When I saw the cover of this book on NetGalley, I thought this would be about one of the best football rivalries from the 1970’s. While that was a good portion of the book, it was much more than just the Chiefs vs. the Raiders - a great book on the two cities as well as their football and baseball teams. Here is my review of “Kansas City vs. Oakland.”
“Kansas City vs. Oakland: The Bitter Sports Rivalry That Defined an Era” by Matthew C. Ehrlich
Baseball, Football (American), professional, politics, Raiders, Chiefs, Athletics, Royals
September 16, 2019
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
One of the best professional football rivalries from the 1960’s through the 1970’s was the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders. While their rivalry was the most notorious and visible, that was certainly not the only rivalry or sports connection the two cities had. There was a bitter history between the two cities in baseball as well and how these two sports connect with the local politics of both cities is told in this excellent book by Matthew C. Ehrlic.
While the book is geared more toward readers who prefer scholarly works, the narrative is not like that format at all - indeed, it is a quick and easy read that all readers will easily digest. Ehrlic explains what each chapter will encompass in the introduction and there are plenty of endnotes to illustrate the extensive research he performed about not only the sports teams but the civic atmosphere in both Kansas City and in Oakland.
The coverage of the rise of the rivalry and also the fortunes of both football teams is very good, with most of the detailed passages describing games between the two teams. Both the Chiefs and Raiders were considered to be the model franchises for the upstart American Football League and both represented the league in the first two Super Bowls, losing to the Green Bay Packers in both. What really stood out in the chapters about these football teams was the fact that both of them had shaky beginnings in the AFL and nearly didn’t exist. Oakland was awarded a team only after Minneapolis broke its promise to the league and instead accepted an NFL expansion team (who became the Vikings) and Kansas City got the Chiefs only because Lamar Hunt had experienced poor attendance and financial difficulties in Dallas after that city was awarded an NFL expansion team, the Cowboys. After such inauspicious debuts, it was interesting to read about how both franchises rose to success.
As for the baseball, the early connection between the two cities is more familiar as Kansas City was home to the Athletics in the American League. In 1968, after a very acrimonious relationship between the city and A’s owner Charley Finley, the team moved to Oakland, where after the very brief honeymoon between that city and the team was over, the same type of attendance and financial problems still were present. This was the state of the franchise even though the team won three consecutive World Series from 1972 to 1974, with players who were signed by Finley while still in Kansas City. That city was awarded an expansion franchise in 1969 to offset the loss of the A’s and while that team, the Royals, experienced the usual growing pains associated with expansion teams, they too became a good ball club and soon were battling Oakland for the Western Division title in the American League every year.
However, what really makes the book a fantastic read is how all four teams are connected to the civic and political issues of those times for both of the cities. Both cities had to construct new stadiums for the teams. In Kansas City’s case, Municipal Stadium that housed the A’s was deemed too decrepit for the new Royals franchise, while Oakland had to build a stadium for both the Raiders and A’s from scratch. Both cities constructed new sports complexes, despite protests from city residents about using tax money that could be better spent on things such as schools. Because these were not built in the respective cities, these were also seen as catering to the suburbs instead of the inner cities, where the population was mostly African American. Both cities had the same types of problems addressing these issues. The connections between them were numerous, and Ehrlich covers them all, right down to the fact that both teams were awarded NHL franchises that failed as well. These sections were so well researched and written that this is the rare book that while the emphasis is on sports, the passages on other topics are even better reads.
One doesn’t have to be a fan of Kansas City or Oakland teams to enjoy this book. History and sports buffs who enjoy reading about those topics from the 1960’s and 1970’s will love this book. Highly recommended for those readers with those interests, as well as fans of those four teams.
Kansas City vs. Oakland: The Bitter Sports Rivalry That Defined an Era (Sport and Society): Matthew C. Ehrlich: 9780252084492: Amazon.com: Gateway
I wish to thank University of Illinois Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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