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Charles O. Finley

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Charles Oscar Finley (February 22 1918 - February 19 1996), born in Ensley, Alabama, was an American businessman who is best remembered for his tenure as the flamboyant owner of the Oakland Athletics Major League Baseball team. Finley was a semi-pro baseball player in Indiana who had his career cut short in 1946 by a bout with tuberculosis that nearly killed him. Finley then made his fortune in the insurance business, being among the first to write group medical insurance policies for those in the medical profession.

Finley's Follies: the Kansas City and Oakland AthleticsEdit

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Finley first attempted to buy the Philadelphia Athletics in 1954, but American League owners instead approved the sale of the team to Arnold Johnson, who moved the A's to Kansas City for the 1955 season. He later made an unsuccessful bid to buy the expansion Los Angeles AL franchise in 1960. (The franchise was purchased by Gene Autry and named the Los Angeles Angels.)

On December 19, 1960, Finley purchased a controlling interest in the Kansas City Athletics from Johnson's estate (Johnson having died in March of that year); he then bought out the minority owners a year later. Finley quickly started to turn the franchise around, refusing to make deals with the New York Yankees (for which the Athletics had been criticized) and searching for unheralded talent. After being told by manager Ed Lopat about the Yankees' success being attributable to the dimensions of Yankee Stadium, he built the "K.C. Pennant Porch" in right field, which brought the right field fence in Kansas City Municipal Stadium to match Yankee Stadium's dimensions exactly. League officials forced him to move the fences back after two exhibition games. Finley then ordered a white line to be painted on the field at the original "Pennant Porch" distance, and ordered the public address announcer to tell the crowd, "That would have been a home run in Yankee Stadium" whenever a fly ball was hit past that line. The practice was quickly abandoned after the announcer was calling more "would-be" home runs for the opposition than the A's.

He also started micromanaging the team, ordering players to change their style of play and firing any manager or releasing any player who publicly disagreed with him. When third baseman Sal Bando departed the team as a free agent and was asked if it had been difficult to leave the Athletics, Bando responded, "Was it hard to leave the Titanic?"

He replaced the A's traditional elephant mascot with "Charlie-O" a live mule, and paraded him about the outfield and even into cocktail parties and hotel lobbies, and into the press room after a large feeding to annoy reporters. The mule died in 1976, at age 20.

Finley also made changes to the team's uniforms. In 1963, Finley changed the team's colors to "Kelly Green, Fort Knox Gold and Wedding Gown White." In 1967, he replaced the team's traditional black cleats with white ones. In 1970 (after the move to Oakland) he added an "apostrophe-s" to the traditional "A" logo, and began phasing out the team name "Athletics" in favor of "A's." (When Mickey Mantle saw the A's' green-and-gold uniforms, he jeered, "They should have come out of the dugout on tippy-toes, holding hands and singing," according to Baseball Digest.)

In 1964 Finley signed a contract to move the A's from Kansas City to Louisville, Kentucky to play at Cardinal Stadium, but the other American League owners voted down the move. With poor attendance in Kansas City, approval was eventually given to move the franchise to Oakland, California for the 1968 season, after which the team became a dynasty, winning three straight World Series from 1972 to 1974 and five straight division titles from 1971 to 1975. A major embarrassment for baseball resulted from Finley's actions during the 1973 World Series. Finley forced player Mike Andrews to sign a false affidavit saying he was injured, after the reserve infielder committed two consecutive errors in the 12th inning of Oakland's Game Two loss to the New York Mets. Other A's, and manager Dick Williams, rallied to Andrews' defense, and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn forced Finley to reinstate Andrews. Williams resigned after winning the Series, and Finley replaced him with Alvin Dark.

In 1976, after losing Catfish Hunter to free agency, Finley started dismantling his club, attempting to sell Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Boston Red Sox and Vida Blue to the Yankees. Bowie Kuhn decided to invoke the rarely-used "best interests of baseball" clause in order to void Finley's sales. Finley, in turn, hired famed sports attorney Neil Papiano and proceeded to file a $10 million dollar restraint-of-trade lawsuit against Kuhn and Major League Baseball. This lawsuit is widely recognized as one of the most famous, influential and precedent-setting sports-related cases in the history of American jurisprudence.

Finley was in the process of rebuilding the team again in 1981 when he sold the team to Walter A. Haas, Jr., president of Levi Strauss & Co..

Finley was fond of gimmicks, dressing his players in non-traditional green and gold uniforms and offering his players $300 bonuses to grow moustaches. For star relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, the handlebar moustache he grew for Finley became a trademark. After signing pitcher Jim Hunter, he nicknamed him "Catfish," even fabricating boyhood stories about Hunter to give him press appeal. Finley refused to sign then-prospect Don Sutton to a contract, simply because Sutton didn't have a flashy nickname. He introduced ball girls (one of whom, the future Debbi Fields, went on to found Mrs. Fields' Original Cookies, Inc.), and advocated night games for the World Series to increase fan interest. Finley also was an outspoken advocate of the designated hitter rule, which he pushed until it was adopted by the American League. He suggested many other innovations that were tried and rejected for various reasons, including:

  • Orange baseballs - Tried in a few exhibition games, hitters found it too hard to pick up the spin.
  • A three-ball walk and two-strike strikeout - Tried in spring training one year, he thought it would lead to games with more action. Instead the result was more walks and longer games.
  • A mechanical rabbit that would pop up behind home plate and deliver new balls to the umpire - Finley installed one, which he named "Harvey," at the A's home ballparks in Kansas City and Oakland, but the idea never caught on anywhere else and was dropped by the A's after 1969.
  • A designated runner - This idea was rejected for several reasons by Major League Baseball, and Finely was so upset at the rejection of the rule that he voted against his own Designated Hitter rule. However, the rejection didn't stop Finley from experimenting on his own in 1974, hiring a college sprinter named Herb Washington exclusively to pinch run and steal bases. Washington stole 29 bases, but was caught stealing 18 times and frequently picked off by opposing pitchers. He was let go after shortly into his second season.
  • Hired MC Hammer as Executive Vice President when he was just a teenager to be his "eyes and ears."

Despite these gimmicks and various other promotions during Finley's ownership of the Athletics, the A's were a mediocre draw at best during the 20 years of his ownership, both in Kansas City and in Oakland, despite winning five divisional championships and three World Series in the latter venue. Average yearly attendance for Finley-owned teams was just under 743,000. The high-water mark for attendance came in 1975, when 1,075,518 came through the turnstiles. Four years later, in 1979, only 306,783 fans bothered to attend as the A's fell to 54-108, by far the worst record in the AL West, and only one game better than the Toronto Blue Jays, who were in their third season after joining the AL in 1977.

The Finley era in baseball came to an end after the 1980 season. His wife filed for divorce, and would not accept part of a baseball team in a property settlement. After a deal to move the Athletics to Denver fell though, he sold the team to San Francisco clothing manufacturer Walter A. Haas, Jr., then president of Levi Strauss & Co..

Other sports venturesEdit

Finley purchased the Oakland Seals of the National Hockey League in 1970, renaming the team the California Golden Seals. After finding no buyers for the team, it was eventually taken over by the league in 1974. In 1972, Finley purchased the Memphis Pros of the American Basketball Association, changing the team's name to the Memphis Tams, the name being an acronym for Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. The Tams were taken over by the ABA in 1974 and renamed the Memphis Sounds. In both cases, the team's colors were changed by Finley to Kelly green and gold. Both teams were abysmal failures, both at the box office and on the ice or court, respectively.

Indiana legendEdit

Finley maintained his homes in Chicago and LaPorte, Indiana, a small town 60 miles east of Chicago, even as he owned the Oakland A's. Even though he would make frequent trips to Oakland, he would run the team from the Midwest, earning more derision as an absentee owner. Still, Finley was popular in his hometown of LaPorte, where he remained involved in the community late into his life.

While Finley was building a championship team in Oakland, the LaPorte High School baseball team was becoming a powerhouse. Finley would send the team equipment every season, including the white shoes the Oakland A's made famous and that the LaPorte High School team would use until the late 1990s.

Finley would occasionally throw a party whenever the A's would be in Chicago to play the White Sox. He bused the players to LaPorte (God, we hated that," Bando told Sports Illustrated in 1999) and his local friends would mingle with the likes of Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue and Catfish Hunter.

The Kansas City Beatles ConcertEdit

When Finley owned the Kansas City Athletics, he promised the people of Kansas City that he would bring The Beatles to play in Kansas City's Municipal Stadium during the group's first tour of North America in the summer of 1964. Finley visited the group's manager, Brian Epstein, in San Francisco on August 19, 1964, where the Beatles were playing the first date of the tour. He told Epstein that he was disappointed that Kansas City was not among the group's itinerary, and offered first $50,000 and then $100,000 if the Beatles would schedule a concert in the Missouri city. Epstein refused, pointing out that on the only free date available, September 17, the band was scheduled for a day of rest in New Orleans. Finley left disappointed, but again encountered Epstein in Los Angeles a week later. Epstein again rejected Finley's offer of $100,000, nothing that the band wanted to use their only day off to "explore the traditional home of jazz." Undetered, Finley tore up the $100,000 check and wrote a new one for $150,000. Astonished, Epstein excused himself to talk to the group. John Lennon speaking for his bandmates replied, "We'll do whatever you want." Satisfied that, in exchange for forfeiting their only day off, the Beatles had earned what at the time was the highest fee ever for a musical concert, a staggering $4,838 per minute, Epstein accepted Finley's check. Although Finley is usually remembered by the people of Kansas City as the man who provided mediocre baseball while attempting to abandon the city for a more promising market, it should also be kept in mind that he did deliver on his promise to bring the Beatles to Kansas City.

Source: Mark Lewisohn, The Beatles Live!: The Ultimate Reference Book (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1986), 168-69.

QuoteEdit

  • Sweat plus sacrifice equals success.

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