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Win or lose, the old Kansas City Athletics, who happened to lose many more games than they ever won, were always comical. They had monkeys in left field, donkeys in center and sheep in right. Old Drum, a German short-hair, worked their infield during the fifth-inning brush up. And for bench strength there were greased pigs, cows, a ball-serving rabbit and a balky mule named Charley-O.
Unhappily for Owner Charles O. Finley, the people of Kansas City figured they already had an adequate zoo. What they preferred to see in Municipal Stadium were ballplayers, genus major league. Their disenchantment sent Finley scurrying to Oakland and the city fathers scrounging around for a new club. They have one now with real live baseball players and a real live management. The new Kansas City Royals not only fail to look like an ASPCA pickup team; they have a better early season record than any baseball expansion team ever. This includes 1969's other new franchises—Seattle, San Diego and Montreal—and the four clubs established earlier in the 1960s, California, Washington, Houston and the New York Mets.
Ironically, KC is the only expansion team in history that concentrated primarily on young players (some sadly underestimated by other clubs) who might win in the future. All the others drafted pensioners in an attempt to provide immediate respectability. Of the earlier clubs, the California Angels managed to finish third in their second year of operation, but the rest, except for brief spurts, thudded to the bottom and have been bumping along there ever since.
The Royals had a winning record after their first game. They beat the Minnesota Twins with a run in the bottom of the 12th inning on Opening Day, and the next night they beat the Twins again with a run in the bottom of the 17th inning. This mad nightcap baseball has been the Royals' style all season.
They won their first three extra-inning games. They won nine of their first 13 one-run games. They rallied from behind in 13 of their first 18 victories. And they won eight games in their last turn at bat. "It used to be that you didn't think about a game too much when you played one of the new clubs," Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles said last week in Kansas City. "Now you've got to be ready for them or else they're going to beat you."
So far this season the Royals have played with a desperate vengeance complex. "We've got enough guys who were kicked around by other clubs that it's never any problem getting keyed up when we play against our old club," said Pitcher Mike Hedlund, a freckle-faced redhead who pitched nine games for Cleveland. Hedlund started against the Indians last Thursday night, and for six innings he was practically untouchable. He worked so hard, though, that he lost nine pounds, and in the seventh inning he began to fade. Moe Drabowsky rescued him in the last two innings. "Yeah, that meant a lot to me," Hedlund said after the game. "I couldn't even get to Triple A with them."
Consider briefly what some of the other Royals have done to their old teams so far this season:
?Joe Keough had three hits, including two doubles, in a 9-3 win over the Athletics.
?Paul Schaal, recalled from the minor leagues for the weekend, drove in the winning run against the Angels in one game and the go-ahead run in the next.