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Davis recalls days of long-gone K.C. Athletics

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Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2012 12:00 am

Boys will be boys and Kansas City Athletics will be New York Yankees.

At least, that’s how it seemed back when Marty Davis was growing up in Springfield, Mo.

Now living in Placitas, Davis was — and still is — a fan of that short-lived team. The A’s moved to K.C. from Philadelphia in 1955 and departed for Oakland after the 1967 season. The Oakland A’s then won the World Series in 1972-74.

Often, maybe too often for a young fan of the A’s, popular K.C. players were dealt to the Yankees for lesser players. (Think Roger Maris, for example.)

According to the Baseball Almanac, “The Yankees, in fact, rarely traded players with any other team in this six-year period. From 1955 to 1960, the Yankees gained many outstanding players from Kansas City, and managed to give only marginal value in return. It must have worked, since the Yankees won four more pennants in a row beginning in 1955, while the new Kansas City team struggled to stay out of last place.”

A sixth-place finish in 1955 was the Athletics’ best, and that came when there were only eight teams in the American league. The A’s were seventh of 10 teams in the A.L. in 1966, when it won a K.C.-best 74 games; those Athletics never had a winning season.

Nonetheless, they were winners in the eyes of Davis, who, with his wife, Sandy, lived for almost five years here in Rio Rancho.

After all, a true fan remains a true fan through thick and, in the Athletics’ case, thick. One of his favorite all-time players, a guy he met, James “Catfish” Hunter, pitched for his team from 1965-67.

Davis is also a collector, of memories and memorabilia, and he has a lot of both.

Although not everything Davis collects is A’s related, the bulk of it is baseball-related, including a vintage, flannel San Diego Padres jersey that hangs on a wall in his home office. He’s got “20 or 30 (autographs) of George Brett, a lot of (Harmon) Killebrew stuff.” He visited the Baseball Hall of Fame last year, something that was, naturally, “on my bucket list.”

Also on that bucket list are trips to Fenway Park and Wrigley Field; crossed off was a visit to Tiger Stadium “before they tore it down.”

Because he once owned a sports card store, Yesterday’s Heroes in Albuquerque, he has a showcase from that venture in his office, too, with some of his favorite stuff.

Davis moved from Springfield, Mo., to New Mexico in 1993, after he realized, “I was 37 years old with no kids and I didn’t want to turn 40 and still live in Missouri.”

The couple “explored” the West and the Southwest, opting for Albuquerque. A graduate of Southwest Missouri State, where actor John Goodman is a fraternity brother, Davis decided it was time to own his own business. Unfortunately, the timing was less than perfect: The Major League Baseball strike of 1994, when the World Series wasn’t played, put a crimp in the business.

Davis sold more than baseball cards, of course, and took pride in offering some merchandise not found in the other local card stores in the Duke City. One by one, though, most of them closed their doors — and, after the advent of baseball cards being sold at lower prices at Target and Walmart, plus the deals attainable on such stuff on eBay, he closed his store, too.

“People in Albuquerque would buy a pack (of cards), pull out a chase card, check the price guide and try to sell it back,” he said, wondering how anyone could make a living that way.

Davis is now on a mission of sorts: to collect every 1966 Topps baseball card — each one autographed. He has all but about 100 of them, and knows securing the Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle signed cards, to name just two of his “wants,” will be pricey.

“It’s my pride and joy,” he says, after a visitor to his room pages through the binder. ”I’ve worked on it since the early 1980s.”

Another one of his pursuits is assembling a collection of every K.C. Athletics baseball card, and obtaining autographs on them, too. He’s a “huge Buck O’Neil fan,” and has a commemorative baseball bat signed by about 35 former Negro league players. And Davis even has one binder filled with autographed cards of deceased ballplayers, “my dead book,” he calls it. (He paid $375 a couple of years ago for a Walt Bond-signed card; Bond died of leukemia at the tender age of 29 in 1967.)

“That’s what makes me a maniac,” he quipped of his pursuits.

The value of his countless autographed items, bats, programs, jerseys — some bearing the surname Davis — and more, is what he says “is basically my retirement plan.”

Of course, he’s far from retirement age, turning 56 this year and employed as the New Mexico division manager for a safety supply company.

It’s a job that he can work and still make it to every Albuquerque Isotopes game; he’s been a season ticket holder — he has had two front-row seats for Sandy, a St. Louis Cardinals fan and himself — since the team’s first game, April 11, 2003.

Before the games, Davis and a handful of other “old-timers” stand along the entryway from the visitors’ clubhouse to the dugout, hanging over the railing and asking for autographs. Davis is a pro at that, and he understands the etiquette of making those tedious hours profitable — in terms of autographs.

He buys the Pacific Coast League team sets and politely asks for players’ signatures as they pass by. Most of them sign for him.

Davis says he’ll never forget the first guy that turned down his request. Maybe you’ve heard of him.

“The first guy that turned me down was Mickey Mantle. It broke my heart,” he said. “I got blown off by the best. It was about 1966 and he was walking off (the field) with Whitey Ford.”

The Kansas City A’s are long gone. So are Catfish Hunter and Mickey Mantle.

But Marty Davis’s love for the game remains.

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