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Bob Lutz: 1970s Oakland A’s dynasty was born in Kansas City

Roger Maris spent almost two full seasons in Kansas City with the A’s, but found his fame and fortune in New York with the Yankees after a 1959 trade.
Roger Maris spent almost two full seasons in Kansas City with the A’s, but found his fame and fortune in New York with the Yankees after a 1959 trade.

After 13 frustrating seasons, a franchise that never won more than 73 games in a season finally decided enough was enough.

And Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley moved his club to Oakland five years after Major League Baseball derailed his plan to move the A’s to Dallas.

The Kansas City A’s, a running joke of a franchise that relocated from Philadelphia in 1955, just couldn’t figure out a strategy to win games. In their final season playing home games at Municipal Stadium in downtown Kansas City, the A’s lost 30 of their final 40 games to finish 62-99. And shortly after the last pitch, Finley loaded up his team and headed west.

But in the A’s final three seasons in Kansas City, a transformation was taking place.

In 1964, Bert Campaneris made his A’s debut as a utility infielder. A year later, he and Dick Green formed the Kansas City A’s double-play combination. Also, 19-year-old right-hander John “Blue Moon” Odom made his A’s debut.

In 1965, Jim “Catfish” Hunter was called up late in the season by Kansas City. He was just 10.

A year later, rookies Sal Bando, 22, and Rick Monday, 20, joined the A’s late in the season. Monday had been the first pick in the first-ever Major League draft in 1965.

And in 1967, 21-year-old outfielder Reggie Jackson was called up by the Royals to make his big league debut. Jackson had 118 at-bats that season and batted just .178 with one homer and six RBIs. Another rookie, 20-year-old Joe Rudi, also made his first appearance with the A’s in 1967 and batted .186.

Campaneris, Green, Bandon, Monday, Jackson, Rudi, Odom and Hunter would, of course, go on to become the core of the brash, young and very good Oakland A’s of the early- to mid-1970s.

In fact, the Athletics’ turnaround in Oakland was swift. They were 82-80 in their first season, 1968. And by 1971, they were in the postseason with 101 regular-season wins. The A’s then won the World Series in 1972, 1973 and 1974.

After going 829-1,224 in 13 season in Kansas City, the A’s were 738-553 in their first eight years in Oakland with three world championships and two other playoff appearances.

Kansas City wasn’t without a franchise for long; the Royals and owner Ewing Kauffman came along in 1969. And that franchise was highly successful at the back end of the 1970s and into the 1980s, helping to alleviate any enduring sting from the move of the A’s.

And it’s those two franchises that meet in the postseason for the second time tonight at Kauffman Stadium. In the strike-shortened 1981 season, the A’s swept the Royals, 3-0, in the American League Division Series.

The Kansas City A’s aren’t thought about much these days. But while their history was not successful, it was definitely eventful.

In a 1958 mid-season trade with Cleveland, the A’s acquired outfielder Roger Maris and two other players for Woodie Held and Vic Power. Maris, 23 at the time, was considered one of the best young players in baseball, though he started slowly with Cleveland.

Maris did well in Kansas City, batting .247 with 19 homers and 53 RBI in just 99 games with the A’s in 1958, then batting .273 with 16 homers and 72 RBI in 1959.

But that didn’t stop the A’s from trading Maris to the New York Yankees after the 1959 season for Hank Bauer, Don Larsen, Norm Sieberg and Marv Throneberry.

Maris was the American League MVP in 1960 (.283, 39 homers, 112 RBI) and again in 1961, when he broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record with 61 blasts and drove in 141 runs.

Oh, the Kansas City A’s.

Finley bought the A’s owner in 1960 and couldn’t figure out a way to move the team. So in 1963, he changed the uniforms, putting the A’s in green and gold instead of their traditional blue, white and red. His explanation was that the more vivid colors would show up better on color television.

Trouble is, nobody was watching. And when the A’s finally did start making some progress by calling up young, exciting players, their days in Kansas City proved to be numbered. And better days for the franchise were ahead.

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