February 19, 2013
Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby said, "People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." The Super Bowl is now history and March Madness has not begun, but pitchers and catchers have reported to their respective spring training sites in Florida and Arizona. The rest of the players will be reporting soon to prepare for the upcoming season, with rookies trying desperately to make an impact during this period to make it to the "Big Show."
I fell in love with the game as a kid listening to the broadcasts of the Kansas City Athletics (A’s) on my little red transistor radio; I snuck it into my bed at night to see if Ralph Terry could out pitch the hated Yankee, Whitey "The Chairman of the Board" Ford. I dreamed of playing ball with the greats: Mickey "The Commerce Comet" Mantle, Willie "The Say Hey Kid" Mays, Stan "The Man" Musial, Ernie "Let’s Play Two" Banks, and my favorite A’s player, Bobby "The Greek" Del Greco. I was a great sandlot player in my estimation, but the closest I ever got to realizing my dreams were my visits to Municipal Stadium on 22nd and Brooklyn to watch the A’s in their futile attempts to defeat any one of the seven other teams in the American League. Dwight Eisenhower said, "When I was a small boy in Kansas, a friend of mine and I went fishing… I told him I wanted to be a real major league baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he wanted to be President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish." I'd begun to master the lingo of baseball, as it still evovles through the ages. Frozen rope, banjo hitter, grand salami, pick it clean, dinger, tater, gopher or long ball, Baltimore chop, Texas leaguer, the cycle, a cup of coffee, 3 up and 3 down, a big can of corn, and a free pass just to name a few. Wes Westrum, catcher with the New York Giants and the second manager of the New York Mets replacing the great Casey Stengel mentioned, "Baseball is like church. Many attend but few understand."
My love affair with the A’s ended when owner Charles O. Finley moved the team and his mule, Charlie O., to Oakland in 1968, leaving Kansas City without a major league team. The A’s went on to win 3 (1972-74) consecutive World Series with many players that made it to "The Show" in Kansas City. A tough year in the history of our nation, 1968, but matters were made even worse for this high schooler with no summer games to attend. Merle Harmon, a former broadcaster for the A’s now employed by the Minnesota ball club, broadcast the Twins games to the fans of Kansas City, but it wasn’t the same as rooting for the home team. On April 8, 1969 the Royals made their debut and pinch hitter Joe Keough drove in the winning run in the 12th inning giving former KC A’s pitcher, Moe Drabowsky, the first win in Royals history. My friend and I, seniors in high school, somehow did not make it to class on that afternoon, as we witnessed with 17,686 other fans the excitement of baseball once again in old Municipal Stadium. A new love affair with Kansas City baseball began again on that day and continues to this very moment. Even though the past few years with the Royals have been difficult as the team struggles to regain their glory days, there is nothing that can compare with going to the ballpark, eating a hotdog with mustard, and becoming part of the game.
Yes, Kansas City has a rich tradition of baseball dating back to 1884 with the Kansas City Cowboys in the Union Association. The Kansas City Monarchs were an established Negro League team from 1920 - 1955. The Athletics moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City in 1955 and played until 1967 with the Royals starting in 1969. Check out these books for more detailed information.
- The Kansas City Athletics: A Baseball History 1954-1967 by John Peterson
- One Man’s Dream by Frank White
- I Was Right on Time by Buck O’Neil
- The Soul of Baseball by Joe Pananski
- If You Were Only White by Donald Spivey
"Bullet" Bob Feller said, "Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put failures behind and start all over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is." So, get rid of the winter blues, and look forward to spring with the hope that your team will bring joy to Mudville.
Platte City Branch