Rank #1: TV, The Triple Play, and the Man from Dodge
I want to tell you about a scandal. Fred Hall was an ambitious but unpopular governor among the GOP elite in Kansas in the 50s. He would go on to find himself on the outskirts of the party. Hall would eventually go directly to the people on TV and he would change politics and the legal system in Kansas in a way we that we are feeling right this minute.
Rank #2: The Plow That Broke The Plains
In 1936 the federal government released a film. They called it a documentary, but it was mostly propaganda. Many would argue that its cause was noble rather than sinister. Others, as we’ll see, would vehemently disagree. But to understand why the federal government got into the propaganda film business.
Rank #3: Kansas Killers And Our Rocky Relationship With Capital Punishment
While the Clutter murders are the best known in Kansas history, they aren’t the most infamous and certainly not the most bizarre. The killers were eventually put to death, but the state hasn't always been in favor of the death penalty. In fact, Kansas has struggled with the capital punishment for most of its history.
Rank #4: The A's (Leading The Way)
When you think about black major league baseball players—those who led the way in breaking the color barrier—you think Jackie Robinson of course.
They even wrote a swing tune about Jakcie called “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit that Ball” performed by Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra in 1949. It reached number 13 on the charts that year.
Jackie spent part of the 1945 season with the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs before moving on to the Dodger organization. And while we all know the Monarch's place in baseball history—they won ten league championships and launched the big league careers of many black players–you might not know the role the A’s played in integrating blacks into the big leagues.
“It was of the utmost importance to us as a city, we were progressive enough to have a team that included everybody,” says Jeff Logan, president of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society. “I think that cities like Boston are still branded in that fashion, that they are a little racist and I don't think Kansas City has that tag.”
If you look at that the first team photo of the Kansas City A’s in 1955, for the most part it looks like you’d expect for the time, baggy uniforms worn by men who look more like regular guys than professional athletes. But, when you look a little closer, there’s something different from most teams at the time...there are three black players: Hector Lopez, Harry ‘Suitcase’ Simpson and the controsersial Vic Power.
“The Kansas City A's embraced these players simply because they were good enough and probably better than a lot of the other players. They (the A’s) wanted to win. Let's face it, if you are not going to integrate the best players in the sport then you're not trying to win,”
Just how good were the black players on those early A’s teams? That was obvious at the 1956 All-Star Game at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C.
Simpson and Power were the only black players on the American League roster that year. The National League, which embraced integration much earlier than the American League, had six black players including Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.
The morning after the game, the Kansas City Times gave Simpson and Power just two paragraphs on a full page of all-star coverage—not a hint that the A’s provided the only two black players on the A.L. roster.
“Power played three innings at first base but handled only routine chances,” A’s beat reporter Joe McGuff wrote. “Harry Simpson, the only other Kansas City player on the All-Star squad, pinch hit for Billy Pierce in the third and struck out on three pitches.”
Reading the paper in 1956, that amount of coverage would probably seem right. But 60 years later, when I found that clip, it felt odd to me.
Harry Simpson played for five big league clubs but that’s not why his nickname was suitcase. He picked that up playing in the Negro Leagues because, it was said, his shoes were as big as suitcases.
Hector Lopez was the third black player on those early Kansas City teams. He grew up in the Panama Canal Zone and played most of his career with the Yankees.
I should note that Latino players made their mark in both the major leagues and Nego Leagues. Most early Hispanic players were Cuban, many historians believe baseball spread quickly on the island when the U.S. occupied it after the Spanish American War.
Also, the number of Hispanic players in the majors began to increase in 1947, the year Jackie broke the color barrier. But back to Power and why he was controversial.
“Vic Power played here with the Blues. Power would have gone to the Yankees but Power had a girlfriend who was a mulatta and he had a red convertible and he’d ride in that convertible with this girl, and she was pretty and her hair was blowing. They thought she was a white girl,” according to Buck O’Niell the legendary Monarchs manager. “That’s one of the reasons Elston Howard was the first black Yankee instead of Vic Power.”
Power was from Puerto Rico, and when he was home he went by his real name, Victor Pellot. Being from Puerto Rico he wasn’t used to segregation, Jim Crow or the social mores blacks had to endure. Power was talented and flashy. In the 1950s, it was fine for black players to be talented but flashy could get you in trouble.
“I just loved to watch him. He made the greatest play I’ve ever seen in the history of baseball for me,” says Chuck Dobson, a Kansas City native who played ball at the University of Kansas before signing with the A’s in 1966. He watched Power play at Municipal Stadium.
“He made the greatest play I’ve ever seen right here. Jumped over a park bench, his back turned to the infield, cocked the ball like this with his back to the infield, he’s in midair over a park bench” and fired the ball back into the infield.
Dobson also says Power was an intimidating hitter. “Power would stand like this and he’d take that bat and he’d point it at the pitcher, point it right at the pitcher, and he’d swing that thing.”
There’s a story about Power in the Roberto Clemente biography by author David Maraniss. Power, Maraniss writes, walks into a segregated restaurant where he’s promptly told by the waitress that she didn’t serve Negros. That’s fine, Power told her, he didn’t eat them.
One of my favorite A’s in the early 60s was pitcher Johnny Wyatt. In 1961, Wyatt broke in with the A’s after getting his start with the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro Leagues. There was a time, believe it or not, when people thought that African Americans weren't equipped to be starting pitchers. “That seemed to be the case with the playing quarterback too”, says Logan. “I think we found out that's probably not true since there's so many great quarterbacks.”
Jeff Logan says playing in Municipal Stadium meant a lot to black fans.
“The Kansas City A’s played at 22nd and Brooklyn in Municipal Stadium in the heart or the urban core. A lot of the people in that area were African American and those people were drawn to baseball. I think the worst thing that ever happened in sports history is when we built a stadium out in a field in the middle of nowhere. I think that's led to a lot of things. We don't have many African Americans playing baseball now. I wish the stadium was still there.”
Alas, it is not. But it’s lovingly remembered by everyone from former players to Beattles fans. 22nd and Brooklyn Avenue. That’s our next installment of Archiver, The A’s in Kansas City.
Rank #5: The A's (22nd And Brooklyn Ave.)
The A’s were always an awful baseball team. But Municipal Stadium, well that was special to almost anyone who ever went.
Rank #6: The A's (A Yankee Pipeline)
In the 13 years the A’s were in Kansas City, they were simply terrible. But the A’s didn’t get this dismal without some help. It all goes back to the New York Yankees, and the unholy alliance between Yankee owners Del Webb and Dan Topping and their handpicked A’s owner Arnold Johnson.
Rank #7: The A's (Charlie O' The Showman)
There just aren’t many songs about mules. But in the mid 60's (the exact release date is unknown) Charlie O' the Mule by Kansas City song writer and rockabilly performer Gene McKown was released. It’s about a Missouri mule that helped usher in a wild, complicated and, at times, maddening seven years of baseball in Kansas City.
Rank #8: The A's (A's On The Air)
For most fans, it’s not just the players that conjure up memories of a team. The broadcasters are just as important.
Rank #9: The A's (Charlie O' The Despised)
You already know about Finley the showman; Charlie O The Mule, the exploding scoreboard, Kelly green and gold uniforms at a time everyone else wore white and gray, his lobbying for orange baseballs. Sounds like a real funster. But not at all. Finley had a mean streak, he was mercurial, dictatorial.
Rank #10: Basketball, Big Dollars, And The Man From Lawrence Kansas
We take it as a matter of fact now that sports are big business. Professional sports are a huge business, but almost all the rest are at at least big. College coaches make millions of dollars for coaching and millions more for shoe endorsements, TV, and camps. But it wasn’t always this way. We were reminded of that by a recently discovered radio broadcast from New Year’s Eve, 1939 on WOR.
Rank #11: Dr. King's Last College Stop
For most, 1968 would feel like the United States was coming apart at the seams: The Tet offensive in Vietnam, wild political conventions and assassinations: First King then Senator Robert Kennedy. Both great men would have ties to Kansas in 1968. Kennedy, as we talked about on a previous Archiver, gave his first speech in Kansas after he announced his presidential run. King would start his year at Kansas State University on January 19th at convocation in a jammed packed Ahearn Field House. King came away impressed and heartened by the students he met that day in Manhattan. But we didn’t know how impressed until decades later when hand written notes found in the suite jacket he was wearing the night he was shot surfaced. Notes directly tied to Kansas State. And his words that cold morning in Manhattan are as meaningful today as they were 48 years ago.For most, 1968 would feel like the United States was coming apart at the seams: The Tet offensive in Vietnam, wild political conventions and assassinations: First King then Senator Robert Kennedy. Both great men would have ties to Kansas in 1968. Kennedy, as we talked about on a previous Archiver, gave his first speech in Kansas after he announced his presidential run. King would start his year at Kansas State University on January 19th at convocation in a jammed packed Ahearn Field House. King came away impressed and heartened by the students he met that day in Manhattan. But we didn’t know how impressed until decades later when hand written notes found in the suite jacket he was wearing the night he was shot surfaced. Notes directly tied to Kansas State. And his words that cold morning in Manhattan are as meaningful today as they were 48 years ago.
Rank #12: G.I. Joe From Kansas
We start this episode of Archiver in 1918, the end of the first World War, because the way America treated those veterans would forever change the way the country takes care of its soldiers, sailors and marines. Make no mistake, it would take decades plus lots of pain and suffering to do the right thing, but it happened. And wouldn’t you know it, it took a Kansan to get it done.
Rank #13: The Battle At Tuttle Creek
After the floods of 1951, a small valley in Kansas finds itself "invaded" when the Army Corps of Engineers decides to build a dam.
Rank #14: The Sudden Need To Run
If 2016 is the most tumultuous presidential election year you’ve ever seen that simply means you weren’t alive or paying attention in 1968.
Rank #15: Presidential Politics And The Man From Russell
Kansas hasn’t produced the number of presidents and presidential candidates as Virginia or New York but Kansans, both famous and obscure, have played an important role. We’ve had a war hero, a millionaire, a prohibitionist and a communist run for president. We’ll talk about all of them, but we will focus on the 1996 Bob Dole campaign against Bill Clinton, which touched on things we’re still grappling with in 2016. It will sound familiar. Except for how it ends.