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.
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.
“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.
“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.