Charlie Finley


Charlie Finley

Charles Oscar Finley (February 22, 1918–February 19, 1996), nicknamed Charlie O or Charley O, was an American businessman who is best remembered for his tenure as the owner of the Oakland Athletics Major League Baseball team. Finley purchased the franchise while it was located in Kansas City, moving it to Oakland in 1968. He is buried in Merrillville, Indiana's Calumet Park Cemetery.

Contents

Early life

Finley was born in Ensley, Alabama, but was raised in Gary, Indiana, and later lived in La Porte, a small town 60 miles east of Chicago. He played semi-pro baseball in several Indiana cities but had his career cut short in 1946 by a bout of tuberculosis that nearly killed him. After marrying the daughter of an insurance salesman, 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. Even in the early days, Finley showed a penchant for flair and inventive business practices. Sometimes, when wooing prospective customers, Finley would drive the client through the richest section of Gary. Pointing out a large mansion, Finley would declare "That's my place there, but I'm having it remodeled right now." He would then proceed to his own neighborhood and dine at the home his next door neighbor, long-time friend, John Mihelic. Finley's fortunes grew and he ended up owning a 40 story insurance building in downtown Chicago. Charlie O. Finley never forgot the hospitality of his friend and neighbor. When Finley bought his property in Laporte, he installed John Mihelic as his farm manager. The property was a working cattle ranch which consisted of an 18th century 11 room colonial manor house and 9 barns and various outbuildings. Finley had a large mansion built on the property which featured rounded portico's and columns which resembled the White House in Washington D.C. Mihelic and his family then moved into the original house and lived there as manager and caretakers until the Finley's divorce forced the sale of the property. Soon after Finley took up residence in LaPorte, the farm became less a working ranch and more a showcase for Finley to impress his friends and associates. He built a 2 story pool house next to the mansion and full sized playground equipment on the other side. Huge St. Bernard dogs greeted visitors and peacocks roamed the property. Several monkeys were kept in zoo like cages and assorted livestock dotted the fields. The upper story of one large barn was converted into an indoor basketball court where the Finley and Mihelic children often played together.

Never a stranger to self promotion, Finley had a large "Home of the Oakland A's" sign installed on the roof of another large barn where it could be viewed by vehicles passing on the Indiana toll road. It was to this place that Finley often brought the whole team and held picnics and pool parties attended by friends, business associates and locals, who mingled with members of the team and took numerous photographs. When the team was moved to Oakland, Finley hired Mihelic's son, Ron, who moved to California and served various front office functions, 1st as sales manager and later as Director of Group sales and Promotions. Although unknown to the public, Ron Mihelic was instrumental in the creation of some of The A's more famous promotions, such as "Farmer Day" and "Hot-pants Day". Mihelic left the A's organization in 1972 after a falling out with Finley.

Owner of the A's

In Kansas City

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. In the late 1950's, Finley also attempted to purchase the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. [1] 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. He also made significant investments in the farm system for the first time in the franchise's history.

Finley's brief endearment to Kansas City fans

Finley endeared himself (albeit briefly) to Kansas City fans by replacing the "A" on the team's caps with an interlocking "KC" and adding "Kansas City" to the road uniforms. It was the first time in the franchise's history that it had acknowledged its city on its uniforms (they had never done so during their 55-year stay in Philadelphia). He also promised that he would never move the team. However, almost as soon as he acquired full control of the team, Finley immediately began shopping it to other cities. At various times, Finley considered moving the team to Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Seattle and San Diego (all of whom now have major league teams) and even Louisville (see below).

Charlie-O becomes the Athletics' mascot

Presumably out of pique for being denied a chance to buy the A's five years earlier, Finley replaced the Athletics' traditional elephant mascot with a live mule. "Charlie-O" was paraded about the outfield, 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.)

The "K.C. Pennant Porch"

After supposedly 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, just 296 feet from home plate. However, a rule passed in 1958 held that no (new or renovated) major-league fence could be closer than 325 feet, so league officials forced Finley to move the fences back after two exhibition games. The A's owner then ordered a white line to be painted on the field at the original "Pennant Porch" distance, and told the public address announcer to announce "That would have been a home run in Yankee Stadium" whenever a fly ball was hit past that line but short of the fence. The practice was quickly abandoned after the announcer was calling more "would-be" home runs for the opposition than the A's.

Uniform changes

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. He also started 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).

Move to Oakland

In 1964, Finley signed a contract to move the A's from Kansas City to Louisville (where he would rename the team the Kentucky Colonels, thus keeping the "KC" logo), to play at Fairgrounds Stadium (now Cardinal Stadium), but the other American League owners voted down the move. With declining attendance in Kansas City, Finley was eventually given permission to move the franchise to Oakland, California, for the 1968 season.

In Oakland

World Series success

The A's (as they were officially known from 1970) arrived in California just as the new talent amassed over the years in the minors (such as Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Bert Campaneris, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, and Vida Blue) was starting to gel. During the early 1970s, the once-moribund A's became a powerhouse, winning three straight World Series from 1972 to 1974 and five straight division titles from 1971 to 1975.

Animosity between Finley and his players

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 2 loss to the New York Mets. Other A's, manager Dick Williams and virtually the entire viewing public rallied to Andrews' defense, and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn forced Finley to reinstate Andrews. There was nothing that said the A's had to let Andrews play, however. After Andrews grounded out in a pinch-hit appearance in Game 4 (after which he received a standing ovation from the Mets' fans, more a shot at Finley), Finley ordered Andrews benched for the rest of the Series; he never played another major-league game. A fed-up Williams resigned after winning the Series, and Finley replaced him with Alvin Dark. However, when Williams tried to become manager of the Yankees, Finley refused to let him take the post, saying that he owed the A's the last year of his contract. Finley eventually relented, and Williams became manager of the Angels.

Years later, the players said they played so well because they all hated Finley with a passion. For instance, Finley threatened to pack Jackson off to the minors in 1969 after Jackson hit 47 homers; Kuhn had to intervene in their contract dispute. Kuhn intervened again after Blue won the A.L. Cy Young Award in 1971 and Finley threatened to send him to the minors.

Mediocre attendance and frugality

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; in 1974, despite being on their way to their third straight world championship, the A's finished next-to-last in the A.L. in attendance. 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. On April 17, 1979, the A's drew an announced crowd of 653 people. However, A's officials estimated the crowd at only 550, and first baseman Dave Revering thought the actual figure was closer to 200. Regardless of the actual numbers, it was the smallest crowd in Oakland A's history.[2]

Baseball writer Rob Neyer, a native of the Kansas City area, says that this was because Finley thought he could sell a baseball team the same way he sold insurance. This dated back to the A's tenure in Kansas City; not long after buying the team in 1960, he mailed brochures to 600,000 people in the area, and only made $20,000 in ticket sales.

When it came to spending, whether it was players' salaries or on the team's day-to-day operations, Finley was tight-fisted and frugal. For example, players were issued a certain number of bats. If a player broke a bat, they wouldn't get any replacements. Finley also rarely ordered new uniforms at the start of a season, instead recycling old ones. Trainers were told to use every bit of a roll of medical tape, with usually heavy reprimand if they didn't. He also never offered season tickets. From 1961 onward, Finley was effectively his own general manager, though the A's nominally had someone with that title until 1966.

The A's rarely had radio or television contracts during Finley's tenure, which made them practically unknown outside of Oakland. For the first month of the 1978 season, the A's aired their games on KALX, the 10-watt student radio station of the University of California, Berkeley. A year later, they didn't even sign a radio contract until the night before opening day. Finley's inadequate promotion of the A's prompted Oakland and Alameda County officials to sue him later in 1979.[2]

Finley tries to dismantle his club

In 1976, after losing Hunter to free agency, Finley started dismantling his club, attempting to sell Rudi and Fingers to the Red Sox and Blue to the Yankees. 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. Papiano and Finley lost the case (Finley v. Kuhn). The court ruled that the commissioner had the authority to determine what is in the best interest of 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.

At the end of that season, many of the A's stars left the team due to free agency. The next year – only two years after winning a division title and three years after winning a World Series—the A's finished with the worst record in baseball. After that season, he tried to trade Blue again, this time to the Reds. Kuhn vetoed this trade as well, saying that it amounted to a fire sale. He also claimed that adding Blue to the Reds' already formidable pitching staff would make the race for the National League West a joke. (The Reds pitching staff had been decimated by free agency and injuries in the 1976–77 off-season and as such, the Reds finished a distant second to the Dodgers)

The A's remained one of the worst teams in baseball over the next two years, and their attendance declined even further; there were several occasions during 1978 and 1979 that crowds could be counted in the hundreds. Some fans called them "the Triple A's." The Coliseum's upkeep also suffered during this time, leading baseball writers to call it "the Oakland Mausoleum."

Selling the A's

Finley tried to move the A's to New Orleans in 1978 and again in 1979, but the attempted move foundered when the city of Oakland and Alameda County refused to let Finley out of his lease with the Coliseum. He was in the process of rebuilding the team again in 1980 when his wife filed for divorce midway through the season. She would not accept part of a baseball team as part of the settlement. With most of his money tied up in the A's or his insurance interests, Finley was forced to sell the team. He initially agreed to sell it to businessman Marvin Davis, who planned to move the A's to Denver. However, a few weeks before Davis and Finley reached a definitive agreement, the Oakland Raiders announced they were moving to Los Angeles. Oakland and Alameda County officials were not about to lose Oakland's status as a major-league city in its own right, and refused to let them out of their lease. Forced to find a local buyer, Finley finally agreed to sell the A's to Walter A. Haas, Jr., president of Levi Strauss & Co. before the 1981 season.

Gimmicks

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, but hitters found it too hard to pick up the spin. The week of August 18, 1975, Charlie Finley was on the cover of Time Magazine and his orange baseballs were featured in the article. [3] It would be his last major profile in a national publication. [4]
  • 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. On March 10, 1971, the Athletics walked 16 batters in one such experimental game.
  • 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 Finley 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 shortly into his second season.
  • Hired Stanley Burrell (who would later gain worldwide fame as MC Hammer) as Executive Vice President when he was just a teenager to be his "eyes and ears."

Other sports ventures

Finley purchased the Oakland Seals of the National Hockey League in 1970, renaming the team California Golden Seals. Mimicking the A's, he changed the team colors to green and gold and had the Seals wear white skates instead of the traditional black skates, a move deeply unpopular with both players and fans. The Seals had a miserable season and finished last in the league in Finley's first year of ownership, but after a promising turnaround in 1971-72, he allowed five of his best players to bolt to the upstart World Hockey Association (WHA) after refusing to match the new league's salary offers. With continuing on-ice and attendance problems, Finley lost interest in the team, but could not find a buyer and sold the franchise back to the league in February 1974 at a profit. Finley's attempt to sell the team to an Indianapolis group who proposed to move the team there was rejected by the league in 1973.

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. As was the case with the A's, he changed the Tams' colors to green and gold. While he hired recently retired Kentucky Wildcats basketball coach Adolph Rupp as team president, Finley took almost no interest in the team. He ran it on a shoestring budget, and often went weeks without communicating with his front office in Memphis about team business. Almost as soon as he bought the team, he began talks to move it to St. Paul, Minnesota while publicly insisting that he would keep it in Memphis. When word of these talks leaked out, Finley lost what goodwill he had with Memphis fans. After the season, he shut down the team office and tried to sell the team to a group in Rhode Island. When that sale fell through, he didn't bother to tell anyone at the league office that the Tams would play until August—holding up all of the league's television and radio contracts in the process. Even then, he didn't get around to hiring a coach until two days before the first preseason game. Not surprisingly, the Tams finished in the league cellar two years in a row, and Finley turned the team back over to the league in 1974.

In March 1987, Finley proposed a new football league. The league would merge with the Canadian Football League, and be renamed the North American Football League. The American cities would be made up of those that lost out on the United States Football League folding. The idea never got past the planning stages.

Indiana legend

Finley resided primarily in Chicago and LaPorte, 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 under coach Ken Schreiber. Finley sent the team equipment once, 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.

He died on February 19, 1996 three days short of what would have been his 78th birthday.

The Kansas City Beatles concert

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, noting that the band wanted to use their only day off to "explore the traditional home of jazz." Undeterred, 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. Finley had a photo of himself in a Beatles wig printed on the back of all concert tickets.[5] It was the only concert on the Beatles tour that did not sell out. [6]

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

Quote

  • "Sweat plus sacrifice equals success."
  • S+S=S was engraved in his World Series rings. His players would refer to it as "shit plus shit equals more shit".[citation needed]

References

  1. ^ Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball's Super Showman, p.31, G. Michael Green and Roger D. Launius. Walker Publishing Company, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8027-1745-0
  2. ^ a b Fimrite, Ron. "They're Just Mad About Charlie," Sports Illustrated, May 21, 1979.
  3. ^ Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball's Super Showman, p.229, G. Michael Green and Roger D. Launius. Walker Publishing Company, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8027-1745-0
  4. ^ Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball's Super Showman, p.230, G. Michael Green and Roger D. Launius. Walker Publishing Company, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8027-1745-0
  5. ^ Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball's Super Showman, p.76, G. Michael Green and Roger D. Launius. Walker Publishing Company, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8027-1745-0
  6. ^ Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball's Super Showman, p.77, G. Michael Green and Roger D. Launius. Walker Publishing Company, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8027-1745-0

Further reading

External links


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