SI Vault
 
DARK'S OUTLOOK IS YOUNG AND BRIGHT
William Leggett
March 13, 1967
The manager of the Athletics took over a last-place club a year ago and moved it up to seventh. Now, looking at his fine kid pitchers, he plans to go higher
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 13, 1967

Dark's Outlook Is Young And Bright

The manager of the Athletics took over a last-place club a year ago and moved it up to seventh. Now, looking at his fine kid pitchers, he plans to go higher

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

The sixth day of spring training for the Kansas City Athletics had ended, and Manager Alvin Dark stood alone atop one of the red-clay pitching mounds on the sidelines at Bill McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla. His eyes appeared to focus on the gray and gloomy outfield fence while he tossed a shiny new baseball from one hand to the other and rocked back and forth on his heels and toes. Dark had been asked to summarize his impressions of the first few days of workouts and to tell the hopes he had for his team in the coming season. He finally pushed the baseball into his hip pocket and came off the mound. "I'm just tickled to death," he said, "just plain tickled to death. I've got the greatest bunch of boys I've ever had. I didn't realize there were this many good kids left in the whole world."

Kids playing for Kansas City? Yep. Good kids playing for Kansas City who will not be sent to the New York Yankees on the underground railroad? Yep. Good kids who were signed for real money and not picked up in another of those traditional Kansas City scavenger hunts? Yep. Kids good enough to put the Athletics into the first division for the first time in Kansas City's history? Yep, that's possible. In fact, it looks very, very possible.

Although it is again that time of the year when huge amounts of flapdoodle and false promises come pouring out of spring training camps in Florida, Arizona and California, a team to keep an eye on this spring is indeed at Bradenton where Dark is fitting together a young ball club that is going to be heard from for a long time to come. Even in Bradenton, which is not the liveliest of spring training towns, a slogan is beginning to catch hold. It goes, "Get aboard the A's train."

During the five months since the Baltimore Orioles rolled over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series (or the Los Angeles Dodgers rolled over for the Baltimore Orioles), American Leaguers have spent most of their time discussing and debating three major subjects. The first is whether Frank Robinson can possibly have as good a year in 1967 as he had in 1966. The second is which of the three prime contenders—Baltimore, Minnesota or Detroit—will win the pennant. The third is Kansas City, and for the first time the A's are not a subject of ridicule. Last year opposing players, managers and general managers suddenly began respecting the Athletics, and some people have even been so bold as to predict that a K.C. pennant may be only two years away.

One of the prime reasons for this enthusiasm, of course, is 22-year-old Jim Nash (see cover) who came up to the A's last year in the first week of July and in the last three months of the season won 12 games while losing only one. But Nash is not the only reason why insiders are predicting big things in the future for the Athletics. Kansas City will begin this season with five starting pitchers whose average age is 21.8. Currently, Dark is also looking over another flight of 10 young pitchers—all of them rookies—and one or more of them might win a place on the team before the season opens a month from now. By happy coincidence, this second flight also averages 21.8 years; not one member of this group pitched under .500 ball in the minor leagues, and their combined won-lost total in 1966 was an impressive 108-53.

The change in the Kansas City outlook from what it was only two years ago is remarkable. Back in April of 1965 the A's opened the season with a creaking starting staff that had an average age of 27.6, and the Athletics lost 11 of their first 13 games. Last season—Dark's first as manager—the Athletics got off to an even poorer start and lost 14 of their first 17. But Dark turned to his young pitchers and began using them at every opportunity in the hope that they would gain valuable experience. At times the process of gaining that experience was painful. One day in Detroit, for example, Dark watched bitterly as Al Kali e stole a base in the eighth inning against the A's, even though the Tigers were ahead at the time by nine runs.

"Just wait," Dark, more irritated than humiliated, said then. "Just wait. Our day is coming, and it's going to be a lot sooner than most people think."

Kansas City broke out of that original slump and was only one game under .500 for the rest of the season despite a second slump (6-12) immediately after the All-Star break. The team finished a rising seventh, only six games out of the first division.

The oddest thing about Kansas City's newly won respectability was the accompanying silence on the part of the team's owner, Charles O. Finley. Finley was inordinately quiet when everyone thought he would be at his very loudest. Not once did he burn a bus in public or hire a female announcer or ride a mule into the ball park. Charlie didn't even promise the people of Louisville that the A's were theirs.

Since the end of last season Charlie has made just three little moves. He has made the hues of the A's gaudy uniforms a little gaudier. "The wedding-gown-white uniform," he said recently, "is a notch brighter. So is the Fort Knox gold and so is the sea-foam green" {left to right on cover). He has decreed that this year the Athletics will also wear gold batting helmets. And he insists that this season his players are going to be the first major league baseball team ever to wear white shoes. "Made," says Charlie," from the rare albino kangaroo. These shoes will have kelly-green laces going around the tops to give them an even more colorful look. If the opposition claims that they cannot see the ball because of our white shoes it might cause a controversy. I hate controversy. I might just have green shoes with white laces ready in case that comes up. If the field is muddy we will wear black shoes with white laces." And they were wearing black shoes in spring training.

Continue Story
1 2 3