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Arnold Johnson checks out.
1960 will be remembered by old timers as the year that Francis Gary Powers got shot down over the Soviet Union. Cassius Clay won the light-heavyweight gold medal at the Summer Olympic games. In November, John F. Kennedy wins the presidency and the author is born. On November 24, Wilt Chamberlain collects 55 rebounds in a game against the Boston Celtics.
As the baseball calendar turned to 1960, fans of the Athletics had to be wondering “what the hell?” In a period of two days in December of 1959, the front office had made two controversial trades. The only pattern of these trades seemed to be that there was no plan by the front office to improve the team. There seemed to be a plan to ship younger players to New York in exchange for the Yankees broken down and over the hill players.
The coup de grâce was the December 11, 1959 trade that sent Kent Hadley, Joe DeMaestri and Roger Maris to New York in exchange for Hank Bauer, Don Larsen, Norm Siebern and Marv Throneberry.
DeMaestri, the teams last link to its Philadelphia days, had been made expendable due to a trade on December 9 that sent Hal Smith to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for pitcher Dick Hall, catcher Hank Foiles and shortstop Ken Hamlin. That trade I can understand. The Athletics needed young pitchers and Hall had some potential, as did Foiles. Hamlin would basically be a carbon copy of DeMaestri. Good field, light on the hitting. Smith, who had played well during his Kansas City stint, would go on to star in the Pirates 1960 World Series win. Smith hit a titanic two out, three run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 7 of the series, which set the table for Bill Mazeroski’s series clinching blast an inning later.
The New York trade was something else. It still rankles older Kansas City fans. Trading Maris, a young and rising star, plus a fan favorite, was bad enough. The real kick to the gut was finding out later, that the Athletics had tried to trade him to the Pirates for shortstop Dick Groat, even up. If the Athletics were determined to trade Maris, and they were, the Groat deal would have been much better for them. Groat was a former All-American basketball player at Duke. That is an understatement. Groat had been the 1952 National Basketball Player of the year and a two-time All-American. His #10 jersey has been retired by the Dukies and now hangs from the rafters at Cameron Indoor Stadium. He was the #3 pick in the 1952 NBA draft and played one season in the NBA. He was a fantastic athlete and an excellent baseball player.
Before the trade could be finalized, Pirate manager Danny Murtaugh caught wind of the proposed deal and demanded that Pirate General Manager Joe Brown cancel the trade. Groat went on to lead the National League in hitting in 1960 with a .325 average while winning the league’s MVP award and leading the Pirates to the World Championship. Maris, of course, blossomed into a star in New York. In that 1960 season, he slashed .283/.371/.581 with 39 home runs and a league leading 112 RBI. He made the All-Star team, won his first and only Gold Glove and captured the MVP award for the American League.
Norm Siebern had a nice four-year career in Kansas City. In fact, he enjoyed the best four years of his twelve-year career with the Athletics, but the rest of the trade was a dumpster fire. Bauer had been an excellent player in his prime, but by the time he arrived in Kansas City, he was 37 and on the tail end of his career. He played 138 games in Kansas City before being released in July of 1961. Larsen was a broken-down shell of the pitcher he once was, going 2-10 over 30 games with the Athletics. Throneberry, best known for his folksy television commercials, never reached his potential. His career as an Athletic lasted all of 140 games.
On March 10 of 1960, the Good Lord, who might have been a closet Athletics fan, delivered a thunderbolt. Athletics owner Arnold Johnson dropped dead from a brain hemorrhage while attending spring training. Maybe God didn’t like the Athletics. Maybe God just hated the Yankees and was tired of seeing Kansas City ownership in cahoots with New York. Either way, Johnson’s death meant changes were coming. By July, Johnson’s widow was looking to sell the team. Mrs. Johnson, like any good socialite, resided in New York (surprise), Palm Beach and Chicago, was asking $3.5 million for the team. Buyers from Dallas and Houston, flush with oil money, made firm bids to buy the team. There was a very real chance that Kansas City could lose their team. More on this in a future story.
Back to the season. The Athletics were breaking in a new manager in 1960. Gone was Harry Craft, who had willed his motley crew to a 162-196 record over three seasons. The new man was Bob Elliott, a former star for the Pirates and the Boston Braves. When camp broke, the Athletics had a glut of outfielders: Siebern, Bill Tuttle and Bauer were the starters. That left Whitey Herzog, Russ Snyder and slugger Bob Cerv in reserve roles. To rectify that, they tried moving the lumbering Cerv to first, which created a glut of first basemen: Cerv, Throneberry and Dick Williams, who had hit 16 home runs and driven home 75 in 1959. Cerv’s shins took a pounding from ground balls as he acclimated himself to his new position. The obvious solution would have been to trade off Throneberry, Bauer and Snyder to anyone other than the Yankees for some pitching. But that would have made too much sense for Athletic management.
Jerry Lumpe was established at second. Hamlin took over from DeMaestri at short. With Hal Smith banished to Pittsburgh, Andy Carey, another Yankee castoff, would split time at third with 20-year-old Lou Klimchock. The versatile Williams was also capable of playing third.
The Athletics viewed Klimchock as their best prospect since the move from Philly. He got a two-game cup of coffee late in the 1958 season, and punched two hits in his second game, including a home run. Imagine hitting a big-league home run at the age of 18! Klimchock had been a terrific hitter in the minor leagues, but unfortunately never found his stroke in the bigs. Harry Chiti and Pete Daley would share the catching duties. Foiles never got much of a chance in Kansas City, only appearing in six games before being traded back to Pittsburgh for another catcher named Danny Kravitz, who got into 59 games in 1960.
The season opened on April 19 with two games in Chicago. The White Sox, the defending American League champs, won both in walk-off fashion. Six of the Athletics’ first eleven games were decided by one run. They went 5-6 in that stretch, and that’s how the whole season went. The team finished 29-48 in the first half and 29-48 in the second half, to finish an uninspiring 58-96.
For the fans, there really wasn’t much to cheer about with this team. They went 17-29 in one-run games. They had a losing record in every month of the season. They lost their season series with every team in the league except for the Tigers, from whom they won 12 of 22. Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Washington all pounded the Athletics, winning 15 of 22 games from Kansas City. The once lowly Senators, the Athletics’ BFF at the bottom of the standings, jumped to a fifth place finish behind a young, slugging quartet of Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Jim Lemon and Earl Battey. That group combined for 99 home runs and 309 RBI in lifting the Senators to their best finish since 1953. To add insult to injury, the Senators turned a slick triple play on the Athletics during a game on July 23.
On July 11, in what was the highlight of the season, Kansas City hosted the first of the summer’s two All-Star games. The second game was played two days later at, you guessed it, Yankee Stadium. A total of 30,619 fans attended the Kansas City edition which was won by the National League by a score of 5-3. For Kansas City fans, it was a chance to see some of the great National League stars, players like Willie Mays, Eddie Matthews, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente and Stan Musial, just to name a few. Former Athletics Roger Maris and Vic Power made the American League squad. Pitcher Bud Daley was the lone Kansas City player on the roster, and he pitched the ninth inning. As he entered the stadium, he was met with a raucous standing ovation, which he described as the biggest thrill of his career. Daley acquitted himself well, striking out Vada Pinson and Orlando Cepeda, before walking Ken Boyer. He closed the inning by getting Clemente on a line drive to left.
The Athletics longest winning streak of the season was only five games, which came at the tail end of May. Their longest losing streak was 10 games during August. They were never in first place and finished 39 games back of league champ New York.
Pitching was again a problem for Kansas City. Bud Daley led the team in wins…and losses, going 16-16 with a 4.56 ERA over 231 innings. Daley had started the season cold, going 1 and 5 before caching fire. From May 15 until June 21, Daley won nine contests in a row, an Athletic team record. Ray Herbert went 14-15 with a sparkling ERA of 3.28 over 252 innings of work. Dick Hall, who was unhittable in spring training, went 8-13 with a 4.05 ERA over 182 innings. Larsen, one of the broken-down Yankees acquired for Maris, went 1-10 with a 5.38 ERA over 83 innings.
The youngest pitcher on the staff was 22-year-old Ray Blemker, who had a prototypical Athletic pitching career. Blemker had been signed as a free agent in 1959. He made his debut on July 3, 1960 against the Red Sox in Boston. He pitched 1 2⁄3 innings, gave up three hits, two walks and five earned runs including a home run to Willie Tasby. For Ray Blemker, this was his only Major League appearance and he finished with a career ERA of 27.00. He bounced around the Athletics minor league system, finally calling it a career after the 1962 season.
That inning and two thirds is kind of fascinating. The Red Sox came to bat in the bottom of the seventh leading the Athletics 4-2. Ned Garver had come on in relief of starter Dick Hall. Tasby tagged Garver for a lead off single, but Ned used a slick move to pick Tasby off first. Garver then walked Pete Runnels and Ted Williams, which prompted Manager Elliott to bring in Don Larsen. Larsen did his best Gascan Farnsworth imitation by unloading the bases via a long three-run home run to Vic Wertz. Wertz as you know, hit the long drive in the 1954 World Series that helped make Willie Mays a legend. Frank Malzone, the next batter, smashed a double, which ended Larsen’s day.
Elliott called on young Mr. Blemker who got Russ Nixon on a flyball to center for the second out. He then hit Gary Geiger with a pitch and walked Don Buddin to load the bases. This was especially tragic since Buddin was a light hitting shortstop with a propensity for striking out. Blemker then walked Ted Wills to force in a run before facing Willie Tasby. Tasby wasted little time and with one mighty cut, emptied the bases with the grand slam home run. Blemker regained his composure and induced Pete Runnels to ground out to the shortstop. This outburst gave the Sox a 12-2 lead. Elliott stuck with Blemker for the eighth inning. Carroll Hardy, who had run for Ted Williams in the seventh, was retired on a fly to right. So far, so good. Pumpsie Green laced a single to center, then advanced to second on a wild pitch by Blemker. Frank Malzone plated Green with another single. Blemker got Russ Nixon on another fly ball and ended his major league work by getting the exotically named Rip Repulski on a popup to first.
Blemker faced 11 batters, gave up five earned runs and recorded five outs. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to face Ted Williams. But he went to his grave knowing that he owned Russ Nixon, who made two of the five outs that Blemker recorded.
There weren’t many memories for the 1960 Athletics, but there were plenty in baseball. The biggest of course was Mazeroski’s ninth inning home run to walk-off the Yankees in the 1960 World Series. The World Series loss cost Casey Stengel his job as Yankee manager, even though the “Old Perfessor” had won nine World Series titles in his twelve-year tenure. Bill Veeck, always an innovator, unveiled the first exploding scoreboard and was the first to put his players’ names on the back of their jerseys. Ted Williams, in his final season, hit home run #500 on June 17. On September 28, in his final at bat, “The Splendid Splinter” hit a home run to deep right field. After rounding the bases, he refused to tip his cap on a curtain call, prompting author John Updike to write “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” where he wrote “Gods do not answer letters.”
After the season ended, the American League approved the Washington Senators move to Minneapolis. The league then granted Washington an expansion franchises as well as an AL team to share Los Angeles with the Dodgers for the 1961 season.
The Athletics were their usual busy selves in the off-season. They lost Ned Garver to the Los Angeles Angels and Ken Hamlin to the new Washington Senators in the expansion draft, leaving them without a shortstop. Their biggest trade came in January of 1961 when they shipped Whitey Herzog and Russ Snyder to Baltimore in exchange for Jim Archer, Bob Boyd, Al Pilarcik and Wayne Causey.
Next: 1961 Kansas City Athletics