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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
In December 1953, Johnson entered baseball through a real estate transaction by purchasing the top two playing venues of the perennial champion New York Yankees — Yankee 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. 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
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. 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. 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. 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. However, with virtually no exceptions, the trades were heavily weighted in favor of the Yankees. This made any fans, reporters and even other teams think that Johnson ran the A's as a Yankee farm team at the major league level. Ironically, Kansas City had been home to the Yankees' top farm team for 19 years before the A's came to town.
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. 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.
- Warrington, Robert D. Departure Without Dignity: The Athletics Leave Philadelphia. Society for American Baseball Research, 2010.
- "Arnold Johnson Dead, Owner of Athletics". The Telegraph-Herald. 1960-03-09.