Athletics History: KC A's-Yankees Pipeline

The Athletics baseball franchise has a storied history, which encompasses 9 World Series titles and many great players. It also covers stays in three cities. Baseball history buff Donald Moore will be chronicling various aspects of the history of the team for OaklandClubhouse. In his first piece, he examines the suspicious relationship between the A's and Yankees during the late 1950s-early 1960s.

In John E. Peterson's book The Kansas City Athletics, A Baseball History 1954-1967 has a quote from the colorful Bill Veeck saying, "Until Arnold Johnson died, Kansas City was not an Independent Major League baseball team at all. It was nothing more than a loosely controlled Yankee farm club."

That statement, ladies and gentlemen, from the long term Chicago White Sox owner was the true reality of Kansas City Athletics baseball from the mid 1950s through the early 1960s. Out of the 238 players who played for both the A's and Yankees, a whopping 59 players were exchanged in a series of 16 trades lasting six years. Many of those deals heavily favored the Yankees with a few minor exceptions when the A's actually came out on top.

The roots of this story begins when a wealthy Chicago businessman and Yankee Stadium owner named Arnold Johnson won a fierce battle to purchase the Philadelphia A's from the cash strapped Mack family. In order for Johnson to complete his transaction to acquire the A's, he had to sell his stake in Yankee Stadium.

The A's, at that time, were largely a rundown club of mediocre players with little or no prospects and a bare boned farm system. With the help of his business associates, who were the Yankee co-owners, Del Webb, Dan Topping and Larry Mac Phail, Johnson procured Kansas City as the A's new home. Incidentally, Johnson also owned the Kansas City Blues Stadium, in which was a Yankee farm club for the 18 years prior to the sale.

The Yankees helped facilitate the A's move by giving the Kansas City territorial rights to Johnson and didn't even demand compensation because the Blues were an unprofitable club. Johnson did give the Yankees a sum of $57,000 to help them relocate their Triple-A team to Denver. Johnson then sold Blues Stadium to the City of Kansas City, who in turn, leased it back to Johnson and renamed it Kansas City Municipal Stadium, which became the A's new home. Coincidentally, Johnson had Yankees co-owner Del Webb's construction company rebuild the stadium in order to make it major league ready.

Now mind you, the Major League Baseball owners approved of all of this. Back then, club owners had gentleman agreements between clubs and the Yankees were the most powerful team in all of baseball. Not many people stood in their way. Most people believed Johnson's reasoning for buying the A's was more for investment purposes only and that he really didn't care about the fans in Kansas City. Most thought he'd buy the A's and then try to move them to a more lucrative market in Los Angeles. Also, this was a new time in baseball where people were buying teams, running them down on purpose and them sell them off for a profit. Whatever Johnson's motives were, only he knew, but his history of making horrible deals to weaken the A's leads to the possible conclusion that Johnson planned to run the team down and then move it.

Once Johnson solidified his hold on the A's, the trades with Yankees started off slowly. On March 30, 1955 the A's purchased veteran pitchers Ewell Blackwell, Tom Gorman and first basemen Dick Kryhoski from NY. Then the A's purchased pitcher Lou Sleater on April 28, 1955. The first actual trade occurred on May 11, 1955 when the A's dealt pitcher Sonny Dixon and cash for pitcher Johnny Sain and outfielder Enos Slaughter. The A's made a few more cash deals that season with the Tigers, Indians, Dodgers and Pirates.

In 1956, the A's made three more deals with Yankees, and in one of the deals, they sold their best hitter, outfielder Enos Slaughter, back to the Yankees on a waivers claim on August 25. The A's did score a coup against the Yankees on October 16 of that same year when they acquired outfielder Bob Cerv from the Yankees in a simple cash deal. Cerv went on to become an All Star in 1958, but the Yankees didn't quite forget that deal because they re-acquired Cerv back from the A's in 1960.

On February 19, 1957, the A's made one of their worst deals with the Yankees by shipping three of their best players, pitchers Bobby Shantz, Art Ditmar and bonus baby third baseman Clete Boyer, plus two minor leaguers, for a bunch of Yankee castoffs and older players. Some league officials accused the A's of signing Boyer to a minor league contract and protecting him for two years so they could send him to New York. The league rules for bonus babies back then meant that you had to protect them on your 40-man roster for two years in order for them not be drafted away in the Rule 5 Draft.

On June 15, 1957, the A's again traded one of their best hitters, first basemen Harry "Suitcase" Simpson and two other players for a Yankee brawler Billy Martin and pitching prospect Ralph Terry. Some baseball writers claimed the Yankees sent Terry to the A's so the Yankees could get more seasoning out of him in a non-pressure pitching environment and eventually reacquire him from the A's at a later date, which actually happened two years later.

In 1958, the A's made two more trades with the Yankees. In both of those deals, the A's shipped two of their best pitchers, Duke Maas and veteran Murry Dickson to the Yankees for their stretch run in 1958, receiving little or nothing in return. During the 1959 season, the A's made two of their worst deals to date with NY. On May 26 1959, the A's shipped future 20-game winner Ralph Terry and power-hitting third baseman Hector Lopez to NY for two old pitchers, Johnny Kucks and Tom Sturdivant, and second baseman Jerry Lumpe. Both Lopez and Terry were big contributors to the Yankees success.

On December 11, 1959, the A's traded slugging outfielder Roger Maris, shortstop Joe DeMaestri and first baseman Kent Hadley to NY in exchange for an elder outfielder Hank Bauer, another outfielder in Yankee manager Casey Stengel's dog house, Norm Siebern, and a sore-armed Don Larsen. Maris went on to hit 39 homers for NY in 1960 and broke Babe Ruth's single season homerun record with 61 in 1961 and won the MVP awards for both years.

The 1961 NY Yankees were considered one of the best team ever in baseball and the A's contributed 10 players to that club. Sadly, on March 10, 1960, A's owner Arnold Johnson died at the age of 53 of a brain aneurysm. Soon after, the deals to NY stopped for the A's. The A's never had a winning season under Johnson's ownership and he left a cloud of suspicion with his close alliances with his business partners, Yankee co-owners Del Webb and Dan Topping. It's hard to believe that league owners allowed all of those A's and Yankees' lopsided deals, but that a different era.

The Yankees rarely traded with anyone else during this time period and gained many great players from the A's. The Yankees basically took one of their American League rivals and turned them into a virtual farm team. It leaves me to ponder one question: how good would have the A's been, if they held on to their best players?

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