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Kansas City Is Baseball Crazy Now, But You Should've Seen 1955

Kansas_City_Municipal_Stadium_1955.jpg
Wikipedia -- Creative Commons

    

With the Royals in the World Series you might think that Kansas City has never been quite this excited about anything.

Everywhere you look there’s Royals blue.

But if you think Kansas City is baseball crazy now, you should have seen 1955 when the Athletics arrived from Philadelphia.

Jeff Logan, president of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society says the whole city turned out when the team flew in from its spring training site in Florida.

"They flew over the city and they just circled the city and circled the city with that plane cause they could see fans out there cheering for the plane to arrive," he says. "That’s how exciting it was for the A’s to come to Kansas City."

For 50 years, Major League Baseball stopped at the Mississippi — St. Louis was the western edge of Big League ball.

It's not that Kansas City was a stranger to professional baseball. Some of the best players ever played here.

Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith pitched for the Monarchs. Mickey Mantle and Phil Rizzuto played for the Blues as the two future Hall-of-Famers worked their way up through the Yankee farm system.

But Kansas City's image was that of a cow town and by the 1950s city fathers knew a big league baseball team would help change that.

Kansas City set its target on the venerable Philadelphia A's, a charter member of the American League and for its entire history under the control of Connie Mack, the Grand Old Man of the game.

By the 1950s, however, the A's were terrible. They were losing games and money and Mack's family decided it was time to sell the team.

In 1954, in a deal that was engineered by the New York Yankees, the A's were sold to Chicago real estate tycoon Arnold Johnson who had long standing business dealings with the Yankees.

The Athletics plays their first season at Municipal Stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn Avenue in 1955.

"The Kansas City A’s drew like 1.2 million people that first year in a stadium that, you know, had capacity of about 31,000 people," says Logan.

But for one teenager from Brookside, the A’s would change his life, even though he didn’t quite know it at the time.

Alex George was signed by the A’s in 1955 soon after he graduated from Rockhurst High School.

At 16 years, 11 months, he was the sixth youngest man to ever play in the major leagues.

"It just never occurred to me that it was anything special or unique," he says.

Now 76 and retired in Prairie Village, George still has the trim frame of a shortstop.

While he played eight seasons in the minors, his major league career with his hometown team amounted to ten at-bats and one hit.

While Kansas City had had professional baseball for decades, having a Major League team, George says, was something altogether different.

alex_now.jpg
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR
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KCUR
Alex George was the sixth youngest player ever in MLB

"My dad would pack us in the car and we would drive down Brooklyn Avenue, past the ballpark during a game and you could hear, you couldn’t see what was going on but you could certainly hear the fans.  There’d be ten or 15 other cars that would just be driving back and forth past the stadium."

Jeff Logan from the baseball historical society says the A’s move to Kansas City opened up the whole country for major league baseball.

When the A’s drew over a million fans in 1955 it was a signal that there was money to be made in the West and it paved the way for the Dodgers to leave Brooklyn for Los Angeles and the Giants to leave New York for San Francisco.

"It’s funny because of the Kansas City A’s we’re playing the San Francisco Giants in the World Series," he says.

While the A’s stayed in Kansas City for only 13 seasons, Alex George believes they opened the door to the Chiefs, the Royals and every other major league sports team to ever play here.

"It meant a lot then and it still means a lot now to have the team here," he says.

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