The A's (Big League Baseball is Gone, Long Live Big League Baseball)

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The A's (Big League Baseball is Gone, Long Live Big League Baseball)

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We begin this episode on May 8th, 1968 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Catfish Hunter was pitching for the A’s and Al Helfer, so called Mr. Baseball Radio, was about to broadcast history on KNBR in San Francisco. 

Fastball on the inside corner. Hunter has pitched a no hitter!” Helfer screamed into the mic. “Jim ‘Catfish’ Hunter didn’t allow a man to get to first base against the Minnesota Twins. You can well imagine how this young man feels,” he told the audience. 

I strongly suspect Catfish was elated. He was not quite 22 years old, and he had just pitched the first perfect game in the American League in 46 years. I also suspect fans in Oakland were thrilled—a perfect game the first year the franchise was there. 

But for 12 year old me, and for many baseball fans in Kansas City, this was just another what-could-have-been moment. You see, this perfect game was a preview of an Oakland dynasty, a team that would win three consecutive World Series with players who started their careers in Kansas City

Just a year before Catfish’s gem, Kansas City was fighting to keep the A’s. But, it turns out, the fix was in and K.C. baseball fans were going to get drilled by a Charlie Finley fastball. 

“A Dream Come True. It’s Oakland A’s Now,” said the big headline on the front of the San Francisco Examiner sports page on October 19th, 1967.

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The day before, American League owners approved Charlie Finley’s request to move the A’s from Kansas City to Oakland. Literally from the moment Finley bought the club and came to town in 1960, he wanted to move the A’s. He claimed otherwise but it was a lie.

“I think Finley was very disappointed and thought Kansas City was not a good baseball town and immediately that first season began to wonder if he should move the team to another city,” says author John Peterson who wrote a great history of the team simply called The Kansas City Athletics. “One of the cities he looked at was Dallas. Supposedly, he went down there and brought back hats to manager Hank Bauer and wanted the players to wear Dallas hats. He also scouted out the Cotton Bowl to see if that would be a suitable site for baseball.”

Finley considered Seattle, and asked the American League to let him move to Louisville but he was the only owner to vote yes on that. But after years of agitating, demanding and plain old kvetching, his fellow owners had enough and voted to let Finley move. 

So many people in the area tried like hell to keep the team in Kansas City, including former Kansas City Councilman Sal Capra.

“You asked about in the lease with Charlie Finley, there was a provision that we had to draw 800,000 people and when he start acting up like he did, the attendance was going down so business leaders and the (Kansas City) Star and others came along the last three or four weeks and bought the tickets so that we complied with the 800,000 people,” Capra remembers. 

It was a drip, drip, drip of pain and anxiety for A’s fans in 1967. Will they stay or will they go? “Oakland Offer Tempts Finley” the headline read on the front page of the morning Kansas City Times on July 21st, the same day the team started a weekend homestead against the White Sox.

“I’m very much impressed,” Finley told the AP. 

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In fact, he had already made up his mind. He was chopping at the bit. He thought he was going to be the next Major League West Coast success. He was going to follow in the footsteps of the Dodgers in Los Angles and the Giants in San Fransisco who moved west from New York after seeing how well the A’s fared in Kansas City after fleeing Philadelphia.

Kansas City tried everything, including passing a $102 million bond issue to build the Truman Sports Complex. Even a brand new baseball only stadium couldn’t convince Finley to stay. He had badgered American League owners so much, they finally said yes at the next league meeting.

W.A. Clarkson was chair of the Jackson County Sports Authority at the time and was part of the team at the league meeting in Chicago’s Drake Hotel. The Kansas City group got the official word from American League President Joe Cronin. The fix was in for the A’s to move to Oakland, everyone in the baseball world knew that. But Major League Baseball was going to expand and Kansas City was waiting to hear about that.

“The thing that was most upsetting was that they would not give any specifics about an expansion team to replace the A’s in Kansas City,” Clarkson recalled. “They (MLB) indicated that we would be given consideration and then, to put it candidly, all hell broke loose from our perspective. I remember Ike Davis, the mayor who normally was very straight forward, very lawyerly, and he exploded. And I remember Senator Symington got so mad he stormed out of the room.”

Turns out that Missouri Sen. Stu Symington wasn’t a guy you wanted to piss off. Stuart Symington was the first Air Force Secretary, successfully leading the Berlin Airlift. He was a powerful member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees. And he hated Senator Joe McCarthy.

They argued and sniped at each other during the Army-McCarthy hearings in the spring of 1954. Not many people were willing to take on Joe McCarthy. Symington was. So facing down baseball team owners 13 years later, not such a big deal Clarkson remembers the KC representatives reconvening, and Sen. Symington calling Yankee president Mike Burke.

Symington told him that if Kansas City didn’t get a team for the 1969 season, major league baseball could say goodbye to its antitrust exemption.

“And then there was frantic bit of activity on the part of the American League group. They reconvened their meeting and got back to us late that evening and the word came down that yes, the A’s were going to be allowed to move, there would be a one year hiatus for the 1968 season, and Kansas City would be granted an expansion league franchise for the 1969 season. That’s when Ewing Kauffman got the franchise for what would then become the Kansas City Royals. That was in 1968 and they opened the season in 1969,” says Clarkson.

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The Royals opened the season at 22nd and Brooklyn Avenue, the same place the A’s played when they arrived in 1954. I was at that opening game with a whole new team of players to root for. The Royals beat the Twins in extra innings, Joe Keough singled in Joe Foy in the 12th. Lou Piniella went four-for-five. He would go on to be the American League rookie of the year.  The win would go to Moe Drabowski in relief. He was one of four Royals who also played for the A’s in Kansas City. 

In the 50 years the A’s have been in Oakland they’ve won four World Series, including an amazing three in a row from 1972 to 1974 and six American League Pennants. In those same 50 years, the Royals have two World Championships and four American League Pennants. Baseball people would probably disagree, but I’m going to call it even, mostly because I love Kansas City but also because it’s my podcast. 

This season of Archiver was produced by Matt Hodapp and Linda Haskins. Archiver is produced with Do Good Productions, where Nancy Seelen is executive producer and with the Center for Midwestern Studies where Diane Muti Burke is Director. 

Two special thank yous as we wrap this season. First to Jeff Logan from the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society who provided not just his deep knowledge of Kansas City sports but the cool radio clips you heard. And to Mitch Nathanson who was our Philadelphia A’s expert. I just finished his biography of the slugger Dick Allen called “God Almighty Hisself” and it is terrific. 

If you missed any of our Archiver episodes make sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or where ever you get your podcasts.

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The A's (A's On The Air)

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The A's (A's On The Air)

For me, and I think for most fans, it’s not just the players that conjure up memories of a team. The broadcasters are just as important. 

Sure it’s true for TV. But the relationship isn’t quite as personal as it is with your radio…when you’re alone in your car or, when I was a kid, listening to a late west coast game on my clock radio.

So when I heard it was “Butternut Bread Baseball Time” with some impossibly jaunty music, I knew Monty Moore or Merle Harmon or George Bryson were going to tell me about Rocky Colavito or Campy Campanaris or Wayne Causey or any of my other favorite A’s.

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And all the action was going to come pouring out of my radio, a place near and dear to my heart.

There simply aren’t that many historic calls in Kansas City A’s history. No shot heard round the world from Russ Hodges when the Giants beat the Dodgers for the National League pennant in 1951. No Vin Scully calling Don Larson’s perfect game in the ’56 series. 

But there is at least one.

It happened at Memorial Stadium, Baltimore, on September 11th, 1964.

Righty Dave Vineyard was pitching for the Orioles and it was the top of the first, no score with one aboard. Hard hitting Rocky Colavito was at the plate and he’s about to hit his 300th homer. 

“Rocky pointing that bat menacingly out toward the youngster Vineyard,” A’s announcer Monty Moore said on KCMO radio. “There’s a drive to left field, it’s really going,” Moore screamed into the microphone. “It’s going. It’s in the home run area. Number 300 for Rocky Colavito!”

I love that call and it’s even better on the radio so make sure to listen to this episode. It’s so in the moment. No video would have made that moment more vivid. 

And all over Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma that night, people were enjoying it on their radios.

“When we were kids, games weren't on TV right once in a while, but not very often, not much. And you sat outside in the summertime with your family and you listen to the game, you listen to Monty Moore. Yeah. And you in the car and, but I mean you would just set around your house and listen to the baseball on the radio,” says Jeff Logan from the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society. 

A’s broadcasts had pre-game interviews with players wives. Ads for landmark Kansas City businessnes like the President Shops where in 1964 you could buy a suit with two pairs of pants for $54.85. The President Shops marketing line was “Every Inch a Store for Men.” Whatever that means. There was Hamms beer. Every A’s fan knew that Hamms came “From the land of skyblue waters.”

For the 13 years the A’s were in Kansas City the games were broadcast on KCMO radio. 

The station went on the air in 1925 with the call letters KWKC but changed to KCMO in 1936, the year Walter Cronkite started broadcasting sports on the station using the name Walter Wilcox.

Now while there weren’t many historic baseball moments while the A’s were in K.C., they did make history in the broadcast booth.

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“I call myself the first female baseball broadcaster in the history of the world,” says Betty Bushman. Before her every baseball broadcast voice was male. 

But in 1964 A’s owner Charlie Finley clearly had his showman’s hat on when he broke the broadcast gender barrier with Betty Caywood ,as she was known at the time.

Finley told the AP that he hired the “weather girl” from Chicago’s WLS, the ABC owned station, to “appeal to the dolls” which was clearly a Mad Men kind of moment.

It was such big news that Betty appeared on “What’s My Line” one of the most popular game shows of the time, on October 4, 1964.

As she entered and signed in on the chalk board the rather crude graphic read “Broadcasts Baseball Games.” 

The Broadway star Arlene Francis guessed she worked for a non-profit. The comedian Buddy Hacket thought she was a forest ranger. But the publisher Bennett Cerf finally figured it out but not before the panal, dressed in evening wear, used all ten questions and Betty made $50.

Betty Caywood is Betty Bushman now and still lives in Kansas City. “Charlie started offering me money and I said no, that’s not enough, that’s not enough. Finally he got to a figure I couldn’t turn down and it proved to be one of the best three months of my life.”

She has a unique take on Charlie Finley.

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“Charlie Finley was a very interesting man. He obviously was an incredible business man. He had a serious drinking problem and when he drank, he would call me in the middle of the night and tell me what to do the next day. When he first hired me, he told me that he wanted me to wear Kelly green and that awful yellow and I said, your male broadcasters wear that? And he said, well of course not, and I said, neither does your female one. In the beginning I would listen and then hang up politely. Later on I’d just  hear his voice and I’d just hang up. That being said, he was a perfect gentleman to me except in the middle of the night when he would call, or call in the shows and he would scream and yell and swear and it was just unacceptable behavior which I wouldn’t deal with so I would just hang up.”

Betty would broadcast A’s games for only three months, her contract was not renewed at the end of the 1964 season. 

Despite the abuse Betty she says she was sad that her baseball broadcasting career was over in such a short time.

A short time. A lot things were short when it came to the A’s. 

Players traded. Managers fired. And, well, the franchise itself, only 13 years in Kansas City.

“I remember when I first heard that the team was moving from Kansas City and I was heartbroken,” says fan Charlie Lord. “It kind of was heart wrenching.”

The A’s got to Kansas City with a sleazy, backroom deal back in Philadelphia and they were replaced by the Royals with some good, old fashion hardball politics.

That’s in our next, and final episode of Archiver-The A’s in Kansas City.

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The A's (Charlie O' The Despised)

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The A's (Charlie O' The Despised)

We start this episode at a hastily called news conference on June 19, 1961. At the direction of owner Charles O. Finley, who just bought the team a year earlier, general manager Frank C. Lane announced the A’s have fired manager Joe Gordon after a scant half a season. But there’s just one thing, just at that moment during the news conference, Joe had no idea he was being canned. 

“We’ve been trying to reach him all day,” Lane said. “I’ve talked to his wife two or three times. Joe’s out fishing. Joe has no official notice of this.”

And here’s something else nobody knew at that time; Finley would go on to fire lots of managers, make lots of enemies and go on to be one of the most hated owners in all of professional sports.

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You already know about Finley the showman; Charlie O The Mule, the exploding scoreboard, Kelly green and gold uniforms at a time everyone else wore white and gray, his lobbying for orange baseballs. Sounds like a real funster. But not at all. Finley had a mean streak, he was mercurial, dictatorial. 

He replaced Gordon, whose nickname of course was Flash, with Hank Bauer who was wildly popular in Kansas City. Bauer had his best years with the Yankees. But he moved permanently to suburban Prairie Village after playing for the Kansas City Blues, the top Yankee farm club until the A’s moved to the city in 1955. Hank Bauer would finish out the 1961 season and all of 1962. In total he would manage just 264 games for Finley. 

Sensing his days were coming to end Bauer resigned on September 29th, before Finley could pull the trigger. Finley was furious. He wanted to fire Bauer but the Marine veteran who won two Bronze Stars in World War II left the A’s on his own terms. 

And the firings of Gordon and Bauer were just the beginning of years of churning through managers by Finley. By the way, the man in the news conference sacking Gordon, Frank Lane, didn’t last long either. He was A’s general manager for eight months.

Finley was interviewed on the radio by Monty Moore after firing Lane with the owner sounding just a bit paranoid.

“Well there's been many rumors spread about my interference with the ball club, with the operations of the ball club as far as the manager is concerned. A few months ago we fired a Joe Gordon and had we known at that time what we noted that we would have not fired a Joe Gordon,” the owner said. 

“Then you have all the intentions to keep Hank Bauer on as the manager,” Moore asked.

“Very definitely. So I can I say a Hank a has done a great job and I have great admiration for him. I'm sure the players have great admiration for him and I want to do everything that I can do to help Hank,” Finley proclaimed.

In the end Finley did very little to help Hank. And those rumors he alluded to? We never found out what they were. In the seven years Finley owned the A’s in Kansas City he had seven managers. Each averaged 162 games before being fired. While Finley was often times quick to sign a prospect to a big bonus, he was also awfully hard to play for. And in 1967 that all came to a head and unofficially ushered in the first bidding war over a free agent. 

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Ken Harrelson was a hard hitting first baseman-outfielder who came up with the A’s in 1963. Harrelson, known as Hawk because of his nose, was a tough guy who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. And he did exactly that in 1967 when Finley fired manager Alvin Dark. After Dark was canned, Hawk called the owner a "menace to baseball." It was in all the papers and, Hawk says, Finley was furious. 

“I knew Charlie was gonna call after he read what I had said. He says, ‘what are you tryin to do to me?’ He said, ‘haven’t I been like a father to you?’ I didn’t say anything. He said, ‘I want a full retraction and I’ve set up a news conference there at 12:00 noon at the Lord Baltimore (Hotel) and I want you to retract all those things.’ And I told him I’m not gonna retract ‘em. Boy, when I said that, he went berserk. He started cussin me out and he says, as of this moment, you are no longer a member of the green and gold and he slammed down the phone.”

Hawk loved K.C. and didn’t want to leave. But 1967 just happened to feature perhaps the tightest race ever for the American League pennant. On September 1, Boston, Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago were within a game and a half of each other. And all wanted to talk to Hawk. Hell, even the Tokyo Giants called. 

Hawk signed with Boston for $150,000. He was making $12,000 in with the A’s. Sparked by timely hitting from Hawk, the Red Sox would go on to win the pennant. So by firing another manager, Charlie Finley opened up the first real bidding war in big league baseball for a free agent. 

But Finley didn’t feud with just players and managers. He picked a fight with one of the most powerful sports writers in America. 

“Ernie Mehl had been the sports (editor) of the (Kansas City Star) and Ernie had written some stories that Finley wanted to move the ball club and as a result he had a great deal of animosity toward Ernie. And he (Finley) came to me and asked me if I would go after Ernie Mehl on the air,” says broadcaster Bill Grisby.

Grigsby was best known for broadcasting Chiefs games and pro wrestling in Kansas City. But he was part of the A’s broadcast team from 1959 to 1963. And you’re about to here the story of Poison Pen night at Municipal Stadium. 

Ernie Mehl played a big role in getting city leaders behind landing a major league team. But after he wrote a series of stories about Finley wanting to move the club and suggesting the owner was mismanaging the franchise, Finley went crazy. 

On August 21, 1961 he had a big sign painted. On it, a man at a typewriter, a pen and a bottle of ink labeled Poison Pen Award. Above that “Ernie Mehl Appreciation Day.” Today, it would probably say fake news.

Between games of a double header with the White Sox, a flat bed truck pulled the poster around Municipal Stadium while the organist played ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.’ By all accounts, the crowd was not entertained. 

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The next morning the Kansas City Times gave the gag exactly two paragraphs at the end of its game story. The piece focused on the A’s losing a pair to the White Sox, 5-3 and 7-0. 

After dropping the doubleheader on Poison Pen night, the A’s were in the A.L. basement, 37 1/2  games out of first place. A’s fans like myself just had to got used to that. But I’ll tell you what, as bad as the A’s were, I never got tired of this of listening to the A’s on the radio.

Up until the late 80s, if you wanted to follow baseball you listened to the radio. 

And I rarely missed a game...The A’s are on the air! That’s our next episode of Archiver-The A’s In Kansas City.

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The A's (Charlie O' The Showman)

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The A's (Charlie O' The Showman)

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There just aren’t many songs about mules. But in the mid 60's (the exact release date is unknown) Charlie O' the Mule by Kansas City song writer and rockabilly performer Gene McKown was released. It’s about a Missouri mule that helped usher in a wild, complicated and, at times, maddening seven years of baseball in Kansas City. 

Charles O. Finley, the namesake of the song, longed for years to own a big league baseball team. And when Arnold Johnson suddenly died in 1960 Finley would grit his teeth, and vow not to be outbid. He wasn’t. Then he got the mule and, damn, if he didn’t name it after himself. 

“Charlie O' the Mule was a famous mule. He's probably the most famous mule that ever lived. He had a book, a TV show, a record,” says Jeff Logan president of the Kansas City Baseball History. “People love the mule because you could ride the mule. You could go out to the stadium and Charlie Finley would ride the mule with you.” 

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He dressed it in a Kelly green and gold A’s uniform, and while fans loved it, deep down they knew it was kind of whacky. And Charlie O' the Mule was only the beginning of the craziness at 22nd and Brooklyn Ave. 

Charles O' Finley, the O stood for Oscar, was born in Georgia in 1918, and raised in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. His father, Oscar, was a steelworker as was his grandfather who immigrated from Ireland.  When the family moved to Gary, Indiana Charlie, who always loved baseball, became an avid White Sox fan. 

He was also a businessman from a young age. At 12, according to Finley biographer Jason Turbow, Finley had so many lawns to mow he hired his first employees. Finley also worked in the steel mills, starting at 47 1/2 cents an hour. He eventually would rise to superintendent of the mill with 5,000 people working for him.

It was around that time that Finley started a side gig of selling life insurance. He would turn that side gig into an enormous life insurance company based in Chicago. By the early 1950's, Finley was a millionaire with a 20 room house in Gary and a 1,200 acre ranch in La Porte, Indiana. But Finley didn’t have the one thing he desired most, a big league baseball club. 

One of the most venerable characters in all of baseball was A’s owner and manager Connie Mack. We talked all about him in our first installment, Fleeing Philadelphia. The old man retired in 1950. It was such a big deal that George M. Cohan, the man who owned Broadway they used to say, wrote a song for the ceremony. 

Now we don’t know for sure, but it certainly could have been right around this time Finley seriously started thinking about buying a big league team. Finley had the money and the whole baseball world knew the A’s were in serious trouble on and off the field. Finley was a minor player in the shenanigans around the selling of the A’s in 1954. He bid $3 million but, as you know, the fix was in for Arnold Johnson, a patsy for the New York Yankees. 

In 1956, he tried to buy the Tigers. Then the White Sox two years later. When the American League expanded into Los Angles, Finley offered $5 million for the franchise but lost out to singing cowboy Gene Autry.

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Then Finley got a sudden break that would change Kansas City and baseball forever. “Arnold Johnson Dead,” the bold front page headline screamed in the March 10th, 1960 edition of the morning Kansas City Times. He had a cerebral hemorrhage driving back from a spring training game in West Palm Beach. The paper said Johnson slumped over the wheel of his car, and the horn blared for ten minutes before someone finally called for help. He died at the hospital. 

Johnson’s widow was forced to sell the team to cover debt and taxes and when a Kansas City syndicate couldn’t raise enough money, Finley swooped in and finally had his major league team. 

He pledged his loyalty to Kansas City and its fans. “Moving the A’s from Kansas City is the farthest thing from my mind,” he told reporters on December 15th, 1960, the day he bought the club. Well, that wasn't exactly the case. 

“I met Charlie Finley the first day he came to town, and I’m still on the broadcast team and they asked me to pick up Charles O' and Pat Friday, his assistant, at the Muehlebach Hotel and bring them down to a party at the Brown Bottle, introduce him to the fans,” says Kansas City broadcast legend Bill Grigsby. “On the way down, Charles Finley and Pat Friday sat in the back seat. I served as a chauffeur for them and all the way down Charlie could do nothing but talk about how soon can we get this team out of town. He was ready to move it the minute he bought it, I’m quite sure.”

More than a half century on, most people believe two things: that Finely lied when he said he was committed to K.C. and his aim always was to move the team to, well, a lot of place as we’ll see. But while he couldn’t bring good baseball to Kansas City, he sure made it a lot of fun. 

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“Well Charlie had promotions sometimes, they did kind of cross the line, you know,” says John O’Donoghue, an A’s pitcher who came up in 1963. “We’d have to get up real early in the morning because the mule was coming into town and he wanted all the players there. I remember one time in New York City at the old Americana Hotel up on Broadway.  We’d had a night game before.  We didn’t get back to the hotel until 12:00 – 12:30, something like that, and we had to be out there at 8:00 o’clock the next morning so he could register the mule in the hotel. You talk about  a funny scene, I mean, the mule is walking up those stairs and going into the hotel and the bell hops are walking around behind him with big pieces of crap paper.  It was good promotion and the A’s got recognized all around the United States because they knew the mule.”

But the mule wasn’t all Charlie brought to Municipal Stadium. There was Harvey the Rabbit behind home plate that supplied the umpire with new baseballs. Fireworks after a home run? That was a Finely invention. When Finley bought the club, he promised to close the pipeline to the Yankees. All those one-sides trades were done, he proclaimed. Finley the showman bought a bus, called it the shuttle between K.C. and New York, then set it on fire to prove his point. 

He had a covered wagon deliver players to their positions, had cow milking contests and agitated for orange baseballs. Turns out Finley had a thing for color, he came up with Kelly green and gold uniforms. A shocker to the players, says Jeff Logan. “They hated everything about it because most of the guys in 1963 when they went to the green and gold uniforms were kind of the old school baseball guys. Jerry Lumpe played for the Yankees. He came up in the Yankee organization and you can't even have a mustache or a beard.

“So we came to the ballpark and we took infield and batting practice in our regular last year’s uniforms, white home uniforms. And then went into the clubhouse after that and changed into our new gold and green uniforms,” says A’s infielder Jerry Lumpe. “Everybody was kinda looking at everybody else to see how they’d look in it. Nobody really wanted to be the first one to get onto the field.  I don’t know who came out first but it was a big kind of a silence from the stands. We looked like a bunch of parakeets running around out there.”

If anyone could make the ballpark fun, it was Charlie Finley. On September 8th, 1965, Finley had rising star Campy Campaneris, a shortstop by trade, play all nine positions at Municipal Stadium, the first big leaguer to every do so. While on the mound, Campy threw lefty to left handed hitters and switched to righty for the right handers. 

But that wasn’t the best Finley player promotional night of 1965. No, not by a long shot. The biggest promotion was two weeks later on September 25th when Satchal Paige came out of retirement to pitch for the hometown team. Paige was 59 years old. Probably. He could have been older, nobody really knew. He signed a contract for $3,500. 

When Finley asked the right handed legend who became a star with the Negro League Monarchs if he could go three innings, Satchal responded “That depends. How many times a day?”

Finley played up Satchal’s age. He had him in a rocking chair during the game with a nurse rubbing liniment oil on his pitching arm. Finley let the drama play out, teasing the fans with a fourth inning from Satch.

The promotion mostly worked. 9,289 people were in the stands for Satchal Paige night. Puny, but much better than the previous night when only 2,304 people showed up for the game against Boston. 

While Finley was a promotional genius, he was anything but beloved. In fact, most of his players and employees hated him. Finley churned through general managers, field managers and players like few other owners ever in professional sports. And he picked fights with players and writers. 

Charlie O' The Despised, that’s on our next installment of Archiver, The A’s in Kansas City.

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The A's (A Yankee Pipeline)

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The A's (A Yankee Pipeline)

Our story starts in Yankee Stadium on October 1, 1961. Phil Rizzuto is doing the game on WCBS radio and he’s about to call perhap the most important home run in baseball history. 

It's the bottom of the fourth. On a 2-0 count, Rodger Marris hits home run number 61 off right hander Tracy Stallard, breaking Babe Ruth's single season home run record. 

“Hit deep to right, this could be it,” Rizzuto screamed into the mic. “Holy cow!” 

While Yankee Stadium was delirious, you can’t help but think that A’s fans in Kansas City were lamenting over what could have been. Just a year earlier, Roger Maris was a Kansas City A. 

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“You have a club in Kansas City who is basically the kissing cousins of the Yankees,” says Philadelphia sports expert Mitch Nathanson. “Over the course of the next five, six years, I think there's 29, 30 trades between these two teams where all the good players are being groomed in Kansas City and sent to New York for either cash or really lopsided trades. And so Roger Maris and all these other players come over and they keep the dynasty going up through the early sixties. The Yankee Dynasty would have ended in the mid to late fifties if it wasn't for the Kansas City A's.”

In the 13 years the A’s were in Kansas City, they were simply terrible. The highest they ever finished was sixth place and that was in 1955, their first year in KC. The A’s worst year was 1964, they lost 105 games. They weren't the worst team in big league history, the ’62 New York Mets lost 120. A small consolation for young A’s fans such as myself. 

While in Kansas City, A’s pitchers never threw a no hitter, A’s hitters never batted for the cycle. But the A’s didn’t get this dismal without some help. It all goes back to the New York Yankees, and the unholy alliance between Yankee owners Del Webb and Dan Topping and their handpicked A’s owner Arnold Johnson.

“The 1960 season came along. Roger Maris still with the ball club. We started making some deals with the New York Yankees. Hector Lopez, Bob Cerv anybody that had any great ability. Vic Power. We moved them up to the New York Yankees” says famed Kansas City sportscaster Bill Grigsby who was part of the A’s broadcast team from 1959 to 1963 when he left to join the Chiefs. Turns out that trade for Roger Maris, a little sleazier than most knew at the time.

“I didn’t know at the time, but Arnold Johnson owed Del Webb some favors and some money from some construction deals they were in together. So he was sort of a hostage to Del Webb and whenever Del Webb needed a ball player who looked good, he’d pick up the phone, call the Athletic office and get a ballplayer. We became a farm club for the New York Yankees. Well, the Yankees wanted Roger Maris. Roger was in Cleveland so Arnold Johnson made a deal with Cleveland to get Roger Maris in Kansas City. Well, what they didn’t know when they traded him to the Kansas City Athletics was that Arnold Johnson (would send) Roger Maris to the New York Yankees.”

If the folks in Kansas City didn’t know it was one of the most lopsided trades of all time, everyone else knew it after the deal was struck in December, 1959. The New York Daily News called it a trade between the Yankees and their “Kansas City cousins.” Cleveland General Manage Frank Lane said the Maris deal was “morally wrong for baseball.” The AP wrote that the two teams were “old hands at swapping players.”

“It’s very true. During the time of Arnold Johnson’s ownership, which ended in March of 1960, upon his death, the Yankees and A’s made 16 trades. That was over 55 percent of all trades the Yankees made. In the five years before Arnold Johnson’s ownership, and in the five years after, the Yankees made very few trades with A’s ownership,” says A’s historian Bob Worthington. “Almost every trade is to the Yankee’s benefit and there are various themes to these trades. At the beginning, the Yankees sent a lot of washed up players to Kansas City. Ewell Blackwell, Johnny Sain, Enos Slaughter all end up in Kansas City by way of the Yankees.”

Another player that went to New York was third baseman Clete Boyer who would also be part of the menacing Yankee machine of the early 60s. Not all of the Yankees who came over to K.C. were dogs. Outfielders Norm Siebern and Bob Cerv would have very respectable careers. One of the best sports writers ever, Robert Creamer, tells a funny story about Cerv in the Ken Burns Baseball film.

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One day Yankee skipper Casey Stengal sat down next to Cerv in the dugout. "There's not many people that know this, Casey said, but one of us has been traded to Kansas City." Cerv would go back to the Bronx and be there when Maris hit number 61.

While the the pipeline between 22nd and Brooklyn Avenue and Yankee Stadium exasperated most in organized baseball, it also caught the attention of the United States Senate.

The close relationship between the A’s and Yankees wasn’t the only reason the Senate Anti-Trust and Monopoly Subcommittee called Major League Baseball before them on July 8th, 1958 but it was a major factor.

The panel was chaired by Sen. Estes Kefauver from Tennessee, already famous for hauling mobsters before his committee in 1950 and ’51. One of the first committee field hearings, by the way, was in Kansas City on November 30th, 1950. Those hearing were tense, contentious and made the Fifth Amendment famous. The hearing on baseball, not so much. That was assured when the committee called Yankee manager Casey Stengel, called Casey because he was born in Kansas City in 1890. 

Now Casey could certainly win baseball games, but he wasn’t the best person to testify about baseball and anti-trust issues. Nothing, as you might imagine, came of those hearings. Kefauver ran for vice president in 1960 with Adlai Stevenson on the top of the ticket. They lost to Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. After the sentate hearing, Casey and the Yanks finished third in 1959, but won the American League in 1960 largely because of the Roger Maris trade with the A’s.

But that pipeline that so benefited the Yankees suddenly and unexpectedly dried up on March 3rd, 1960. That’s when A’s owner Arnold Johnson died from a cerebral hemorraghe after watching a spring training game in West Palm Beach. The A’s were then bought by a man who dreamed of orange baseballs, white shoes and a mule named Charlie O.

“I don't think he ever watched the games when he was in Kansas City. He'd ride around all over the streets,” says Jeff Logan from the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society. “The fences would open and you could ride out onto the field, he would ride kids out on the field. One time he did it and he didn't even know the game and started.” 

Charles O. Finley was one of the craziest owners in all of professional sports. So he gets the next two episodes of Archiver: The A’s in Kansas City.

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The A's (22nd And Brooklyn Ave.)

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The A's (22nd And Brooklyn Ave.)

It’s April 19, 1966, the night of the A’s opener against the Minnesota Twins. 

It’s a miserable night, 54 degrees and windy enough to bite under jackets and coats. A half inch of rain pounded Kansas City just three hours before the first pitch. But that doesn’t stop George Toma, who would go on to be a groundskeeping superstar, from getting the playing field in perfect condition, making Municipal Stadium not just playable but beautiful.

Players, like A’s outfielder Leo Posada, loved it. “That Municipal Stadium was the most beautiful field that I ever played on. And those days, it was the most beautiful field in the big league. And it was gorgeous to play there, have the people so close to you, right in a, a fair play, right in the field so it was excellent. It was excellent.”

The A’s were always an awful baseball team. But Municipal Stadium, well that was special to almost anyone who ever went. 

Baseball in Kansas City was being played at 22nd and Brooklyn Avenue long before the A’s arrived in 1955.

The owner of the minor league Kansas City Blues built the single deck park for $400,000 in 1923. It was called Muehlebach Field then after Blues owner George E. Muehlebach who also brewed beer and owned the fanciest hotel in downtown. 

While the park was built for the Blues the dominate team who played there was the Negro League Monarchs. Three games of the first Colored World Series, as it was called at the time, were played there in 1924 when the Monarchs beat the Hillsdale Club 5-4. 

The ballpark became Ruppert Stadium in 1937, named after Yankee owner Col. Jacob Ruppert who bought the Blues and made them New York’s top minor league team. After Ruppert died, it was renamed Blues Stadium and remained so until the A’s arrived.

It was also around this time that Arnold Johnson bought the ballpark. We met Johnson in our first installment, he was one of the architects of the sleazy backroom hardball the Yankees played to get the A’s out of Philadelphia and to Kansas City and the Johnson-owned stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn was part of the plunder.

“It was no secret that this was an unholy alliance. And the other club owners pointed this out in advance,” says Mitch Nathanson, our Archiver Philadelphia sports expert who is a law professor at Villanova. “It was written about in newspapers that this is not going to be a sale to an independent entity. This is going to be to someone who was essentially a cousin of the Yankees.”

The A’s deal was cooked up by Dan Topping and Del Webb, owners of the Yankees. They knew, Nathanson says, if they finagled the club into the hands of Arnold Johnson, the Yankees would reap benefits on the field and in their bank accounts.

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“That's how they got good in the first place. They took a lot of great Boston Red Sox players in the beginning of their dynasties such as Babe Ruth, but also a lot of other players. And through the years they would pick up players from franchises who were struggling who needed cash, and they saw in Kansas City an opportunity to do this again because here's a guy, Arnold Johnson, who really is indebted to them. And so if they can get him in place, they have basically a defacto farm club in Kansas City.”

The city sold bonds to put on an upper deck and pay Del Webb. Working 24 hours a day, it was completed in 90 days, expanding capacity from 17,000 to 30,000. 

They bought the old Boston Braves scoreboard for $1000,000 (the Braves left for Milwaukee in 1952) changed the name to Municipal Stadium and hosted its first big league game on April 12th, 1955.

The battery that day for the A’s; Alex Kellner on the mound and Joe Astroth catching. In the stands were the mayors of both Kansas Cities, the aging former A’s owner Connie Mack and former President Harry Truman. Astroth remembers the pregame ceremony.

“When you go to a celebrity thing or opening with new ball park or anything else, they always have some big celebrity to throw out the first ball and so I had no idea that Harry Truman was in the stands. He threw the first ball to me on Saturday night so I got the ball and it is customary to go over to the stands and give the celebrity the ball that they threw out for their souvenir.  Well, that’s it.  We played the game Saturday and Sunday we were on the field warming up.  The FBI guys come down said, “Mr. Truman would like to see ya.”  So I go over to the stands, he comes down and gives me the ball and he said, “Young man, I’ll give you this ball and I have autographed it and I put the date on it.” Well, and the funniest thing is  a guy in KC who has a big restaurant out there wanted to buy the ball from me for $10,000 and I wouldn’t give it to him so that’s why I still got it.”

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The A’s beat Detroit 6-2 in 2:38, an almost unbelievable game length today. Astroth was 0-1 but walked twice. The A’s first home run was hit by centerfielder Bill Wilson in the bottom of the eighth. 

The field; damn it was beautiful. I still remember walking to our seats right behind the A’s dugout and thinking the grass was impossibly green. It was in the middle of the city but it was bucolic. There was an intimacy at Municipal Stadium, a closeness to the ballpark that you would never find today.

David Starbuck’s dad was an usher there.

“When the ninth inning approached, the ushers would go down and kneel by the front gate and when the last out was made, the ushers would walk onto the field and they would stand around the warning track and as soon as the players cleared the field, then the fans were allowed to walk out and leave the stadium by walking on the warning track. I had a head start and I would run down in the A’s dugout and there was always an extra copy of the manager’s lineup cards and I would grab those lineup cards off the wall, not really realizing the significance of those so I have very nice collection of manager’s lineup cards for both teams in the early ‘60s. Grabbed a lot of  broken baseball bats and a lot of memorabilia that, at the time, no one knew that it was valuable stuff.”

Baseball sounded different back then. Now there is almost no silence at the ball park. You hear walk up music, rally music and video ads in between innings. Municipal Stadium was, well, easier on the ears. 

I remember the silence. I remember people talking, I remember the players on the field talking, the ball being hit,” says Jeff Logan of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society. “You really felt the game. It's almost like you smelled the bats and the balls and, and everything going on and the people and just  the real noise of a baseball game, not noise that is given to us.”

Not that Muncipal Stadium was borning. Not by a long shot.

When Charlie Finley, and he gets his own Archiver episode by the way, bought the team after Arnold Johnson suddenly died in 1960 he made both innovative and goofy changes to the ballpark. 

He had a rabbit pop up behind home plate that held baseballs for the umpire. And Finnley clearly had an animal thing. He had Charlie O the Mule. He put sheep beyond the outfield fences so he didn’t have to mow the grass. 

Finley even had monkeys. And one night some players went out and gave them speed, says Logan  “It made them crazy. They broke out and terrorize the neighborhood for about three weeks. These were big monkeys. They terrorize the inner city for weeks and weeks until finally they all disappeared and no one ever knows what happened to the monkeys.”

But Finnely also helped make rock music history in Kansas City. On September 17th, 1964 he paid $150,000, a fortune at the time, for the Beatles to play just 32 minutes at Municipal Stadium. It cost so much because the concert was unscheduled and the boys needed a ton of cash to give up a day off. 

Peggy Matthews was the A’s assistnat PR manager and remembers the hulabaloo around the Beattles gig at 22nd and Brookley Ave. 

“They had opened at Madison Square Garden in New York. And Charlie Finley was determined to bring them to Kansas City and he paid a hefty price. He had told Jim Schaaf (the A’s PR director) and I to meet them at the airport, old Municipal Airport, and to get them to the hotel which was the Muelhbach and they had a whole floor there with their security and all that and they were the four little boys from Liverpool with the long hair. Well, Jim and I did not know at this time that Charlie Finley had bought a wig like the Beatles and disguised himself to see if we were actually greeting them the way that we should and he was in the crowd watching as we got them off the airplane into the limousine into the hotel and there stood Charlie Finley in a Beatles wig watching this.”

While the Beatles were great and the sheep, mule and monkeys were quirky, fact is there just weren’t that many great baseball moments with the A’s. And part of that you can blame on the damn Yankees

The Hapless A’s and the New York pipeline. That’s our next edition of Archiver: The A’s in Kansas City.

 

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The A's (Leading The Way)

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The A's (Leading The Way)

When you think about black major league baseball players—those who led the way in breaking the color barrier—you think Jackie Robinson of course. 

They even wrote a swing tune about Jakcie called “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit that Ball” performed by Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra in 1949. It reached number 13 on the charts that year.

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Jackie spent part of the 1945 season with the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs before moving on to the Dodger organization. And while we all know the Monarch's place in baseball history—they won ten league championships and launched the big league careers of many black players–you might not know the role the A’s played in integrating blacks into the big leagues. 

“It was of the utmost importance to us as a city, we were progressive enough to have a team that included everybody,” says Jeff Logan, president of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society.  “I think that cities like Boston are still branded in that fashion, that they are a little racist and I don't think Kansas City has that tag.”

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If you look at that the first team photo of the Kansas City A’s in 1955, for the most part it looks like you’d expect for the time, baggy uniforms worn by men who look more like regular guys than professional athletes. But, when you look a little closer, there’s something different from most teams at the time...there are three black players: Hector Lopez, Harry ‘Suitcase’ Simpson and the controsersial Vic Power. 

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“The Kansas City A's embraced these players simply because they were good enough and probably better than a lot of the other players. They (the A’s) wanted to win. Let's face it, if you are not going to integrate the best players in the sport then you're not trying to win,”

Just how good were the black players on those early A’s teams? That was obvious at the 1956 All-Star Game at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C.

Simpson and Power were the only black players on the American League roster that year. The National League, which embraced integration much earlier than the American League, had six black players including Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

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The morning after the game, the Kansas City Times gave Simpson and Power just two paragraphs on a full page of all-star coverage—not a hint that the A’s provided the only two black players on the A.L. roster. 

“Power played three innings at first base but handled only routine chances,” A’s beat reporter Joe McGuff wrote. “Harry Simpson, the only other Kansas City player on the All-Star squad, pinch hit for Billy Pierce in the third and struck out on three pitches.”

Reading the paper in 1956, that amount of coverage would probably seem right. But 60 years later, when I found that clip, it felt odd to me.

Harry Simpson played for five big league clubs but that’s not why his nickname was suitcase. He picked that up playing in the Negro Leagues because, it was said, his shoes were as big as suitcases. 

Hector Lopez was the third black player on those early Kansas City teams. He grew up in the Panama Canal Zone and played most of his career with the Yankees.

I should note that Latino players made their mark in both the major leagues and Nego Leagues. Most early Hispanic players were Cuban, many historians believe baseball spread quickly on the island when the U.S. occupied it after the Spanish American War. 

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Also, the number of Hispanic players in the majors began to increase in 1947, the year Jackie broke the color barrier. But back to Power and why he was controversial. 

“Vic Power played here with the Blues. Power would have gone to the Yankees but Power had a girlfriend who was a mulatta and he had a red convertible and he’d ride in that convertible with this girl, and she was pretty and her hair was blowing.  They thought she was a white girl,” according to Buck O’Niell the legendary Monarchs manager.  “That’s one of the reasons Elston Howard was the first black Yankee instead of Vic Power.”

Power was from Puerto Rico, and when he was home he went by his real name, Victor Pellot. Being from Puerto Rico he wasn’t used to segregation, Jim Crow or the social mores blacks had to endure. Power was talented and flashy. In the 1950s, it was fine for black players to be talented but flashy could get you in trouble. 

“I just loved to watch him. He made the greatest play I’ve ever seen in the history of baseball for me,” says Chuck Dobson, a Kansas City native who played ball at the University of Kansas before signing with the A’s in 1966. He watched Power play at Municipal Stadium.

“He made the greatest play I’ve ever seen right here. Jumped over a park bench, his back turned to the infield, cocked the ball like this with his back to the infield, he’s in midair over a park bench” and fired the ball back into the infield. 

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Dobson also says Power was an intimidating hitter. “Power would stand like this and he’d take that bat and he’d point it at the pitcher, point it right at the pitcher, and he’d swing that thing.”

There’s a story about Power in the Roberto Clemente biography by author David Maraniss. Power, Maraniss writes, walks into a segregated restaurant where he’s promptly told by the waitress that she didn’t serve Negros. That’s fine, Power told her, he didn’t eat them.

One of my favorite A’s in the early 60s was pitcher Johnny Wyatt. In 1961, Wyatt broke in with the A’s after getting his start with the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro Leagues. There was a time, believe it or not, when people thought that African Americans weren't equipped to be starting pitchers. “That seemed to be the case with the playing quarterback too”, says Logan. “I think we found out that's probably not true since there's so many great quarterbacks.”

Jeff Logan says playing in Municipal Stadium meant a lot to black fans.

“The Kansas City A’s played at 22nd and Brooklyn in Municipal Stadium in the heart or the urban core. A lot of the people in that area were African American and those people were drawn to baseball. I think the worst thing that ever happened in sports history is when we built a stadium out in a field in the middle of nowhere. I think that's led to a lot of things. We don't have many African Americans playing baseball now. I wish the stadium was still there.”

Alas, it is not. But it’s lovingly remembered by everyone from former players to Beattles fans. 22nd and Brooklyn Avenue. That’s our next installment of Archiver, The A’s in Kansas City.

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Music used in this episode: Cat's Eye, Rally, and The Summit by Blue Dot Sessions  

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The A's (Kansas City Is A Cowtown No More)

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The A's (Kansas City Is A Cowtown No More)

During those years, baseball fan emotions bounced from joyous to tumultuous to downright silly at times, but there’s no doubt the A’s moving to Kansas City from Philadelphia changed the city’s image from a cowtown to a metropolis. 

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“Well, we had a big parade, had a big crowd, drew a big crowd. It was a very exciting time for us to get a major league team,” says former Mayor Charles Wheeler.  “It helped get the Chiefs, it helped get the Scouts, the hockey team. And we got a basketball team. So we became a major league city with four different professional franchises. That was the beginning and it all resulted in the fact that we supported the team.”

To be honest, cowtown wasn’t the only image of K.C. before the A’s moved 1,500 miles west, the first major league team to really jump the Mississippi. It was a town known for political bossism with the Pendergast machine. A Mafia town with the growing and influential Civella family. A wide open city that was a playground for bank robbers on holiday and gave the country the Union Station Massacre. It’s image was anything but metropolitian. 

That all changed when the A’s flew into town to open the 1955 season. 

“When they did come into Kansas City, they were flying into the downtown airport. They see so many people celebrating that they made the, the plane circle the city several times just to see how excited the fans were in Kansas City for them to be here. And it lifted the spirits of the players,” says Jeff Logan, president of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Societ. 

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Sure the Kansas City fans loved the A’s move but what did the players who moved with the team from Philadelphia think? 

“Well, I think the overall attitude was great,” according to Gus Zernial, a power hitter who made the transition from Philadelphia. Zernial spent three years in Kansas City, leading the team in homers two of those years. “The players wanted to move out of Philadelphia because playing before a small crowds and most of theem were booing no matter what kind of a year you had. We just couldn’t win and I don’t think we had a winning attitude. And that attitude changed greatly when we got to Kansas City with all the players.”

I should mention that these A’s interviews were done many years ago for a documentary film that has yet to be finished, so some of the folks you’ll hear from in the series have died. Zernail is one. He died in 2011 at age 87. 

Clearly Kansas City had a long history with baseball. The Monarchs, of course, were the Yankees of Negro League Baseball and professional baseball stretched back to the 1880s. Fan Paul Blackman remembers how sports just felt different once the A’s were in town.

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“ I can remember one of my first times at the stadium, a Saturday afternoon sitting up in the upper deck on a cold April day and the White Sox scored about 29 runs.  But, they were our team and it was exciting and so that got me hooked.  Going to A’s games was something that our family did, my sister, my parents.  So it was um, it was a family love affair and an interest and there were some years when we would go 30 or 40 games a year. I’m a big Royals fan now.  But, there’s always been a special place in my heart for the A’s because they were the, the team of my childhood.”

It was the team of my childhood too. My first big league game was at Municipal Stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn. 

While the Yankees and A’s owner Arnold Johnson were sceaming to get the team out of Philadelphia, lots of people in Kansas City were, indeed, working to lure them here. The city sold bonds to add an upper deck to the ballpark. This turned out to be part of the caper to by the Yankees to get the A’s to Kansas City. The massive construction project was awarded to the constuction company controled by Yankee owner Del Webb.

Kansas City promised to put a million people in the stands, so backers had to sell a lot of season tickets. My dad knew nothing about sports, but he was a downtown business owner and as such felt obligated to buy four box seats, in the front row, right behind the hometeam dugout. 

Carl barley knew the difference between a homerun and a hotdog, but he could pick out seats. And because he, and so many others on both sides of stateline, bought season tickets, the city would change its image and change big league baseball’s footprint in America.

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Now when the A’s came to Kansas City the color barrier in the major leagues had only been broken nine years earlier by Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn. In fact, when the A’s played their first game in K.C. in 1955 the Tigers, Phillies and Red Sox were still all white. But the A’s would quietly lead the way in intrigrating the game. 

Harry “Suitcase” Simpson and Vic Power led the way for black players not only in Kansas City but in the American League. 

That’s in our next installment of Archiver: The A’s in Kansas City.

Music used in this episode Dirtbike Lovers, Balti and Waterbourne by Blue Dot Sessions

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The A's (Fleeing Philadelphia)

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The A's (Fleeing Philadelphia)

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I've always loved baseball. In fact here's a picture of me as a little kid just to prove it! And, as you can see, my love began with the Kansas City Athletics. To tell the story of how that team came to be in my hometown, we have to go back to the 50s.

It’s the beginning of 1955. The Kansas City Athletics, known as the A’s, are kicking off their first year in Kansas City after leaving Philadelphia where they played since 1901.

On the surface, it all looked so good; a big league team was in town for the first time, an updated Municipal Stadium, fans streaming into the ball park. But if you peeked underneath, it was all built on sleazy backroom business deals and one-sided trades all orchestrated by the hated New York Yankees and their hand-picked A’s owner. 

“It was no secret that this was an unholy alliance,” says author Mitch Nathanson who has written extensively about sports in Philadelphia. "The other club owners pointed this out in advance. It was written about in newspapers that this is not going to be a sale to an independent entity. This is going to someone who was essentially a cousin of the Yankees.”

It was one of the greatest conspiracies in sports history. One that would lead to turmoil in Kansas City, a congressional hearing and, eventually, one of the craziest owners in all of professional sports. 

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To tell the story of the Kansas City Athletics, you have to start in Philadelphia where they were a charter member of the new American League. 

The first thing the A’s did was hire a former catcher named Cornelius McGillicuddy to manage the club. Although from the time he was a boy in Massachusetts, he was called Connie Mack.

Starting in 1886, Mack spent 11 seasons in the major leagues and a few more in the minors before being hired on by the A’s. He also bought a 25 percent share of the team and later the Mack family would own the club outright. 

As they do to this day, baseball managers wear the team’s uniform. Not Mack, he always wore a suit and often a straw hat. 

It’s hard now to think of Philadelphia as anything but a Phillies town, but for the first half of the 20th century baseball there was dominated by the A’s. They were World Series champs in 1910, ‘11 and ‘13. They went through lean times and roared back in the ‘20s and ‘30s when they were world champs in 1929 and 1930.

“For the 54 years that the A’s and the Phillies played together in Philadelphia, the A’s out drew the Phillies. I think 40 times, so there were only a few years where the Phillies ever out drew the A's,” says Nathanson, who is also a law professor at Villanova University.

“Unlike in Chicago where you would be a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan, or in New York where you would be a Giants fan, but not a Dodger's fan, that wasn’t the case in Philadelphia. There were people who were A’s fans who didn't hate the Phillies. There was nothing to hate. They were just innocuous. They were invisible almost. It was a different situation in Philadelphia than it was in these other towns where there are rivalries between the teams. There were no rivalries between the Phillies and the A's. The Phillies were an afterthought. The A’s were the team that people followed.”

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So, led by Mack, the A’s and their fans enjoyed a couple of dynasties and successes at the box office. Mack eventually owned the team and Shibe Park and ran the whole operation. But after World War II, the A’s were awful. In 1946, 1947, and, well, to be honest they were awful for the rest of their time in Philadelphia.

Mack was now in his 80s and his mind was shot. He would call out for players who played for him decades ago. He brought his inept sons Earl and Roy into top jobs in the organization. Those two were battling Connie Mack, Jr., Mack’s son from his first marriage, over the future of the franchise.  

American League owners were worried. Puny crowds meant less of a take for teams visiting Philadelphia. They wanted the A’s out of Philadelphia. So the hated New York Yankees hatched a scheme that would enrich the team both on and off the field. But first, to make their plan work they had to get the A’s to Kansas City.

In Octorber 1954, American League President Will Harridge introduced a man named Arnold Johnson as the new owner of the A’s. Newsreel footage showed an odd looking news conference; Harridge was sitting in a chair and Johnson was sitting on the arm rest, his arm around the American League President’s shoulder. But getting to this point was a constant drama with confussion mixed in. 

First, Johnson had a long business relationship with Yankees’ owners, Dan Topping and Dell Webb. The Yankees already had a foot print in Kansas City. Their top minor league team, the Blues, had been playing there for decades. In fact, Johnson bought the stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn from Topping and Webb. 

“Johnson pretty much owns everything he has to Topping and Webb,” says Nathanson. “In addition if they move to Kansas City, the stadium has to be refurbished and Del Webb's construction company is going to handle the construction. So there's money that goes directly into Del Webb's pocket and they know that Johnson is the guy they can control. The Yankees were successful for 40 years and you could say they were a great organization, but they were great because they were taking players from other clubs to maintain their dynasty,” he says.

As this was all happening most of the league was pulling its hair out as the Mack family fought over whether to sell the club to Johnson, find a way to keep it in the family, or sell the A’s to buyers in Philadelphia.

In fact, Roy Mack, the son appointed by Connie to run the club, had made a deal with local businessmen to buy the A’s and keep them in Philadelphia and American League owners had already approved that deal. 

But Johnson wasn’t going to let that happen. “He took a plane directly to Philadelphia, drove straight to Roy’s house, marched in and made him a deal he couldn’t refuse,” says Bob Worthington with the Philadelphia A’s Historical Society.

He offered more money for Roy’s shares in the club and a juicy job in the front office in Kansas City. 

So, Roy decided to switch his loyalties back to Arnold Johnson and to make the deal with Johnson,” says Worthington. “Now that created all kinds of problems, two in particular. Number one, the agreement with the Philadelphia syndicate had already been signed. That was the deal that was on the table and that was the deal that was going to be considered at the next American League ownership meeting in late October. When Roy Mack had signed that agreement along with his father Connie and his brother Earl, they had telegraphed William Herridge and said, we have concluded this deal."

“The second issue, of course, was Roy had agreed to transfer his loyalty back to Arnold Johnson, accept that deal, but Connie and Earl hadn’t. So, Roy confronted a significant situation, a problematic situation that he had to deal with. The saving grace for Roy Mack was that the deal with the Philadelphia syndicate was subject to approval by the American League to agree to that agreement, to accept it, to condone it, to approve it so that Roy Mack and his father and brother could sell the stock to the Philadelphia syndicate. When they showed up at the ownership meeting in late October, this would have been October 28th, all the American League owners walked into the room assuming they were simply going to vote on the deal for the Philadelphia syndicate, transfer ownership of the Athletics to that group, the Athletics would stay in Philadelphia and be done with it. But, to the amazment of the other owners, when it came time to vote, Roy Mack voted against his own deal."

Those businessmen of the Philadelphia syndicate were outside the room just waiting to hear that, yes, they were the new owners of the A’s. “The Philadelphia syndicate group was really angry,” Worthington continues. “They suspected a double cross, that somehow, someone, one of the Macks had walked away from the deal they had only signed days earlier and, indeed, that was the case.” 

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Finally, the deal was done. Hearts soared in Kansas City where business leaders and politicians had been working for months to lure the team from Philadelphia, perhaps not aware of just how much of a role the Yankees played and the scheme they were ready to hatch.

By December, the downtown Macy’s was advertising Kansas City A’s ties for two dollars. “K.C. Athletics blazes forth in pink. He’ll wear it with pride,” the ad in the Kansas City Times raved. And pride in the city’s brand new big league team...off the darn charts.

“And when they did come into Kansas City, they were flying into the downtown airport. They see so many people celebrating that they made the plane circle the city several times just to see how excited the fans were in Kansas City for them to be here,” according to Jeff Logan, who is president of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society.

That’s in our next installment of Archiver: The A’s in Kansas City.

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Music used in this episode Rally, The Big Ten, The Silver Hatch and In Passage by Blue Dot Sessions

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How Did We Get Here?

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How Did We Get Here?

I want to take you back to August 19th, 1991. It’s 93 degrees and humid. Hundreds of anti-abortion protestors from around the country have gathered in Wichita. There’s nothing spontaneous about it, planning went on for weeks and eventually hundreds would swell to thousands.

 CBN News

CBN News

Most people, including the city’s three abortion clinics, the police and city officials, thought the whole thing would be done in a few days with a handful of arrests. But what came to be known as the Summer of Mercy stretched on for six tense weeks, resulted in 2,600 arrests and changed politics in Kansas in ways that we feel right this minute. 

For the last decade Kansas politics has been conservative, very conservative, hard right. There have been attempts to stop teaching evolution in public schools, efforts to make same sex marriage unconstitutional and countless anti-abortion bills in the Legislature, conservative lawmakers emboldened by those protests in Wichita in 1991. 

 CBN News

CBN News

During the protests, people sat in front of a clinics and practicly every day Wichita police would come along, zip cuff the prootestors and haul them away in city buses and a few times in rented trucks. Thousands gathered at Cessna Stadium to listen to Pat Roberts, founder of the Christian Broadcast Network, speak. 

They chanted to reporters to “tell the truth” about what was happening in Wichita. Tell the truth, the 1990s and less catchy version of today’s fake news. So it went like that for a month and a half and it emboldened conservatives across the state. 

 CBN News

CBN News

It’s really hard to list all of the momentous events in those six weeks in Wichita. Federal marshals were called in. The leader of the protest, Kieth Tucci, was arrested for violating a federal court order to cease blocking access to clinics - while he was on a radio program. Wichita Police Chief Rick Stone received the Department of Justice "Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award". Pat Robertson filled Cessna stadium with anti-abortion protestors and the national media was all over the story. The New York Times called it “a political windstorm” that hurled Wichita into the “center of the bitter national feud over a woman's right to an abortion.” What nobody knew was how that windstorm would blow into politics today in Kansas and how this all fits into this season’s theme...the free state myth. 

It took a couple of years before the Summer of Mercy essentially took control of the Republican party in Kansas. But when it did, it grabbed the party by the throat and wouldn’t let go. 

“What the Summer of Mercy did was, in essense, coiless conservative Repubublicans around a very simple idea and then provided them energy that was then salted in (political) races,” says Kansas City Star columnist and political thinker, Dave Helling. “The message to Republican was clear; you need to be on the right side of the abortion issue or you don’t have much of a chance.”

 CBN News

CBN News

Abortion has infected the way Kansas politicians deal with all sorts of issues; taxes, school finance and highway repair. It’s made these issues not policy to be debated and comprimised on but moral issues, says Helling. “Most of our politics now is defined by the abortion issue approch which is this; you can comprimise on taxes or school funding but if you think abortion is murder you really can’t comprimise on that.”

I want to give the final word on all of this to Archiver historian Virgil Dean. One of our reoccurring themes this year was the Free State Myth, that Kansas isn’t quite as progressive as we like to think. However, the other thing we discovered this season was that Kansas has always been a place where change agents were welcome.

“Because of the nature of Kansas’s early history there were people who were pushing the envelop for rights for individuals. There were also other forces pulling back from that, reacting against it,” says Virgil. 

I want to say thanks to all of our subscribers and listeners and I hope you enjoyed this season of Archiver. If you missed our episode on Indian boarding schools with the actor Wes Studi or our William Allen White episodes with NPR’s Bill Kurtis, I hope you’ll go back and listen. 

I’m thrilled to say that in 2018 Archiver will be doing some oral histories from Vietnam veterans and a very exciting project on the Kansas City A’s, a story that begins with a sick bed family betrayal in Philadelphia and ends with hard ball politics in Washington. 

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Cicle Vascule, Vik Fence Haflak, and The Summit by Blue Dot Sessions; both have been edited.

 

 

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The Most Important Basketball Player You've Never Heard Of

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The Most Important Basketball Player You've Never Heard Of

For just a minute, conjure up the song “Sweet Georgia Brown” in your head. Now, think about the Harlem Globetrotters and their magic circle warm up routine. That’s where we’re going to start this story.

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The Globetrotters have always been innovators. But perhaps their greatest innovation was in 1985, when they signed a woman, the first woman to ever play professionally with men. That woman was from Kansas, and she would not only change the game but become a hero to female athletes and probably many other young women.

Even the most casual basketball fan can tick off famous Jayhawks: Wilt Chamberlain, Jo Jo White, coaches Phog Allen and Bill Self and, of course, the inventor of the game, James Naismith, who we covered on a previous Archiver. But the one who scored more points, blazed more trails and probably inspired more athletes was Lynette Woodard. 

In her four years at KU, she scored 3,649 points, more than any other woman in the game, and she scored all those points at a time when there wasn’t a three point shot. How does that stack up against the men? Well, the man with the most points at KU, Danny Manning, had 2,951. That’s 698 fewer points than Lynette. Put another way, Manning would have had to play 35 more games, an entire other season, to match Woodard’s scoring. 

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What else you say? How about a four time All America. Twice an Olympian and in 1996, she was named the greatest female athlete ever in the old Big Eight. Make no mistake, Woodard joining the Globetrotters was a big deal. 

Ebony Magazine called her the Crown Princess of Basketball, a play on the Trotters famous marketing line. This is what the Philadelphia Daily News wrote about her after a game in Houston on February 14th, 1986.

“Doe-fleet and willow-tall, 26 year old Woodard is blazing a trail in basketball. She won’t rival Jackie Robinson, but that’s OK. Woodard is not comfortable being thought of as a role model.”

But, it turns out, one doesn’t seek role model status...it finds you. And it certainly found Lynette Woodard. 

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I needed to know more about not just Lynette the basketball player but Lynette the role model. So, I went to Mechelle Voepel who writes about women’s sports for ESPN.com.

I covered Lynette at the student radio station at KU and even played in some pick up games with her. I think Lynette Woodard as a player was uncomplicated, versatile to be sure, but not complicated. As a person, very complicated and not too well known. 

She’s one of the all time greatest athletes in women’s sports. I’m not sure there are any greater advocates than guys, including some who I worked with at the Kansas City Star, who played against her,” says Voepel. “I just saw her earlier this year at the women’s basketball Hall of Fame and I was so glad to see her and say hi to her. Do I feel like I really, really know her as a person? I would say no. I revere what she meant to the sport and always want to talk about it because it’s not talked about. But who Lynette is as a person, maybe someday she’ll write a book or tell her story about who she is.”

Woodard bounced around a bit. Sometimes deep into basketball. Sometimes away altogether. She played for the Globetrotters for two years, played in both Italy and Japan, worked as a Wall Street stockbroker and would return to coach briefly at KU. She was athletic director in the Kansas City Missouri public schools and played two seasons in the WNBA.

In 2004, she was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

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Lynette also reminded me of another Kansan, another basketball trailblazer we talked about on Archiver; Coach John McLendon. He was the first black person to graduate with a physical education degree from KU, the first black coach in professional basketball and a man who changed the game and paved the way for African American players. 

Woodard and McLendon both quietly changed basketball and, along the way, inspired countless young men and women. Lynette Woodard is back where she belongs, in college basketball. She was named head coach of Winthrop University’s women’s basketball program last year. 

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Manele, Milkwood, City Limits by Blue Dot Sessions; both have been edited.

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Derby Day in Kansas

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Derby Day in Kansas

We’re talking horse racing on this Archiver, something not associated much with Kansas. But, for an amazing two minutes and four seconds in 1938, a horse from Johnson County was the top three-year-old in the land. It was owned by a man who was better known for suits than stallions, and who had an odd connection to Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast.

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The horse was named Lawrin. He was trained at the 200 acre Woolford farm which is now part of Prairie Village, right around 83rd and Mission Road. Lawrin came from a pretty good line. His grandsire was Sir Gallahad, a French Thoroughbred horse and one of the most important sires in American racing. Woolford Farm was named after Herbert Woolf, the president of Woolf Brothers, one of the most important clothing stores in Kansas City history. 

Lawrin was the only Kansas bred horse to ever win the Kentucky Derby, and he gave a big boost to the careers of the man who trained him, Ben Jones, and the jockey who rode him, Eddie Arcaro.

Lawrin's victory is a standout moment for a state not particularly known for its history with horses, but Archiver historian Virgil Dean says there’s more horse history in Kansas than one might think.

“Certainly when settlers started moving into the Kansas Territory in the 1850s, horses were important to people at the time,’ Virgil says. “They were the primary source of power for transportation and agricultural purposes.”

But people were also interested in leisure time activities, and in the late 19th century that often meant horse competitions.

“As early as 1858, before Kansas is even a state, you have the first county fair in Leavenworth County and there’s an emphasis, among other things, on horses,” Dean says. “Douglas County has its first fair the next year, and they specifically talk about races and a women’s equestrian event that attracts a lot of attention. So, there is an effort to focus attention on the importance of good horses and breeding from very early on.”

The 1938 Kentucky Derby was run on May 7. It was partly cloudy and the track was fast. Lawrin was an 8-1 long shot even though the colt had a pretty good year. He had already won the Hialeah Stakes, the Hollywood Trial Stakes, the American Invitational and the Flamingo Stakes before the Derby. 

Lawrin would come from behind and win by four lengths.

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Here’s how the Louisville Courier-Journal described the scene as Lawrin entered the winners circle with 22-year-old Eddie Arcaro aboard and owner Herbert Woolf thrilled with the come-from-behind win. 

“Straw-Hatted, wearing a dark blue suit and a maroon and gray striped silk tie, Mr. Woolf made no secret whatever of the fact that he was just about as elated as it was possible for him to get,” the paper wrote.

“He waved at friends, swung his heavy binoculars in a carefree manner and when little Eddie Arcaro rode Lawrin up to the tan-barked, flower-edged plaza and into that magic circle, Mr. Woolf strode forward and gripped the jockey’s hand as if he were a long lost friend.”

The headline the next day in the Kansas City Star said, “It’s Our Derby.” The sub-head was flashier, “Lawrin’s Winged Feet Bring Turf Glory to Herbert Woolf and Kansas City.” Arcaro told the Star he thought Lawrin was better than War Admiral. This was amazing praise in 1938 when War Admiral was half of one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.

The 1938 Derby was run in a year when horse racing often dominated sports coverage. But neither the Kentucky Derby nor the Preakness nor the Belmont Stakes was the biggest race of that year. That title goes to the one-on-one battle between War Admiral and Seabiscuit. 

The fact that Arcaro would even suggest Lawrin was on par with War Admiral would have been big news in 1938, especially since 40 million people, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, listened to the Kentucky Derby on radio. 

Eddie Arcaro would go on to become one of the most famous jockeys ever. Lawrin was his first of five Derby winners. Arcaro is the only jockey to win two Triple Crowns. As it happens, Lawrin had no chance at a triple crown. Woolf did not register him for the Preakness or Belmont stakes. 

While there wasn’t much horse racing history or action in Kansas, just across the state line there was plenty of horse track action—action that would lead to the downfall of the political boss of Kansas City and an unexpected connection between Herbert Woolf and Boss Tom Pendergast.

Woolf’s rise to business prominence in Kansas City roughly coincides with the assent of Pendergast as the machine boss in the city. The Woolf family moved their clothing business from Leavenworth to Kansas City in 1879, and opened shop at 5th and Main. 

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About that same time, the Pendergasts were creating their political dynasty in the West Bottoms. Herbert would take over Woolf Brothers in 1915, and expand the business into Junction City, Wichita, Dallas, and Memphis. Tom would take over the machine from his brother, Big Jim, in 1925 and expand it into almost every political office in Jackson County and much of Missouri. 

While Woolf loved riding and breeding, Pendergast would turn out to be an inveterate gambler on horses. Pendergast’s addiction was so severe that he and associates opened the Riverside Jockey Club just north of Kansas City in 1928. In one month, Boss Tom lost $600,000 dollars at the track. 

Like most things Boss Tom touched, says Jason Roe from the Kansas City Public Library, the Riverside track was barely legal. Roe has extensively studied the Pendergast era in Kansas City.

“Around 1927, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling that created a loophole for gambling on horse racing where you could make, basically, a donation to breeding horses. It’s somewhat like the loophole that exists today. If you participate in a raffle for charitable purposes that’s not gambling, even though you are buying a ticket and you could win something,” says Rose. “That’s the loophole Pendergast was able to take advantage of to open up the racetrack in Riverside.”

In it’s heyday, upwards of 17,000 people would pack the track for a full day of racing. Pendergast got involved in an insurance kickback scheme to help pay off his huge gambling debt. And indirectly, says Roe, it lead to the death of the Pendergast machine. Boss Tom was indicted for failing to report the income from the kickback scheme to the IRS, the same kind of case that brought down Al Capone.

“It was the accountants who got him in the end,” Roe says. 

Tom Pendergast pleaded guilty to tax evasion in May 1939, and spent 15 months in Leavenworth. His boss days were done. But here’s the unexpected connection between Woolf and Pendergast—after Boss Tom got out of prison he still had five years probation to serve, a common part of any sentence. On Aug. 13, 1943, a letter was sent from the office of federal Judge Merrill E. Otis, the judge who sent Boss Tom up the river. A group of notable Kansas Citians wrote the Justice Department’s pardon attorney asking that Pendergast be released early from his probation. Banker James Kemper wrote a letter. So did developer J.C. Nichols as did Monsignor Thomas McDonald, a prominent priest in Kansas City. Also advocating for Boss Tom: Herbert M. Woolf. 

Did Woolf write because the two had some business connection or political connection? Maybe, it was a horse connection. To this day, nobody knows. 

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Manele, Begrudge, Rally, and Drifting Spade by Blue Dot Sessions; both have been edited.

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Fast Food Kansas

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Fast Food Kansas

Do you know the 1946 musical “The Harvey Girls?” It stars Judy Garland. In the film, she sings one of the most famous show tunes of all times “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.” The movie is about Harvey House restaurants, and the young women in their starched, white aprons and cuffs who went out west to feed hungry train travelers. 

"The train must be fed", they sang in the movie. In fact, millions of people needed to be fed and, wouldn’t you know it, we figured out how to do it fast right here in Kansas. 

Harvey House founder Fred Harvey had a nomadic and varied life before finally settling in Kansas. After immigrating to the U.S. from Liverpool in 1853, he started work as a pot scrubber in a New York restaurant. He worked his way to cook and would move on to New Orleans where he worked in the jewelry business before going to work for the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. It’s that job that brought him to Leavenworth. 

Archiver historian Virgil Dean says Harvey opened his first restaurant in the Topeka train depot in 1876 then spread his Harvey Houses from there. By the time Harvey died in 1901, there were 47 restaurants and 15 hotels in the chain all excellent food served by well trained and pretty Harvey Girls. “Prior to this time there were very few places that people could get that kind of meal for a reasonable price in a short time,” Virgil says.

The Harvey Girls became famous and celebrated.

“These girls were hired because of their attractiveness, their maturity and their ability to work hard,” Virgil says.

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As train travel gave way to highways and cars, Harvey Houses faded away, although a few survived into the 1960s. But people wanted even faster food, and a couple of guys in Wichita figure out how to do that. 

White Castle hamburgers were invented at 1st and Main in downtown Wichita in 1921. They were the brainchild of diner owner Walt Anderson and insurance man Billy Ingram. 

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White Castle, with its pure white exterior and stainless steel interior, reopened the market to ground beef. People were scared to eat it after the Upton Sinclair novel “The Jungle” came out in 1906. The book unearthed the unsanitary conditions in meat packing plants. 

The chain quickly spread, opening its second store in El Dorado in 1922, moving out of Kansas into Indiana in 1927 and entering the movies in 2004 with Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.

If Harold and Kumar got the munchies in central Kansas, they would've ended up at the Cozy Inn in downtown Salina. You’re not a real Kansan unless you’ve had sliders at the Cozy’s. But which came first, White Castle or Cozy’s? Naturally, we turned to Archiver historian Virgil Dean.

“According to their own history, Cozy followed White Castle by a year. But their inspiration for the slider type hamburger with no frills, and very little meat, was the White Castle restaurant which started in Wichita,” says Virgil. But Kansas wasn’t nearly done with fast food. And the next restaurant concept was even bigger.

Pizza Hut we founded in Wichita in 1958 by brothers Dan and Frank Carney, who borrowed $600 from their mom to open the first store. In 1965, they aired their first TV ad in Wichita. It has a kind of Keystone Cops feel. A guy orders a pizza on the phone and then races to Pizza Hut in a tiny kid's Mustang convertible chased by his neighbors. Clearly, the ad has nothing to do with pizza and everything to do with the convenience of take out. 

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The bothers Carney sold the business to Pepsi in 1977 and Pizza Hut is now owned by Yum Brands, based in China. Pizza Hut can still be big news in Wichita. In September the original building was moved onto the Wichita State campus where it will house Pizza Hut memorabilia. 

Sure fast food having its root in Kansas is fun, damn fun. But what did we turn loose on America? To help us figure that out, we went to Elizabeth Burger.

“Just like a hamburger without the ham,” she says. Burger is a senior program officer at the Sunflower Foundation in Topeka. Her job takes her all over Kansas, overseeing programs for healthy eating and active lifestyles. 

“The key is creating systems and structures that facilitate people toward making the healthier decisions rather than the unhealthier ones,” Burger says. “Unfortunately in today’s world we live in what’s called an obesogenic environment and that’s an environment that’s saturated with factors that guide us to make unhealthy decisions about our food choices and physical activity.” 

Much of that environment is dominated by commercials for fast food and surgery drinks. Billions a year are spent by food companies. But Elizabeth is not a total fast food buzz killer. The key, like with anything, is moderation.

“Yes, I do occasionally eat fast food. As a treat.” She even says Cozy’s is on her bucket list. Sometimes it’s about where and who you’re eating with. “Are you being nourished mentally and holistically as well as physically. So, if I were to go to the Cozy’s in Salina with my husband, which is something we’ve been looking forward to, and it’s a treat nutritionally the food may not be up to par. But it’s a special event. I’m nourished by this meal so it’s part of an overall diet.”

So, our fast food journey through Kansas starts on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe with Judy Garland and ends with, well, a bit of a lecture on our eating habits. But we think, we might all be craving a Cozy’s slider right about now. 

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is The Big Ten, and Sunday Lights, by Blue Dot Sessions; both have been edited.

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Out Whiting The White Man

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Out Whiting The White Man

This episode of Archiver was inspired by the film, The Only Good Indian, directed by Kevin Willmott, a good friend of the podcast. The film was written by Tom Carmody from Lawrence. It’s about the Haskell Institute in Lawrence back when it was a boarding school for American Indians. 

Tens of thousands of school age Indians were forced into these boarding schools all across the country. Many times they were kidnapped by soldiers or police. Kids would, naturally, run away from such semi-imprisonment. The movie is about an Indian bounty hunter played by Wes Studi. His job was to track down the kids who would run. Here’s the film description from IMDB:

 The Only Good Indian

The Only Good Indian

"Set in Kansas during the early 1900s, a teen-aged Native American boy (newcomer Winter Fox Frank) is taken from his family and forced to attend a distant Indian 'training' school to assimilate into White society. When he escapes to return to his family, Sam Franklin (Wes Studi), a bounty hunter of Cherokee descent, is hired to find and return him to the institution. Franklin, a former Indian scout for the U.S. Army, has renounced his Native heritage and has adopted the White Man's way of life, believing it's the only way for Indians to survive."

They would cut the kid's hair, forbid their native languages, force them to be Christians. And when they ran away, armed bounty hunters, like the Studi character, would chase them. The line from the movie that most fits our story is when Studi tells one boy, “Sam Franklin is going to be the best white man he can be. I’m going to out white man the God damn white man." 

How could any of this be good? I have to admit upfront that I started out on this story absolutely sure how I was going to tell it. But I ended up in a very different place, and it’s a place that I’m not totally comfortable with. 

The Only Good Indian tells the story of the worst part of Indian boarding schools. Some of the schools, surprisingly to me, operated until the 1970s, albeit much differently, as we’ll see, than when they were first created. By the 1970s, Haskell had already converted to a junior college. 

 Richard Henry Pratt

Richard Henry Pratt

The whole movement starts with a Civil War veteran named Richard Henry Pratt who coined the phrase, "kill the Indian, save the man". He was a leader of what was known as the “Friends of the Indian Movement” and while "kill the Indian, save the man" certainly doesn’t sound friendly or supportive or even humane, it was far better than General Phillip Sheridan’s notion that the only good Indians he ever saw were dead, something he claimed he never said in all fairness but certainly the phrase has lived through time.

Still, the kidnapping and forced assimilation at Haskell and other boarding schools was repugnant to me. Archiver historian Virgil Dean, certainly no apologist for these institutions, was the first one to suggest that there may have been some virtue to these schools.

“In the early part of the 19th century, as the United States expanded west, the policy had been one of removal of Indians from the east and then concentrating them on reservations,” Virgil says. “Kansas was a big part of that. Kansas territory was created out of what had been Indian territory. Toward the end of the century you have a lot of people looking for other solutions to the so-called Indian problem. Many reformers, at the time, thought education was the solution. By 1884, when Haskell Institute is established, the idea is to bring Indian children in from all over the country to live there and literally change them to make them more able to achieve in a white society.”

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Were kids beaten? Yes. Psychologically abused? Yes. Sexually abused? Yes to that too. And it’s not like the government didn’t know. In 1928, something called the Meriam Report was issued. Here’s what it had to say about boarding schools:

“The survey staff finds itself obligated to say frankly and unequivocally that the provisions for the care of the Indian children in boarding schools are grossly inadequate.”

Haskell opened as a boarding school seven years after Richard Henry Pratt opened the Carlisle school in Pennsylvania. Carlisle was made famous, of course, by Jim Thorpe, perhaps the best American athlete ever. But it was right around the time of the Meriam report that things began to change, slowly, but change nonetheless. 

In 1926, Haskell dedicated its football stadium and 8,000 Indians from across the country came. Some drove, many took the train, some even walked. Haskell won its first football game in its new stadium. They beat Bucknell 36 to nothing. Things at Haskell seemed to get better from there. 

To find out more about early Haskell, I talked to Eric Anderson, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and Chair of the Indigenous and American Indian Studies Department at Haskell. I told him that the whole boarding school concept, even if it had some virtues, still made me uncomfortable.

“We should be uncomfortable with that because it was a matter of saying Western culture is better and we don’t have a place in American society for American Indian cultures. They are inferior," said Anderson. "Whether it was the Army fighting wars or federal bureaucrat running Indian boarding schools it was all part of the theory that there was nothing good in Native American culture," he continued.

 Haskell Boarding School

Haskell Boarding School

"But there are some positives. Whether they got a trade that they learned. Whether it was a place where people of different tribes came together and began to see a common kind of history and they could find strength in their own diversity. Or whether it was a place where sweethearts met and married and went on to have their own kids who the sent to Haskell as part of a growing American Indian experience," Anderson said.

It’s a growing American Indian experience because by the time Haskell was dedicating its stadium, Indians were slowly taking more control of these institutions. My research was clear: there were, in fact, some redeeming things that came out of Indian boarding schools. But I didn’t really begin to feel that until I called Wes Studi at his home in New Mexico. 

Studi is Cherokee, acted in Dances with Wolves, played Geronimo in Geronimo: An American Legend and was in Avatar.

 Wes Studi

Wes Studi

Studi was an activist. He was at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1973 when it was occupied by the American Indian Movement. But Studi is also a graduate of an Oklahoma Indian Boarding school.

“In 1960, I actually wanted to go to Chilocco boarding school where my dad had gone. The reason was that he had some good stories to tell of having been there. That was maybe 20 years before I went. Now, by the time I went many Indian people had gotten jobs as different kinds administrators as well as people who dealt with the students in the dorms and in the classrooms. It wasn’t a matter of being thrown into a Hell hole by 1960," said Studi.

He continued that there clearly were students who didn’t have the positive experience he had at Chilocco. Still, his memories are good.

“For me it was a big adventure. I wanted to go off someplace and see what I could do on my own.”

This story turned out to be not only a real education for me but far more emotional than I could have imagined. I asked Haskell historian Eric Anderson about that.

“I think we have a really complex story here in boarding schools. Certainly, there were many negative features. Certainly, there are many stories of bitter and acrimonious experiences leading to some fracturing of family relationships leading to assaults on culture that are lasting and we still live with the legacy of.”

Still, Anderson said, many, many Indians came away with an education and used it to transform the boarding schools. Nonetheless the subject is an emotional one for him.

“It’s especially difficult when you look at a picture of toddlers holding up a sign that says Haskell babies. Thinking about how hard that must have been, it’s very hard to remove oneself from the emotionality of it," said Anderson. "It’s our responsibility as historians to look at the broadest possible collection of evidence that leads us to the conclusion that this is a really complex period of time that in many ways we’re still living with.” 

I’m reminded, amateur historian that I am, that history is rarely heaven or hell, black or white, the truth is always in between and not everyone’s truth is the same. But if there is a lesson in all of this, for me it was persistence. Studi’s character Sam Franklin said he was going to “out white man the white man.” Many Native Americans endured being ripped from their families, beaten, abused for an education that eventually helped lead Haskell from a boarding school to a university, an institution to be proud of instead of one to be feared. An institution that celebrates Native American heritage rather than trying to kill it.

Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Gathering Stasis, Drone Thistle, Balti, Snowdrift and by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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Women And Sunflower Politics

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Women And Sunflower Politics

This Archiver starts in 1984.

Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum is running for reelection. She was still using the Landon name at the time, a potent political name in Kansas. Now with Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, you may not realize the uniqueness of a woman in the United States Senate in 1978.

Depending on how you define it, Kassebaum was the first or second woman elected in her own right to the senate. Before Kassebaum, Margaret Chase Smith followed her deceased husband into the House, and then won a seat in the upper chamber in 1948. 

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Women in Kansas politics go back to before women could even vote in most elections. And, wouldn’t you know it, the very first women to be elected mayor of an American city was from Kansas.

Argonia, Kansas sits along U.S. 160 in Sumner County, about 20 miles north of the Oklahoma line. That’s where Susanna Madora Salter, active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, became mayor in 1887. She presided over about 400 folks, oddly, about the same size of Argonia today.

Men being children, of course, Salter’s name was placed in nomination by the men of the town as a joke. The joke was on them, Salter received two-thirds of the vote and was elected on April fourth.

“She was a well educated person,” says Archiver historian Virgil Dean. “Met her husband while she was attending K-State. By all accounts she did herself proud. She had a background in activism and no doubt saw this as a way to strike a blow for women’s rights.”

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Indeed, the election of 1887 was the first time women could vote in Kansas in a municipal election. They had been voting for school board elections since 1861. By 1912, women had full suffrage. That's eight years before the 19th Amendment.

“Kanas was ahead of most other states but it took a long time to get to the ultimate goal. Kansans, some Kansans, were struggling for a better place from the beginning,” Virgil says. In fact, there was an unsuccessful move to grant women and African Americans full suffrage at the Wyandotte constitutional convention, and again in 1867.

The first woman elected statewide in Kansas was Elizabeth Wooster in 1918. She was superintendent of public instruction, an office we no longer have. Nobody could accuse Lizzy, as she preferred to be called, of being soft on teachers. In 1922 she tried to fire several of them in Cimarron after they’d been seen at a dance. That inflexibility cost Lizzy a third term.

It took 34 years for Kansans to elected another woman statewide. In 1956, Lillie Washabaugh became state printer, another office that no longer exists. Kansas sent its first woman to Congress in 1932. Kathryn O'Loughlin McCarthy, a Democrat no less, was swept into office with FDR that year. She was one of only eight women in the House at that time, she had just one term.

Wait a minute. We haven’t heard from a woman yet. Let’s fix that right now. 

“We had our first female legislator elected in 1918,” says Kansas State Rep. Stephanie Clayton from Overland Park; she also has a history degree from Emporia State. “You had the election of Minnie Grinstead that year. We have a really interesting excerpt from the Kansas City Star talking about how some of the other legislators, the male legislators were concerned, that Rep. Grinstead would nag them about their cigar smoking,” Clayton says. 

Despite Minnie Grinstead and Kathryn McCarthy and Mayor Salter and even Senator Nancy Kassebaum it took a long time for Kansans to make a woman governor.

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Democrat Joan Finney was not only the first woman governor of Kansas, she got there by ousting incumbent Republican Mike Hayden in 1990. And you know what else? Finney was the first woman to ever unseat an incumbent man to become governor. 

Finney would only serve one term. She chose not to seek nomination for a second term in 1994, and unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination for senate in 1996.

In 2002, Kansas elected its second female governor. Kathleen Sebelius, another Democrat, was elected in with 53 percent of the vote. Sebelius was reelected four years later with 58 percent, and she would go on to serve in President Obama’s cabinet. 

So after all those fits and starts, how are women doing now in Kansas politics today?

In 2017, 29 percent of the Kansas Legislature was female. And that percentage has been pretty steady since 1989, about a quarter of lawmakers have been women. But here’s what’s puzzling: in 1989, Kansas was ranked eighth in the country but with about the same number of women in the Legislature, today Kansas ranks 18th.

I went to another veteran politician to talk about this. Sandy Preager was mayor of Lawrence in the state house and senate and had three terms as Insurance Commissioner. A moderate Republican, there were those who wanted her to run for governor. I wanted to know why more women aren’t getting into politics.

“Politics are ugly right now. It’s not fun,” she says. “Maybe it’s the sensitivity of women. I think by and large women have trouble doing that sort of thing. The women I worked with (in the Kansas Legislature) were team players to just get the job done and not worry who got the credit.”

Clayton says she’s 40 years old and does not believe she’ll see a woman president in her lifetime. I’m 60 and I absolutely believe I will. I’m not sure why I’m more optimistic than these two accomplished women politicians but I am. Maybe it’s because I learned my first political lessons from my mom, active in politics her whole life. Perhaps it’s because I’ve covered a lot of strong and smart women in the Kansas Legislature. Or maybe its the ghost of Mayor Susanna Salter of Argonia, Kansas who in 1887 told a bunch men to go pound sand, that she had a better way.

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Balti, Paper Napkin, Sunday Lights and One Needle by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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Small But Powerful

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Small But Powerful

We start this Archiver with an endorsement. Not of this podcast, although I would never say no to that, but with the first presidential endorsement by the New York Times on October 11th, 1860.

“Mr. Lincoln, of Illinois, familiarly known as “Old Abe”, age 51, height six feet seven, by profession Rail-Splitter, is to be our next president,” the Times began. “The thing seems pretty sure.” 

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Why height is important, the Times doesn’t say. But it wraps up this way: “Things will go on very much as they have hirtheto-except that we shall have honesty and manliness instead of meanness and corruption in the Executive Departments, and a decent regard for the opinions of mankind in the tone and talk of the government and on the subject of Slavery.”

Newspaper endorsements were crucial for political candidates, be it for president or city council. It’s less so now, but they’re still important. Even President Trump when he was a candidate met with the editorial boards of the Washington Post, New York Times and Chicago Tribune.

Presidential candidates have historically made stops in New York, Washington, Los Angles and Chicago. But Kansas candidates from senate to the city council made the trek to court editors and publishers in Emporia, Iola, Parsons, Garden City, and Junction City. Towns all over Kansas where winning over these small town papers was crucial to election. And many of these editors became giants in Kansas politics. 

So the most famous small town editor in Kansas was, of course, William Allen White of the Emporia Gazette. But White wasn’t the only small town editor in Kansas to play a political role. Archiver historian Virgil Dean says White connected early Kansas editors to more contemporary editors. 

“If you look at Kansas history through journalism there is a really interesting connection between editors or publishers and the early scope of Kansas history. I can see three generations of prominent editors and White comes in the middle. In fact, six of the first 24 governors of Kansas were newspaper editors,” Virgil says. 

John Martin was elected governor in 1884. He owned a Free State paper in Atchison first called Freedom's Champion. In 1918, Kansas elected Henry J. Allen governor. He owned papers in Salina, Ottawa and Wichita. There’s Clyde Reed who was governor and senator and owned the Parsons Sun and then there’s Clyde Reed, Junior who would take over the Sun from his father. 

When you want to talk Parsons, journalism and politics in Kansas, you go to my KCUR colleague and friend for 25 years Jim McLean, who started his career at KLKC radio in Parsons. He knew Clyde Reed, Jr. who unsuccessfully ran for governor but did serve on the Kansas Board of Regents. 

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“I think he’s a good example of the small town editor who used to predominate in Kansas. Most communities of any size had an influential, well read, highly regarded newspaper and nearly all of those newspapers were associated with a strong willed and fairly big personality type editor,” Jim says. 

“Editorials written by Clyde Reed, Jr., Emerson Lynn, the Seaton family, politicians paid a lot of attention to them. And Clyde Reed, Sr. was very influential statewide because he wrote very strong editorials, he followed current events very closely and those papers watched the events in Topeka in particular. Those editors had outsized influence not only in their community but statewide,” according to Jim.

While most Kansas publishers or editors ran newspapers that were small to medium sized, there was one who ran a huge media empire. Arthur Capper served in the U.S. Senate until January 1949. 

Born in 1865 in Garnett, he was 84 and nearly deaf when he made this broadcast. Before the senate he was governor. By the way, he served in the senate with two other publishers we’ve talked about, Henry J. Allen and Clyde Reed. 

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So while this Archiver is titled Small but Powerful, Capper’s media holdings were anything but small. He owned the Topeka Daily Capital, published Capper’s weekly and later would own WIBW radio and TV in Topeka. In 1919, 1.7 million people subscribed to his various publications. 

He knew Charles Curtis from Kansas who served as Herbert Hoover’s vice president, the Kingfish, Huey Long from Louisiana and Senator Robert La Follette, the Republican progressive and anti-war crusader from Wisconsin. Capper knew Carrie Nation and his father knew John Brown. 

“In times of excitement and stress and strain a majority can be most terribly and completely and brutally wrong,” Capper said in his farewell address.

I suspect Capper is talking about the Sedition Act of 1918 or maybe the internment of Japanese Americans in World War Two…it may have been a warning about the Patriot Act. 

What’s true is this certainly seems like something politicians and editorial writers should remember today.

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Chilvat, Waterbourne, and City Limits by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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The Most Powerful Newspaperman In Kansas History

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The Most Powerful Newspaperman In Kansas History

This story starts with a tape that, until recently, was in a box at the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas. Archiver historian Virgil Dean found it.

It’s a speech 79 years ago by William Allen White, editor of the Emporia Gazette, social commentator and player in national Republican politics. And, best that we can tell, this is the only surviving recording of the man known as the Sage of Emporia.

“Since I first came to the University of Kansas 50 years ago and left after four years without a degree, I’ve often asked myself; what is the thing we call an education? And I don’t know.”

While White said he didn’t know a lot about education it’s clear that he did. White talked about the advantages of a good education but, for me, the most intriguing line was this: If he can read and reason sensibly, White said, he will not mistake kindnesses for cowardice. Seems like something we should be talking about now.

 Kansas Historical Society

Kansas Historical Society

White was speaking on November second, 1938 at a gala celebrating the 75th anniversary of KU. It was a nationally broadcast speech, originated by WREN, the KU radio station at the time and picked up by the NBC Blue network. It was front page news in the Lawrence Daily Journal-World, sharing space with the civil war in Spain, the Japanese invasion of China and the 16th annual potato exhibit at the Lawrence armory. 

I asked Archiver historian Virgil Dean about how he discovered the tape and what it means to actually hear White’s voice. 

“Prior this this even White’s most recent biographer, Sally Griffith, who I contacted, said she wasn’t familiar with the tape, had not found that, and was under the impression from contemporary accounts that White spoke in a high pitched voice,” Virgil says. “Certainly that’s what we have here. It’s not a dynamic speaking voice by any stretch of the imagination. But I think it gives you an opportunity to get the know the person better. Especially for people who are writing or trying to do a biography of somebody like that. Whatever you can find that helps you get to know them a little bit better, using that along with all the other historical evidence you have might be of significant value.”

The whole speech was only about five minutes, part of a much longer program. Early in the speech White had, frankly, some pretty boiler plate education ideas; someone should be able to read 50 pages of a serious book and then write a cogent retelling with correct spelling and proper punctuation. But then the speech turns throughly thought provoking, White suggests that education leads to civility and even kindness. 

“If he can read and reason sensibly, he will know how to judge his fellows, how to spot a fool, how to know a knave when he meets him. He will not mistake kindnesses for cowardice. He will not find himself suspecting everyone and believing everything.”

There’s a great biography on White by Sally Foreman Griffith written in 1989 and there’s White’s autobiography published posthumously in 1946.But film maker Kevin Willmott, a friend of Archiver, is making a documentary about White’s life. It’s being narrated by legendary news anchor and documentarian Bill Kurtis.

Now you may just know him as the announcer on NPR’s Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me or the narrator of the Anchorman movies. But Kurtis has had a celebrated journalism career. He’s won two Peabodys and a DuPont. Full discloser: I produced several documentaries for Bill that aired on A&E in the late 90s. 

 Kansas Historical Society

Kansas Historical Society

He talked to me from his studio in Chicago. I asked him if there was one thing people needed to know about White and what he meant to journalism, what would that be? Kurtis didn’t hesitate. “Wisdom,” he said. “He was the voice of the midwest. We don’t have those anymore. People who are associated with a region of the country. People came to him. People came to his front door,” 

White’s writing was clean. It was understandable and it was aimed at everybody not just the elite, Kurtis says. “But with a smile and perhaps a laugh along the way.”

Wit, wisdom, sage, all William Allen White writing qualities. But there was passion too. 

“Dip your pen into your arteries and write,” he said. 

White, it seems to me, spoke and wrote not just for Emporia but for Goodland and Dodge City and Chillicothe in Missouri and Enid in Oklahoma and every other small town in the Midwest. And with government and media in flux, maybe even in crisis, there’s no better time to remember and study William Allen White.

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Cat's Eye, Balti, and City Limits by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Free State Myth

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The Free State Myth

Anyone with a passing knowledge of the civil rights movement knows about the lunch counter sit ins at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina. A protest that started with four people on February 1, 1960 grew to hundreds of protestors by July. Lunch counter sit ins, at times, dominated the news in the south. 

“Are sit in strikes justifiable?” asked legendary south Florida anchorman Wayne Fariss in a commentary in 1956. “It’s an active problem of political, economic and moral significance to all Florida,” he said from the set of WCKT in Miami. WCKT is now WSVN. 

The Florida sit ins started a few weeks after Greensboro. But before Greensboro and Miami there was Dockum Drug Store in Wichita. 

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We like to think of ourselves, us Kansans, as civil rights leaders; the free state, brown versus board, abolition. But does our history really back up the claim? Or is it…just a myth.

I think a lot of us can see in our head the black and white film of young black protestors being spit on or even beaten as they sat at lunch counters in the south demanding to be served. Greensboro is probably the best known but sit ins happened all across Dixie. But many simply don’t know about Dockum Drugs.

“Well, Dockum’s Drug Store was a major drug store located in the center of Wichita,” Carol Haun, who helped organize the sit in, told C-SPAN. “It was a main place for people to go during the lunch hour, for teenagers to go for a hamburger and a coke. The policy of the store was that they did not serve colored, as we were called at that time.”

The sit ins began on July 19, 1958, a year and a half before Greensboro. Nine other students showed up that day. For three weeks the students sat at the Dockum lunch counter. They were taunted and insulted but there was no violence. Mostly, white customers just went somewhere else and profits at the store plunged. 

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In just three weeks Dockum’s in downtown Wichita was desegregated as was the entire Rexal chain. A civil rights victory. There were many in Kansas: Brown versus the Topeka Board of Education chief among them. But before Brown, the Kansas Supreme Court desegregated some schools, at least the ones the law allowed. 

For some, and I’m among them, civil rights in Kansas began with Quantrill burning Lawrence and ends with Brown. But, of course, that’s just not true.

“Kansas. We call ourselves a Free State, the Free State fortress but we have these Jim Crow practices,” says Archiver historian Virgil Dean. While there were certainly Jim Crow practices around Kansas for the most part they weren’t codified in law. School segregation was legal in larger cities like Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita. But some smaller towns tried to segregate schools, contrary to state law, and when cases from those cities made it to the state Supreme Court the justices desegregated. One of the most famous was Webb v. School District 90 in Merriam. “Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries segregation was being practiced in school districts where it shouldn’t have been. And every time the Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs. There’s a famous case in Ottawa in the 1880s, there’s one in Oskaloosa that comes in the very early 20th century,” says Dean. 

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Here’s what the Kansas historian James Lieker wrote:

“How is it, for example, that the same state that advocated Indian genocide and practiced school segregation also became the only state to legally evict the Ku Klux Klan and only one of seven to censor the racist film Birth of a Nation?”

So our past is a little rockier than I wanted to think. Okay, I can live with that. But how are we doing now? Where does that Free State Kansas thing stand?

When you want to talk about how African American history in Kansas intersects with the present, you talk to Lang. He’s written about the black freedom movement and black urban communities in the midwest. What’s important about Kansas, Lang says, is that it’s not the deep south. That there has always been room for, a lane if you will, for agitators and change agents. 

“We don’t want to error on the side of, racism is the same everywhere you go in the United State. I don’t believe that’s the case. There are reasons people came to Kansas and built communities and tried to build lives.”

So more than a half century past Brown and Dockum drugs and the Webb desegregation case in Johnson County, the answer to the question ‘Where does that Free State Kansas thing stand?” seems to be, we’ll see. 

At least that’s one answer. And the question is such an important part of the Kansas story, we’ll revisit civil rights and the Free State Myth in future in future Archivers this season. 

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Gathering Stasis and, Drone Thistle by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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