KC Royals Rewind: The old ballpark says goodbye
The KC Royals played their first four seasons at Kansas City’s old Municipal Stadium. The venerable park gave its baseball tenants one more win in the final game played there.
If you’ve never been there, and are a fan of the KC Royals, stop and spend a few minutes sometime at the intersection of 22nd Street and Brooklyn Avenue in Kansas City. Look around. Listen to the sounds.
Things there aren’t much different, really, than any other neighborhood. Houses, streets, cars, people, and their attendant noises are all present.
It used to be different, though, but that was a long time ago. There were houses, streets, cars, people, and their attendant noises…and something else.
Everyone knew “22nd and Brooklyn” was synonymous with the place, Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium, home to professional baseball for decades. Before the Royals were tenants, the park hosted the Blues and Monarchs; I got to know Municipal during my many trips there to see the Athletics, who occupied the park after the Blues and Monarchs and before the Royals.
During a visit to the intersection some years ago, I saw in my mind’s eye the beautiful emerald field, the scoreboard the A’s salvaged from Boston’s old Braves Field after the Braves left it behind when they abandoned Boston for Milwaukee, and the stands that made the venue seem so huge to a young boy beginning his love affair with baseball.
I could hear the crack of the bat. I could smell the popcorn and hot dogs. I listened for the cry to “Play Ball!”
I read the plaque commemorating the home of my favorite team, the A’s, and the first home of the KC Royals when they became my favorite. Municipal stood empty for a year after the A’s moved to Oakland, then empty again after the Royals moved in 1973 to their new and present digs a few miles east. Sadly, the old park kept its appointment with the wrecking ball in 1976.
Municipal hosted its last game on a mild fall evening in 1972. It was Wednesday, Oct. 4; today, the notion of a season ending any time not a Sunday afternoon seems strange, but the business of baseball was a bit different then. It was a school night, so the fact not many turned out to bid the venerable old place farewell (7,329 paid) isn’t surprising.
The Royals were 75-78 going into their 154th and final game of the season; a players’ strike wiped out the first several games. Had those contests been made up, KC might have claimed its second straight—and second ever—winning season. The visiting Texas Rangers were 54-99.
As soon as it began, the contest became the last professional appearance of Texas manager Ted Williams, who’d retired as probably the best hitter ever over 20 years before. (Future Royals manager Whitey Herzog succeeded him but didn’t last a season with the Rangers). And it was the final time Royals pitchers would be required to bat–the DH debuted in 1973.
That evening’s first base umpire went relatively unnoticed. But Don Denkinger became famous 13 years later when he worked the first base bag at Royals Stadium in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series.
Appropriately, Municipal’s finale ended with a 4-0 KC win. Roger Nelson, an original Royal and the team’s first selection in the 1968 expansion draft, hurled a masterful two-hit shutout. Ted Ford, a career .219 hitter having the best season of his short four-year career (he clubbed 14 of his 17 career homers and hit a career-high .235) singled in the second and seventh innings to prevent Nelson from closing Municipal with a no-hitter.
Scattered throughout Kansas City’s starting lineup were future keys to the superior Royal clubs of the mid and late-1990s: Amos Otis played center field, John Mayberry was at first and Freddie Patek played shortstop.
Lou Piniella, playing his next-to-last season with the KC Royals, went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and scored the only run the winners needed on Paul Schaal’s infield single in the second. Schaal, Ed Kirkpatrick and Steve Hovley all matched Piniella’s two hits.
Kirkpatrick’s eighth-inning single was the last hit the park saw.
Ironically, Ford made the last out.
Nelson finished 11-6, his best record in a nine-year career. The KC Royals traded him and Richie Scheinblum to the Reds a few weeks later for a young Hal McRae (and Wayne Simpson). Nelson returned to Kansas City in 1974 to finish his career.
McRae became an excellent hitter, later managed the Royals and is in the club’s Hall of Fame. Otis, Patek and Mayberry are also there, along with Cookie Rojas, Steve Busby and Paul Splittorff, who played for KC in Municipal Stadium’s final season.
So, too, is George Toma, the groundskeeping genius who made and kept Municipal’s field so immaculate and beautiful.
I can still see it.
The KC Royals played at Municipal Stadium until Royals (now Kauffman) Stadium was ready. But for many, the old ballpark will never be gone.