Wednesday, August 14, 2019

KANSAS CITY VS. OAKLAND :: Matthew C. Ehrlich

As a young sports junkie born and raised in the Bay Area of California with some roots in Kansas, I grew up with Oakland and Kansas City baseball and football. While I had a sense of the rivalry when it came to athletics, I remained mostly clueless as to the real history and depth of the two cities' connections until I read Matthew Ehrlich's Kansas City vs. Oakland: The Bitter Sports Rivalry That Defined an Era. An in-depth look at the franchises and the cities that support (and sometimes don't support) them, Kansas City vs. Oakland is recommended for anyone who is a fan of either team, lives in the surrounding areas, or has an interest in the impact of sports on a city (and vice versa).

I find the history of sports franchises fascinating in general, but you'd be hard-pressed to find an ownership foursome more colorful and intriguing than Charles O. Finley (owner of the Kansas City A's who moved them to Oakland--and named the mascot after himself), Al Davis (owner/GM of the Raiders), Lamar Hunt (owner of the Chiefs and a founder of the AFL), and Ewing Kauffman (who established/owned the Royals and brought baseball back to KC).

Ehrlich charts the rise and fall of each team through the years from dream to fruition to present day, along with the rises, falls and championships along the way. Views of sportswriters, broadcasters and social figures of the times add insight, and the interplay of the teams and cities with stadium building, political strife, race, economic turbulence, and fandom evidences the many layers of impact sports have had on both locales.

Ehrlich organizes the book in chronological sections alternating between baseball and football in each chosen period of time. With the addition of the stories of the two cities, I sometimes found myself wishing there was just one chronology for each team. However, with the interplay and rivalry factors, along with some of the city and cultural parallels, I think Ehrlich made the right call on organization when he had so much information to present and relationships to mine.

STREET SENSE: A detailed history of two cities and the sports teams that helped define them. Recommended for fans of sport and its impact on culture and urban "progress."

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: The Oakland Coliseum was different. In the fond words of the Raiders' Ken Stabler, it was a "little ol' bullring filled with blue-collar crazies" consisting of "everyone from bikers to longshoremen." Rather than sip cocktails, Raiders fans "drank out of the same bottle," according to one fan: "And when they were done, they threw it at somebody."

Also: "Holy Toledo!" (Because there was no one better than the great Bill King.)

COVER NERD SAYS:  I don't want to be too hard on this cover, because I don't expect a University Press to have a huge art and marketing budget and there's really nothing wrong with it. When I see it, I'm confident in what it's about. The colors, fonts and image have good interplay. The subtitle in a standout color gives it an added boost. But the book packs more punch than the cover might indicate. There's not much to separate this look from the many sports books or fantasy magazines on the shelves. It's a solid cover that lacks a little emotional oomph.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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