Win or lose, the old Kansas City Athletics, who happened to lose many more games than they ever won, were always comical. They had monkeys in left field, donkeys in center and sheep in right. Old Drum, a German short-hair, worked their infield during the fifth-inning brush up. And for bench strength there were greased pigs, cows, a ball-serving rabbit and a balky mule named Charley-O.
Unhappily for Owner Charles O. Finley, the people of Kansas City figured they already had an adequate zoo. What they preferred to see in Municipal Stadium were ballplayers, genus major league. Their disenchantment sent Finley scurrying to Oakland and the city fathers scrounging around for a new club. They have one now with real live baseball players and a real live management. The new Kansas City Royals not only fail to look like an ASPCA pickup team; they have a better early season record than any baseball expansion team ever. This includes 1969's other new franchises—Seattle, San Diego and Montreal—and the four clubs established earlier in the 1960s, California, Washington, Houston and the New York Mets.
Ironically, KC is the only expansion team in history that concentrated primarily on young players (some sadly underestimated by other clubs) who might win in the future. All the others drafted pensioners in an attempt to provide immediate respectability. Of the earlier clubs, the California Angels managed to finish third in their second year of operation, but the rest, except for brief spurts, thudded to the bottom and have been bumping along there ever since.
The Royals had a winning record after their first game. They beat the Minnesota Twins with a run in the bottom of the 12th inning on Opening Day, and the next night they beat the Twins again with a run in the bottom of the 17th inning. This mad nightcap baseball has been the Royals' style all season.
May 25, 1969
They won their first three extra-inning games. They won nine of their first 13 one-run games. They rallied from behind in 13 of their first 18 victories. And they won eight games in their last turn at bat. "It used to be that you didn't think about a game too much when you played one of the new clubs," Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles said last week in Kansas City. "Now you've got to be ready for them or else they're going to beat you."
So far this season the Royals have played with a desperate vengeance complex. "We've got enough guys who were kicked around by other clubs that it's never any problem getting keyed up when we play against our old club," said Pitcher Mike Hedlund, a freckle-faced redhead who pitched nine games for Cleveland. Hedlund started against the Indians last Thursday night, and for six innings he was practically untouchable. He worked so hard, though, that he lost nine pounds, and in the seventh inning he began to fade. Moe Drabowsky rescued him in the last two innings. "Yeah, that meant a lot to me," Hedlund said after the game. "I couldn't even get to Triple A with them."
Consider briefly what some of the other Royals have done to their old teams so far this season:
•Mike Fiore beat the Orioles with a two-run pinch-hit double in the ninth inning at Baltimore.
•Joe Keough had three hits, including two doubles, in a 9-3 win over the Athletics.
•Paul Schaal, recalled from the minor leagues for the weekend, drove in the winning run against the Angels in one game and the go-ahead run in the next.
•Jack Hernandez, an easy out when he played in Minnesota last year, walked in the 17th inning and scored the winning run against the Twins.
•Spanky Kirkpatrick had three hits in one game against the Angels and a home run in another.
•Lou Piniella, cast away by Washington, Baltimore, Cleveland and Seattle, helped beat the Pilots twice and then sent a game against the Orioles into extra innings with a two-out base hit in the bottom of the ninth inning.
•Pitcher Roger Nelson, KC's first selection in the expansion draft, stopped the Orioles for more than eight innings, then departed with the score tied 2-2.
Such revenge probably will continue. Joe Foy, who has been the best Royal so far this year, has not played against the Red Sox yet, and he has this thing about Dick Williams. "I played under a handicap with Williams," Foy said. "If I made an error or was caught stealing, then I'd be on the bench the next day. He was on me about my weight all the time, too. I was 209. So he benched me. Now I'm playing at 215, my natural weight, and no one is bothering me." Foy has played a steady third base and already has stolen 11 bases. "No pressure, no pressure," he said.
This vengeance complex has motivated the Royals so intensely that already they lead the major leagues in fights. They won their first one when Catcher Jim Campanis decked Tommy Harper of the Pilots and Catcher Eliseo Rodriguez connected with a hard left hook to the chin of Ray Oyler. They have been rambunctious ever since and the ensuing excitement has revived Kansas City's interest in big-league ball. For the locals, the days of Finley, and before him Arnold Johnson—when nobody knew until game time what players the New York Yankees would ship in to replace the Roger Marises and Ralph Terrys and Clete Boyers they needed to win another pennant—are merely bad memories now.
"I may own this team," says Ewing Kauffman, who paid $6 million for the expansion franchise, "but it is Kansas City's team—not mine." What Kauffman means is that he wants a winner for the city in which he was raised and in which he made himself a multimillionaire. Kauffman is the founder and the president of Marion Laboratories, Inc., a Kansas City-based prescription pharmaceutical company. "Marion stock has multiplied 16 times in the last three years," Kauffman said before a Royals game last week. "If you had invested $60,000 in Marion stock three years ago, you would be a millionaire today."
Kauffman likes to talk and spend money, and he associates everything with "million." "This club," he says, "is going to draw about a million two [1,200,000] in Kansas City this year." Kauffman himself has been the team's top fan. In fact, he bought the club mainly because his wife, Muriel, told him he needed a diversion from his pharmaceutical business. "Also, the team needed local ownership for a change," he said. "I had the money, and I could give it to them. I knew we had a franchise. Senator Stuart Symington told baseball to give Kansas City a team or else the next time baseball heard from him he would be speaking on the floor of the United States Senate."
Kauffman sits behind the Royals dugout at every home game. His wife sits next to him. His jet pilot and his chauffeur are nearby. Kauffman smokes a pipe during the game, and he keeps a transistor radio plugged into his left ear. Since he owns the Royals, Kauffman also manages them.
"I'd have taken out the kid [Hedlund] and brought in Moe [Drabowsky] a little sooner than Joe [Gordon] did," Kauffman said after one game last week. Gordon later explained that Drabowsky was "not completely warmed up." "That's why he's the manager and I'm the owner," Kauffman said. "He's won more games than I have this year, there's no doubt about that." When the Royals rallied with five runs in the ninth inning to beat the Tigers in Detroit one night, the Kauffmans were so elated that they jumped onto the Royals dugout roof and did an impromptu jitterbug.
One reason for Kansas City's early success may be Kauffman's attitude toward the team. "We still can't believe the club flew our families back from spring training," said Pitcher Dave Morehead. "Cats, dogs, everything. I don't think any club in baseball does that. When you play for first-class people, you try to play first class, too."
So far, the other new clubs this year have played first-class baseball, too. Last Friday night was a perfect example. Seattle scored six runs in the top of the 12th inning to beat the Red Sox in Boston. San Diego scored a run in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Cardinals. Montreal lost to the Atlanta Braves in the 11th inning, and the Royals forced Baltimore into the 11th inning before they lost, too. Kansas City has had a good attendance average (almost 14,000 per game). Montreal, which has suffered snow, wind and subfreezing temperatures, has been even better, at 14,880 a game. San Diego has averaged almost 12,000, while Seattle, which plays in a 22,500-seat park, has averaged 8,998.
All four expansion teams are playing better baseball than the older expansion clubs did in their first season. "Baseball has learned through its mistakes," said Cedric Tallis, the executive vice-president of the Royals, who was an Angels officer during the first expansion in 1961. "We had more and better players to select from. I remember one year when the Angels had only 28 players in training camp."
Thanks to Ewing Kauffman's money, the Royals have had no such problems. They bought a number of veteran Triple A players to protect them during the expansion draft, then selected promising young players in the draft itself. "We knew the people would stick with us if we stayed with the kids," Kauffman said.
So far the people have. And the Royals have been sticking close in the Western Division of the American League. No zoos, either.