If mechanical rabbits, grazing sheep and uniforms by Dior could win ball games, the Kansas City Athletics would conquer the world. Alas, winning games requires good players, and underprivileged Kansas City has very few of these.
From his box seat behind first base, Owner Charlie Finley watched his Athletics finish eighth last year, largely because they could not hit often or far. Kansas City was tied for last in home runs with 95 (even last-place Washington hit 138), so during the winter Finley went out and bought himself a large package of instant power. The price: half an infield and two starting pitchers. From Detroit, Finley got Rocky Colavito, home run hitter extraordinaire—sometimes. Colavito is a big, strong, good-looking fellow who considers anything less than a home run a failure. His record is dotted with successes: 45 home runs in 1961. 42 in 1959 and 41 the year before. He has also, perforce, driven in a lot of runs—140, 113, and so forth. But last year he hit only 22 home runs and did not drive in his quota of 100, so Detroit bundled him off. Kansas City expects Colavito to snap back, however, and since he is only 30, there is a good chance he will. One thing Colavito certainly will do is attract customers to the ball park. Rocky gives the people a good show, whether he is flexing his back muscles at the plate, throwing the ball from one end of the stadium to the other or hitting the big one. The other half of the Finley power package is Jim Gentile, in from Baltimore. Like Colavito. Gentile is big and strong, but unlike Colavito, he hits left-handed and not quite as well. Three years ago it looked as if Gentile would become Superman (he hit 46 home runs), but his average has been .250 since then and his home runs have dropped to 33 and 24, not enough to earn his keep at Baltimore. Gentile despairs when he does not hit. He needs constant encouragement, so it will be up to Manager Ed Lopat to keep reminding him that he is the greatest home run hitter alive, outside of Rocky Colavito. Kansas City has a few other hitters. Ed Charles, who writes poetry and plays third base, has in two seasons averaged .277, with 16 home runs and 76 runs batted in, pretty figures. Shortstop Wayne Causey is a Pete Runnels type and last year he hit .280. Gino Cimoli, the old Dodger-Pirate, slapped enough singles to right to bat .263, but Gino is 34. And that is about all the hitters Kansas City has. The rest of the Athletics are named Bill, Manny, Jose. George and Doc and they do not hit like Mickey, Roger, Elston and Joe. Even so, hitting is likely to account for most of Kansas City's victories.
It seems only yesterday that the Athletics had such pitchers as Jack Urban, George Brunet and Eugene Host, but they are gone now and what remains is not quite as good. To get Colavito, the A's gave up Dave Wickersham and Ed Rakow as well as Second Baseman Jerry Lumpe. Wickersham and Rakow won 21 games between them, heroic work in Kansas City. They also pitched, together, 412 innings, so Manager Lopat will have to find a bunch of people to take their place. Ace of the staff is Orlando Pena, a 20-game loser last year. But Pena also won 12 games, the best (along with Wickersham) on the team. Pena, 28, right-handed and 150 pounds, comes from Oriente, Cuba. So does Diego Segui, the only Kansas City regular starter with a winning record (9-6) last year. Segui, 26, is a moody customer, a problem Lopat faced last season and may have licked. Kansas City's only other experienced starter is Moe Drabowsky, who was born in Ozanna, Poland. Drabowsky is a tall, amiable right-hander who has been pitching in and out of the majors for eight years and has been the fall guy in two of baseball's biggest moments: when Stan Musial made his 3,000th hit, Moe Drabowsky threw the pitch. And when Early Wynn won his 300th game last year, Drabowsky was the loser. Drabowsky came back from the minors early last year and had a 7-13 record for the Athletics with a very good 3.05 ERA. Behind Pena, Segui and Drabowsky comes a line of ifs, ands and buts. Bob Anderson, once a good Cub pitcher, came with Colavito from Detroit. He was 3-1 last year, most of it in relief. Tom Sturdivant, the old Yankee, is an Athletic again. Sturdivant won 32 games in two years for the Yankees, hurt his arm and began a nightmarish tour that took him to Kansas City, Boston, Washington, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Detroit and finally back to Kansas City. Sturdivant has a knuckle ball and memories. Ted Bowsfield has the dubious distinction of being the only left-hander on the staff, unless Lopat decides to keep John O'Donoghue or Bill Landis, both with Binghamton last year. Bowsfield, a Canadian—the Athletics are international if nothing else—struggled to a 5-7 record, mostly in relief. A lot of relieving goes on in Kansas City. Just ask John Wyatt, a wonderfully kookie right-hander with a language all his own ("those batters are all jacked up waitin' for my smoke"). Wyatt pitched in 63 games for Kansas City, had a very creditable 6-4 record with a 3.13 ERA. Lopat hopes that Dan Pfister, who had arm trouble last year, will be sound again and that young Lew Krausse, who broke in with a shutout in 1961 at the age of 18, will have benefited from two years in the minors. Rarely has a pitching staff been strung on thinner thread.
April 13, 1964
The infield will stand or fall on the performance of rookie Dick Green, Jerry Lumpe's young replacement. If Green can keep his head above water, the infield of Gentile, Green, Causey and Charles will be good by anyone's standards. The outfield of Colavito, Jose Tartabull and Cimoli is slow, fast, slow, when, with Kansas City's pitching, it needs to be fast, faster, fastest. Colavito has the world's strongest arm, and he never hesitates to show it off. Catchers Doc Edwards, Charley Lau and Bill Bryan—Lopat will keep two of them—are adequate. Whoever hits best will get the job.
The same as in Mudville. If it were still an eight-team league, the A's could say, "We have nowhere to go but up." But there are 10 teams now, and Kansas City's uncertain pitching makes it a reasonable bet for 10th.