erik lundegaard

Wednesday December 07, 2016

Yankees Suck: Treating KC A's as Its 1950s Farm Club

Last week I read a not-very-good book about a very interesting baseball man, “Finley Ball: How Two Baseball Outsiders Turned the Oakland A's into a Dynasty and Changed the Game Forever,” by Nancy Finley.

Yeah, Charlie O's niece, and the daughter of Finley's right-hand man (the other baseball outsider of the title), and not a particularly good writer. Nor journalist.

She's a “homer” in the worst sense, cleaning up after the family image. She spends way too much time, for example, tracking down dirt on poor Mike Andrews, who committed two errors in the 12th inning of Game 2 of the 1973 World Series, leading to an A's loss, and was then forced, by Finley, to sign a legal doc stating that he was injured and ineligible to play for the rest of the Series. Result: furor. A's manager Dick Williams objected, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn objected (and reinstated Andrews) and the Oakland players particularly objected. Ms. Finley wants to show that Andrews was injured, and knew he was injured, and kept playing anyway, to the detriment of the team. She completely misses the point. An owner doesn't show up a player (nor a manager) the way Finley did. You keep it in the clubhouse. Finley lost his players not because of Andrews but because he didn't back them up. The team didn't like him because he wasn't a team guy. 

Finley Ball by Nancy FinleyThat said, she does give us some good dirt on the ways the New York Yankees used the Kansas City Athletics as essentially a major league farm club throughout the 1950s. Most of this isn't news to me, but it's more detailed than reports I‘ve seen in the past:

  • In 1954 [Arnold Johnson] bought the Philadelphia Athletics and moved the team to Kansas City. Johnson also had financial interests in Yankee Stadium, and he seemed to pay more attention to the Yankees than to the Athletics. 
  • Early on, Charlie had heard rumors that Johnson had been stripping the team of its best players and trading them to the Yankees. He hadn’t completely believed it, but after he acquired the team he discovered that the rumors were true and that [Kansas City Star sports columnist Ernie] Mehl was complicit. ... Charlie immediately announced that there would be no more trades to the Yankees, a decision that could only be seen as a slap at Mehl.
  • The cozy relationship between the Athletics and the Yankees became embarrassingly obvious. When the Athletics acquired the young slugging prospect Roger Maris in 1957, the American League president, Will Harridge—who had supported Johnson's efforts to buy the Athletics and approved their move to Kansas City—took the unusual step of publicly warning Johnson not to trade Maris to the Yankees for at least eighteen months. Johnson complied, but barely, trading Maris to New York in December 1959. The Athletics got little in return.
  • “Kansas City was not an independent major-league team at all, it was nothing more than a loosely controlled Yankee farm club,” Bill Veeck wrote later. He said that he heard the Athletics general manager, Parke Carroll—a former K. C. sports writer—boast openly in baseball meetings that he had nothing to worry about by trading away so many great players because the Yankees' owner, George Weiss, had “promised to take care of” Carroll in return for his help in making those lopsided trades.

In one game in the early 1960s, Finley, a true showman, actually organized a bizarre pre-game demonstration of how the days of shuttling talent to New York were over:

The fans were chatting, sipping beer, and waiting for the game to start. Suddenly, they grew quiet. They watched as a beat-up old shuttle bus lumbered onto left field. Exchanging perplexed glances, they wondered what was going on. Then Frank Lane walked out to the bus and splashed it with gasoline. An instant later it was engulfed in black and orange flames. Then an unfamiliar voice came over the loudspeaker. It was the team's new owner. Charlie introduced himself and explained that the burning of the bus was his way of announcing that the days of shuttling Kansas City's best talent to the Bronx were over. The Athletics would no longer be the Yankees' farm team. After a pause, a few fans started clapping, and soon the stadium was filled with applause and shouts of approval.

That said, a book like this needs to embrace the beautiful outsized idiocy of Charlie O, and it doesn't quite. I like the below, for example, except she doesn't need to constantly disparage the Other in order to enshrine her uncle. It puts a slight damper on an otherwise amusing anecdote:

By the late 1950s, baseball owners formed an exclusive club of old-money boys and nouveau riche businessmen, and they looked out for each other. Charlie was a self-made millionaire, but he was just an insurance salesman—not part of the club. When it became clear that Charlie might actually acquire the Athletics in 1960, the other owners assigned the Baltimore Orioles' chairman, Joe Iglehart, to investigate him. Iglehart reported back to the owners: “Under no conditions should this person be allowed into our league.”

So anyone know of a better book on Charlie O?

Posted at 07:13 AM on Wednesday December 07, 2016 in category Yankees Suck  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard