Fifty-nine years ago, long before the Royals arrived, baseball in Kansas City was about the Athletics. And during the team’s first season here in 1955, one of the youngest players ever to play major league baseball took the field as a 16-year-old fresh out of Rockhurst High School. Alex George was a freshman at KU that September when he got the call that the A’s wanted to sign him to a contract and have him finish the season with them.
George, now 76, lives in Prairie Village. His first major league game was Sept. 16, 1955, the same day he signed a contract and the day of his first at-bat which came against the Chicago White Sox. He wouldn’t turn 17 until later that month, after all of his big league plate appearances. The next year he was sent to the minors after spring training and spent more than eight years, mostly in the A’s farm system, before hanging up his professional baseball career at the age of 24. He is listed as the sixth youngest player to play major league baseball since World War I.
A four-sport athlete in high school, George passed on football scholarships to Big 8 schools, but headed to KU to play basketball and baseball. He recalls a basketball coach introducing him to his newly arrived teammate at KU that fall: Wilt Chamberlain. But when George signed with the A’s, that ended his college eligibility, though he went back to KU that fall and to college (Rockhurst and then University of Kansas City) each fall for a semester before he took off for spring training. “I never have been accused of thinking too far ahead,” George says, of his decision to sign that fall. His bonus was $18,000 across two years. He also was paid $800 per month to play in the minors.
When George found his locker at Municipal Stadium that first day, he remembers a player asking infielder Joe DeMaestri if the new kid was the batboy. DeMaestri, George recalls, told the other player that George was actually joining the team: “I think the batboy’s older,” Demaestri said.
His first at-bat was a pinch hit strike out even though Sox catcher Sherm Lollar told him what to expect on every pitch – a knuckleball – from pitcher Al Papai. George got his only major league hit, a single, a few days later when he started a game in Detroit, with Jim Bunning pitching that day. He played in five games, went to the plate 10 times and has a career MLB average of .100.
George’s minor league career was more productive, where he hit double digits in home runs several years playing as primarily as a switch-hitting shortstop and batting leadoff. “I was a pretty aggressive hitter,” George says. As an 18-year-old he hit .285 with 23 home runs at Pocatello, Idaho, and continued to hit 15 to 20 home runs each year. He played at a number of minor league stops over the next years. “It wasn’t much fun,” he says of the lifestyle and the travel. It was mostly riding around the country in buses – much like Bull Durham. “We would climb into the luggage rack to (stretch out) and get some sleep.”
By the time he gave up his baseball career, George had been through shoulder surgery and had asked to be released. He then got a call from the Washington Senators, a team that scouted him after high school, and played in their farm system one season. He also was married by that time and starting a family. Although he was called up to the majors a few times during the years, he never got to the plate again. He came back to Kansas City and had a long career in sales for radio and television stations.
George rubbed baseball shoulders with some of the big names of the past, batting against Billy Pierce in Chicago (struck out on three pitches) and crossing paths with the likes of Jim Kaat in Montana and Bob Uecker in Boise. “He was a hoot,” George says. And the 1955 A’s had names like Enos Slaughter and Clete Boyer on the roster that first year after the move from Philadelphia to Kansas City along with manager Lou Boudreau.
Of today’s Royals, George says that “the most endearing part of the Royals team is that they will mingle (with the fans).” They are “truly a throwback to the days when you could walk up to any of those players in the 50s, 60s, 70s and ask for an autograph.” After all these years removed from the game, George says, he too gets requests for autographs in the mail about once per month.
He has stayed close to baseball, and the Royals, by being a Royal Lancer for years, just recently retiring from the group.