Giants vs. Royals: Historic in Ways Few Realize

Kauffman StadiumKauffman Stadium. (Photo: ian_munroe flickr CC)

The World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals pits one of the oldest franchises in the sport—the Giants have been playing in the National League since 1883—against a comparatively young team added in the first major baseball expansion of 1969. The two teams give critics of changes in baseball much to complain about: the World Series will feature two teams that made it into the playoffs as wild cards rather than as division winners; neither team represents one of the top television markets, all but guaranteeing low ratings; the Royals have a home-field advantage due not to their record or any kind of rotation, but to the American League winning the All-Star Game. But both teams have links that might not be expected to baseball history—and American history.

On October 18, as the two teams worked out in preparation for the beginning of the series on Tuesday, October 21, it marked 64 years since the retirement of Connie Mack as manager of the Philadelphia A’s. He had been their manager for 50—that’s right, 50—years. It helped that he was one of the team’s founders and eventually its owner, but he holds the record for the longest continuous tenure of any manager or coach in professional sports in the U.S. He had come to the National League as a catcher in 1886 and played or managed for 65 seasons until 1950—and he retained ownership of the A’s with his family until 1954, when they sold the team.

At that time, the A’s left Philadelphia, where they competed with the other local team, the Phillies. They moved to … Kansas City. The A’s remained there until another owner, Charles O. Finley, moved them to Oakland for the 1968 season. In response to threats by Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri, major league baseball added Kansas City as an expansion team the next year.

During Mack’s last spring training as manager in 1950, the Philadelphia A’s played several games against the Brooklyn Dodgers. At the time, the Dodgers had a legendary broadcaster, Red Barber, who worked the games with longtime partner Connie Desmond. But between road trips and television, the Dodgers needed three announcers. In the fall of 1949, Barber, also serving as the executive in charge of CBS Radio Sports, had needed a broadcaster on short notice to call a football game. A newly minted graduate of Fordham University interviewed with him, and Barber sent him to do the game. He was impressed and, when the opening with the Dodgers came, Barber suggested the 22-year-old to Dodger executive Branch Rickey, who hired him for spring training. As the new announcer said, “I was scared to death. Anyway, they were going to take me to Florida for one month to do exhibition games, maybe leave me there in the Everglades with the alligators if they didn’t like what they heard.”

They liked what they heard. In fact, he’s still with the Dodgers. Vin Scully just completed his sixty-fifth season as a broadcaster with the Dodgers. He has received virtually every honor it is possible for a baseball announcer to receive, including joining Barber as a recipient of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for his announcing and of the prestigious Peabody Award.

In 2006, asked to describe his first game, Scully recalled, “Well, I think the very first one was an exhibition game and we were playing the Philadelphia Athletics and the manager that year was Connie Mack. Now the next year Jimmy Dykes became the official manager but my first broadcast was with the A’s in Vero Beach with Mr. Mack right there…”

Not only has Scully equaled the number of years Mack was active in baseball, but their paths crossed in that spring training, forming a link in a historical chain. When the young announcer and the elderly manager encountered each other that spring, they wound up connecting 130 years of baseball.

They also link American history, and this World Series, in a few ways. When Mack’s A’s had left Philadelphia, they became the westernmost team in major league baseball—until after the 1957 season, when the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles and the Giants left New York City for San Francisco. Their moves reflected the growth of the West after World War II and, especially in the Dodgers’ case, the rise of the Sunbelt. Their relocations would have been impossible without postwar advances in transportation that made it easier for teams to fly to the West Coast, instead of the baseball tradition of riding trains.

The Dodgers and the A’s also demonstrated another aspect of postwar America. In 1947, Rickey had brought Jackie Robinson to Brooklyn as the first African American to play major league baseball since Moses Fleetwood Walker in 1884. Rickey did so over the unanimous opposition of every other major league team owner. In fact, Mack told a group of sportswriters, “I have no respect for Rickey. I have no respect for him now.” The A’s wouldn’t bring an African American player to the majors until 1953, when pitcher Bob Trice joined the team. By then, the Dodgers had added such stars as Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Joe Black, and won pennants in 1947, 1949, and 1952, and come within a game of winning pennants in 1950 and 1951. Meanwhile, after having winning records from 1947 to 1949, the A’s had losing records for the rest of the time they were in Philadelphia. African American players were revolutionizing baseball, and Mack and his family refused to keep up with the times.

When the Giants and Royals take the field, their lineups will include African Americans and Latinos. The Giants may play the hero of their pennant-clinching victory, Travis Ishikawa, whose paternal grandparents spent World War II in a Japanese internment camp in Colorado. Scully won’t be broadcasting the game; his work for the year ended with the Dodgers’ elimination by the St. Louis Cardinals—the team that lost to the Royals in their last World Series appearance and, in 1947, threatened to strike rather than take the field with Robinson. The Giants and Royals traveled an arduous road to get to the World Series, but so has America.

About the Author

Michael Green

Michael Green is an associate professor of history at UNLV. In 2015, the University of Nevada Press will publish his Nevada: A History of the Silver State. He also is the author of Lincoln and the Election of 1860 (Southern Illinois University Press) and other works on the nineteenth century and the American West.

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