—W.C. Fields on missing his destination in "International House"
I'm going to Kansas City
Coming to get my baby back home
Well, it's a long, long, time
Since my baby's been gone
—"Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!", the Beatles' version of the Little Richard classic.
From 1936-54 Kansas City was a top minor-league team for the New York Yankee organization. The Blues won four regular season titles and two postseason ones in 1952-53.
Starting in 1955, Kansas City was again a major-league city, returning to the majors after a forty-year hiatus. Arnold Johnson had purchase the moribund Philadelphia Athletics from Connie Mack's sons and shifted them out west. However, the KC A's were far from a major-league organization. As Glenn Stout put it in Yankees Century, they were the Yankees' "triple-A farm team masquerading as the Kansas City Athletics of the American League."
Johnson was "a Chicago real estate man and a buddy of both Dan Topping's and George Weiss's. In 1953 they'd sold Yankee stadium to Johnson and his brother, then leased it back. Johnson moved the A's to Kansas City after Topping magnanimously sold him the rights to Kansas City and moved the Yankees' triple-A team to Denver." (Stout)
The Yankees-A's relationship harkened back to the early days of the American League when players were shifted about to solidify big-city franchises, or even earlier to when syndicate ownership would allow one team to divest its partner team of all its talent and sent franchises like the Cleveland Spiders and Louisville Colonels the way of the dodo.
The Yankees would dredge the A's system for talented young players like Clete Boyer, Roger Maris, and Bobby Shantz. In return the A's would receive various and sundry players that no longer held the Yankees' fancy. The Yankees would send quantity for quality (three-for-ones or five-for-twos) like in some primordial fantasy league. They also sent players out to KC for more seasoning and then recall them when they were ready to contribute at the Yankees' level of play (like Ralph Terry). Future Hall of Famer Enos Country Slaughter was exiled to KC when he started 1955 slowly and didn't return until the next season.
All this made for a number of extra roster moves, mulligans, for the Yankees. Or as Weiss's assistant, Lee MacPhail explained, "We've got too many big leaguers and had to cut down. And we were not going to let them go for the $10,000 waiver price."
The result for the A's was thirteen consecutive losing seasons. Actually, Bill James, boyhood KC A's fan he, in his 1986 Abstract looked even deeper and found that the A's had a losing record in 69 of the 78 months (excluding October) that they spent in Kansas City. "The best month that the A's ever had in Kansas City was July of 1959; they started that month 9 games out of first place, and finished 9 1/2 out. By the end of August, one month later, they would be 21 behind."
As James explains, "The pinstripe pipeline rubbed the city at a raw spot, the rawest spot Johnson could have found. With every KC/New York trade the protests grew louder, the bitterness in them grew sharper." Their trade history was "enough to convict Arnold Johnson in almost any court, but it should be noted that the A's farm system in these years produced very little talent—maybe 2 or 3 players of quality. He had to try to come up with young players from somewhere. Unfortunately, what he tried didn't work."
After Johnson died, the A's were sold to Charlie O. Finley at the end of 1960. Aside from various uniform changes (from "Athletics" back to "A"s on the shirt fronts, from blue and white to red-white-and-blue unis to the green-and-yellow we know today), Finley would abandon dealing with the Yankees. After trading Bud Daley, James explains, "the public was outraged. Finley and his new General Manager, Frank Lane, promised the Kansas City public that there would be no more Yankee trades."
In 1968, the A's shuffled off to greener pastures in Oakland. After 18 straight losing seasons, five in Philly and 13 in KC, they registered their first winning season in their first year in Oakland and went nine straight years without another losing season, during which they won three World Series and five division crowns.
Now, that's the legend and legacy of the Kansas City A's. And given that, I expected to find any number of lopsided KC-to-Yankee trades in my previous research When I not only found no lopsided trades, but rather found one (i.e., for Jerry Lumpe) listed among the most even ever, I was considerably nonplussed.
Interstitial Trade Value
Then it occurred to me that these trades cannot be viewed like other trades. I have evaluated transactions throughout this series based on a point-in-time approach. The trade is made independent of what transactions those some players may be involved in in the future. The GM makes the transaction given the previous performance of the players involved as well as his expectations for their performance. Whether he guessed right can be evaluated from the post-transaction performance, which I measured in Win Shares (WS Above Baseline, actually).
However, a nexus is built up based on this transaction and its subsequent transactions, each of which have attendant expectations and realities. Sometimes an acquired player who is expected to perform at a certain level does not do so until he has been subsequently traded. I have decided to treat each transaction separately and have evaluated them accordingly.
Therefore, I rated the Glenn Davis for Curt Schilling, Steve Finley, and Pete Harnisch trade as the second-most lopsided ever even though the Astros didn't get that much directly from the trade. Harnisch, the least valuable overall of the three, was the most productive in Houston. Finley was traded before he developed into a power hitter, and Schilling spent just one year in the bullpen.
My response to that is a) the Astros should not be penalized for future poor transactions when one good trade is being evaluated and b) that way leads only madness…I'll explain. If in evaluating transactions, one follows each of those transactions to the bitter end, a nexus of interconnected transactions over years will be created, and subsequent mess will defy explanation. Never mind that team management and ownership, not to mention team performance, needs, and surfeits may change over the course of this interconnected evaluation. The whole idea that a trade is made at a point in time is lost. If a team expects a certain level of performance from a player within five years and when he does not meet those expectations, the team subsequently trades him, they do so with the knowledge of what he has done over those five years. To connect the second trade to the first is to assume that the team knew how the player would perform in between those two trades.
For everyone who's complained about my point-in-time approach to trades, that's the best explanation that I have. I stand behind it even if I can’t explain it well.
However, in the case of the Yankees and KC A's transactions, one cannot evaluate them as a point in time because that was not apparently how they were approached by the teams involved. The Yankees sent a player to A's with the knowledge that the player could be re-acquired if needed later.
So how can one evaluate these trades and avoid the madness I mentioned earlier? My solution is to use interstitial trade values, that is the value that each team derived directly from the trade, prior to any subsequent transaction for the given players.