SI Vault
Gerald Holland
April 25, 1955
Kansas City pours out its heart In rousing welcome, fills its brand-new ball park to overflowing and the transplanted Athletics respond by playing like champions just for a day
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April 25, 1955

The A's Find Friends In Cowtown

Kansas City pours out its heart In rousing welcome, fills its brand-new ball park to overflowing and the transplanted Athletics respond by playing like champions just for a day

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Kansas City is known far and wide for its dealings in wheat and cattle. Andr� Maurois, the distinguished biographer, has called it one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But, deep down in its heart, the old cowtown (as even its most patriotic citizens like to call it) is most proud of its reputation for friendliness, and it is in the name of friendship that it has made warmly welcome a band of embarrassed young athletes in the uniforms of the Kansas City Athletics, most of whom are maintaining major league status by the skin of their teeth.

As the ballplayers and their principal proprietor, the rich stranger from Chicago, Arnold Johnson, quickly discovered, Kansas City gives its friendship as freely as the time of day and cuts it as generously as its celebrated sirloin steaks. Friendship is pressed upon the visitor from the moment he hits town. The Fred Harvey waitress at Union Station does not say, "What'll you have?" She fairly bubbles over with, "Well, my, don't you just look neglected here! I do believe you'll find the Kansas City Athletics salad there very tasty!" The cab driver does not growl, "Where to, Mac?" He exclaims, "Now where can I take you this fine beautiful spring evenin' and, oh man, don't you hope and pray it holds out for opening day?" The bellboy at the town's leading hotel, the Muehlebach, is not content to pocket a tip and depart in anonymity. He thrusts out his hand and declares, "My name is Newton and I'm just wonderin' if you plan to stay for the ball game?" The hotel management is heard from promptly with a bowl of fruit, which is old stuff, but in Kansas City there is that little extra friendly touch: nestled down in the grapes and tangerines is a pint of bourbon whiskey.

That's the everyday way of doing things, but to welcome these new baseball-playing friends, the old cowtown poured out its greatest display of friendly feelings since Harry and Bess came back from the White House to settle down again in suburban Independence. And in the spirit of true mid-western neighborliness, baseball fans swarmed in on the city like settlers bound for a house-raising in pioneer days. They came by car, by bus and plane and by excursion trains on the Wabash, the Katy, the Mopac, the Burlington, the Rock Island, the Union Pacific and the Santa Fe. They came from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska and from deep into what used to be St. Louis Cardinals' Missouri territory.

For the young athletes, the festivities began as their chartered plane settled down at the airport the day before the season's opening. As each man stepped from the plane, he was introduced over the loudspeakers by Manager Lou Boudreau, and then he was hurried to his own private convertible for the parade through the downtown section where nearly 200,000 applauding, cheering, beaming friends lined the streets or threw confetti from the office windows overhead. Everywhere a fellow turned, there were friendly signs of welcome, bunting and signboards, and kids and old folks—even hotel doormen—wearing baseball caps with big letter A's on them. There were 20 flowered floats and 10 marching bands, dancing drum majorettes and pretty girls in short pants. There were mayors from miles around, Governor Fred Hall of Kansas and Lieutenant Governor James T. Blair Jr. of Missouri. There was Ford Frick, the high commissioner of baseball, Will Harridge, president of the American League, Walter Briggs, president of the opening day enemy, the Detroit Tigers, Del Webb, co-owner of the New York Yankees and late co-owner of the departed Kansas City Blues of the American Association. There was 92-year-old Connie Mack, riding along with a brave half-smile and a faraway look in his tired old eyes.

Transplanted from Philadelphia, where brotherly love had long since turned to ashes, the ballplayers were plainly torn by conflicting emotions. At one moment, they looked as sheepish as the fellow who was mistaken for the returning war hero down at the railroad depot. But in the next moment, some of them appeared to be as recklessly abandoned to the pleasures of the occasion as the farmer's daughter out on a date with a traveling salesman she knows will never be true. Now and again, it seemed that one of the players would surely rise up and blurt to the crowd: "Folks, you're making a mighty big mistake! We ain't nuthin' but the old Philadelphia A's!"

It would not have made any difference to the Kansas City friends. For this day, anyhow, they had nothing but love and affection in their hearts. By the time the parade broke up, the ballplayers seemed to relax a little, but another pleasurable shock was in store for them. They were immediately whisked away to the rebuilt Municipal Stadium, a dazzling spectacle to the young men who had beat their way north through primitive bush-league ball parks and had, many of them, vivid memories of the Spartan accommodations at Connie Mack Stadium back in Philadelphia. They wandered wide-eyed through the grandstand and down onto the field and into the clubhouse with its shiny new showers and lockers. Then, when they had had time to absorb it all, Manager Lou Boudreau spoke to them of baseball matters in gentle and kindly tones as if he feared that, being overwrought, they might suddenly burst into tears.


Meanwhile, in his penthouse suite atop Hotel Muehlebach, Arnold Johnson, tall, handsome, 48-year-old club owner, paced the floor and spoke feelingly of the cowtown's friendly ways.

"I've never seen anything quite like it," Johnson said, shaking his head in wonder. "They wouldn't believe it back in New York. Here there's none of the suspicion and cynicism you find in the big eastern cities. People stop to speak to me in the streets, not as somebody whose picture they've seen in the papers, but just as a newcomer they want to welcome to town."

Johnson, only a few days before, had discovered that Kansas City not only gives its friendship freely, but deals swiftly with anyone who dares to cast aspersions on even the newest of its friends.

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