A Slugfest At The New Stadium
More balls have been flying out of Yankee Stadium during the month of April than airplanes out of Kennedy International. During the first six games at the new ballpark, the Yankees and opponents hit a combined 26 home runs, just passing Kansas City Municipal Stadium’s record of 25 for the most homer-happy new ballpark in baseball history. Here is a look at the long balls hit in Kansas City during the start of the 1955 season.
In 1923, Kansas City Blues owner George E. Muehlebach decided to build a new stadium for his club, a team in the minor-league American Association. Over the next few decades, the Blues and the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League played in Muehlebach Stadium. The first Negro League World Series game was held at the stadium in 1924. In 1938, after the Blues were purchased by the New York Yankees, New York owner Jacob Ruppert named his newly-acquired ballpark after himself. In 1943, a few years after Ruppert passed away, the stadium was renamed Blues Stadium.
On October 12th, 1954, Chicago businessman Arnold Johnson purchased the American League’s Philadelphia Athletics and promptly moved the team to Kansas City for the 1955 season. Already the owner of Blues Stadium, Johnson sold the ballpark back to the city, then signed a lease agreement with the city that would allow him to leave Kansas City if he did not receive satisfactory attendance. Sometime before Opening Day, the city renamed the park Kansas City Municipal Stadium.
The dimensions at Municipal Stadium were changed during the ballpark’s makeover before opening day. When Muehlebach first built the ballpark for $400,000 in 1923, the outfield fences were set 350 ft. down the foul lines and 450 ft. to dead center. After the park was found to require a $2.5 million dollar renovation for, among other things, adding a second deck, the outfield fences were pushed in. The biggest change was down the left-field line, which went from 350 to 312 feet. The opening day dimensions in 1955 from left to right were: 312-382-432-387-347.
Opening Day for the Athletics in 1955 was on April 12th against the Detroit Tigers. A then-record Kansas City attendance mark of 32,844 were on hand to witness the return of major league baseball to their city. The first home run in the new stadium was hit by Tigers catcher Red Wilson (1), who homered off A’s starter Alex Kellner in the fifth to tie the game up at two apiece. With the score 5-2 Athletics in the eighth, Kansas City outfielder Bill Wilson completed his 3-for-3 day at the plate by leading off the inning with a solo shot (2). That was the last run scored on opening day as the Athletics began the season in their new home with a 1-0 record.
The final game of the opening series with the Tigers featured the visitors running away with the game but only one big fly, a solo home run off the bat of Detroit shortstop Harvey Kuenn (3) in the third. Kuenn scored the first run of the four-run third for Detroit and, off the strength of that inning, the Tigers rolled to a 10-2 victory. After the game, the A’s disappeared for a three game road trip and lost all three to drop their record to 1-4. The team returned to Municipal Stadium on April 18th for a home date with the Cleveland Indians.
Over 31,000 fans witnessed a very exciting baseball game between the A’s and Indians and they also saw tons of balls fly over the outfield fence at Municipal Stadium. The action began in the third, when, with the score already 2-0 home side, Jim Finigan took Cleveland starter Mike Garcia deep (4) to make the game 4-0. Indians manager Al Lopez then lifted Garcia in favor for reliever Ray Narleski, who came in and gave up two solo home runs to Gus Zernial (5) and Wilson (6). After three complete innings, the Athletics had jumped out to a 6-0 lead.
Narleski couldn’t stop giving up gopher balls on the afternoon. In the fourth with a man on, Vic Power powered a pitch over the outfield fence (7) to give the Athletics a huge 8-0 edge. Narleski was pulled at the end of the inning after surrendering three home runs over one and two-thirds innings. However, the Indians would come charging back and cut the Kansas City lead down to one. In the seventh, though, Bill Renna hit the Athletics’ fifth home run of the day (8), this one another solo shot to make the lead 9-7 for the home team.
Cleveland added one in the eighth to trim the lead back down to one and in the ninth, with two men on and two outs, Indian outfielder Larry Doby hit the game’s sixth and most important home run (9), a three run homer off A’s reliever Ewell Blackwell to give Cleveland their first lead of the game. Bob Feller made a rare relief appearance for the Indians in the ninth and shut the door on Kansas City, who would lose a heart breaker, 11-9, despite hitting five of the game’s six home runs.
The two clubs would finish their two-game series the next day and again, it was another slugfest. Cleveland struck first blood in the first thanks to a two-run home run by cleanup hitter Al Rosen (10). In the fourth, Zernial hit his second round-tripper in two games (11), this one another solo shot to make the game 3-1 in favor of Cleveland. In the fifth, Finigan hit his third home run of the young season (12); plating both himself and Power to tie the game up at three.
Rosen led off the eighth inning by hitting his second moonshot of the game (13), the first of two runs for Cleveland that inning to give them a 5-3 lead. The lead was extended in the ninth when Ralph Kiner, finishing up his Hall-of-Fame career that season, hit a two-run bomb (14) off A’s starter Cloyd Boyer, a shot that would spell the end for the Kansas City starter. The Athletics didn’t hit any home runs in the ninth, but the team would mount a five-run, six-hit inning, capped off by a Bill Wilson walk-off single that cashed pinch-runner Spook Jacobs in for the game-winning run.
Kansas City was given two days off to recover before the Chicago White Sox rolled into town for a two-game series. The first game of the series featured a significant drop in home runs from the previous few nights, still, two balls were knocked over the outfield fences at Municipal Stadium. White Sox shortstop Chico Carrasquel hit a solo dong in the third (15) off Arnie Portocarrero and Zernial continued to swing a hot stick, knocking a Virgil Trucks offering into the bleachers (16). In the end, Chicago won the affair, 5-3.
The second game was a gusty affair, with strong winds blowing out towards right field. At points in the game, the winds got as strong as 30 mph. With the score already 1-0 for Chicago in the first, Bob Nieman hit one into the wind and got the breeze to blow the ball out of the yard (17). Neiman’s jack would score three and the score was already 4-0 Chicago before Kansas City had stepped up to bat. The Athletics got right back into the ballgame the next half inning, thanks to Renna’s two-out, three-run blast (18) that cut the Chicago lead to 4-3.
The White Sox had a wild time in the second inning and Sherm Lollar led the inning off with a home run (19) off A’s starter Bobby Shantz. Though no more long balls were hit in the inning, Chicago would chase Shantz from the game before the end of the inning, leaving him on the hook for nine runs (one unearned) while reliever Lee Wheat was charged with two others. After two innings, the White Sox had a 11-3 lead and in the third, they added more thanks to back-to-back blasts from Neiman (20) and Walt Dropo (21). The home runs tacked three more runs onto Chicago’s massive lead, now sitting at 14-3.
Vic Power led off the bottom half of the third for the home team and hit a solo dinger (22) to cut into the lead a tad. Sadly for Kansas City fans, that was the last home run from their team in the slugfest. Chicago hit three more in the contest; Lollar with a solo shot in the fourth (23), Minoso with a three-run bomb in the seventh (24), and the pitcher, Jack Harshman, finished off the derby with a two-run tater in the eighth (25). The White Sox’s final stat line resembled a telephone number more than a baseball linescore as they posted 29 runs on 29 hits for an astronomical 29-6 victory over the Athletics. Kansas City reliever Bob Trice gave up three gopher balls over only 1 1/3 innings.
The Athletics would struggle in their initial season in Kansas City, finishing a distant sixth in the American League standings. Thanks to the home-run derby start, Municipal Stadium finished as the most homer friendly ballpark in the American League with 180 balls finding the outfield bleachers (Ebbets Field, home to he World Series champion Brooklyn Dodgers, allowed a major league-high 204 home runs). Before the 1956 season, the Athletics moved the short-porched left fence back from 312 to 330 feet. It didn’t seem to reduce the amount of round-trippers, though, as the stadium allowed 175 dingers, still tops in the American League. In fact, Municipal Stadium led the American League in home runs given up every year until 1959 when Tiger Stadium took away the title. That year, the height of the left field fence was raised from 18 feet to 38 feet.
Municipal Stadium was used by the Athletics until 1967, the year owner Charles Finley moved them to their current location in Oakland. The City of Kansas City had already approved financing for a new ballpark and when the American League awarded the city an expansion franchise, work began on the new stadium. The Royals played at old Municipal Stadium for four seasons before moving into Kauffman Stadium for the 1973 season. In 1976, Municipal Stadium was demolished; another piece of baseball history gone away.