October 2, 2014

The Louisville Athletics?

September 26, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

A look at Charles Finley’s attempt to move the Kansas City Athletics to Louisville before the start of the 1964 season.

When Charles Finley purchased the Kansas City Athletics from previous owner Arnold Johnson in 1960, he pledged to Kansas City baseball fans that he would keep the A’s in Missouri. However, soon Finley began to explore the possibility of relocating the franchise elsewhere. In 1962, he attempted to move the club to Dallas but his request was denied by other American League owners in a 9-1 vote.

Over the next two seasons, he began exploring other options. He first talked with a group who was interested in building a new stadium in Atlanta but soon talked himself out of the idea after hearing that fellow owners would highly oppose the move. Among other cities discussed at the time were Milwaukee and Seattle. At the all-star meeting in 1963, Finley discussed, but did not formally request permission to move his club to Oakland. The city of Oakland had plans to begin constructing a 48,000 seat, $25 million dollar sports stadium close to the airport and the complex would be ready for the start of the 1965 season, pending a baseball club being moved to their city.

If Finley wanted to move the team to Oakland for 1964, he would have two options: 1) share Candlestick Park with the Giants for one year or 2) play out of 22,000-seat Frank Youell Field in Oakland while the stadium was being completed. Both options were shut down as Frank Youell Field was considered too small to host a major league club and Giants owner Horace Stoneham didn’t want the A’s to share his stadium, saying that when he moved the club to San Francisco, he was given an assurance by both leagues that the Giants would have the Bay Area to themselves. Finley would have to wait on Oakland.

The lease agreement Finley had with city-owned Kansas City Municipal Stadium was one of the reasons he wanted to move. Finley claimed it was near-impossible to turn a respectable profit with the current lease at the stadium, which expired on December 31st, 1963. He was also very upset with the favoritism the American Football League’s Chiefs got at the stadium, which included stadium renovations that made football viewing better and worsened sight lines for baseball.

The city and Finley opened up talks about a new lease on December 20th, 11 days before the lease was to expire. Finley turned down the first offer, saying he would have to draw over one million fans to break an even profit (the club drew 762,364 fans in 1963). The sides traded offers over the next few days but could not reach an agreement. The biggest obstacle in the way of the deal was the matter of rent. Finley wanted a rent-free lease but the city wanted the team to pay some rent and neither side would budge. In the city’s fifth of six proposals, K.C. City Council offered Finley an identical lease as the Chiefs but with larger rent, but Finley shot it down.

On Christmas Eve, Finley announced that the club was moving out of the offices at Municipal Stadium. People close to the A’s front office believed that Finley had no intentions of renewing the lease, regardless of the offer. Instead, he wanted to make the city look bad, gain the sympathy of fellow owners and receive permission to move the team (none of this was ever confirmed). Finley even made noise about moving the team to Peculiar, Missouri, a town of 3,000 people about 45 minutes out of Kansas City. The city of Sedalia, 100 miles from Kansas City, also offered use of its tiny baseball stadium. Finley would say at the time:

“I will rent a cow pasture and put up temporary stands for the team to use next year. I’m talking about renting or leasing about 300 acres of land and building a temporary stadium with bleacher-type seats, lights and all modern facilities. It probably would cost me a million dollars, but I’m willing to do that if necessary.”

On January 4th, Finley brought another lease offer to city council. The new potential lease hadn’t changed much from the first one Finley proposed and the city rejected the offer. Finley stormed off and said to council members, “Well, that’s all you’re going to get. That is it.” The next day, he flew down to Frankfort, Kentucky to meet with Louisville mayor William Cowger and the governor of Kentucky, Edward Breathitt. On the 6th, he came out of nowhere and announced he had reached a two-year lease agreement with the city of Louisville and the A’s would begin play there immediately. The club would use 20,628-seat Fairgrounds Stadium but the state would spend a half-a-million dollars to enlarge it another 10,000 seats.

American League president Joe Cronin announced that Finley, Kansas City officials and the other American League owners would meet on the 16th of January to discuss the potential move, but said he doubted the move would be approved. “I don’t expect it to be a bed of roses,” Finley said when asked if he would receive approval, “But after I have had an opportunity to present all the true facts, I am sure they will be appreciative of all our problems and definitely give us approval.” One owner, though, made it clear that day that he would be voting against the move. “Finley is a fool and his actions are inexcusable,” White Sox owner Arthur Allyn said, “He has no right whatsoever to attempt such a move.”

Eight days before the meeting, Cronin issued Finley a telegram, which he also released to the media:

“In noting published reports and in view of the purposes of the American League meetings scheduled to be held in New York on Jan. 16, I consider your current activities unfair to the loyal baseball fans in Kansas City and feel they could result in disillusionment from the baseball public in Louisville, Ky. I, therefore, as president of the American League, direct you to refrain from any further arrangements and await the termination of the American League concerning this matter.”

Finley fired right back at Cronin, calling the president “unfair and unethical”:

“My dear Mr. Cronin, I consider your releasing to the press the telegram which you sent me this morning very unfair and unethical.

“As an owner in the American League, I will expect any future communication from you to be kept private and not released for publication without my personal approval. In the meantime, I suggest that you, as president of the American League, refrain from any further public statements until you, for the first time, have had an opportunity to be presented with the true and complete facts.”

Finally, on the 16th, the showdown in New York commenced. Despite what was called one of his best sale pitches, Finley was turned down by the other A.L. owners by another 9-1 vote. Disappointed, Finley also said he would take the American League to court to see if they could legally withhold him from moving his team to Louisville. Finley also pondered filing an injunction against the league to allow him to play games in Louisville until the courts said otherwise.

The same day, the American League adopted a special resolution by the same 9-1 vote that would force Finley to sign a lease agreement with the City of Kansas City by February 1st or he could possibly be expelled from the league. The resolution stated: “A special meeting of the members of the league shall be called by the president as soon as convenient thereafter to consider and act upon the termination of the membership and/or expulsion from membership of Charles O. Finley and Co. Inc.”

The two cities involved in the situation also released statements. Kansas City mayor Ilus Davis said that while he felt that the city had been fair in the negotiations, they would now “lean over backwards” to negotiate the lease ordered by the league. Meanwhile, Senator Breathitt said in an issued statement that he was very disappointed in the outcome of the vote and would continue to work hard to bring major league baseball to Louisville.

Two days later, Finley retained famed trial lawyer Louis Nizer for what looked to be a long legal battle. Finley also found support in New York Congressmen Emanuel Celler, who publicly backed the owner in his impending legal battle with the league. Still, on January 25th, after being advised by Nizer, Finley reopened negotiations with the city. However, Finley’s latest proposal included a clause that would allow the team to escape the lease at any point for no penalty if the league approved the club to move elsewhere. Mayor Davis and city council rejected the potential deal, which was only two years in length.

Davis said any deal would have to be at least four years in length, which Finley did not want to agree too. Earlier, the owner said he had lost over a million dollars in the last three years playing in Kansas and feared that four more years might result in him going bankrupt. The city made one more proposal, a four-year lease, and Finley left the meeting saying he would mull over the offer.

The next day, Finley and general manager Pat Friday flew out to Oakland and on the 27th, they reached a 20-year lease agreement with the city of Oakland in the yet-to-be built sports coliseum. Until the stadium was erected, the A’s would play at Frank Youell Field, with Finley putting up 80 percent of the cost to renovate the stadium temporarily to meet major league standards. The league called a meeting for February 19th to vote on whether to allow the team to move to Oakland and, not surprisingly, the other owners dismissed the motion in another 9-1 vote. Two days later, the owners again convened and voted 9-1 again that the lease offered by the city of Kansas City was more than fair and if Finley did not sign the agreement, another meeting would be called where Finley could face expulsion.

A few days later, Finley sent Mayor Davis a telegram informing him that he had accepted the city’s last offer, a four-year lease with a no-escape clause. On February 28th, under the bright lights of photographers, Finley appeared happy and signed three copies of the lease. However, later on Finley said the league had “tarred and feathered” him and that being forced to sign the contract, the only inescapable lease in the league, was one of “the greatest injustices in baseball history.”

Over the next four years in Kansas City, the Athletics finished in the bottom two of attendance in the ten-team American League. After the 1967 season, the league and owners finally allowed the club to move to Oakland. An old rumor speculates that Cronin told Finley back in 1964 that if he signed the lease with the City of Kansas City, he would allow the owner to move the A’s when the lease expired after the ’67 season. However, all parties deny this ever happened and it is believed that it is just an old rumor with no truth to it.

Comments

One Response to “The Louisville Athletics?”
  1. jim meredith says:

    Nearly 50 years later and the A’s are now looking to get out of Oakland. Come to Louisville now! Should have been allowed to in the first place!

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