Ed Charles, the third baseman of the Kansas City Athletics and no relation either to Shakespeare or to Cassius Clay, likes to write poetry to pass the time. Here is the opening stanza of a poem he wrote last week:
A month of play has passed away,
And the critics' predictions are beginning to sway.
For we A's, picked for ninth place,
Stand proudly amidst the pennant race.
Yes, there they were, the Kansas City Athletics, dressed in their bizarre green-and-gold uniforms, shoulder to shoulder with the Yankees, the Orioles and the White Sox. The Athletics have finished at or near the bottom of the American League ever since they moved from Philadelphia in 1955, and generally they have managed to hit bottom quickly. This year, as Ed Charles points out, the A's were picked to finish ninth, more or less, and while they may yet wind up in that vicinity they are at least taking their time.
The Athletics began the season normally enough, losing two games to the Yankees, but after winning 13 of the next 18 games they found themselves, to their own surprise, leading the league. Scheduled to play three games with second-place Boston in early May, Kansas City faced for the first time what might be called, if only jokingly, a crucial series. When the Athletics won two games of the series to lead the league by a game and a half, The Kansas City Times pointed out with jubilation that this was the latest date in any season that the A's had occupied first place. When, last week, the A's lost three games to the White Sox and fell out of first place, a headline mourned: CHICAGO ENDS A'S REIGN.
Despite the slump, Manager Eddie Lopat is delighted with the overall performance of the team. This is Lopat's first season as manager, and he looks little different than a decade ago when he was winning important games for the Yankees. His hair is still yellow, his eyes cool blue. He is a bit plump now, but then he was a bit plump as a pitcher, too. As a manager he has shown a calm, steady manner, although, as one of his players points out, you can't really tell about a manager until the going gets rough. That time will come.
Lopat is a great student of pitching and he takes pride in mentioning that he taught Whitey Ford the ropes. The Athletics' pitching staff was the worst in the American League last year—when Lopat was the pitching coach—but this season it has been largely responsible for the team's fast opening pace. Orlando Pena won four games in a row while Ed Rakow has contributed a two-hitter, a four-hitter and a five-hitter. Bill Fischer has won five games in relief.
What distresses Lopat is that the hitting has been so terrible when last year it was so good. Norm Siebern, the best hitter on the team, is in a slump and he has kept his pretty wife awake at night discussing theories on what could be wrong. Jerry Lumpe is in a slump, too. There are several others. Fortunately for Kansas City, however, two players are not in slumps. One is Ed Charles, the poet-third baseman who has a habit of driving in winning runs. The other is Wayne Causey, a pleasant, friendly fellow who until recently never had any difficulty leaving a ball park unnoticed. Causey, at 26, is a veteran utility man, or at least he was. "I didn't see how I could beat out Charles at third, Howser at short or Lumpe at second," Causey said the other day. "I told myself I was lucky just being in the majors."
Causey spent most of the first two weeks of the season on the bench. Then Dick Howser, the shortstop, got hurt. Causey took over and hit a triple, a double and two singles as the Athletics overcame a 5-0 Detroit lead to win 6-5. By the end of the week Causey was hitting .400. He has stayed there, or approximately there, ever since and poor Dick Howser, well again, has stayed on the bench.
Causey can offer no logical explanation for his sudden resemblance to Honus Wagner. He has neither gained nor lost weight since last season. His batting stance is the same, left-handed, orthodox. He feels no tremendous surge of confidence; he is, in fact, quite willing to admit that he is hitting well over his head. He is using a different bat, Teammate Jose Tartabull's, a fact that may satisfy those who insist upon a reason. "Whatever it is," Bobby Del Greco tells Causey, "I wish you'd stop. You're embarrassing the whole league."
Wayne Causey has two distinct personalities. The more obvious one is the small-town Louisiana boy who came to the major leagues at 18 and amused his teammates by asking them if they wanted "to chunk the ball around." Causey is a Baptist. He doesn't drink, smoke or swear. When he accepted a bonus to play with Baltimore in 1955, he donated part of the money to his church. Every day he reads the Bible to his wife and two young children. He would like to speak in behalf of his church, the way Bobby Richardson does, but he is too shy.
The other Wayne Causey is a bit of a kook. Del Greco calls him "30 days ahead of Piersall." One day last season Causey startled everyone on the team by making a hook slide in the dugout. Rakow remembers with glee the time Causey saw a garbage disposal unit in a hotel hallway, opened it and yelled: "Two hamburgers, medium rare."
On the way to the ball park at Braden-ton this spring, Causey grabbed some Spanish moss off a tree, fashioned himself a beard and said in a creaky voice: "Boys, if I don't make the starting lineup pretty soon, I'll be too old to play." Nor does Causey stop when he takes the field. He calls hard ground balls "skinners." Whenever one is hit to Lumpe or Charles, Causey yells: "Here comes a skinner." When he himself makes a good play, he is apt to shout: "Hey, did you see that!"
Basically a third baseman, Causey has been making a lot of good plays since he became a shortstop, showing good range and an ability to get rid of the ball in a hurry. "Oh, that Mr. Z," said Relief Pitcher John Wyatt after one game in which Causey made a number of smooth plays. "He sure can drink." It should be explained that Wyatt speaks a language of his own. Recently he said to General Manager Pat Friday that he was a little short and needed some hogs. Friday asked how much. "Oh, about a yard and a half," said Wyatt. Friday lent him $150. Wyatt has been working on his curve ball because he can see "those batters all jacked up waiting for the smoke,"—ready, that is, for his fast ball. So when Wyatt says Mr. Z, he means Mr. Caus-Z, "who can sure drink up anything that's hit down to shortstop."
Causey's play has made him a sudden favorite in Kansas City, and when he comes to the plate these days, leading off for the Athletics, he gets a bigger hand than Siebern, Lumpe or Harry Truman. That wouldn't have happened last year, not so much because Causey wasn't a hero, but because there were rarely enough people in Municipal Stadium to give anyone a big hand. Kansas City's 1962 attendance was easily the lowest in the major leagues, 635,675, and on many days there were more sheep in the ball park than fans. But attendance this year is up 65,000 after one month, a tribute not only to the team's winning start, but to the wild imagination of that millionaire insurance man and owner of the Athletics, Charles Oscar Finley.
Whatever happens to the A's in the future, success or disaster, can be credited to Charlie Finley, who dominates the scene like a not-so-jolly green giant. Finley has replaced Bill Veeck as baseball's leading radical, a constant thorn in Commissioner Ford Frick's side. Finley is always suggesting changes in baseball, a game that regards change as an enemy. He has, for instance, moved the starting time for the A's night games up to 7 o'clock on weekdays, 6 o'clock on Saturdays. "Most of our fans come from 50 miles away," Finley says. "We want to get them in bed at a decent hour."
Sell it with color
For a recent game against the White Sox, the attendance was announced at 12,000. Finley, seated in his box behind-the Athletics' dugout, took a deep puff on his cigar. "Now isn't that wonderful," he said looking around. "Just wonderful. It shows that people want more than baseball. They want it convenient and they want it colorful." If nothing else, Charlie Finley has made baseball in Kansas City colorful. Alarmed over the low attendance figures last year, Finley began this winter what he calls an "energetic selling campaign."
"This is the age of color," he said. "You've got to have color if you're selling." Finley decided that the traditional baseball uniform of white or gray was too drab. Kansas City, he announced, would wear uniforms of bright gold with green sleeves, socks and caps. ("Kelly green and Finley gold," Jerry Lumpe calls it.) Finley selected the colors because he happens to be crazy about green and gold. The Kansas City players are less crazy about the colors, but there is little they can do except blush. On opening day, when the players filed cautiously down the runway into the dugout, Gino Cimoli told a reporter, "Say-one word and I'll deck you." Now, after one month, the players have almost stopped wincing when the opposing bench jockeys yell, "Hi there, beautiful."
Finley is ecstatic, of course, over the colorful uniforms. "What do you think about them?" he asks people. "Do you like them?" Finley was at a game last week when Ed Rakow pitched six innings of perfect baseball, 18 batters retired in a row. The crowd was tense in expectation of a perfect game, or at least a no-hitter. When Rakow came out to hit in the sixth inning, Finley noticed that Rakow's gold pants were hanging so low that his green socks were hidden. Finley reached for the phone in his box and called Pat Friday, the insurance executive he installed as general manager in place of Frank Lane. "Pat," he barked. "Look at Rakow's pants. That looks sloppy. Now I've mentioned this before. Let's take care of it." It was just coincidence that Rakow gave up eight runs the next inning.
Just about everything else inside Municipal Stadium is green and gold, too. The sheep, which for two years have wandered on the slope beyond the right-field fence, now wear green or gold jackets with a big white letter A. The sheep have been joined by a shepherd, who wears a flowing green-and-gold robe, has a long black beard and carries a long crook. Gino Cimoli has almost become used to the idea of catching a long fly ball, observed intently by a shepherd and a dozen sheep.
On opening day this year Finley asked the fans to wear something green or gold and he was gratified to see that most of them did. Harry Truman showed up and Finley plopped a green ten-gallon hat on Harry's head. Finley himself wore a dazzling gold jacket and green pants. Even Harvey, the mechanical rabbit who pops up behind home plate to supply the umpire with fresh baseballs, was painted green and gold. Just before the game began, Finley released 1,000 green and gold balloons, each with a set of tickets to a future game attached. One batch of balloons sailed all the way to Sedalia, Mo., 90 miles away, before landing in a farmer's tree. The farmer thought it was some kind of weather observation equipment and called the police. They came, cut down the balloons and gave the tickets to the Sedalia Little League. Finley was delighted.
Although Finley spends much of his time at home in Chicago, attending to his insurance business, he is never out of touch with what is going on around the team. He is a man of many mottoes and he has seen to it that one of them—"Sweat plus sacrifice equals success"—hangs in the A's dressing room to inspire the boys. "I suppose they're nice words," said one veteran, "but I mean, hell, we're professional ballplayers." Another of Finley's mottoes is "The best management is that management that's closest to its employees." Finley stays close to his players by conducting his own pre-game shows, shown on tape before every televised road game. Finley says the first few made him nervous, but now he is getting used to it and the ad boys say that the show is great. Ed Charles was interviewed the other night. "He's, ah, not too—ah—bad," said Charles cautiously. "He's—well, ah...."
Finley takes great pride in being the team's No. 1 fan. "If Rakow pitches a no-hitter," he said, "I'm going to be the first guy over the dugout roof and onto the field." Finley is also aware that a rooting owner is very good publicity. "Catch me when someone on our team hits a home run," he told a photographer recently. "I really put on a show."
With all his enthusiasm, Finley retains the sense of realism that prompted him to call in Eddie Lopat the day that Kansas City took over first place. "Go out for a long walk," he said, "take a deep breath and savor the moment. It may not last."
When the Athletics take the field, the organist plays "Ev'rythin's up to date in Kansas City." That is certainly true. The second line of the stanza is: "They've gone about as fur as they c'n go!"