The Yankee Empire Was Built on the Bones of the Kansas City A’s-A Story of Collusion, Greed, and Championships

Ralph Terry wiped the sweat from his brow and let out a long, slow exhale.

There are very few times in life where one can claim to absolutely, positively, know what another man is thinking.

But if you had to pick one instance in the history of the world to guess what another man was thinking, Ralph Terry in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the 1962 World Series would be as good a pick as any.

After all, how could the man not be thinking of the last time he pitched in a pivotal Game Seven. Just two years prior, Terry had come on in relief and given up a walk off home run to light hitting Pirates second basemen Bill Mazeroski to lose the series. When you played for the Yankees during their heyday, losing the World Series was downright criminal. Despite the fact that he had won 23 games in 1962, he was still known as the pitcher on the receiving end of one of the most iconic moments in baseball history.

And now, on October 16th, 1962, Terry found himself in an eerily similar situation. Only this time, the hitter was the fearsome Willie McCovey, who would go on to crack 521 home runs during a Hall of Fame career. Felipe Alou was on third after a bunt single. Terry had managed to strike out the next two batters, but gave up a double to Willie Mays, and it was only the terrific defense of an old teammate from Kansas City, Roger Maris, that prevented Alou from scoring, preserving the shutout.

For now.

No one could blame Terry if he gave up a hit here. Unlike in 1960, when he came on in relief and recorded just one out before surrendering the historic blast, Terry had started this game and out-dueled Jack Sanford, surrendering just two hits through eight innings before encountering the jam he was currently entrenched in here in the ninth. He was just one out away from a complete game shutout in the seventh game of the World Series. But he had to go through McCovey-a far more fearsome hitter on his worst day than Mazeroski ever was on his best-to get there, no easy feat.

We all know what happened next. On an 0-1 fastball up and in, McCovey hit the liner-one he would later describe as “the hardest ball I ever hit”-right at Bobby Richardson, who snagged it to prevent it from taking his head off.

From scapegoat to hero. (AP Photo/Unaccredited)

For Ralph Terry, the vindication must have been sweet. Just two years prior, he was the scapegoat of a rare Yankees World Series loss and subject to brutal treatment from the insatiable Yankees fans. Now, he was World Series MVP, celebrating with his Hall of Fame teammates. Three in particular-Roger Maris, Clete Boyer, and Hector Lopez, all starters on  the 1962 team-were more vindicated than others, finally savoring success after beginning their career in the doldrums of an aimless and wandering Kansas City ballclub.

Speaking of Kansas City, 1,800 miles to the east of the celebration at Candlestick Park, the Kansas City Athletics had finished a poor 72-90, and watched four old teammates play key roles in yet another World Series victory-the Yankees’ fourth in six years. In fact, from 1955-the year the Athletics moved to Kansas City from Philadelphia-to 1964, the Yankees won an incredible nine pennants in a ten year span, largely due to the contributions of Hector Lopez, Art Ditman, Bobby Shantz, Ralph Terry, and most famously, the great Roger Maris. All six of those players were former Athletics. Yet despite the fact that the A’s had traded so much key talent to the Yankees and watched them enjoy enormous success, the A’s had no luck finding any success of their own, consistently finding themselves on the losing end on trades with the Yankees.

A casual observer might point to bad luck-after all, the once proud Athletics franchise hadn’t won a World Series in thirty two years at that point. A little more digging-and shockingly, not as much as you would think-leads to the hidden secret of the Kansas City Athletics, the New York Yankees, Arnold Johnson, and George Weiss.

The iconic 1960 and 1962 World Series, a Yankees dynasty, the incredible Maris-Mantle chase for 61-none of it happens without the Athletics’ otherwise forgotten thirteen year tenure in the Midwest.

The A’s were swindled, the Yankees built a dynasty, and Arnold Johnson profited. This is the incredible story of how Arnold Johnson cheated the A’s out of any talent for personal gain, and rigged baseball in favor of the Yankees for ten years.

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Seven years earlier, the Bronx Bombers found themselves in an unfamiliar (and uncomfortable) position. After winning six out of seven World Series and an incredible five in a row, the Yankees had missed the World Series in 1954 and then, incredibly, lost to the tag along little brother Brooklyn Dodgers  in 1955. The Yankees had beaten the Dodgers four times during their incredible run, but it looked as if the Boys in Blue from another borough might not cede the upper hand now that they had finally wrenched away from the Bronx Bombers. The Dodgers were young and talented-the Yankees were slipping.

Although superstar centerfielder Mickey Mantle was still young, the team around him was aging. Irv Noren in left had just turned 30 and had a sub-par year that suggested he might have seen his best days. Right fielder Hank Bauer was a star-but at age 32, his performance was slipping. Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto, eventual Hall of Famer, was 37 and on his last legs. Starters Tommy Byrne and Eddie Lopat were 35 and 36 respectively. The stranglehold they’d held on the MLB was starting to slip. They needed an infusion of young talent, but had no way to get it. Like every great team, their dominance was starting to wane.

One hundred miles south, there was a team who’s problems dwarfed the Yankees. The Philadelphia Athletics had dominated the American League before the Yankees, and were baseball’s first great dynasty in the World Series era. However, baseball legend Connie Mack had neglected to develop a farm system, and his behind-the-times approach ruined the A’s. Infighting began between his three sons-Roy, Earle, and Connie Jr. A bitter feud escalated and in order to end it, Roy and Earle bought out Connie Jr. The buyout, along with the dwindling attendance numbers, nearly bankrupted Earle and Roy. They had to sell the team.

The Yankees smelled an opportunity as early as mid 1954. Enter Arnold Johnson, longtime business partner of Yankees owners Dan Topping, Del Webb, and Larry MacPhail. Johnson was a successful businessman who ventured into the real estate theater. He owned both Yankee Stadium in New York and Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, home of the Kansas City Blues, the Yankees’ top minor league affiliate. It’s safe to say he had a vested interest in one  particular franchise.

Compounding the problem was the rise of the Philadelphia Phillies. Longtime losers who had one winning season in thirty years, the Phillies had burst onto the scene with an influx of cash under new ownership. The ascent of the Phillies convinced American League President Will Harridge that there wasn’t enough room for two baseball teams in Philadelphia and the A’s needed to move.

Once Johnson agreed to move the team to Kansas City and gained the backing of Harridge, it was smooth sailing. Supported by the Yankees and their considerable influence as the driving revenue force in baseball, the other owners agreed to the sale. They did force Johnson to sell Yankee Stadium and Municipal Stadium in a feeble attempt to prevent a conflict of interest.

As the sale was nearing its completion date, Roy Mack shocked everybody by announcing that he was not going to sell the A’s to Johnson-instead, he was going to sell to Philadelphia native John Crisconi, who was  part of a group of loyal fans who intended to keep the A’s in Philadelphia.

The Yankees couldn’t believe it. They had stalked their prey for so long, hatched a plan only made possible by the most extreme circumstances-the Mack family feud, the rise of the Phillies, Johnson’s cooperation-only to see it snatched from them in front of their nose.

So once again, the Yankees pulled rank and put their considerable influence to work. They started rumors that Crisconi’s group didn’t really have the money to buy the A’s and it was just a desperate ploy to keep them in Philadelphia. Johnson managed to convince Roy Mack that he would never see the money he was promised. On October 28th, the Crisconi deal fell one vote short of approval-the deciding vote was cast by Roy Mack, who pivoted and sold to Arnold Johnson just a few days later-just short of a month after the Yankees’ World Series defeat, and just over two years after Johnson had made his initial offer.

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Officially official. Johnson second from the right.

 

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There you have it.

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Pitcher Ned Garver rocking the KC hat and the Athletics jersey, a new era for a Philadelphia staple. (www.kansascitybaseballhistoricalsociety.com) 

After Johnson was forced to sell Municipal Stadium, he took out a three year lease on it. Unbelievably, like a real life version of Major League, he intended for the A’s to draw so poorly that he would be able to move the team to sunny Los Angeles and enjoy his money in paradise while his team crashed and burned. His plans were foiled when the Dodgers moved to LA in 1958.

The Yankees’ plan had worked. They now had the resources, draft picks, and opportunities to develop players of two franchises and replace their aging stars. Arnold Johnson owned the soon-to-be Kansas City Athletics, and the Yankees owned Arnold Johnson’s loyalty.

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The Yankees may have had two franchises’ worth of resources, but the circumstances that allowed this situation to develop had the inseparable side effect of the Athletics being a terrible team. There wasn’t much of value on the Athletics roster.

They had two third basemen, Hector Lopez and Clete Boyer. Lopez had some pop in his bat but had hands of stone, and the eighteen year old Boyer was slick at the hot corner but his endeavors were rather fruitless at the plate.

Vic Power was the best hitter the A’s had, but Bill Skowron was younger and already one of the best first baseman in the league. Similarily, Harry Simpson had a good year in 1955 but wasn’t much use to the Yankees because he played centerfield and wasn’t going to unseat Mantle.

On the pitching front, the Yankees eyed a pair of young pitchers-Art Ditmar and Bobby Shantz to replace the aging pair of Byrne and Lopat. Ditmar was just 27 and had struggled thus far with run prevention, but he was an innings-eater and his ERA was trending in the positive direction. The diminutive Shantz had been a two time All-Star earlier in his career, but injuries and poor performance had led to a rough couple of years following his All Star years. Still, the control oriented Shantz was had only just turned 30, had a wicked curve and a unique sidearm delivery that baffled hitters, and was one of the best fielding pitchers the game had seen to that point.

The deals started small-the Yankees were the Yankees, but you had to be careful not to be too obvious with your collusion. Unprotected players were picked up in the Rule 5 draft by the A’s, just in case they turned out to be something special.  The Yankees tossed aside an expensive and aging Enos Slaughter-then reacquired him for pennies on the dollar when he revitalized his swing in the Midwest. The Yankees would usually throw in cash when acquiring a young player while dealing away an older player-cash that would go straight to lining the pockets of Arnold Johnson, because he sure as heck wasn’t using it to build a contender out of the A’s.

Then, about a year and a half after the controversial sale, enough time to determine which assets were worth acquiring, the Yankees and the Athletics made their first blockbuster move. Rip Coleman, Milt Graff, Billy Hunter, Micheal McDermott, Tom Morgan, Irv Noren, and Jack Urban of the Yankees for Wayne Belardi, Art Ditman, Jack McMahan, Bobby Shantz, Curt Roberts, and Clete Boyer of the Athletics.

The A’s got absolutely hosed. The hitters couldn’t hit and the pitchers couldn’t stop getting hit. Coleman never played for them and was eventually waived. Graff played one season and hit a paltry .181-after five games the following year with KC, he never played in the bigs again. McDermott pitched an ineffective 29 games for the A’s and to the tune of a 5.48 ERA. Tom Morgan actually managed to clock in 143 innings for the moribund Athletics in completely mediocre fashion. Irv Noren had been an All-Star just three years prior, but it appeared that he had left all of his talent in New York-he batted a meager .213 for the A’s.

Jack Urban was probably the best of the bunch. His first year in Kansas City, as a rookie, Urban impressed with a 3.34 ERA and it appeared that at least the A’s had gotten something from this ill-advised trade. Then, in his sophomore campaign, his ERA ballooned to over five.

He never pitched in the majors again.

Roberts, McMahan, and Belardi were useful as spring training bodies so the Yankees stars could rest, but had uneventful careers with the Yankees otherwise.

Ditmar, Shantz, and Boyer, however, were big hits in the Big Apple.

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Casey Stengel and his new weapons.

Ditmar, reliable and sturdy, pitched 127 innings in 1957 alternating between coming out of the pen and starting games. His ERA of 3.25 was the lowest of his career at the time and he instantly gave manager Casey Stengel the ability to turn any game into a two pitcher game, saving the rest of the bullpen. Ironically, once Ditmar was no longer the young player with potential being traded for the aging vet, he found himself on the other side of that transaction and he finished his career in KC. In five years with the Yankees, his ERA was 3.24. In the same amount of time with the A’s, it was 4.97.

Shantz turned in a sparkling 1957 season where he led an all time great Yankees rotation with an ERA of 2.45 and led the league with an ERA+ of 148. His career ERA with the Yankees was an impressive 2.73 as he participated in 3 World Series with the Bronx Bombers.

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The story of Clete Boyer is one of the most unbelievable parts of this parternship between the A’s and the Yankees. Commissioner Ford C. Frick (yes, that Ford C. Frick) was either completely oblivious, compliant, or just didn’t care that the Yankees and Arnold Johnson were manipulating the Athletics at the cost of the fans and the integrity of the sport.

Yankees GM George Weiss liked Boyer as a player in high school, but they had already signed the allotted limit of high school players. So, Weiss gave Athletic’s GM Parke Carroll a call and convinced him to draft Boyer, with the intent of trading for him down the road. It’s unlikely Carroll had much of a choice in the matter, given the contemporary state of affairs within the Kansas City front office. Boyer was then thrown in as part of the aforementioned deal.

He hit just enough to stick around-.265 and 18 homers was about what you would get in a good season from Boyer, but he was consistent and never slipped too hard. His real value laid in his defense. Boyer won just one Gold Glove award  playing in the shadow of Brooks Robinson and his more prolific bat, but Boyer often led the league in defensive statistics and manned the hot corner every day like a pro during four AL pennant runs. Modern day statisticians regard Boyer as one of the best defensive third basemen ever.

Though Boyer’s plate prowess wasn’t anything to write home about compared to the likes of Mantle and Berra, the Yankees cycled through dismal third basemen for another ten years, failing to reach the World Series, before striking gold with Graig Nettles.

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Remember Vic Power and Harry Simpson?

Power was originally drafted by the Yankees, but was traded away years before. After finding success with the A’s, they made an unusually savvy move, especially under Johnson’s time as an owner-the Puerto Rican slugger was traded to Cleveland for a package that included a young outfielder from the Upper Midwest named Roger Maris.

A young Ralph Terry was flipped from the Yankees for Harry Simpson with little thought-if he turned out to be good, they could always get him back. He did and they did.

1958 passed, and the Yankees won the World Series. As 1959 neared, enough time had passed for what young players remained for the A’s began to either show promise or wash out of baseball. It was time for another flurry of trades.

The Yankees waited two years after Johnson’s acquisition of the A’s to assess what players had any value. They then pulled the trigger on a trade to acquire what few players they determined could help them. Now, two years later with a pair of World Series appearances under their belt and the A’s careening off the rails towards yet another unsuccessful season, the Yankees pulled off another pair of trades, these ones with more than a hint of desperation. The Yankees had tumbled to a 79 and 75 record after four straight trips to the World Series. Heads were going to roll.

First, they decided they liked something in the way Terry was pitching (despite relatively poor numbers at the time) and decided to pursue an avenue to reacquire him. Then, seeking to improve the outfield situation, where Mantle was flanked by a young, talented left fielder named Norm Siebern who wasn’t much at the plate that year (he’ll be important later) and a washed up Hank Bauer, they acquired Hector Lopez, hoping that a switch to the outfield would alleviate some of his defensive woes and his bat would be productive enough to make up for it.

In return, they sent Johnny Kucks (two seasons of a whole lot of nothing on the mound), Tom Sturdivant (ditto), and Jerry Lumpe, who actually went on to be one of KC’s best players and enjoyed a nice career there as a high average infielder.

Lopez, meanwhile, came to the team and instantly swung the bat well, finishing third on the team in home runs despite only playing two thirds of the season with the Yankees.

Still, more needed to be done for the Yankees to reach the World Series again. They still needed more hitting, and they needed to get younger, with offensive cornerstone Yogi Berra starting to age.

So, blockbuster Round Three-Hank Bauer, Don Larsen, Norm Siebern, and Marv Throneberry of the Yankees for Joe Maestri, Kent Hadley, and one Roger Eugene Maris of the Kansas City Athletics.

Look, Bauer was an awesome ballplayer in his heyday but he was washed and everybody knew it. He went on to manage the A’s after his retirement and probably helped the ballclub more there than he did on the field. Larsen, forever immortalized for his perfect game in the 1956 World Series, had fallen off, and was ineffective for the A’s. Throneberry was more famous for his good humor and presence on the “Worst Team of All Time” 1962 Mets than his abilities on the diamond. Siebern was  actually an All-Star in each of his two years with the A’s, and three times overall. A well balanced player with a smooth stroke that enabled him to hit for both average and power, he was perhaps the best player the A’s ever received in a trade with the Yankees.

Not to be unkind, but there are reasons you’ve never heard of Joe Maestri and Kent Hadley. And then, there’s Maris.

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Two time MVP Maris. Sixty one in 61 Maris. Summer of 1998, the revitalization of the MLB Maris.

Maris is synonymous with baseball history. To find out his was traded to the Yankees as part of one of the most corrupt relationships in all of sports is shocking. It’s impossible to imagine anyone other than a Yankee breaking Ruth’s record. The “M&M Boys”, standing just a hundred feet away from each other during the top half of innings at Yankee Stadium, then trading dingers at the plate in the bottom half as they raced to beat out Ruth all summer. To think all of that may never have come to pass without Arnold Johnson ripping off the A’s for his own personal gain. It’s a little reassuring that Siebern ended up being a quality player for the A’s, but Maris won the MVP award in his first and second season in pinstripes and altered the course of history for America’s Pastime.

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The M&M Boys.

In a past where Mack sells to the Crisconi Group, or one where the Phillies never find success, or one where the A’s actually develop a farm system, what becomes of Maris? What becomes of baseball history?

The adverse effects of the home run chase on Roger Maris have been well documented. The New York media was none too kind to Maris, pitting him against the homegrown Mantle and labeling him as “not a true Yankee.” While Maris suffered (it’s been reported that the stress used to cause his hair to fall out in clumps), baseball and its fans benefited from the most exciting summer the sport had ever seen, canonized in movies and stories for years afterwards. But who knows how that summer would have played out had Maris donned a green and yellow jersey, roving the outfield free of Mantle’s enormous shadow? Would the impact of the home run race have been the same if Maris were halfway across the country from Mantle, playing on team going nowhere fast?

But would either of them have even approached the record with the protection they received from each other in the lineup? Maris and Mantle were the most fearsome power hitters to play on the same team since Ruth and Gehrig. You couldn’t pitch around them, knowing that the next guy was just as good, and you didn’t want to walk both of them and put someone in scoring position with a free pass. It speaks to the significance of the record that nobody even came close to the record for thirty five years without the help of performance enhancing drugs. Mays, Aaron, Robinson, Willie Stargell, Yaz, Reggie Jackson-none of them even threatened sixty one.

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The days when the sun is high and the days are long belong to baseball. It’s the only sport of the Big Four whose regular season continues throughout the sweltering days of the Midsummer heat. Baseball is at its purest during the summer. And in 1961, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle gave the sport the best summer of baseball anyone had ever seen. Thirty seven years later, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, though chemically aided as part of a scandal that would forever tarnish the sport, brought millions of fans back to baseball with their chase for the elusive 62 home runs.

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The Yankees received peak production from their Kansas City stars in 1960. Though they infamously lost the World Series in seven games, Maris, Lopez, Boyer, Ditmar, and Shantz were all key contributors on that team. After that season, Ditmar and Shantz began to fall off. Following that season, Ralph Terry bounced back to emerge as a two time All-Star and a World Series MVP. Maris turned in several more excellent season with the Bronx Bombers before injuries finished him off. Lopez played six more perfectly acceptable seasons for the Yankees.

In  March of that year, returning from Spring Training in Florida, Arnold Johnson suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died at the age of fifty three. The A’s were sold to Charlie Finley, who moved the A’s from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968. While he certainly had his own issues as an owner, he built the one of the finest non-Yankee dynasties ever in the three-peat A’s of the early 70’s.

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The Kansas City A’s in their final season of their short lived tenure in the Midwest. Though it seems impossible to picture them any other way now, it was Charlie Finley who came up with the idea for green and gold uniforms. Prior to 1963, the Johnson era KC A’s and throughout their time in Philadelphia wore traditional red and blue themed uniforms, with traditional home whites and road grays. (SI.com)

 

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Back to back to back.

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A certain Oakland coach was less than thrilled about the new threads. He doesn’t look right out of pinstripes, but yes that is Joe Dimaggio. (MLB.com)

During Johnson’s 5 year ownership, the Yankees and A’s made an astounding fifteen transactions.

Following their victory in 1962, the Yankees went to the World Series in two consecutive years, but lost both. It would be another thirteen years before they would return to the Fall Classic-largely on the backs of former Athletics Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter. Those players, however, were acquired without any under the table dealings.

Kansas City baseball fans were rewarded with a team of their own in 1969-the expansion Royals, who have a rich franchise history of high peaks (1976-1985) and dreadful lows (2004-2009) in their franchise history. There was one more baseball player from KC who would be involved in a very controversial mix-up with the Yankees-the great George Brett, whose infamous pine tar game remains as one of those strange moments that remind us why we love baseball.

There’s not question the Yankees still would have been dominant without their business dealings with Arnold Johnson. After all, they still had Mantle, Berra, Whitey Ford, and Elston Howard as homegrown stars. But it’s debatable as to whether they win in ’57 without Shantz and Ditmar, or in ’61 without Maris. They definitely don’t win in ’62 without Terry.

It’s been over 50 years since Johnson passed away, and most of the anger over this arrangement, from the few that still remember it firsthand, has faded away. Johnson and the Yankees made a sham of the idea of fair play, but they left us fans with one of the most intricate and entertaining backstories in the sport, as well as two of the most iconic summers ever.

Arnold Johnson’s story ended in 1960. The Kansas City A’s were gone before Jimmy Carter was President. But the A’s and the Yankees have a unique relationship to this day. It seems that small-market stars from Oakland always find one way or another to reach the Bronx.

That tradition carries on up to this very day.

Now pitching for the New York Yankees, Number 55, Sonny Gray.

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(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Sonny Gray

(AP Photo/David Dermer)

I hope you all enjoyed the post-it was certainly an arduous task. Baseball Reference was absolutely vital in providing me with the dates and details of each of the transactions, as well as the stats for each and every player.

These articles also provided useful information, as well as these pages. Thanks!

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/attytood/Those-were-the-As-my-friend.html

http://sabr.org/research/departure-without-dignity-athletics-leave-philadelphia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Johnson

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Oakland_Athletics

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