Alternate history: Athletics stay in KC, Oakland gets expansion team in 1971

The late 60’s was a tumultuous time in American history, as we all know. Baseball, a notoriously conservative game, was starting to make its own moves in concert with the times. Two decades after baseball became integrated, a influx of talent prompted MLB to think expansion. The A’s and Braves’ moves to Kansas City and Milwaukee, respectively, were considered half-measures because they could be accommodated by train travel. When the Dodgers and Giants moved to the West Coast, planes became a necessity. That opened the door to the rest of the frontier, with numerous growing cities selling Midwestern and East Coast owners on the virtues of moving to new ballparks and wide open spaces.

Charlie Finley was brilliantly chronicled doing his part to hasten this change in his biography, which was published in 2010 and I’ve been rereading for the last week. Finley was considered the first owner to truly play the ransom game with a municipality, as he did in the mid-late 60’s. Even as he talked long-term leases with Kansas City pols and civic leaders, he had his eye on anywhere that could’ve hosted a team. Candidates included the South (Atlanta, New Orleans), Dallas-Fort Worth, and the West Coast (Oakland, Seattle).

It was Finley who pushed Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt to agree that the new sports complex southeast of downtown KC should have separate baseball and football stadia, an against-the-grain move for the era. Finley, who long felt the A’s were being cast aside for the new football team, saw this as an equal measure. Yet Finley gave little support to the stadium plan, even though area voters passed it during the summer of 1967. By the end of the season the stage was set for a bidding war over the A’s that served nothing other than Finley’s ego.

Local interests tried to get Finley to sell, but he wasn’t interested. Finley had spent a bunch of insurance profits on bonus babies, so there was an interest in seeing his team through. That eventually occurred with the threepeat World Series wins in 1972-74. Finley also named a price that no one local could match: $25 million. He felt he had been previously mistreated by Kansas City – which he was based on previous KC Muni lease discussions – and set forth to burn all the bridges. As the offseason neared, KC interests turned their attention towards an expansion team. Finley prepared a presentation for AL President Joe Cronin and the other team owners that favored Oakland over Seattle and KC. The AL powers approved the Oakland move, in turn granting expansion franchises for KC and Seattle for 1971.

However, Missouri Senator Stuart Symington was furious over the three-year gap between the A’s leaving and the expansion team starting up. He took a meeting with Cronin and threatened to open hearings on baseball’s antitrust exemption. Taking the threat seriously, Cronin promised a 1969 expansion date, leaving a year gap. That meant that the team would have to play at Muni for a few years. It also meant that Seattle’s club would have to play at Sicks’ Stadium for an indeterminate period. Sicks’ Stadium was already deemed inadequate and whose condition was considered a major factor in Seattle losing the Pilots to Milwaukee (and Bud Selig) after only one season.

What if Finley had been magnanimous and relented? He couldn’t admit that having a future stadium all to himself in KC was better than having to share in Oakland, but that had to be part of his calculus. What intrigued Finley about Oakland was the promise of greater radio and TV revenues, which is ironic considering the A’s difficulties in that realm the past 20 years. If Finley kept the team in KC, KC would’ve gotten the World Series champs of the 70’s, and Finley probably would have sold to local interests in the late 70’s once he saw that baseball’s economics were surpassing his ability to compete.

Seattle, which had rejected previous votes on a domed stadium to attract a baseball team, was forced to approve one once they were granted the expansion franchise. Because they had no choice but to accelerate their efforts, Pilots ownership lost their shirts during the 1969 season, filed for bankruptcy, and sold to Selig when no local ownership groups stepped up. The Pilots relocated, which brought forth a lawsuit from Seattle against MLB, which led to the expansion Mariners in 1976. If the team had been given more time, it’s possible that needed improvements for Sicks’ would have been made to keep ownership and fans happy. Even though the domed stadium had faced stern opposition, it eventually was approved and opened in time for the 1976 season. That opening would’ve been earlier had the team already been in place. Milwaukee would’ve gotten an expansion team to go with Toronto in 1976 – unless the team was awarded to Denver or New Orleans.

As for Oakland, under this alternate scenario they would’ve had the team in 1971. Perhaps it would’ve been called the Oakland Oaks, or the Oakland “Baseball” Raiders (doubt it due to Al Davis’s desires). It definitely wouldn’t have been called the Oakland Athletics. The burgeoning talent that Finley stockpiled would’ve won titles in KC, and Oakland would be building from expansion castoffs. Another thing to consider is that the expansion draft in 1968 was for four teams (Montreal & San Diego were planned, Kansas City & Seattle were rushed) which created an enormous dilution of talent. A draft in 1970 would’ve been less painful for the expansion teams. Perhaps A’s ownership would’ve been more stable over time. Maybe not. The Coliseum still would’ve been relatively new and modern, and without Finley’s constant moving threats, the fan base could’ve grown more naturally – though during the 1968 season ticket sales were not exactly impressive.

After studying all of this for a while, it’s easy to understand the hierarchy of who has the power when it comes to franchise moves and stadium negotiations:

  1. League
  2. Team
  3. Municipality
  4. Stadium

That structure has remained throughout the eons, and is unlikely to change anytime soon.

39 thoughts on “Alternate history: Athletics stay in KC, Oakland gets expansion team in 1971

  1. Charlie Finley trivia: In 1964, the Beatles US tour was not supposed to include a stop in Kansas City. But Finley arranged to get the Beatles to add KC to the tour itinerary.

  2. I love alternate history. Do you read any of Harry Turtledove’s books ML?

    On the subject of Oakland baseball through, are we sure the city would have even been granted an expansion franchise in 1971 if the A’s hadn’t moved here? I mean part of why Oakland got a team was Charlie Finley’s audacity and “screw you” attitude in that he was willing to move his team just about anywhere, as you said having considered New Orleans (both before and after the Oakland move), Atlanta, Seattle, and Oakland. Oakland was already a shrinking market that many owners, Bud Selig included, didn’t want Finley moving too in the real universe. To say nothing of the Giants who objected in ’68 to the A’s moving in. It seems quite possible that Oakland would have been passed over in 1971 if markets like Milwaukee and Denver were available (which they would have been under your scenario) in this alternate universe given the realities of the objections that existed in the real universe that were overcome in large part due to Charlie Finley.

  3. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy

  4. I agree with Dan 100%. Most of the owners including Selig were against the A’s moving to Oakland with the Giants suffering 15 miles away across the bay at Candlestick.

    Finley was nuts, and no one wanted to deal with him so they let him move to Oakland just to shut him up.

    I believe if the A’s had not moved here eventually the Bay Area would have been granted an expansion team in San Jose much like the Dodgers/Angels. But probably in the early to mid 1990s.

    In which case, the entire market would be shared and we would not have this mess we have today. Since the A’s moved from outside the market to the Bay Area the territory was split up.

    Had a 2nd team been born out by expansion and not relocation we would see 2 thriving teams in this market.

  5. Was Selig even an owner in 1968? I thought he bought the Seattle Pilots at a bankruptcy sale in 1970?

  6. He was a partner in the Braves ownership up to 1965 (and we all know Finley was trying to move from KC for most of their short stay in that city). Plus Selig is on record as having said he openly opposed the A’s move to Oakland (due in no small part to him probably wanting to buy the A’s himself and move them to Milwaukee (at the time the A’s moved Selig already owned “Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, Inc.” and was trying to acquire a franchise for Milwaukee which he of course did a year and a half later when he bought the wayward Pilots and renamed him with their holding company’s moniker.)

  7. It is an interesting thought that maybe the second team would already be in San Jose if the A’s hadn’t moved here. And it’s definitely possible. God knows the history of both Giants and A’s franchises from 1968 to today after the A’s moved to the Bay Area is littered with threats to move the Giants to St. Petersburg and Toronto while the A’s have at various times threatened to move to Chicago, New Orleans and Denver. It wasn’t until the Giants move into Pac Bell that at least one of the teams finally settled down. If the Giants hadn’t had the A’s competing with them in the late 60’s and 70’s they would likely have been far more cemented in the region and would be far more assured of their own place in it (not unlike the Dodgers were able to do in a shorter time in the larger LA region) and the Giants might have been more amenable to sharing the Bay Area with a south bay team since the Giants would have had the lucrative tri-valley and Walnut Creek areas to themselves already.

    However besides ML’s alternate reality where Finley kept the A’s in KC I think an even more likely scenario given Finley’s personality is that if it hadn’t been Oakland, he simply would have moved the A’s to one of the other myriad of cities he threatened to move them to in the mid-60’s like, New Orleans, Louisville, Dallas, Milwaukee, Atlanta, San Diego or Seattle. Honestly I think it’s as much dumb luck as anything else that allowed Oakland to have the A’s in the first place and likely just as much dumb luck that they got ANY team at all (since w/o the A’s I don’t think the Coliseum would ever have hosted MLB beyond maybe the Giants moving over when Candlestick wasn’t suiting their needs in the late 80’s/early 90’s). Finley’s move to Oakland was about as close to Russian Roulette as a team move can be. Any other city could easily have ended up with them given Finley’s proclivity for randomness, scheming and brashness.

    Which of course opens up a whole can of worms of cities that would have been the “luckiest since Hiroshima” and how that would have played out vis-a-vis later expansion since several cities he threatened to move to or schemed to move other teams to (like when he schemed to have the White Sox moved to Seattle to replace the Pilots so he could then move the A’s to Chicago) ended up getting teams later anyway like San Diego, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Dallas and Seattle.

  8. I do remember that sometime around the years 1966 or 1967 that Charlie Finley was interested in moving the Kansas City A’s to Louisville Kentucky. I do not recall if that possible move was just a hot rumor, or if there was any actual real seriousness to that happening at that time. It is interesting to note that in all the years since, I have not heard Louisville ever being mentioned as a possible new market for a MLB team, whether from expansion or via a franchise move.

  9. This saga has been so “painful” that I’m always thinking about alternate history. In particular: in 1992 San Jose voters pass a utility tax for a Giants ballpark by a margin of 52-48%; $35 more per year in taxes for the average SJ citizen. San Jose would have now been home to MLB for 17 years (completed in 1996) and the A’s would most likely be looking to build a new yard in Oakland or (perhaps) SF.

  10. Looking forward to putting all the alternate history stuff behind us. One day…

  11. @Tony D:
    Fortunately, SJ voters had the foresight to say no to that nightmare scenario.

  12. @Dan – the giants competing with the A’s being the reason why the A’s weren’t more “firmly cemented” is not accurate. In 1992, during the LaRussa, Bash Brothers tenure, the A’s had been a perennial world series threat, won three AL pennants, and one world series title. The A’s were loaded with superstar players at the time and ranked third in MLB attendance, and drew substantially many more fans than the giants. The giants were no more a threat to the A’s fanbase than the San Jose giants are a threat to the A’s fanbase currently. That’s likely another reason why the A’s gave consent for the giants failed attempt at moving to San Jose and the so-called territorial rights – the giants weren’t a threat to the A’s at the time.

    The giants were an obscure, average team, their bay area support dwindled to the point where Lurie gave up on SF and the bay area, and sold the team to the Tampa Bay owners group. The giants have waged a massive propaganda campaign since moving into phone booth park, claiming that they have always been the bay area favorite – and many gullible media, and some of the local MLB fanbase, have taken the giants organization’s b.s. hook, line, and sinker. – nothing could be further from the truth.

  13. Duffer, 3 seasons did not cement the A’s in the region. Sure from 1990 to 1992 the A’s had a sizable advantage in attendance, but it wasn’t long lasting. By 1998 the Giants were already back averaging more than 8000 fans a game on average more than the A’s while still at Candlestick. Indeed it was the same story during the 70’s with the pendulum swinging back and forth between both teams. From 1968 until Pac Bell opened in 2000, the A’s outdrew the Giants on average in 17 seasons, the Giants outdrew the A’s in 14 seasons. However by 1996 the pendulum had swung back to the Giants for good and they pulled away from the A’s even before Pac Bell Park became reality and they’ve never looked back. They’ve been the undisputed kings of the Bay Area for nearly 20 years now. And you also have to consider that the Giants had the entire region to themselves for 10 years before the A’s even showed up. For nearly 30 years of the 56 MLB ball has been in the Bay Area the region was largely or entirely Giants centric. The rest of the time has been a roughly even split between the two teams with the A’s having to be the best team in baseball over a 5 year stretch to give the A’s any kind of big advantage (minus the outlier 1981 season). And that advantage was just as quickly lost.

  14. In another alternate history, Charlie Finely was accidently drafted by the California Angels in 1985 instead of Chuck Finley leading to comic exploits.

  15. OT, but reading that ESPN Caple article re the Braves new ballpark (on side Twitter bar) got me thinking: it’s appearing more and more likely that Selig/MLB are hesitant to give SJ the go ahead because of the current 100% private financing scheme proposed by Wolff. With many modern retro ballparks perhaps needing major overhauls within the next 10 years (perhaps even new yards ala the Braves?), owners definitely don’t want to set a precedent and are looking out for their own interests. Good stuff RM.

  16. BTW, A’s need to fight fire with fire: sign The Beard!!

  17. If that’s the case, Oakland gets two years to come up with $300 million+ in taxpayer funds for a new ballpark, which won’t happen. Then, bidding starts between prospective cities (Portland, San Antonio, Las Vegas, etc) that are willing to fork over taxpayer money to get the A’s. Oakland-only folks who believe the team has no place to go will be as surprised as when folks in Maryland saw the “Mayflower” moving vans carting the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in the middle of a snowy night.

  18. You guys are not taking the era into context. In the late 60’s the East Bay/Oakland had a well-connected business community, a powerful former Senator who also owned the Tribune, and a market that had 1.5 million residents. Plus it had BART under construction and the Raiders as proof that Oakland was a major league town. It most certainly was a competitive market then, and they were enticing teams with crazy radio/TV money. The great decline of Oakland didn’t start until the 70’s.

  19. Tony I don’t think you’ll see many teams asking for new parks in the next 10 years. Modest upgrades to their luxury suites and scoreboards, sure, but not full replacements. Atlanta is a unique confluence situations that has driven the Braves to move even further out of downtown than they already are in direct opposition to what most MLB teams want to do.

  20. @Dan,
    Read the Caple article. Basically, nothing stays new forever in the world of MLB owners. I agree that we most likely won’t see new ballparks, but the Braves identified $200 million in “needed” upgrades for Turner Field to stay competitive (?). Who’s to say teams with yards built in the late 90’s/early 2000’s won’t ask for similar upgrades in 10 years.
    @RM,
    You read my mind. Was wondering why the majors weren’t looking to SJ/South Bay in late 60’s/early 70’s. Obviously the Bay Area world was A LOT different back then…

  21. @Dan – the only reason the gnats have enjoyed their swing of popularity is phone booth park, and the gullible local media who favor the giants (Tim Kawakami being one of the worst offenders, since TK represents San Jose and should be neutral)

    Once the A’s build a new ballpark, and the giants continue their losing ways, the A’s will dominate again. Many impact FA position players seem to avoid the giants, and that team evidently needs to badly overpay to keep players – a $90 mil./five year deal for Hunter Pence? $9 mil. annually for Marco Scutero? $10 mil. for Blanco? – the giants don’t enjoy the revenue stream that the Dodgers do, and can’t afford that type of spending – go A’s!

  22. The “Alternative History” would have been a disaster for Oakland. Why? Does anyone want to take away the A’s Dynasty of 1972-1974 and give it to Kansas City?

  23. I must have woken up today in “The Twilight Zone.” Why? I was looking at today’s East Bay Express and it goes way beyond “Alternative History.” And I quote: “She (Quan) also helped attract deep-pocketed investors to develop Coliseum City, a multibillion-dollar project that could include a new stadium for the Oakland Raiders and, possibly, new facilities for the Oakland A’s and Golden State Warriors.” Are you kidding me? I have not heard of Mark Davis (let alone Wolff or the Warriors Ownership Group), giving the approval to any such project. They must be referring to some kind of “Alternative Universe” (like the one found in Marvel or DC Comics), because this cannot possibly be the same Oakland that is found on what I thought was Planet Earth. I hope no one actually believes that garbage.

  24. Agree with DB (2nd above). Alternative history would not of givin us the A’s and their unique character and periodical success over the years. An Oakland expansion team may have had the same affect on me or maybe not. Very hard to say, I may have become a Giants fan, who knows?? Glad things happened the way they did, regardless of the current stadium mess.

  25. duffer says: “Many impact FA position players seem to avoid the giants, and that team evidently needs to badly overpay to keep players – a $90 mil./five year deal for Hunter Pence?”

    Not that the G’s haven’t spent stupidly over and over since they moved into AT&T, but a guy who’s 30, healthy and top 10 NL offensive WAR 2 of the past 3 years was gonna get paid. It was just a question of where.

  26. @DB,
    That over the top quote re Quan could have been worse: replace “could” with WILL and delete the word “possibly” and you’d be way beyond the Twilight Zone.
    Well, it’s already November 21st and we’re still waiting for that Coli lease. RM, at what point should I invest in a Caltrain pass for frequent travel from Diridon to SF?

  27. I’m certainly glad Finley changed the Athletics’ colors. The navy & red combination they used to sport is so dull. So many teams use these colors: Twins, Indians, Braves and to a lesser extent, the Red Sox, Nationals and Cardinals.

  28. Tony D you are 100% it could have been worse, by changing those two words (although what was said was bad enough). I understand the East Bay Express has a certain political viewpoint (one that I do not share), and if they want to support Jean Quan that is certainly their right. But when they flat out come up with fantasies they view as “news” (as opposed to making an opinion), they do themselves, their readers, and even Quan a disservice. I still predict we will know something concerning the Raiders by Christmas, and if it turns out to be LA, this rag will have major egg on its face.

  29. I agree with ML,

    Oakland (and Bay Area in general) was a much different place then than it is now. Oakland built the most modern multi-purpose stadium right next to the only major indoor arena in the Bay Area smack dabb in the middle of BART, 880, and plentiful parking. As hard as it is to believe now, Oakland was considered the SMART answer to San Francisco’s stadium built several years earlier. Candlestick Park was isolated, hard to get to, and had horrible weather. The Coliseum had none of those things. The Coliseum had what many could argue was the best set-up in the nation at that time. FOUR teams moving into the Coliseum in a five year period would certainly be a testament to that. The Coliseum was the smartest thing Oakland ever built.

    As we all know though, Mt. Davis was the dumbest.

  30. Funny tweet by ML: “Selig going out with a hail of subpoenas”

  31. That’s actually six teams (Raiders in ’66, Clippers of the NASL in ’67, Seals in ’67, Oaks of the ABA in ’67, A’s in ’68’, and Warriors in ’71).

  32. I remember having a chat with a buddy of mine about what if the Giants really left in 93? We assumed that the AA’s would end up in SF, perhaps in their own version of Pacbell. If they had the region to themselves how could they resist, especially after Mt. Davis was built.

  33. BayMetro, don’t know as I’d ever have called the Coliseum the “most modern” anything. The Coliseum was built on the cheap with a cost saving design (hence we only have 2 concourses for 3 decks of seats) unlike most of its contemporaries. They saved even more money by not instituting a massive moveable seat system like so many other multipurpose stadiums did in those days and instead went with simple mix and match sections.

    That’s not to say the Coliseum wasn’t good for its time, it definitely had pluses being one of the few real grass multipurpose venues, and it definitely suited baseball better than many of its ilk (until Mt. Davis). But the Coliseum’s design wasn’t cutting edge or anything when it was put up.

  34. In addition to Movember and (my personal favorite), “Holy Souls in Purgatory” month, November is also my annual “try to convince myself it’s worth buying A’s season tickets” month. Anyone else get this?

  35. Dan,

    I can agree with you to an extent. But I wasn’t saying it was the most modern stadium in the nation. I was saying (though admittedly in not as many words) it was the most modern of the two in the Bay Area, in my opinion of course. The Giants realized Candlestick was a mess very early on. The A’s didn’t have many problems at The Coliseum at all (until 1996, of course). I just think Oakland had a major win in building not just a stadium but an arena next door. And the “cost-saving” approach Alameda County took still made it a pretty decent place to watch football too (remember, the Raiders didn’t have a problem with The Coliseum’s design as much as they did with the lack of luxury suites).

    Too bad Oakland didn’t stay smart and instead went through with Mt. Davis. While the A’s would definitely still be seeking new digs without the addition, the sense of urgency probably wouldn’t be as great with a Mt. Davis-less Coliseum.

  36. In that case I may not have been an “Oakland” fan. I came to the A’s at the beginning of the Bash Brothers Era, I loved Canseco, Dave Stewart, Carney and Eck. What a world that would have been, we may have sucked into the late 1990s. Then again I just couldn’t see myself as a Giants fan or a Dodgers fan. The reason I picked the A’s was my dad didn’t really watch baseball, all my cousins were Giants fans and I just didn’t feel it.

    As for this alternate timeline, ML, do you really thing they could have made adequate changes to Sicks? The thing looks a weird mishmash bandbox/football field from the Depression era. I feel like it could have been made better, but not by much, then again I am just going by pictures.

    As for the A’s would they have stayed in Memorial much longer or would there have been a push for a new stadium?

  37. neat idea. I came up with a what-if on baseball integrated from the start (at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Baseballifsandmore) called “If Baseball Integrated Early,” (I have other books, too.) I found the history of Oakland baseball fascinating. It appears even as a minor league city they lost a team to a move in the ’50s. In my book, early PCL expansion gives thema team and a very early pennant, though without the Finley years there aren’t as many pennants as SAn Francisco. it really is a separate community, and would be hard, as noted, to get two teams unless one was an expansion one like others have noted.

    That being said, one possibility I wonder about; What if the A’s stay in Kansas City and the giants move there in 1976? It would keep them on the West Coast, and WAlter Haas might have worked to get them to Oakland feeling he’s keeping them “In the Bay Area.” Perhaps in that TL AT&T Park wuld be b uilt on Oakland’s side of the Bay, with Bob Lurie buying shares and then Mr. Magowan(sp?) buying the club in the mid-’90s.

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