, Charles Bronfman, was very rich. In 1969, they formed a plan to increase Jarry Park’s attendance to 32,000, and build an Olympic stadium. Montreal was back on the running. Seattle, on the other hand, had approved a stadium in a 1967 vote, but as 1969 turned into 1970, there were major delays in it. LeMay declared that if Seattle didn’t get an A.L. club – as they’d expected in 1968 - San Diego would have to, in order to satisfy Gene Autry, who wanted another team on the West Coast.
Among other cities, Dallas was a thought, but Houston’s owner got a coalition together to block it in the N.L.. Bob Short also threatened to block it because they didn’t have a stadium yet, though his intention was to keep it fresh in case he had to move the Senators there himself. Oakland had a stadium but lacked certainty of ownership. Toronto had an owner – Jack Kent Cooke - but lacked a good stadium. New Orleans was shy on both and too small, though they were a possible future site. Denver had no natural rivals and would be less convenient, but was a nice option if other things fell through, as they had a very good stadium and possibly rich ownership.
Official announcements were made in mid-1969 that San Diego and Milwaukee were in. If others couldn’t be found for sure, this was fine – they could both join the A.L., which was more keen toward expanding. Still, LeMay pushed for both leagues to expand; he wanted to be more in charge strategically. They didn’t really like how he ran expansion, but at least he was accepting their input. One scribe, in June, 1970, described it as LeMay “Planning strategy, with all available information, to invade football territory and reclaim some for baseball. He’s going about it well – the tour of the Dodgers in Japan in ’66, promoting the chase of Aaron and Mays toward Ruth’s record, and other things. He wants to make baseball viable in as many places as possible.” Privately, owners desired a different man next time; league attorney Bowie Kuhn was discussed. LeMay probably wouldn’t seek re-election anyway.
By the 1969 Winter Meetings, plans for Jarry Park had been finalized; expansion would take it to 40,000 seats by 1971. Though Montreal hadn’t gotten the Olympics yet, the organizing committee became part of the presentation that showed it could be a very viable big league city. Bronfman’s wealth was the real key, as long as a stadium was there. “They were lucky we had enough time to give them,” one owner said. “We wouldn’t have jumped on the chance this early, but with Seattle out unless things happen really fast, we’re announcing Montreal as our third city.”
Indeed, not only had Seattle fallen out of the running due to bickering over stadium sites and owners backing out, a few others had, too. Whereas before, cities seemed to be lining up for baseball, by the end of 1969 they all seemed to have problems. Autry’s insistence that San Diego enter the A.L. if Seatle wasn’t chosen, along with the N.L. President’s excitement over expanding into Canada, were the only things that prevented the A.L. from expanding by 2 while keeping the N.L. at 10 for the time being. However, they could tell that Milwaukee and Montreal would likely enter the N.L., with the A.L. getting San Diego and…someone. Chicago still was only truly stable in the N.L., and Selig wanted his club to be in the N.L. if they could be.
Bob Short, who borrowed most of the money to buy his club as it was, offered a “Calvin Griffith” plan. Just as Griffith moved to Minnesota, and Washington got an expansion club, he’d move to Dallas – really, Arlington – and Washington would get another team. Washington attendance had picked up, but they knew Short was struggling. While they didn’t want to move a team, they promised to look into it.
LeMay liked the idea of putting an established team in Dallas. He privately gave Short his blessing, and started a hurried look for Washington investors. None had enough cash, though. One group looked promising, led by Joseph Danzanski. But, that fell through by May, and would have even a few years later as the Padres struggled. By late June, no potential Washington owners were found. The league felt none would be. Owners were forced to admit that Short wasn’t making any money in Washington, and the previous owner had major problems, too. If that was the case with a now-established team, an expansion team would be worse off financially.
Then, Finley stepped forward. He promised that he’d mended his ways. He pledged to stay in Washington, too, because he said he “Understood the complex nature of the antitrust exemption, which Congress holds over our heads.”
He had no comment when reminded of his preference for Oakland – or, really, anyplace that gave him money and a ballpark. Symington said, “If the Senators are going to move, take them now, don’t wait a year. And, don’t give Finley a team here; Washington doesn’t deserve a man who threatens to move everywhere but the Moon!”
He’d looked into the ownership problem with LeMay, and agreed that, sadly, baseball in Washington wasn’t going to succeed with Short, and a fire sale in ‘70 would make it worse. Washington was on its way to 9th place, around 35 games back, with only the White Sox worse. They still leaked red ink. Fans that had come in ’69 now stayed away consistently. Privately, a few owners said it would have been ideal to expand by 2, but divisions of an even number of teams were best in each league. Still, there were concerns about whether all the franchises could survive.
It was best if the A.L. got 2 Western division cities, so the Tigers could stay in the East, if the Senators stayed. Now, that wasn’t as necessary; Short announced in July that he was moving the Senators, and Arlington Stadium would be expanded for 1971. Most figured they’d have been a lame duck team in ’71 anyway. Now, it meant Milwaukee would go into the N.L., unless Bud Selig didn’t mind being put in the A.L. East.
Finally, in July, 1970, owners couldn’t wait any longer.
Finley eventually admitted he preferred Oakland, and showed owners he had a group lined up to pay an expansion price, partly due to his sale to Kauffman. He would give big headaches to A.L. owners, who didn’t necessarily want him. Still, Stoneham would block any move by Oakland into the N.L.. On the other hand, Seattle‘s new stadium wasn’t close to getting started, or having a location. Denver wound up second to Oakland, now that Texas was getting the Rangers.
In the end, the owners went with a stadium that was already there, and a city that sort of felt they’d been denied a club. Many wondered if the Bay Area could support 2 clubs; the Giants had fallen off in attendance since 1967, though it was decent. Owners felt that, if Oakland were totally turned off of the new team – fans were just starting to come back in Kansas City – it wouldn’t be as big of a loss; they’d have the Giants. In a way, maybe that team would end up in Denver in a few years, anyway, and they’d be rid of Finley.
So, Finley received the Oakland team, which he just called the A’s. He’d kept pretty quiet, and actually been helpful. In return, he’d gotten his wish. But, in hindsight, it figured that he would. He always did whatever was in his best interests. He manipulated things to get another club. Now, he’d be Oakland’s headache.
All that remained was to set the divisions - each league would have 2 divisions of 6. The Cubs insisted on the East for TV and newspapers, so they wouldn’t have 27 West Coast games. (Each team would play 18 against division rivals, 12 against the others.) The Cardinals insisted on staying with them. However, the Mets wanted the Reds in the East, since they looked like the next dynasty. They couldn’t put 2 West Cost team in the N.L., though. Finally, LeMay stepped in, and suggested that both West Coast clubs go into the A.L., letting the Cubs and Cardinals be in the West, and still have only 18 games on the West Coast. This let the N.L. expand into Canada as they desired. Alternatives were more confusing, and/or would totally mess things up geographically.
So, the divisions in 1971 – in order of finish - would be:
A.L. East: Baltimore, Detroit, Boston, Chicago, New York, Cleveland
A.L. West: Kansas City, Minnesota, California, Oakland, Texas, San Diego
N.L. East: Pittsburgh, Atlanta, New York, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Montreal
N.L. West: St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Milwaukee,