Of course, there are many people in Kansas City who maintain that Finley has reacted mildly to his team's success because he is waiting for his lease with the city (for rental of Municipal Stadium) to expire at the end of the 1967 season. At that time, some suggest, he will make quite a bit of noise by moving the club to Oakland, Calif.
The Athletics have not drawn over a million people at home since their first two years in Kansas City back in 1955 and 1956. Last year their attendance, stimulated by the emergence of youth, jumped 250,000, but even that substantial increase left K.C. 17th in attendance in the majors with 773,929. Should the Athletics get off to a good start this year, attendance may bounce back over a million and that may squash any immediate hopes Finley might have for skipping town with his ball club. The early portion of this year's Kansas City schedule is difficult, because in its first 14 games the team plays Baltimore, Detroit and Cleveland—two contenders and a team with a history of fast starts. Dark seems unworried by the prospect. "I know this team will not get off bad," he says confidently. "It is too good a team for that."
Even before spring training officially began many of the A's showed up at Mc-Kechnie Field on their own and worked out. As Jim Nash ran wind sprints in the outfield, Cot Deal, the pitching coach, watched him with admiration. "It is very rare," he said, "that a pitcher comes along with both the natural gifts and the attitude that Nash has. He has an instinct for pitching. So do most of these kids." Dark's explanation for his young talent's rapid development is deceptively simple: "They go out on the mound and look in at the hitter and they say, 'Hey, boy, who you? I never read anything about you.'"
While Nash has gotten the most publicity of the five young starting pitchers, he also received the smallest amount of Finley's bonus money. Kansas City signed him for only $2,000, whereas Lew (Kid) Krausse Jr., Chuck Dobson, Jim (Catfish) Hunter and John (Blue Moon) Odom represent $300,000 in bonuses. Krausse, the son of a pitcher who had a brief tour with the Philadelphia A's in the early '30s, broke into the majors in 1961 after signing with the A's for $125,000. Barely 18 at the time, he pitched spectacularly in his early starts but did not seem capable of handling the sudden rush of fame that struck him. He was down in the minors for most of the next four seasons but finally returned to the parent club as a polished pitcher last year. He won 14 games and lost nine, and was in the top 10 in the league in earned run averages.
Catfish Hunter will not turn 21 until a few days before the season begins. All he needs to do is sharpen his control just a little to be worth the $75,000 that Finley paid him to sign in 1964. (He was given the nickname Catfish at the age of 10 when he ran away from home and returned carrying two catfish as a peace offering to his family.) Hunter has never pitched an inning in the minor leagues, and his won-lost record of 17-19 for his two seasons in the majors is very good for a pitcher with a second-division team.
Like Hunter, Blue Moon Odom was signed in 1964, and he, too, got $75,000. Eighteen of the 20 clubs in the majors were after him, but he settled on Kansas City because he felt he would have his best chance there. "All my life," Odom says, at 21, "I have worn uniform No. 13 just because I like it and because most people say it is unlucky. In my first start against the Yankees, there I was with my No. 13 on and nervous as I could be. I walked some, and they just pounded out the rest, and I was gone after two innings. The Yankees won the game 9-7, but I was not the losing pitcher. Not long after that I pitched my controversial no-hitter, which some say was not a no-hitter and others say was a no-hitter. I don't say very much about it, but I think what I think, and I don't think I quite agree that it was not a no-hitter. It was against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore and there were two things that the scorer called hits. My teammates wanted to beat up the official scorer. Anyway, I was 1-2 that year and needed some work in the minors and I was sent out." In 1966 Odom was sent to the minors again to work on his control and his curve, but he returned to Kansas City in midseason. His record of 5-5 does not look outstanding unless it is put to closer scrutiny. In his last five starts, Odom won by scores of 4-1, 3-0 and 2-0 and lost by 0-3 and 0-1.
When the 1966 season began hitters around the league were talking about Chuck Dobson and the difficulties he was causing with his blazing fastball. But Dobson, at 23 the elder statesman of the five young starters, came down with arm trouble in May and was used sparingly thereafter. "There are some things you can hope for," Dark says, "and one of them is that a pitcher who has had a sore arm can come back. I know that Dobson's arm is all right now." Dobson was signed by the A's for $25,000 and is that rare thing in the majors—a boy who pitches for his home-town team.
One day last week, just a few miles down the road from where Kansas City trains, Manager Ed Stanky and General Manager Ed Short of the Chicago White Sox were asked to evaluate the Athletics. The White Sox are a team not unlike the A's—each must struggle for runs—and last season the Sox had the best luck of any team against Kansas City (13-5). "It was no freak thing that the Athletics moved up three positions in the standings," said Stanky. "Those young pitchers of theirs have been well educated, and they could very well be knocking on the door to the first division—though, like us, they need some hitting to go with that pitching. Still, Finley has been aggressive in signing ballplayers, and they might have some young hitters on the way up."
Looking at the A's from a general manager's point of view, Short summed up the situation this way: "They were able to get excellent prospects in the free-agent draft, which was put into effect to help the clubs down at the bottom of the standings. All the bottom clubs in the American League are tougher now, and they will continue to get tougher because of that draft. But if you are looking for one person who had a lot to do with their development last year, it has to be their catcher, Phil Roof."
A professional ballplayer since 1959, Phil Roof had played only 54 games in the major leagues prior to 1966 because it was his misfortune to be the second best young catcher in the farm system of the Milwaukee Braves when Joe Torre was the first. Roof, at 26 still young for a catcher, got to Kansas City after three somewhat complicated trades. He likes it there.