Sixty years ago, A's play last home game in Philadelphia

Having fallen on hard times, team moved to Kansas City after 1954 season

Sixty years ago, A's play last home game in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Athletics finished their dismal fling at Connie Mack Stadium yesterday as the New York Yankees rallied in the eighth inning to post a 4-2 victory.

The story in the Philadelphia Inquirer chronicling that Sept. 19, 1954, game went on to describe the setting as a "dreary afternoon." It didn't specify whether that was a reference to the weather -- foggy and wet -- or the sparse crowd of 1,715 or the fact that the A's were solidly in last place. The team would eventually lose 103 games and finish 60 games out of first.

There was also no mention of the possibility that it might have been the last time the Athletics played a home game in Philadelphia, their base since becoming a charter member of the American League in 1901.

But it was. Exactly 60 years ago Friday, the team departed the corner of 21st and Lehigh for the train that would take them to play the Boston Red Sox, beginning a season-ending road trip.

They never returned.

After the season, the team was sold to Chicago businessman Arnold Johnson, who promptly moved it to Kansas City. The team relocated again when new owner Charlie Finley took the franchise to Oakland following the 1967 season.

Which sets up one of those neat coincidences that make baseball so much fun. Tonight, six decades to the day after what turned out to be a more significant nine innings than many realized at the time, the Athletics will reconnect with their roots when they open a series against the Phillies at O.co Coliseum.

It's a little surprising that more wasn't made at the time, back in 1954, about the chance that Philadelphia might soon become a one-team town. In June, Earle and Roy Mack, sons of elderly family patriarch Connie Mack, who had managed the A's for its first 50 seasons, had informed Mayor Joseph Clark that they would have to sell the team unless attendance jumped dramatically. A sale might mean the franchise would move, they warned.

The threat did nothing to improve the gate. Even though the A's were historically more successful, the 1950 "Whiz Kids" Phils had captured the imagination of the city and the National League team was still basking in the afterglow. In the end, just 305,000 people passed through the turnstiles at Connie Mack Stadium to watch the Athletics that season.

A "Save the A's" committee was formed, but the public didn't rally behind the effort. And there was friction in the front office as well. Connie Mack was 91 years old and largely a figurehead. Roy wanted to raise the money to buy out his father and brother and become team president. Earle was content to cash out and walk away from baseball.

On Aug. 3, Johnson made a formal bid to buy the A's, offering between $4 million and $4.5 million with the stated intention of moving the team. Three days later, local businessman Harry Sylk, president of Philadelphia's Sun Ray Drug Co., made a counter offer to keep the team in the city. Backroom intrigue ensued.

The first AL meeting was held on Sept. 28 in New York, but no vote was taken. A second meeting was called for Chicago on October 12. The powerful Yankees pushed for approval of the sale to Johnson, with whom they had a business relationship; he owned Yankee Stadium. The motion passed. But in a dramatic twist, just before the deal with Johnson was to be finalized, the Macks signed papers to sell to a local group headed by auto dealer John P. Crisconi.

Johnson threatened legal action against the syndicate. Another league meeting was called for October 28 in New York. That gave Johnson time to lobby the Mack family. On November 4, he got a signed commitment from Connie, Roy and Earle. Finally, on November 18 in New York, the AL owners voted unanimously to approve the sale of the A's to Johnson and 6-2 to allow the transfer of the team to Kansas City.

That was the backdrop against which the Athletics played that day. It was, at least, a decent game. Art Ditmar started for Philadelphia and pitched five scoreless innings with the help of a great running catch by right fielder Vic Power, who made a spectacular catch of a Mickey Mantle line drive.

The A's broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the fifth on a two-run single by second baseman Pete Suder. But Gil McDougald's three-run homer off Moe Burtschy in the eighth keyed a four-run rally to give the Yanks the win. Jim Konstanty -- who won the NL MVP Award for the Phillies in 1950 when he appeared in 74 games and pitched 152 relief innings -- got the last six outs for the save.

Now the Athletics have played longer outside of Philadelphia than in the city where it all started. But those roots haven't been completely forgotten. In 1902, New York Giants manager John McGraw contemptuously dismissed the A's as "White Elephants." Connie Mack defiantly adopted the image as the team insignia ... and went on to win the pennant.

And when the Oakland Athletics take the field Friday night, they'll be wearing a replica White Elephant logo on the left sleeve of their uniform tops, just as they have since 1988.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.