Tommy Lasorda was born September 22, 1927. He was a hardcore baseball lifer, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954 and 1955 and for the Kansas City Athletics in 1956. After retiring from playing, Lasorda worked as a scout for the Dodgers and eventually worked his way into coaching. He coached for the Dodgers from 1973 through 1976 before taking over as manager of the club. Lasorda led the Dodgers to four NL pennants and two World Series championships during his tenure. Upon retiring from the managerial position in 1996, he continued to work for the Dodgers in a variety of roles for the rest of his life.
Lasorda was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 as a manager in his first year of eligibility. He died January 7, 2021 from a cardiopulmonary arrest in Fullerton, California at the age of 93.
Rest in peace.
Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri first opened as Royals Stadium on April 10, 1973. Construction for the stadium began in June 1967, when a $102 million bond was issued by Jackson County for construction of two sports stadiums. One of those stadiums was for the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League. The other stadium, meanwhile, was intended for the Kansas City Athletics.
The Philadelphia Athletics, owned by Arnold Johnson, had moved to Kansas City in 1955, bringing Major League baseball to the city for the first time. The Athletics moved into Kansas City Municipal Stadium, a facility originally built in 1923, which was then rebuilt and expanded for the A’s. Johnson passed away in March 1960, and on December 19, 1960, Charles Finely purchased a controlling interest in the Kansas City Athletics from Johnson’s estate.
In the early 1960s, Finely began looking to move the team to a new city. In an effort to keep the Athletics in Kansas City, the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority was established to oversee construction and funding for a new sports complex for the A’s and the Chiefs, who also shared Municipal Stadium. Original plans called for a multipurpose stadium, but these were scrapped due to design and seating capacity issues. Going against the trend in other cities that were building multipurpose stadiums at the time, the county decided to build two new stadiums, one for the A’s and one for the Chiefs.
Charles Finely, however, did not want to wait for the construction of a new stadium, and in October 1967, Finely took the A’s to Oakland, California, where a new multipurpose stadium had just been erected. After the move, United States Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri threatened to press for the revocation of baseball’s anti-trust exemption if they did not give Kansas City a new team. The MLB responded by hastily granting expansion franchises to four cities, including a Kansas City team owned by a local pharmaceutical magnate, Ewing Kauffman. The new teams were scheduled to start playing in 1971.
However, pressure from Symington and other officials prompted the MLB to allow the expansion franchises to begin playing in 1969. The new club in Kansas City was named the Royals, and they played their first four seasons in Municipal Stadium. Meanwhile, construction on the Truman Sports Complex, including the Royals’ new stadium and the Chiefs’ facility, Arrowhead Stadium, began on July 11, 1968. The Royals played their first game in their new ballpark, originally named Royals Stadium, on April 10, 1973 against the Texas Rangers.
Royals Stadium was the American League’s first ballpark with Astroturf as the playing surface. It held 40,793 seats, which all faced second base and were arranged in three tiers featuring maroon, gold, and orange seats. The stadium’s most unique feature, however, was the display of fountains and a waterfall beyond the outfield fence. Stretching horizontally for 322 feet, it remains the largest privately-funded fountain in the world. The fountains are on display before and after the game and in-between innings, while the waterfalls are constantly flowing. A twelve-story scoreboard, in the shape of the Royals’ crest, was placed beyond the center field fence.
In 1993, the stadium was renamed in honor of Ewing Kauffman. Two years later, the Astroturf was replaced with grass. Then, after the 1998 season, Kauffman Stadium was given a full makeover. The renovation included the addition of Crown Seats, Dugout Suites, new clubhouses, and an exclusive restaurant and lounge known as the Crown Club. All of the formerly-brightly-colored seats in the stadium were replaced with blue seats.
Then, on April 4, 2006, Jackson County, Missouri voters approved a 0.375% sales tax increase to fund plans to renovate the Truman Sports Complex, including a $256 million renovation of Kauffman Stadium. Along with this, the Royals committed to a lease that will keep them in Kansas City until 2030. The renovation included a reduction of capacity to 37,903, a new high-definition scoreboard in center field (known as “Crown Vision”), new bullpens perpendicular to the field, expansion of the seating in the Crown Club and Dugout Suites, and new fountain view terrace seats in the outfield. New fan attractions included a kids’ area known as “the Little K” and a new Royals Hall of Fame in left field.
Four statues stand in the outfield concourse behind the fountains. Three of the statues are located in right field (featuring George Brett, Dick Howser and Frank White, all of whom have had their numbers retired by the Royals), and in left field is the former Royals owner Ewing Kauffman and his wife Muriel.
Most baseball fans are familiar with the name Roger Maris. Those who paid any attention to the home run race of 1998 definitely have a familiarity with the name, because from 1961 until 1998, Roger Maris held Major League Baseball’s single-season home run record.
Roger Eugene Maras was born on September 10, 1934 in Hibbing, Minnesota, the son of Rudolph S. “Rudy” and Corrine Maras (Roger would later change his last name to “Maris”). Roger also had a brother, Rudy, Jr., who was older by a year. In 1942, the Maras family moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota, then onto Fargo, North Dakota in 1946.
Maris attended Shanley High School in Fargo, and he met his future wife, Patricia, during his sophomore year. Roger and Rudy Maras, Jr. both competed in sports throughout high school, including track and football. During the summers, they participated in American Legion baseball, and in 1950, Roger led his North Dakota legion team to the state championship. Roger was also a standout football player and was even recruited to play for the University of Oklahoma. Though he initially planned to attend Oklahoma, he
changed his mind in favor of staying close to his brother, who had been diagnosed with polio. Maris instead decided to pursue a baseball career, and at the age of 18, he signed with the Cleveland Indians, starting out with their Fargo farm team.
After a few years in the minors, Maris made his Major League debut on April 16, 1957 playing outfield for the Indians. Halfway through the 1958 season, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics. He recorded 28 home runs during the 1958 season, then in 1959, he represented the A’s in the All-Star game. However, he missed 45 games during the 1959 season due to an appendix operation and only hit 16 home runs.
In December 1959, Maris was traded to the New York Yankees, along with Kent Hadley and Joe DeMaestri. In the 1960 season, Maris hit 39 home runs, which was a career high for him at that time, and led the American League with 112 RBIs. He again played in the All-Star game, and the Yankees won the American League pennant. However, New York lost the World Series in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Maris won the Gold Glove award and was also named the American League’s Most Valuable Player.
In 1961, Major League Baseball extended its season from 154 to 162 games. When the season started, Maris started out slow, but he hit 11 home runs in the month of May and another 15 in June, putting him on pace to reach the single-season record of 60 set by the Babe Ruth in 1927. As mid-season approached, it seemed wholly possible that either Maris or fellow Yankee Mickey Mantle, if not both, would break Ruth’s home run record. The media focused intensely on the home run chase, fabricating a rivalry between Maris and Mantle that didn’t actually exist.
Very much an introvert, Maris grew weary of having to talk about the record with reporters day in and day out, and his hair started falling out due to increasing pressure. To make matters worse, as the season progressed, there was much discussion as to what would happen if Maris couldn’t break the record within 154 games, some going so far as to say the record didn’t count if Maris couldn’t do it within those 154 games as Ruth did. The popular belief that an asterisk would be placed on Maris’s record if achieved after 154 games, however, was urban legend.
Maris wound up with 59 home runs during that allotted 154-game time frame, and then Maris tied Ruth in game 159. He hit his 61st homer on the last day of the season. From then, until 1991, Ruth and Maris were acknowledged separately in the record books, just not with an asterisk. Maris also led the AL with 141 RBIs and 132 runs scored in 1961, winning the American League’s Most Valuable Player award once again. The Yankees went on to win the World Series over the Cincinnati Reds, four games to one.
In 1962, Maris compiled 33 home runs and 100 RBIs and he was named to the All-Star team for the fourth consecutive year. The Yankees repeated as World Series champs, this time defeating the San Francisco Giants, four games to three. In 1963, Maris played in only 90 games, hitting 23 home runs. He also missed much of the World Series due to injury. In 1964, Maris made a bit of a comeback, appearing in 141 games and batting .281 with 26 home runs. His play continued to decline after that season, however, and in 1966, the Yankees traded Maris to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Maris played his final two seasons with the Cardinals, helping them to win the 1967 and 1968 pennants. While the Cardinals won the 1967 World Series, they lost a very close 1968 Series, four games to three, to the Detroit Tigers. Maris retired from baseball after that season.
His playing days behind him, Maris and his brother owned and operated Maris Distributing, a Budweiser beer distributorship in Gainesville, Florida. Maris also coached baseball at Gainesville’s Oak Hall High School, which named its baseball field after him in 1990. On July 21, 1984, his jersey number 9 was permanently retired by the Yankees, and that same year, the Roger Maris Museum was opened in the West Acres Mall in Fargo.
In 1983, Maris was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He died from the disease in Houston, Texas, on December 14, 1985. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fargo, North Dakota.
The Seventh Inning of Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns takes us into the 1950s in America. Subtitled “The Capital of Baseball,” this installment of the documentary revolves primarily around New York City and the three teams who dominated the baseball world during this decade: the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. For ten straight years (1947-1956) a local team always played in the World Series, and a local team won nearly all of them as well.
It was certainly a great decade for the Yankees under manager Casey Stengel. With Mickey Mantle in the outfield and Yogi Berra behind the plate, the Yankees were as dominant as ever. The way Roger Angell describes the atmosphere in New York during this period, where everything seemed to revolve around baseball, makes me wish this type of world would come back into existence. “Stengelese” became a thing, though I like how the discussion also revolves around Stengel’s baseball intelligence. Similarly, while Yogi Berra remains most commonly known for “Yogi-isms,” he was also a phenomenal ballplayer. After all, you don’t get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame just for speaking amusing phrases.
Jackie Robinson, released from his three-year vow of silence with Branch Rickey, began lashing out against those who slighted him. It’s an understandable reaction, especially considering how long he had to go without answering the racism he faced. His play just grew better with his anger, leading the Dodgers to some great seasons, including a World Series championship in 1955.
We get to watch the Giants’ Bobby Thomson’s ever-popular “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” during the 1951 playoffs against the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was an event that ignited a tremendous amount of excitement not only at the Polo Grounds, but also in fans’ homes as the game was televised across the country. I always get a kick out of hearing Russ Hodges’s excited screaming, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”
A good portion of the disc was devoted to Mickey Mantle, who essentially took Joe DiMaggio’s place with the Yankees. The attention he receives is well-deserved, as is the attention to his struggles with injury and his tendency to stay up all night partying. Given how well he was able to play in spite of being hurt much of the time, one can’t help but wonder what Mantle would have accomplished had he been healthy. Sadly, we’ll never know. Mantle himself doesn’t even touch on the subject in his own discussions of his playing days on the documentary.
While the breaking of the color barrier by Jackie Robinson in 1947 was undeniably a great thing for baseball, it did have an unfortunate downside. Attendance at Negro Leagues games fell as black fans flocked to watch Robinson and those who followed him play in the major leagues. On the positive side, players including Willie Mays, Curt Flood, Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron became stars in Robinson’s wake. We get to watch Willie Mays make “The Catch,” a play that seemed impossible until he pulled it off.
The other unfortunate events, besides the end of the Negro Leagues, that we see during this decade involved the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants to the west coast. In the case of the Dodgers, the move took place in 1957, not long after the team finally managed to win a World Series, which made the move all the more heartbreaking for its fans. The Dodgers’ last ever World Series in 1956 saw them lose to the Yankees in a Series that involved Don Larsen’s perfect game. These moves were great news for Californians, of course, but Dodgers and Giants fans left behind in New York found themselves at a loss. Brooklyn and the Giants weren’t the only teams that moved during this period. The Philadelphia A’s moved to Kansas City, and the St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles.
The subtitle for this Inning, “The Capital of Baseball,” proved itself undeniably fitting. We love to think of baseball as a game and a pastime, but in the case of professional leagues especially, it is first and foremost a business. Bill Veeck’s promotional stunt of sending Eddie Gaedel to the plate is one of many displays of the importance of commercialism in baseball. It makes for a hard reality check when your league is forced to fold or your favorite team moves to an entirely new city, and in the present day, we experience a number of miniature heartbreaks any time an impactful player becomes a free agent and moves on to other teams.
Ewing Kauffman became the owner of the new American League franchise in Kansas City on January 11, 1968. The franchise was eventually known as the Royals. With the departure of the A’s for Oakland, the pharmaceutical entrepreneur became a key force in bringing a lasting MLB club to KC.
After he lost his pinky toe in a hunting accident, several teams gave up on the race to sign North Carolina high school pitcher Jim Hunter. The Kansas City Athletics, however, signed Hunter for $75,000 on June 8, 1964. Club owner Charlie O. Finley gave him the nickname “Catfish” because he felt the nineteen-year-old needed a flashy nickname. He went on to become a member of five World Series championship teams and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.