The Louisville A's? How it Almost Happened

June 22, 2018

The Louisville A's? How it Almost Happened

For the first half of the 20th century, Major League Baseball had 16 teams playing in 10 cities in the East and Midwest. As one can deduce from those numbers, several cities had two teams, with New York boasting 3.

After World War II, that began to change, first with the relocation of existing teams and later through expansion. In several of the cities with two clubs, one was clearly more popular than the other. This was the case in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Boston.

The first team with a notion to pull up stakes and seek a greener ballfield was the St. Louis Browns of the American League who were in the shadow of the much more successful and popular Cardinals of the National League. In 1953, owner Bill Veeck wanted to move the team to Milwaukee but was rebuffed by his fellow owners.

Lou Perini, who owned the struggling Boston Braves met no such resistance from his fellow owners in the National League and in March of that same year moved his club to Wisconsin. The following year, the Browns were allowed to move and with Milwaukee already taken, they headed for Baltimore where they became the Orioles.

In Philadelphia, the story was a little different as the American League Athletics (A’s for short) were for many years the dominant team on the field and at the box office. However, in the early ‘50s, there was a reversal of fortunes that saw the National League Phillies become the more popular and talented club, with the A’s spiraling down into near bankruptcy.

In 1955, the A’s were sold and moved to Kansas City. Five years later, the man who purchased the team, Arnold Johnson, passed away. This allowed Charles O. Finley to purchase a controlling interest in the club, gaining full control a year later. While, the relationship between Johnson and Kansas City, both fans and politicians, was a frosty one at best, Finley’s was downright acrimonious. While he poured a lot of money into the team, he immediately began looking to move the club elsewhere, despite reassurances to the contrary. In 1961 he had his eye on the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Other cities on his list included Seattle, New Orleans, and Atlanta. He eventually finagled a deal to move the team to Oakland for the 1968 season. In 1964, though, the team almost moved to Louisville.

In January of 1964, Finley signed a two-year contract with the Commonwealth of Kentucky that would have paved the way for the A’s to play at Fairgrounds Stadium (now the little-used Cardinal Stadium). That facility was the home of the city’s minor league Colonels until the American Association, of which they were members, folded after the 1962 season.

Moving to Louisville would allow the team to keep “KC” on its hats and jerseys as the former Kansas City A’s would become the Kentucky Colonels. Finley’s fellow American League owners quickly put the kibosh on that idea.

One of the reasons cited for blocking the move was Louisville’s population which would have made it the smallest market in Major League Baseball. Oddly, Oakland, the A’s eventual home, had 30,000 fewer residents than Louisville, though a bigger metro area. Of course, a good deal of that metro area was already San Francisco Giants territory. Kansas City meanwhile, between the Missouri and Kansas sides, had a population of 500,000.

Also, even an expanded Cardinal Stadium still would not have been up to the rapidly increasing standards of MLB parks, particularly as newer stadiums were planned and built. In fact, Oakland’s building of the Coliseum likely was the leading factor in Finley finally gaining approval to move his team to California.

Kansas City had proposed a domed stadium (below) in 1965 for both the AFL (soon to be NFL) Chiefs and Athletics, but it never came to fruition. Voters did a approve a two-stadium complex n 1967, but it was too late to sway Finley. The stadium project did help Kansas City land an expansion team that became the Royals.

Kansas City's proposed domed stadium, 1965.

Meanwhile, Louisville was again the bridesmaid. To this day it remains the only city in the U.S. to have lost a Major League Baseball franchise (the Colonels in 1899) never get another one. Montreal, Quebec also holds this distinction as of 2004.

Louisville would get a major league sports team a few years later with the launch of the American Basketball Association (ABA) in 1967. The city’s team was called, somewhat ironically, the Kentucky Colonels and were the league’s most successful franchise. Unfortunately, they were not part of the 1976 merger with the National Basketball Association that brought 4 ABA teams into the established league.

In 2001, Louisville was the runner-up to Memphis as the new home of the relocated NBA Vancouver Grizzlies.






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