Skip to main content
Original Issue

KANSAS CITY ATHLETICS: Giving it all for love or money

With or without anybody in the stands, the gaudily dressed A's have a chance to rise higher than any former KC team, but only if last year's staff of "Who's he?" pitchers keeps improving

At the time that he says it Charles O. Finley means what he says. Right now the Athletics' owner (left) says that he is once again in love with Kansas City. But the often spurned city is not having any. For the second year in a row fewer than 2,500 season tickets have been sold, and this year the skepticism of A's fans came in the face of a whole winter of promotional razzmatazz. The hoopla will reach a well-advertised peak at the opening game, when the Athletics will burst forth in their new uniforms of green and "soft gold."

But after that gaudy entrance, the baseball destiny of the A's—as well as the baseball destiny of Charles O. Finley—will fall out of Finley's hands and into those of Manager Eddie Lopat, his coaches and players, and the paying customers of Kansas City. For the first time Finley needs Kansas City more than it needs him. Finley is a rich man, but his resources are not limitless. The A's have lost $1,479,000 in unadulterated Finley cash (according to Finley) over the last two years, and they figure to lose more. The first economy measure was taken when the A's cut their scouting staff drastically—from 17 to 11. The move could be the start of the whirlpool that has dragged down so many other desperate, losing franchises: few players, few fans, little money—economize; so, fewer players, fewer fans, less money—end of franchise. The fans themselves can hardly be blamed. They have never had a first-division team, much less a contender, since the A's were wished on them eight years ago. The stadium is inadequate. Any seats after the first 20,000 are taken are poor ones. Attendance was down to a new low of 635,675 in 1962. Gimmicks will not restore the attendance to its old heights (1,393,054 in 1955). The only thing that can save the A's is a winning team. And now that is about the only thing that can save Charles O. Finley.

The ninth-place Athletics didn't see the best of everyone's pitching last season and, perhaps as a result, the team hit .263, second only to the Yankees. They were also the only team in the league with three .300 hitters. One of them—and they're all left-handed—was Norm Siebern (.308, 25 HRs, 117 RBIs), who has become a star since leaving the Yankees. Jerry Lumpe (.301, 83 RBIs) has increased both his average and his RBIs each of the four years he has spent in exile from the Yankees. Manny Jimenez, a rookie last season, led the league for months before he got tired and tailed off to .301. Another 1962 rookie, Ed Charles, writes poetry and bats right-handed with power (17 HRs, 74 RBIs and .288 BA). Chuck Essegian, obtained from Cleveland, doesn't write poetry but he does bat with right-handed power (21 HRs), albeit in streaks. Good-field, no-hit journeyman Gino Cimoli did hit last year (.275) when given the chance to play, and he has a starting job as long as he can keep it up. Dick Howser—injured most of last season—adds lead-off muscle to the attack and boosts the RBI totals of the other players. He could very well lead the league in stolen bases. The A's also have little Jose Tartabull, the prototype of singles hitters.

This time last year Kansas City's pitchers were a bunch of anonymous unfortunates bound together by statistical despair. But now, a year later, pitching-coach-turned-manager Lopat begins with a staff that has some first-rate credentials. If his pitchers continue to develop—six of them, who won a total of four major league games in 1961, won 53 last year—the A's could move up. Missing, for sure, is only the kind of strength that Lopat himself used to provide—left-handed. Ted Bowsfield, obtained from LA in the abortive Bo Belinsky deal, is the lone southpaw. For other starters, Lopat has three young men with hummers—Ed Rakow (14-17), Dan Pfister (4-14) and Diego Segui (8-5). He also has Orlando Pena (6-4, 3.00 ERA), wiser and heavier, and Screw-baller Dave Wickersham (11-4).

The KC infield heads the team's defense. Shortstop Howser and Second Baseman Lumpe form a solid double-play tandem. And neither First Baseman Siebern nor Third Baseman Charles lacks much at the corners. In the outfield, Cimoli and Bobby Del Greco still have good range and arms, but with Jimenez and Essegian the A's lead the majors in defenseless left-fielders. Tartabull will join Del Greco and Cimoli in the outfield whenever the A's want to protect themselves or show off defensively. Behind the plate, neither Haywood Sullivan nor Joe Azcue offers much in the way of choice or solace. Azcue, at least, has an excellent arm, but lets too many pitches get by him.