In this era of the internet, Extra Innings, XM radio, and the numerous other mediums we have for following our favorite baseball team, we no longer have the real fear of losing all day-to-day contact with the A’s if they were to move. The vast quantity of Non-Resident A's Fans on this site alone proves this. And as much as all of us dread losing a part of the A’s history--the Oakland franchise--can you imagine what it must have been like fifty years ago, when your favorite team either had to play locally (or at least within your radio broadcast range) for you to realistically be involved in the day-to-day, game-to-game workings of the team?
For those of you who are murky on the details of our history (and yes, I had to research people and places to follow some parts of this interview), the Philadelphia Athletics were founded as one of the eight charter members of the American League in 1901, and played in Philadelphia until they moved the thousand miles to Kansas City in 1955. The A’s were only in Kansas City for a few short years; they picked up and moved again in 1968 (this time two thousand miles), to their current home in Oakland.
Imagine being born in 1938, and living in Philadelphia. You would have grown up with the Athletics, and when you turned seventeen, you would have witnessed the team packing up and moving. If you chose to become a long-distance fan, you would have had to endure another move the year you turned thirty. I am thirty-one. I have never known another home outside of Oakland for the Athletics, and I quite honestly can’t imagine one move in my lifetime, much less two. It was hard enough to leave the A’s behind when I moved from Northern California to Southern, and I had every possible means available for following my team.
I don’t normally think a lot about the A’s past; I am usually more in tune with their present and future, but when I received an email from a septuagenarian, who happens to be a life-long A’s fan, in response to the Bobby Crosby debate, I did the math and realized that it is not often that I would have a chance to talk to someone who not only knew the A’s in their original Philadelphia, but has lived through seven decades of Major League baseball, and two Athletics’ moves.
I can’t be the only one who is intrigued by historical A’s memories, so I have posted my questions and his answers for your enjoyment. His comments are all bolded, and I have added brief explanations and links to events and people that we might not know off the top of our heads.
- How long have you been an A’s fan? How did you become an A’s fan?
I went to both A's and Phillies games from the days when you got double headers on a Sunday! Starts at 1PM with the blue laws not allowing the game to go past 7PM. I loved to see Eddie Joost, Pete Suder, Gus Zernial, Mickey Guerra, and developed a love for the American league.
The Blue Laws were curfews enforced which prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages and commerce on Sundays.
- The A’s moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City in 1954, and again from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968. For a lot of us on AN, we are having a hard time imagining a single Oakland Athletics move, yet you endured not one, but two moves. Do you remember either? Where were you living at the time, and how did this affect your decision to continue to follow the A’s?
The move was heartbreaking! Believe it or not, I forget the station, but I would be up at night getting the Kansas City A's game on radio from Phila. At least when they came east I used to go to their games. Charlie Finley [was] as crazy as he appeared to be. Example: a cow milking contest at the games, he was tough with the dollars. [H]e fought Joe Rudi over 10 cents!
- Can you describe your earliest memory of an A’s game? What was the stadium like? What was the crowd like? What was the overall feeling about baseball at the time in your city?
The A's games were played at Shibe Park I think the city as a whole was leaning slightly toward the National League. The right fielder at the time was a man named Elmer Valo. He would run into this wall quite frequently to try and make catches! There is an A's group that meets. Eddie Joost was a guest speaker. I remember Joost leading off, Wally Moses batting second, Ferris Fain batting third, Sam Chapman, center fielder batting fourth. There did not seem to me that much of an uprising when they decided to move. Remember Connie Mack was not the biggest spender you ever saw.
- Who is your all-time most memorable Athletics player?
I always liked Gus Zernial. But to tell you a story he was big guy, and not the best left fielder. I was at a game when he dove for a line drive, broke his shoulder, and got booed. I liked Bobby Shantz as a pitcher and person. In Kansas City I liked Gino Cimoli. Most of all the Sal Bando, Gene Tenance , Joe Rudi, Dennis Eckersley, Catfish Hunter era was the best of all.
Gus Zernial, an 11-year major leaguer with the White Sox, Athletics and Tigers, had what many could describe as a storybook career. Nicknamed "Ozark Ike" after a popular comic-strip character, Zernial compiled several All-star caliber years that included memorable achievements, years with either blazing starts or memorable finales, and a much-publicized photo shoot with a Hollywood starlet.
With only 75 players in major-league history (through 2004) having a last name beginning with Z, Zernial could be considered one of the greatest of those "Z's."
Zernial was traded in 1951, after only four games, from the White Sox to the Philadelphia Athletics. Despite this, he went on to lead the league with 33 home runs (all with the Athletics) and 125 RBI. His league-leading year in 1951 also included 68 extra-base hits and 17 outfield assists. This gave Gus the distinction of being the only player since the Deadball Era to win a league home run crown while playing for two teams in the same year and the only player to lead the league in home runs and RBIs after being traded.
Zernial's 1951 year was notable for other reasons. He was the first Athletics player to lead the AL in home runs and RBIs since Jimmie Foxx in 1933. That same year, Gus finished first in home-run percentage, with 5.98 percent of his at-bats resulting in a home run. He ranked third in slugging percentage at .511, eighth in runs with 92 and second in total bases with 292. Those extra-base hits included 30 doubles, 9th in the AL.
Zernial's achievements were recognized on June 15, 2001, when he was inducted into the Philadelphia Wall of Fame now housed at the Philadelphia Historical Society. In 2002 Gus was named to the Philadelphia A's All-Century Team. Also in 2001, Bill James rated Gus the 96th top left fielder of all time.
On May 28, 1949, in Cleveland, Gus severely injured his right shoulder while diving to catch a sinking line drive hit by Thurman Tucker. He landed on his shoulder and cracked the bone in five places. Doctors believed it to be a career-ending injury, but Zernial worked hard to overcome it. At the time of the injury, Zernial was hitting .355 and leading the league. When he returned to the lineup, however, he could not throw. Over the following winter, Gus worked with a California health club trainer to develop his shoulder strength so he could throw again, and he reported to camp ready to play.
- What would you say is the biggest difference between the earliest baseball you can remember and today’s baseball?
I will try and not editorialize, but in the old days a baseball player had to work in the off-season to meet his obligations. Today with an average salary of 1.3MM for me it is aggravating. Most businesses would not keep mediocre talent and have salaries like that. Only in sports can you be average or less and still make a living greater than most. Is it jealousy, if you knew me you would know it's not. The latest steroids issue, in my opinion, shows how much was going on and how many people chose to ignore it.
- You mentioned that you had a chance to see Vida Blue? Could you tell us a little about that experience?
I went and saw them [The A’s] play many times in New York, Baltimore, Washington. Yes there was a Washington Senator baseball team, and I saw Vida Blue [in one of] his first games in the majors [against] Washington. Vida Blue! All I can remember is taking a day off from work and traveling to Washington to what was the fastest fast ball I had seen a pitcher throw! I believe the A's won.
So, this begs the question; who else is out there that may have rooted for the A’s in either Philadelphia or Kansas City? And if you saw Vida Blue pitch live (perhaps a more recent question), we’ll take you as well!