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