Apr. 17, 2015
Athletics Play First MLB Game in Oakland in 1968
The Athletics were charter members of the American League in 1901 playing their first 53 years in Philadelphia. With Philadelphia, the franchise was successful early in their history under legendary manager Connie Mack winning five World Series titles in 1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, and 1930.
However by the 1930s, attendance plummeted at their games and Mack was unable to fund his farm system. The A's declined rapidly as they finished last or next to it every year except once between 1935 and 1946.
By that time, a power struggle was ongoing with Mack and his sons Roy, Earle, and Connie Jr. Eventually, his son Connie Jr decided to sell his share of the franchise, but the other two mortgaged it to the Connecticut Life Insurance Company that is now Cigna. With mortgage payments at $200,000, funding the team proved to be impossible and the team hit an ultimate low in 1954 with a 51-103 mark.
In 1954, Chicago businessman Arnold Johnson decided to buy the franchise and move them to Kansas City in large part because he owned Blues Stadium that would become Municipal Stadium. Thus, they became the Kansas City Athletics beginning play there in 1955.
Johnson improved the farm system, but would not spend on top talent which led to a mostly uneventful run as a franchise in Kansas City.
In 1960, Johnson died of a cerebral hemorrhage which led to Charlie Finley purchasing a controlling interest in the ball club. Finley had set out to move the team from Kansas City.
Originally, cities such as Atlanta, Dallas, Milwaukee, and Seattle were possible locations for the franchise to relocate to. Oakland came into the picture after seeing how fans supported the Oakland Pacific Coast League team that had played in the city for years.
The Oakland Raiders franchise began play at Oakland-Alameda County Stadium in 1966 which would be the home of the A's. After getting league approval, the A's were on the move again as a franchise as they would begin play in Oakland in 1968.
The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum construction broke ground in 1962 before opening for the Raiders in 1966. The stadium had a different look than what it is now as it had a circular shape with many seats from foul pole to foul pole and with bleacher seats beyond the outfield fence.
Hank Bauer was the manager for Orioles while the home team was managed by Bob Kennedy. Baltimore started 2-2 and Oakland was 3-2 going into the first ever MLB game played in Oakland. A crowd of 50,164 showed up for their first home game.
The Orioles' Dave McNally started on the mound against Oakland's Lew Krausse.
It wasn't the kind of start Finley and his club were hoping for.
In the second inning, Boog Powell hit a one-out solo home run to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead as the team would score in three straight innings.
In the following inning, Mark Belanger hit a solo home run to increase Baltimore's lead by two.
Future big league manager Davey Johnson then hit an RBI single to drive in Frank Robinson to put the Orioles up 3-0.
Two innings later, Brooks Robinson led off the sixth inning with the team's third solo home run of the game as Baltimore was up 4-0.
Meanwhile, McNally cruised along on the mound and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning.
Leading off the bottom of the sixth inning, Rick Monday broke up McNally's bid for a no-hitter as well as a shutout with a solo home run to give the A's the only score they would get in the game.
McNally allowed only one more hit which came in the ninth inning from future Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa, who was pinch-hitting. However, McNally got Burt Campaneris to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end any threat. He struck out Reggie Jackson for the third time in the game to end the contest and give Baltimore a 4-1 to spoil the home opener for the A's.
McNally pitched a complete game two-hitter and allowed Oakland to reach base three times in the game as he walked one of them. He struck out six batters with half of them being Reggie Jackson.
Krausse pitched 5.1 innings allowing all four Baltimore runs while walking four and striking out four.
Belanger was the only batter with multiple hits as the Orioles had seven in the game.
The Orioles, two years removed from winning the World Series in 1966, had also relocated from St. Louis as the Browns 14 years earlier. They were in the midst of their first successful run as a franchise and would finish second behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL standings with a 91-71 mark. In mid-season, Bauer was replaced by Earl Weaver as manager.
Exactly three weeks later, Oakland would get the first ever perfect game as well as no-hitter thrown at the stadium as Catfish Hunter completed the feat in a 4-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins. The A's finished the 1968 season with an 82-80 record as that was their first .500 season since 1949.
While the Orioles were beginning a successful run, the Oakland A's farm system in the late 1960s blossomed into a powerhouse dynasty of their own by the 1970s.
With stars such as Jackson, Campaneris, Hunter, Sal Bando, Vida Blue, and Rollie Fingers, the Oakland A's were on the way as the best team in the AL.
For 40 years, the A's never made the playoffs until finally doing so in 1971. They lost to the Orioles in the American League Championship Series.
In 1972, Oakland won the first of three World Series titles in a row for the first time since 1930. In 1973 and 1974, the A's faced the Orioles in the ALCS -- winning both on their way to World Series titles.
Despite the A's success on the field, their passion of hatred for Finley united them. Finley was known for antics and micromanaging as well as engaging in his share of contract disputes with players. He also was noted for having a quick trigger finger with managers of his team no matter how they fared on the field.
Finley would eventually begin dismantling the franchise by the last half decade of the 1970s and the team immediately declined. They became one of the worst teams in the league after their dynasty run in the mid-70s.
After a divorce and his wife not wanting any part of the team as a property settlement, Finley had no choice but to sell the team because of having nearly all his money tied up in the franchise.
At first, it appeared that Finley was going to sell the team to Marvin Davis, who would move the team again to Denver. However, the Raiders announced they were moving to Los Angeles(they would move back in 1995) and that would've left no one to use the stadium. Officials weren't going to let Finley out of the stadium's lease, so he sold the franchise to local Levi Strauss & Co. President Walter Haas Jr.
Haas immediately began to restore the image of the team including the name of Athletics(even though it's still often abbreviated) as well as bringing back traditional pictures of team's all-time greats in his office. Attendance improved greatly in his first year in 1981 despite it being a strike-shortened season. This was also in large part because fans no longer wanted to give their money to Finley in his late tenure with the team.
Haas also rebuilt the farm system and the Athletics began another successful run by the end of the 1980s after the hiring of LaRussa, who had a hit in the first MLB game ever played in Oakland. They made three straight World Series appearances between 1988-90 while winning one of them in 1989. Haas was owner of the team until his death in 1995 and LaRussa is now a Hall of Fame manager after his continued success with the St. Louis Cardinals not long after his run in Oakland.
Since 2000, the Athletics have made eight playoff appearances under the direction of GM and minority owner Billy Beane.
Since their time began in Oakland, the team has experienced quite an uneven tenure marred by the antics of one owner while another has gotten the most out of his team with a reduced payroll. They've had two very successful runs resulting in four World Series titles, but also near immediate declines thereafter before rebuilding their farm systems.
Over the years, debates have lingered on about the team getting another stadium since they are the last remaining MLB team to share one with an NFL team upon the Raiders' return to Oakland in 1995. But the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum remains the home of the Athletics, and this day in 1968 marked their debut as a team in the city as well as stadium.
On a personal note, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was the first MLB park I visited back in 2009. It was in September at a game against the Seattle Mariners. I sat six rows from the field with my friend and former co-worker Jeff Giguere. Tickets were only $30. I was working in San Jose at the time. I've currently been to 11 ballparks and want to see them all now.
Be sure to check out the history of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum ballpark at the link provided. Also if you're a fan of the team, checkout the Oakland Athletics fan site for updates, news, and more.