The Royals enjoyed a well-deserved off day, their first since June 23. Thanks to doubleheaders, they had played 26 games over the last 23 days. But they only had one four-game series left before the All-Star break.
Continuing our series of biographical sketches of some of the “lesser-known” 1969 Royals, let’s meet manager Joe Gordon. It might seem odd to think of a Hall of Famer as not well-known, but of course Gordon’s playing days were not with the Royals, and he was only the team’s manager for one season.
Joseph Lowell Gordon was born on February 18, 1915, in Los Angeles. If that doesn’t seem impossibly long ago, consider this: his father’s occupation was gold mining. Anyway, Gordon’s dad died when Joe was only four, and he and his older brother ended up living with family in Oregon. Joe enrolled in high school at age 12; despite his youth, he excelled at baseball and football for Jefferson High in Portland, and then went on to the University of Oregon. Gordon was not just a jock; at age 14, he was playing violin for the Portland Symphony Orchestra. But baseball was his future, as evidenced by his .380 batting average in 1934 as the Ducks’ shortstop. He also starred on the mens’ gymnastics squad, an ability which would eventually contribute to his reputation as a sterling infielder in the majors.
Gordon signed with the Yankees before the 1936 season. It was quite a winter for the young man, who also met his future wife while playing winter ball in the Los Angeles area that offseason. Gordon spent just two seasons in the minors; after he hit .280 with 26 home runs for a Newark team that went 109-43, the Yankees decided that Hall of Fame second baseman Tony Lazzeri was no longer needed. Gordon has spent that 1937 season learning to play second, and to his credit, Lazzeri was helpful to young Gordon in spring training.
As usual for the Yankees of that era, it was a good decision. Gordon hit 25 home runs as a rookie and the Yankees didn’t miss a beat, winning their third straight World Series. They repeated in 1939 as Gordon belted 28 home runs and started the All-Star Game. New York missed the Series in 1940 although Gordon hit a career-best 30 home runs. Joe picked up his third World Series ring in 1941, and then he won the AL MVP award in 1942. After all that, he may have been due for an off-year, which happened in 1943 as his average fell to .249.
Gordon was a man of many talents. One of those was piloting aircraft. He was a licensed pilot and owned his own plane. So it was perhaps not surprising when he decided to contribute to the war effort by joining the Army Air Force in 1944. With a wife and two kids, he didn’t have to sign up, but he did anyway. However, Gordon was usually stationed in Hawaii or San Diego, so he was relatively safe.
He returned to the majors for the 1946 season, and may have wished he hadn’t. It was a pretty miserable year, all things considered. Gordon battled injuries while Yankees general manager Larry MacPhail publicly accused him of not being in shape. Overall, Gordon hit just .210 in a career-low 110 games.
After the season, Gordon was traded to Cleveland for pitcher Allie Reynolds. Gordon ended his Yankee career with 1,000 hits in 1,000 games. Despite what the Yankees thought, he wasn’t done as a productive player. Gordon would play four seasons for the Indians, hitting 100 home runs and earning top-10 MVP finishes in 1947 and 1948. In the sixth game of the 1948 World Series, Gordon hit the go-ahead home run, leading Cleveland to a title.
The Indians released Gordon after the 1949 season, and he returned to the West Coast, as a player-manager for Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League. That lasted three seasons, and Gordon went into scouting and coaching for various teams. In the middle of the 1958 season, the Indians hired Gordon as manager.
Unfortunately for Gordon, he would have to report to general manager Frank Lane, who was one of those baseball men who like to shake things up constantly (Lane’s nickname of “Trader” was well-earned). It didn’t take long for the two to butt heads. Despite a successful 1959 season, Gordon stated in September that he would not manage Cleveland the next year, especially if Lane were involved. Lane responded by firing Gordon, but following fan outcry, rehired him three days later. However, in August 1960, Lane would pull off an odd trade, sending his manager to Detroit for Tigers manager Jimmy Dykes.
Gordon resigned from Detroit after the season, then went to work for Charlie Finley and the Kansas City A’s for the 1961 season. Even worse for Gordon, Finley hired Lane as general manager after the latter was fired by Cleveland. Not surprisingly, and probably best for his sanity, Gordon didn’t last 60 games before getting the pink slip.
Gordon would not be in a dugout again for a while, as the expansion Los Angeles Angels hired him as a scout. He worked for the Angels until the Royals hired him in September 1968 to manage the first team in franchise history.
“I’m really happy to be back in Kansas City. I’ve always said the baseball fans here are the best in the country. I was awfully well treated when I was here before. I have many friends here. I’m certainly happy to be coming back.”—Gordon, quoted by Joe McGuff, The Sporting News, September 21, 1968
Gordon signed a one-year contract as manager, at his request.
“I took the job because of (general manager) Cedric Tallis and (player procurement director) Charlie Metro. I have known them for many years and I have great respect for their ability. They think the same way I do about baseball. If they don’t feel I’ve done the type of job they want at the end of next season, or if I don’t want to continue, we’ll part and there will be no hard feelings. .”—Gordon, quoted by Joe McGuff, The Sporting News, September 21, 1968
Evidently Gordon decided one year was enough. Despite a respectable (for an expansion team) 69-93 mark, Gordon asked to be reassigned to scouting for the team. He did that for two years before retiring.
Sadly, Gordon had a short retirement. In 1978, he passed away after a heart attack at age 63. He was inducted in the Indians Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009, thanks to the Veterans Committee.
Today’s birthdays: None