When I was twelve and had moved to 8507 Highland, I was talking to my new school chum, Dave Looney. He couldn’t believe that I knew nothing about professional football or basketball. I knew that Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown were football players and that Wilt Chamberlain and Bob Cousy were basketball players. That was about it. I remember watching an occasional part of a televised game, but I wasn’t interested. Before the creation of the Super Bowl, pro-football was not as big a deal as it is today.
For me there was only one professional sport that I wanted to be good at playing. There was also only one sport I wanted to watch—baseball. I remember talking to Johnny Jackson about the upcoming World Series of 1954. He liked the New York Giants and I liked the Cleveland Indians, who won 111 games out of 154 that season. That is my earliest memory of major league ball. The next season the Philadelphia Athletics moved to Kansas City, and Mom and Dad began taking us to see American League games. I remember the 1955 Kansas City A’s better than any school assignment.
Whether I heard the game on the radio or read about it in The Kansas City Times, I don’t recall. I do remember seeing pictures of President Truman throwing out the first ball. Connie Mack (real name Cornelius MacGuillicudy) was there too. He managed the Philadelphia A’s for more than 50 years, longer than any manager in history. He was over 90 at the time. The A’s beat the Detroit Tigers on opening day. The rest of that season was not as successful, as they finished in sixth place out of eight teams in the league. That would be better than average for the next 12 seasons before they moved to Oakland. Usually the only question at the beginning of the season was who would finish in last place. It would be the Washington Senators or the A’s with the other team in seventh place. That never curbed my enthusiasm or loyalty for my home team.
The 1955 team were holdovers from the Philadelphia team, managed by former World Series Championship player/manager Lou Boudreau. They had good hitters. First baseman Vic Power was in the top five of the league in average, hits, doubles, slugging average, total bases, and triples. Gus Zernial was second to Mickey Mantle in home runs and third in slugging average. Part-time outfielders Harry “Suitcase” Simpson and Elmer Valo hit .305 and .364. But they had little in the way of pitching. For the next few seasons the Kansas City A’s consisted mostly of good young players about to be traded to the New York Yankees such as Roger Maris, Ralph Terry, or Bud Daley or Yankee back ups or has beens like Jerry Lumpe, Norm Siebern, or Billy Martin.
The old Municipal Stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn was next to Lincoln High School with Sam’s parking lots on the north and south. Houses on the east side of the ballpark on Brooklyn were inhabited by black people who would let fans park in their driveways and back yards for a couple of dollars within a block of the stadium or less if they were farther away. The earliest prices I remember were $3 for box seats and $2 for reserved seats. I don’t remember concession prices, but I think programs were 10 or 15 cents. Dad taught me his scoring system, and I always kept score. It made me feel grown up and a true fan.
Even if the A’s were a bad team, you could see the greatest players in the league in a period when the Yankees won the pennant every season but one from 1955 to 1964. I hated the Yankees then (I still do.), but I admired their great players like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford. I also liked to see Ted Williams of the Red Sox, Al Kaline of the Tigers, Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio of the White Soxs, Rocky Colavito and Early Wynn of the Indians. Even the second division teams had good players like Brooks Robinson and Harmon Killebrew. I had boxes of baseball cards and knew most players’
statistics. You got six cards for a nickel and a square piece of dried out bubble gum that resembled a pink shingle in both appearance and taste. I can still remember the wonderful smell when you opened the package of cards.
Seats at Municipal Stadium were made of wood and people brought cushions from home to sit on. If you were unlucky, your view was obstructed by the steel girders that supported the roof. The dimensions to the fences varied but I remember them as about 333 feet to left, 420 to center and 335 to right. Concessions were much more limited than today. There were good hot dogs, bad hamburgers, popcorn, peanuts, frosty malts, and ice cream bars to eat. They had soft drinks, snow cones, hot chocolate, and coffee to drink. Adults could buy beer, cigars, and cigarettes. Pennants, baseball caps, and yearbooks were other souvenirs. I bought a yearbook every year. A yearbook meant you were in a major league city and there were only 14 of them (Both New York and Chicago had two teams.)
July 26, 2008