By Phil Hecken with Ben Traxel
A way back in August, whilst Paul was in the midst of his well-deserved vacation, I had Bootheel Ben Traxel submit a fantastic piece in our semi-ongoing series on ballparks that no longer stand. He obliged with a wonderful lookback at the old Kansas City Municipal Stadium. There was so much in that article that it had to be broken up into two parts. Here is the conclusion of that piece:
Part I update: Reader Aaron Stilley has kindly and disappointingly provided a little more insight into the situation with the site memorial sign and has written about it on his blog here and again here. To summarize, it appears the memorial sign at the old stadium location was removed sometime within the past year and is not coming back. Construction work for the new subdivision has caused the KC Parks and Recreation Department to put the sign in storage. The developer apparently has no interest in the location’s wonderful historic past so there are no known plans to provide any evidence that KC Municipal ever existed.
So, on that downer note, let’s try to get in a better mood by remembering some fun things that took place at the old KC Muni. During my research I found a number of stories about plenty of unique things that took place at 22nd and Brooklyn in Kansas City. Many were the result of the creativeness of A’s owner Charles O. Finley. After the Part I article my Dad sent me a note saying he remembered having dinner with Mr. Finley in about 1964. His lasting impression as he put it, “he would have been quite successful selling used cars.”
Some of the stories below have photographic evidence as to their truth. Many had conflicting evidence of which I am providing what I can see as the most accurate portrayal based on the evidence at hand. And there are a few instances where I seriously doubt whether the story took place at all. Right or wrong, the stories started somewhere and are part of the building’s legacy, so it doesn’t matter to me. Especially since the location has drifted into such obscurity.
1. Scoreboard: Arnold Johnson, the new owner of the Philadelphia/Kansas City Athletics bought the scoreboard from another doomed historic baseball location. The Boston Braves had moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and so the Braves Field scoreboard in Boston was purchased for 100 grand and trucked to Kansas City in 1955.
2. Engineering: Before moving to KC, Johnson received a survey of the stadium that showed existing pilings stout enough to support an upper deck. However, upon further examination after plans were finalized to move, a new engineering report revealed these pilings were almost inadequate for the current stadium roof. The building had to be virtually rebuilt between January first and opening day in the dead of winter, 1955. Construction continued in 10 below weather, vicious winds, and long hours and by opening day the building was ready. Not only was it finished on time, it was also under budget as it was constructed for $80/seat as opposed to the $120-$150/seat that others were going for.
3. Colors: In 1960 Charlie O. Finley purchased the Athletics. After several “feeling out” years he began to mess with the team in 1963. The A’s became the first MLB team to wear vibrant colors when he changed the uniform colors to “Kelly Green, Fort Knox Gold, and Wedding Gown White”, picked as colors of his favorite football team, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. In 1967 Mr. Finley changed his team’s footwear to white, again the first to go away from tradition. He also faked his dedication to the city by putting KC on the hat. Charlie O. started shopping the team to other cities such as Dallas, Seattle, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and San Diego. In 1964 Finley signed a contract to move to Louisville and rename them the Kentucky Colonels and keep the interlocking KC logo. This however was vetoed by the other owners. Finley also changed to the same colors on two of his other franchises, ABA’s Memphis Tams, and the NHL’s California Seals.
4. The Pennant Porch: Mr. Finley felt the Yankees had an extreme advantage with their right field porch being just 296 feet from home plate. A rule had been in place since 1958 that any new outfield fence could be no closer than 325 feet at the corners. A rule that is often overlooked today. Not one to steer away from controversy, Charlie O. had the “K.C. Pennant Porch” constructed exactly the same distance from home plate as Yankee Stadium. Finley tried to get around the rule by beginning the outfield wall at the foul line 325 feet from home plate and then angling in bounds toward the pitcher to the 296 foot mark, creating a “slot” to the corner. League officials did not appreciate his efforts and after two exhibition games the porch was removed. Charlie O. then had a white line painted where the fence previously stood and instructed the PA announcer to say “that would have been a home run in Yankee Stadium” when a fly ball fell in that area. He moved his fence in to the minimum of 325 ft. and around the foul pole he had painted “K.C. ONE-HALF PENNANT PORCH”.
5. The Right Field Roof: Mr. Finley just couldn’t let the Yankee domination go. When league officials arrived several days before opening day they discovered a roof had been built over the right field bleachers. This roof also extended out to the Yankee Stadium outfield wall distance of 296 feet. Finley’s protest that it was sun protection was not amusing to baseball’s dignitaries who declared “It must come down”. Apparently the roof remained through the weekend of preseason games and even through batting practice on opening day. But, alas, the bluff was called and two work trucks rolled through the gate and out on the field. The bleachers were emptied of fans and the roof was dismantled in the half hour before the first pitch. The story goes that from Finley’s obvious direction, the trucks hauling off the debris made a “victory” lap around the field before heading back through the gate. It was estimated the roof cost $4,000 to construct and $700 to demolish and Finley threatened to put it up again the following year.
6. The New Monster: Now that Charlie was not allowed to match the dimensions of Yankee Stadium he decided to go another direction. He had a 40 foot high screen constructed in right field from the 338 foot dimension in the corner out to a location 392 feet from home plate. Players needed to hit the ball over the incredibly high wall at that lengthy distance to hit a home run.
7. Harvey: One of the most fascinating gadgets Charlie O. Finley came up with was the mechanical rabbit named “Harvey”. Finley didn’t think umpires needed to carry around bags of extra baseballs so he created a device that came up out of the ground behind home plate and presented a basket of balls to the home plate umpire. Not to waste an opportunity to create fun for the crowd, he had the basket held up by a rabbit. When he would ascend out of his hole the organist would play “Here comes Peter Cottontail”. Now photographic evidence as you can see proves there were at least two different rabbits, one with features eerily similar to Bugs Bunny. When the umpire needed balls he’d point to a bellboy who simply pushed a button.
8. Little Blowhard: Finley also thought it was beyond the umpires duties to sweep off home plate. He had another contraption rigged up called “Little Blowhard”. It was a compressed air jet that rose out of the ground and blew off the plate. A button was pressed and the thing wooshed. One surprised batter had no idea it was there and jumped in the air falling backward and hitting the ground.
9. Charlie O.: The historic mascot of the Athletics had always been an elephant. This changed when Mr. Finley bought a Missouri Mule and named him “Charlie O.”. It is rumored that because he was denied ownership of the A’s in 1955 he made this mascot switch. The mule was paraded around the outfield, attended public gatherings, hotel lobbies, and into the press room on a full stomach to annoy reporters. Hawk Harrelson even once made an unsuccessful attempt at “Mule Whispering”. The mule died at 20 years old in 1976.
10. The Children’s Zoo: Finley was quite efficient in his use of space at the stadium, not letting any corner go to waste. A petting zoo and picnic area was constructed in the left field corner. The mule was housed out there as well as many other animals including another pet, this one a dog named “Old Drum”. The German Shorthaired Pointer was joined by a Chinese Golden Pheasant, German Checker Rabbits, Peafowl, and Capuchin Monkeys. They were all fed by the Kansas City Farmers Market and the Detroit Tigers bullpen pitchers who tossed the monkeys vodka-soaked oranges.
11. The Shepherd and his Sheep: Before there were outfield bleachers in right field there was a grassy hillside. Again, not letting an inch of space go unused, Finley had a flock of sheep grazing the area wearing team colored blankets emblazoned with the A’s logo, some yellow with a green A and others the opposite. A shepherd was there to guard the flock as they kept groundskeeping costs down by “mowing” the hillside not easily groomed by machinery. I can’t figure out if this shepherd was a mannequin or a real person dressed up. Any ideas?
12. First Pitch: Harry Truman is the only US president to have come from the state of Missouri. His hometown of Independence is just a few miles away from where Kauffman Stadium sits. Upon the arrival of the Athletics in 1955, former President Truman was asked to throw out the first pitch. While I’m sure it was quite a spectacular event with the arrival of Major League Baseball west of St. Louis for the first time, one would think the hometown President would have gotten better seats than in the upper deck! Many people were summoned to throw out the first pitch including the 1964 Miss America Debbie Bryant (with Catfish Hunter overlooking).
13. Other Unique Incidents: Other Finley baseball gimmicks to fill seats in the 1960’s included Satchel Paige coming out of retirement at “approximately” 59 years old and throwing three shutout innings, allowing only one hit to hall of famer Carl Yastrzemski. Finley staged the event by the bullpen with Paige in a big rocking chair and a nurse rubbing down his arm. Burt Campaneris (nicknames on back are yet another Finley item — as well as handing them out i.e. Blue Moon, Mudcat, Catfish, etc.) had a preplanned special day in which he played a different position in each of the nine innings and left the game as a catcher in the ninth with a concussion. And later during one of the first Royals games a sibling rivalry of player (Ed Haller –Tigers catcher) vs. umpire (Tom Haller) appeared in a game for the first time. Charlie’s attempt at using an orange baseball was in 1970, after the move to California. That lasted one exhibition game against the Indians. He also paid players to grow mustaches which lead to this icon.
14. The Chiefs played there too!: While the A’s had “Charlie O.”, the Chiefs also had a mascot. A horse named “Warpaint” graced the sidelines during AFL games upon the arrival of professional football in 1963. Also unique was the treatment of end zones. The Chiefs had one end painted for themselves while opposite end displayed the away team’s wordmark and logo. Temporary bleachers were set up for games but the place was never mistaken for a football stadium. The NFL’s longest game took place at KC Municipal Stadium in a playoff battle with the Dolphins in 1971.
I hate to keep harping on it (okay, I don’t) but with all the fun that took place at Municipal Stadium I am really bothered by the fact there is not even a plaque in the sidewalk at its former location. The 1960’s were indeed an interesting time for baseball in Kansas City even though winning was not a part of it. That came in the 1970’s through the mid 80’s at the fine Royals Stadium. Many other gimmicks were held to put fannies in the seats such as “Farmer’s Night”, “Hot Pants Night”, and Greased Pig Races. But real history happened at this ballpark (this is Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige playing together for the Monarchs) and it is quite a shame it has gone by the wayside.
Thanks a lot for that Bootheel. This concludes our retrospective of yet another architectural wonder from baseball’s past, lost to the ravages of time and progress.
Still have a backlog of uni tweaks, so let get right into it. If you have a tweak, change or concept for any sport, send them my way. OK? OK! Here’s what’s on tap for today.
Starting off the show is Shane Milberger, who has a “new idea for the Cleveland Browns”:
I think they should be with orange jerseys and brown pants. I created this alternate uniform, and here it is.
Our next tweak came in over the summer from a very bored Martin Hick. I’ll let Marty explain:
Hello again LI Phil,
I’m not sure if you ever saw this piece back in August of 2007.
As you can see, I’ve been “tweakin” my entire life.
Long story short, I might start sending in some of my “tweaks”. That is if you are running short. I haven’t been drawing as much in recent years, but it’s what I do instead of counting sheep.
With some trepidation, I’m sending along my recent “piece’. It’s a tweak of the modern Cardinal’s design. Obviously, I wish they were wearing something more like their old gear, but that’s neither there nor here. The gray facemask is only suited for a classic set. Therefore, I changed it. I had tossed around the idea of red or black, but I ultimately settled on white. I liked it on the Colts, I like it on Oklahoma State, and I love it on Texas. I’m pretty sure that I like raglan sleaves, as well.
For better or worse, here it is.
Borrowing from the Mike Engle school of design, we have Jim Vilk, who has some designs for the Pirates that “he’d wear.”:
OK, here are the improved Pirates tweaks:
Imagine, if you will, that it’s 1977 again. The ’76 baseball season has ended, and in my scenario the pillbox hats are thankfully retired after one year. Instead, the Pirates have gone back to the mustard gold hats with black brims, and they’ve gone with an all-mustard monochrome road uni.
Then, why not add some black pants to that look?
Of course, you could do the whole mix and match thing, but you get the idea. I have other teams to wreak havoc upon…uh, I mean…tweak.
OK then. Our last submission today is from Paul Lee, who tweaked the USA basketball team unis:
The 1992 USA Olympic basketball team, aka the “Dream Team,” is arguably the best team from the USA comprised of professional NBA players (plus Christian Laettner from college). While in my mind the team might have been even better had they chosen Shaquille O’Neal over Laettner (Hakeem Olajuwon would have been an even better choice, but he was not yet eligible as he did not become a US citizen until later), I realized that you can’t change the past, and while it might have looked better on paper (much like the Miami Heat acquisitions over this past Summer), it was unlikely that an even better outcome would have been achieved.
Hindsight is 20/20, but outcomes from hypothetical player swaps are just that, hypothetical, and potential benefits cannot be guaranteed. In fact, it might result in unforeseen consequences. Besides, second-guessing oneself is not necessary, as that team exceeded all expectations.
For instance, at the time, I thought that the Chris Mullin choice was awesome. Later in life, and being a Lakers fan, I wondered if James Worthy would have been a better choice, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Mullin was a better fit and the right player was chosen.
Also, I’ve come across people online who believed Isiah Thomas should have been picked to be on the team instead of John Stockton, but I disagree. Stockton is the better–and correct–choice, and the chemistry between him and Karl Malone is undeniable.
Last but not least are my tweaks for Team USA jerseys. Wearing a different jersey (brand, design or material) would not have affected the team’s game nearly as much as different teammates, but here are the tweaks of the Team USA jersey from the Barcelona Olympic Games: Original and Tweaked.
Thanks to everyone who submitted. Back with more soon.
Halfway…to St. Patty’s Day
Last night, in their annual rite of the late summer, the Chicago White Sox broke out their “Halfway To St. Patrick’s Day” unis, which, not surprisingly, feature green caps, green undersleeves, green NOBs, numbers & belts, and even green pinstripes. Sadly, catcher Ramon Castro didn’t have a green helmet or gear, although he did have green socks. Reader concealed78 also found a shot of a green stirruped Juan Pierre.
Now, I’m not saying I’d like to see the Sox in that getup every game, but it sure looks good. And since only the A’s wear green (and they wear hunter, not kelly), it would easily and instantaneously be a unique look in the game today. But, it’s not really the WHITE Sox look, is it? Maybe the next team who undergoes a uni overhaul will consider making kelly green one of their colors. It was a great look when the A’s used it — but no one wears it anymore. With all the red and blue (and of course, black) around today, none of those would be missed. And the green would be sweet indeed.
These won’t be making the 5 & 1…
…unless they’re as the worst.
As great (on paper) as last weekend’s NCAA games were, this week features a weak slate. And the week got off on a really crappy sartorial note beginning on Thursday evening, when NC State Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien, clad in his September 11th on-sale-on-the-school’s-website cap, piloted his white helmeted, monochrome red-clad, black socks & shoes-wearing team against the equally garishly dressed Bearcats of Cincinnati. The red monochrome won.
Last evening, the all-black monochrome Southern Mississippi Eagles took on the all white Kansas Jayhawks (more photos here). Now, I happen to like the Jayhawks clean new look (no more helmet stripe, no NOB, no more gray pants), and it sure was easy to tell the teams apart. But the monochrome black is just not a good look. It was, however, good luck, as So. Miss took down Rock Chalk.
Two teams in dark monochrome, two wins.
The final game of the evening featured the monochrome-clad Nevada Wolf Pack matched against the white over white Cal Bears (more photos here). Another Wolf Pack (this one being two words) at home in mono taking another Bear squad behind the woodshed (ok — “Golden Bears” and “Bearcats” aren’t quite the same beast).
But all teams clad in dark monochrome were successful at home against their opponents leading into today. Will the dark mono-at-home teams fare as well today?
We won’t be seeing Auburn going mono blue, will we?
Perhaps this formula will add up in the win column, but they surely won’t find their way into Jim’s “Best 5” will they?
That’s all for today everyone. You guys have a great Saturday!
Educational institutions are like corporate raiders, worthy of our scorn and derision. — Kenn Tomasch