The Kansas City A's and the Wrong Half of the Yankees: How the Yankees Controlled Two of the Eight American League Franchises During the 1950s

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9780977743650: The Kansas City A's and the Wrong Half of the Yankees: How the Yankees Controlled Two of the Eight American League Franchises During the 1950s
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During the second half of the 1950s, folks derisively referred to the Kansas City A’s as a “farm team” of the New York Yankees. Trades between the two—often lopsided—were commonplace, and it seemed every time the Yankees needed that one final piece for yet another pennant run, the A’s filled the gap.

While most knew that A’s owner Arnold Johnson was somewhat affiliated with Yankee owners Dan Topping and Del Webb through his joint ownership of Yankee Stadium, The Kansas City A’s and the Wrong Half of the Yankees digs into the deeper business entanglements among the three. In addition to the questionable trades and his earlier purchase of “The House that Ruth Built,” Johnson’s purchase of the then–Philadelphia A’s shows signs of Yankees clout.

Through periodicals, letters, conversations with contemporary players and executives, and an analysis of player records, author Jeff Katz has compiled a chronological account of how, through the hands of a friend and business partner, the Yankees controlled two of the eight American League teams during the second half of the 1950s.

A publication of Maple Street Press, distributed by Potomac Books, Inc.

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About the Author:

Jeff Katz is a baseball writer and member of the Society for American Baseball Research. He has written baseball articles for such websites as The Baseball Page and contributed a short story to the baseball compilation Play It Again: Baseball Experts on What Might Have Been, edited by Jim Bresnahan. He lives in Cooperstown, New York.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

FOREWORD

For nearly 85 years, only one business enterprise in the United States has been exempt from federal antitrust regulations: Major League Baseball.

Unlike every other institution throughout the land, big-league baseball was granted immunity by the Supreme Court from the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts, which had been instituted to ensure monopolies didn't develop in interstate trade and commerce.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes basically declared baseball to be a single entity that was free to operate as it wished, despite the fact that the vast majority of games and transactions involved franchises located in different states. Threats to remove the exemption pop up in Congress from time to time, particularly when a legislator's hometown team has been wronged by the system, but each time, the efforts fade away due to the whining and warnings of sure collapse ... always from the baseball's rulers.

Given the authority to govern as they deem fit, Major League Baseball's commissioners have clung to their right to make any decision based on the "Best Interest Of Baseball" and wielded it like a scepter, prepared to invoke it - without being required to offer an explanation - whenever the "integrity" of the game is threatened.

Bowie Kuhn flexed his muscles and prevented Charlie Finley from selling off Vida Blue, Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers in 1976. Bart Giamatti used it to orchestrate Pete Rose's banishment in 1989. Bud Selig invoked it to muzzle Marge Schott and remove her from power in Cincinnati in the 1990s. And several stood behind it to impose - or threaten to impose - lockouts that wouldn't stand a chance of being deemed legal by the courts in any other industry.

Of course, commissioners can be just as easily convinced to look the other way on crucial matters. The most egregious modern example of that is Selig sticking his head in the sand as baseball, with the help of anabolic steroids and banned performance enhancers, bulked up to comical proportions in the late 1990s and early 2000s. With the public reluctant to forgive baseball following the unpopular 1994-95 work stoppage, Major League Baseball turned a blind eye when it became clear that the pursuit of the sacred home run records would draw back the fans, unable to envision the vicious backlash that would be incurred only a few years later.

A scenario just as incredible took place in the 1950s, when commissioner Ford C. Frick permitted the New York Yankees to basically annex the Kansas City Athletics as a de facto farm team. American League opponents (such as the Tigers, Senators and White Sox) launched protests that either went unheard or were squashed. By doing nothing, Major League Baseball was in cahoots.

It's difficult to fathom something similar taking place these days. While covering the Boston Red Sox for the Boston Herald since 2000, I've witnessed first-hand the close scrutiny that the Sox now keep on their archrivals, and vice-versa. It was typified by embittered team president Larry Lucchino dubbing the Yankees the "Evil Empire" after his team lost out on the signing of Cuban ace Jose Contreras in December 2002 to New York's deep pockets. Lucchino had simply reached his breaking point after seeing the Yankees experience success after success in their bids to restrict players from heading to the Sox via free agency or trades. One can only imagine how he might have reacted had he been leading the Boston franchise in the 1950s!

As Jeff Katz details in the pages that follow, Yankees owners Del Webb and Dan Topping played an instrumental role in setting up their business partner, Arnold Johnson, as owner of the ballpark in Kansas City, which paved the way for him to acquire the team in an incredible tale of deceit. With the apparent aid of American League president Will Harridge, Johnson acquired the Philadelphia A's, despite equal and superior hometown bids. Everyone's worst fears took place.

Just as suspected, Johnson began funneling his top players to the Yankees, as the small-market A's became the subservient, Steinbeckian "Lennie" to the controlling, large-market "George" in the Bronx. The Yankees, for all intents and purposes, controlled two of the eight teams in the league. Some would argue that things have hardly changed, albeit not in such an obvious and blatant fashion.

Imagine how poorly the Yankees would have done had the likes of Clete Boyer, Bobby Shantz, Ralph Terry, Art Ditmar, Enos Slaughter, Ryne Duren and, of course, Roger Maris, had not make the well-worn trek from Kansas City to New York, all in exchange for has-beens and non-prospects. It is unlikely that the Yankees dynasty would have been sustained through the 1964 World Series without the duplicity orchestrated between the two teams.

It's hilarious to think how the likes of Messrs. Lucchino, Henry, Werner and Epstein would react if the Yankees set up such an arrangement these days with, say, the Kansas City Royals. You can bet that the Red Sox would take their fight all the way to Congress and the Supreme Court. While 29 other teams bemoan the bottomless pockets of the Yankees today, they should be thankful that they don't have to deal with the scenario that their ownership forefathers faced a half-century ago.

The Wrong Half of the Yankees will show you that long before "Star Wars" and before Lucchino's generation was old enough to realize it, a propeller-driven "Evil Empire" was already controlling the baseball universe. Dig in and let Jeff Katz be your guide.

JEFF HORRIGAN

Boston, August 2006

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