Arnold Johnson

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For the American actor, see Arnold Johnson (actor).

Arnold M. Johnson (1906–1960) was an American industrialist, businessman and sportsman, who purchased the Philadelphia Athletics baseball club and moved it to Kansas City, Missouri in the autumn of 1954. He had a son, Jeffery and a daughter, Wendy.

A native of Chicago and graduate of the University of Chicago, Johnson enjoyed a highly successful business career. He was a stockbroker and banker, served on the board of directors of a number of corporations, and invested in the Chicago Black Hawks of the National Hockey League.

Buying, and moving, the Philadelphia Athletics[edit]

In December 1953, Johnson entered baseball through a real estate transaction by purchasing the top two playing venues of the perennial champion New York YankeesYankee Stadium in the Bronx, and Blues Stadium in Kansas City, home of the Yanks' top farm club, the Kansas City Blues. Concurrently, struggling major league baseball teams—especially "second" teams in two-team cities—were abandoning their old homes. Spurred by Kansas City officials, Johnson decided to bring a major league team to town, and found a target in the Philadelphia Athletics.

The Athletics of Connie Mack had once been one of the pillars of the American League, with nine pennants and five World Series wins to their credit; however, the team's chronic failures on the field since the early 1930s and its lack of resources undermined it. In the 1940s, two fatal blows were struck.

First, in 1942, the Phillies of the National League were bought by lumber baron William D. Cox. The Phillies had long been the definition of baseball futility (they had only one winning season from 1918 to 1948), in part because their owners either did not or could not spend the money it took to build a winner. They had played at Shibe Park as tenants of the A's since 1938. When Cox bought the Phillies, he proceeded to spend lavishly on young players, while the A's had no farm system. Cox was forced out after one year for betting on his own team, but ultimately sold the team to DuPont heir Bob Carpenter, Jr., who also spent lavishly on young prospects. Many of these young players helped the once-moribund Phillies win their second-ever National League pennant in 1950. For most of the first half of the 20th century, Philadelphia had been an "A's town," even though the A's had fielded teams as bad or worse than the Phillies for a decade. However, the Phillies soon began outdrawing the A's and soon surpassed them as Philadelphia's favorite team.

Second, a power struggle between two branches of the Mack family—essentially, Roy and Earle, Mack's two sons from his first marriage, were ranged against Connie's second wife and their son from that union, Connie Jr.--resulted in a dangerous depletion of capital. Roy and Earle eventually won the struggle and bought Connie, Jr. out. To do it, however, they mortgaged the team to Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (now part of CIGNA). As the A's languished at the bottom of the standings, attendance dwindled, depriving the team of badly needed revenue that could have serviced the debt. Earlier in the 1950 season, the three brothers persuaded their father to retire as manager at the end of the 1950 season, while remaining team president.[1] However, the mortgage and a series of other bad business decisions soon caught up with them, and by 1954 the once-proud team was close to bankruptcy. The Macks were all but forced to put the team up for sale.

Controversial tenure in Kansas City[edit]

Johnson formally made an offer to buy the A's in August 1954, with the strong support of the Yankees. Under pressure from the other owners, on October 8 Roy Mack, who was now operating head of the team (Connie, Sr. had largely withdrawn from day-to-day control, while Earle was largely indifferent) agreed to sell the team to Johnson no later than October 18. A day before the deadline, however, Roy agreed to an eleventh-hour "save the A's" deal from a group of Philadelphia businessmen. That deal, however, imploded due to rumors (reportedly planted by the Yankees) that it was underfinanced. At the same time, Johnson persuaded Roy Mack that his deal was better in the long run. Finally, he persuaded the Macks to sell him the A's for $3.5 million--$1.5 million for the Macks' stock and $2 million in debt. The deal was approved by American League owners on November 28.[1] In part to resolve the ensuing conflict of interest, he sold Yankee Stadium back to the Yankees as soon as the deal closed. He then sold Blues Stadium to the city, who renamed it Municipal Stadium and almost completely rebuilt it to bring it up to major league standards.

Johnson signed a lease with the city which contained a three-year escape clause. It allowed the A's to break the terms of the lease if attendance dropped below one million. Rumors swirled that Johnson intended to keep the team in Kansas City for only a few years before moving it to Los Angeles. However, those were mooted when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved there.

The team drew 1,393,054 fans in 1955, its first year in Kansas City—the third-highest figure in baseball (behind only the Yankees and Milwaukee Braves) even as they finished in sixth place with a record of 63-91.[2] The A's would never approach their 1955 attendance figures again, in large part due to a team that was barely competitive and never finished with a winning record over thirteen seasons in Kansas City. During Johnson's five years as owner, the Athletics' best record was in 1958, when they finished 73-81, 19 games out of first.

Rumors abounded almost as soon as the ink dried on the purchase that there had been massive collusion between Johnson and the Yankees, especially when the Yankees opted not to force Johnson to pay them an indemnity for moving the Blues to Denver. Under major-league rules of the time, the Yankees held the major-league rights to Kansas City.[1] The rumors appeared to be confirmed by a series of deals between the Yankees and Athletics over the next five years. Invariably, any good young player was traded to the Yankees for aging veterans and cash. Over the years, Johnson would trade such key players as Roger Maris, Bobby Shantz, Héctor López, Clete Boyer, Art Ditmar and Ralph Terry to the Yankees. In return, he did receive some talented younger players such as Norm Siebern and Jerry Lumpe, and the cash helped the team pay the bills. There has been a tendency by some researchers to assume that these trades were heavily weighted in favor of the Yankees. Indeed there likely was an overly cozy relationship between the two teams that led to some questionable deals. Many fans, reporters and even other teams perceived that Johnson ran the A's as a Yankee farm team at the major league level. However, close scrutiny of the evidence that the Yankees exploited Kansas City and profited at Kansas City's expense during Johnson's tenure brings such notions into question. For example, careful analysis of the oft-referenced acquisitions by the Yankees of Roger Maris, Bobby Shantz, Héctor López, Clete Boyer, Art Ditmar and Ralph Terry reasonably can be interpreted differently. Bobby Shantz was coming off 4 horrific years. Shantz himself is quoted in print [source needed] as saying that he wasn't confident he'd ever be able to pitch effectively again at the time of the trade. Hector Lopez was coming off four fine seasons in Kansas City; he only had one season with the Yankees - 1959, when they finished 3rd - that could be considered on a par with his production in Kansas City. Clete Boyer was widely perceived to be a superb defensive infielder. But whether or not he could hold down a spot in the lineup based on his hitting was unknown. In less than two full seasons - and no minor league experience - Boyer had a BA below .220, an OBP of about .275, an SLG of about .270, and an OPS+ of about 50. He had one homerun in 226 plate appearances. Ralph Terry was a promising young pitcher whom the Yankees signed and gave up on after two seasons and sent to Kansas City for, basically, Ryne Duren and two other players who contributed negligibly to the Yankees. (One of those players, Harry Simpson, had some productive days with Kansas City, but he contributed little to the Yankees in two highly abbreviated seasons.) The Yankees got two excellent seasons out of Duren - one of which was 1959. Meanwhile, they gave up Billy Martin and Woody Held in order to get Duren. At the time, few anticipated that Martin was in decline, and Held had a big future ahead of him. Art Ditmar was mediocre with Kansas City. He did rather well with the Yankees. Many otherwise journeymen pitchers did well with the Yankees, and it can be argued that the Yankees' offense and the superb handling of pitchers by the Yankees' elite catching corps of Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Ralph Houk, and Charlie Silvera, helped greatly to elevate their game.

The Roger Maris and Ralph Terry cases deserve additional analysis as well. Terry's performance in Kansas City was mediocre, and his performance with the Yankees his first season back with them was even worse. Maris looked like at least a three tool player. He could field and throw with anyone and he had some pop. But he already had been traded once before and his best power season was split between Cleveland and Kansas City. At that, he had topped out at 28, and didn't come close to that in Kansas City, where it appears that he was platooned a good bit against lefties. His most promising year was indeed the year he was eventually traded, when he seemed like he might be taking his game to another level with a .273/.359/.464 line, 16 homers, and a 120 OPS+. His strikeout totals were fairly low also, which should have been seen as encouraging. But it is improbable that anyone within Yankees management could have predicted that Maris would explode to consecutive OPS+ seasons of 160, 167, 126, 146, 127, and 126 and average almost 32 homers a season over those six seasons. For basically Maris, the Yankees sent Hank Bauer, Don Larsen, Norm Siebern, and Marv Throneberry to Kansas City. Clearly Siebern was the key to that deal, and it could be argued that in his two full seasons with the Yankees he looked about as promising as Maris did with the As. He was a good fielder who managed double-digits in homers both seasons and had a substantially better batting average than Maris. He also had a world series ring. Siebern finished 7th overall in MVP voting in 1962 with a superb season, much better than Maris in 1962. He was 14th in MVP voting in 1961, and he was an all-star three years in a row, 1962-1964. The Yankees might not have won every pennant between 1960 and 1964 with Siebern in place of Maris, but it's equally improbable that they would have no pennants during that time. One also can't rule out some other deal by the Yankees for an outfielder in lieu of the Maris deal, which could have led to five pennants - or no pennants. Most probable is that the Yankees thought Maris could give them about ten homers more than Siebern a year and that made the trade worth it in their eyes. But the opportunity to bat in front of Mickey Mantle, which didn't become a fixed notion in the mind of manager Ralph Houk until the 1961 season was well underway, created a significant new challenge to which opposing pitchers would have to adjust. Maris, a low-strikeout batter, did not have a single intentional walk in 1961; thus he likely saw better pitches to hit batting directly in front of Mantle than in any other slot in the batting order. It cannot be ruled out that Siebern also would have experienced an extraordinary homerun surge for a few seasons, as Maris did, batting directly in front of Mantle, before league pitchers found ways to adjust. In summary, there are no compelling data that the Yankees dynasty of the 50s, or of the 60s, was built on the special relationship in which the two teams admittedly indulged during the 1955-1959 seasons.

In March 1960, Johnson was returning from watching the Athletics in spring training when he was fatally stricken with a cerebral hemorrhage. He died in West Palm Beach, Florida on March 3 at the age of 53.[3] Later that season, his estate would sell its controlling interest in the team to Charles O. Finley, who would put an end to the A's being effectively a "farm club" of the Yankees, and would eventually move the A's to Oakland and assemble a dynasty there in the early 1970s.