Updated: Oct 14, 2020
The Oakland Athletics have had a colorful history of jerseys. Through three cities and numerous owners, their colors have changed over the decades. 1969 was their first year in Oakland and was the beginning of something special for the franchise. In the following decade they won three World Series in as many years. Their jersey colors changed when Charley Finley bought the franchise and like so much of what their owner did, there was significance beyond the switch to Kelly Green.
Before the Change
The A’s were officially known as the Athletics and were an establishment in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Much like the Oakland Raiders and Al Davis decades later, the Athletics were the mirror image of their owner and manager, Connie Mack. Under Mack’s tutelage, the Athletics won nine AL Pennants and five World Series championships over the span of 30 years.
Mack managed the team for an incredible 50 years and during that time it was known as being very business-like. They played with class and dignity while dominating the opposition with a fundamentally sound style of play and clever strategy. The image of Mack dressed in a suit directing the lineup from the dugout steps is the indelible image of that era and it perfectly describes the teams he managed.
The jerseys were colorless and business-like, just like the team and their owner. Eventually the team fell on hard times and Mack was forced to sell it to Arnold Johnson in 1955. Johnson immediately moved the franchise to Kansas City but the colors remained virtually the same.
The only change made was to the stitching on the front of the jersey. Since the franchise’s inception, the name had been black but in 1956 it changed to a reddish color with the full name “Athletics” instead of a single “A” stitched on the front. Johnson also opted to make the mascot, an elephant, more visible on the shoulder. These were very small steps in the direction of the flamboyant decade of the 1970’s.
When Charlie Finley bought the Athletics in 1960, the team still very much resembled the business-like approach of which Connie Mack had preferred. Finley changed the mundane colors in 1969 with the team adopting a Kelly Green and Fort Knox Gold color scheme. From this point forward the Athletics have been known as the A’s as the switched stitching suggests.
The color scheme has some significant meaning for this period in the A’s history. Kelly Green signifies renewal and growth in the environment. A perfect color for a team in a new city. It can also symbolize ambition, greed and money; this is what virtually everyone was pursuing during their dynasty. Ironically, the pursuit of such would turn out to be their ultimate downfall
The new A’s lived up to their new Kelly Green color scheme. Instead of a cerebral focus on details, these A’s were filled with flamboyant characters from Rollie Fingers to Reggie Jackson. Finley was a perfect example of the new mentality by giving his players bonuses for growing mustaches in an era when facial hair was frowned upon in the MLB. He even briefly installed orange baseballs into games. While this did not take, the facial hair idea proved to be a rallying cry for the team in the midst of their dynasty.
This was in the era of free-love and the birth of the modern hippy movement. While most of the stereotypes of the era were taking place across the Bay in San Francisco, Oakland was feeling the effects of expression too but in a darker realm. Gangs and violence were becoming more and more prevalent in a once beautiful city. Notably, both the Black Panthers and the Hell's Angels grew considerably during this era in Oakland.
Not all changes were bad in Oakland. After spending all of their history being straight laced and clean cut, the A’s began the decade leading Major League Baseball in expressing themselves and that expression was symbolized in their new colors. Gold symbolizes achievement, success and triumph. Winning three World Series in as many years would certainly indicate that the A’s lived up to the gold standard. However, Finley held them back from basking in the luxuries of becoming a dynasty. Due to low attendance the team never figured out how to fix, the A’s were not very prosperous. Finley constantly under paid his players and to make matters infinitely worse, he didn’t even order real diamonds for their championship rings.
Eventually age and greed took over and the dynasty crumbled. Due to financial reasons, Finley was forced to sell the team to Walter Haas Jr. in August 1980. While the A’s have largely kept their color scheme since moving to Oakland, they have never perfectly resembled their color scheme like during their dynasty years of the 1970’s.