Charlie Finley

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For other people named Charles Finley, see Charles Finley (disambiguation).
"Charlie O." redirects here. For the baseball mascot named after him, see Charlie-O.
Charlie Finley
Born Charles Oscar Finley
(1918-02-22)February 22, 1918
Ensley, Alabama
Died February 19, 1996(1996-02-19) (aged 77)
Chicago, Illinois
Residence LaPorte, Indiana
Nationality United States
Occupation businessman
Known for owner, Oakland Athletics

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 Major League Baseball's Oakland Athletics. Finley purchased the franchise while it was located in Kansas City, moving it to Oakland in 1968.

Early life[edit]

Finley was born in Ensley, Alabama, attended [Ensley]High School but was further raised in Gary, Indiana, and later lived in La Porte, 60 miles (100 km) east of Chicago. In 1946, he had a bout of tuberculosis that nearly killed him. Finley made his fortune in the insurance business, being among the first to write group medical insurance policies for those in the medical profession.

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." Finley's fortunes grew and he ended up owning a 40-story insurance building in downtown Chicago. When Finley bought his personal property in Laporte, he hired John Mihelic as his ranch caretaker. The property was a working cattle ranch which consisted of an 18th-century, eleven-room colonial manor house and nine barns and various outbuildings. Finley had a large mansion built on the property, which featured rounded porticoes and columns which resembled the White House. Mihelic and his family then moved into the original house and lived there as manager and caretakers.

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.

Owner of the A's[edit]

In Kansas City[edit]

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.

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 minor league (farm) system for the first time in the franchise's history.

From 1961 onward, Finley was effectively his own general manager, though the A's had someone with that title until 1966.

Charlie-O becomes the Athletics' mascot[edit]

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.) [1]

The "K.C. Pennant Porch"[edit]

After supposedly being told by manager Ed Lopat about the Yankees' success being attributable to the dimensions of Yankee Stadium, Finley 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[edit]

In 1963, Finley changed the team's colors to Kelly Green, Gold, and White. In 1967, he replaced the team's traditional black cleats with white. Finley 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.)

World Series success[edit]

The A's (as they were officially known from 1970) moved to California in January 1968, 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 jell. 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, in the existing Oakland Coliseum. Though he no longer owned the team when the A's won the World Series again in 1989, Tony La Russa, who managed that team and outfielder Rickey Henderson were originally scouted by Finley.

The beginning of Free Agency[edit]

In 1974, after winning a third straight World Series championship, Finley lost ace pitcher Catfish Hunter to free agency over a contract dispute. The A's still managed to dominate throughout the 1975 regular season without Hunter, only to lose to Boston in the playoffs. With free agency looming at the end of the 1976 season, Finley began dismantling the ball club. Reggie Jackson and Ken Holtzman were traded to Baltimore a week prior to the start of the 1976 season. Finley attempted to sell Rudi and Fingers to the Red Sox and Blue to the Yankees. Major League Baseball commissioner 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. Papiano and Finley lost the case (see 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 the 1976 season, most of the A's stars left the team as free agents. The few remaining stars from the A's dynasty years were traded away, with the exceptions of Vida Blue and Billy North. In 1977, only two years after winning a fifth straight division title and three years after winning a third consecutive World Series, the A's finished in last place in their division, with one of the worst records in baseball. After the 1977 season, Finley tried to sell Blue again, this time to the Cincinnati Reds. Kuhn vetoed this trade as well, saying that it amounted to a fire sale, and citing concern that if Blue joined the Reds, the balance of power in the National League would tilt disproportionately in favor of the Reds.

Selling the A's[edit]

Charlie O. and his "right-hand man," cousin Carl A. Finley started scouting for new talent in 1977. The Finleys brought in future stars such as Rickey Henderson, Tony Armas, Mitchell Page, Mike Norris, and Dwayne Murphy to rebuild the team. It was not until 1980 that the A's showed signs of improvement, under manager Billy Martin. However, after that season, Finley's wife divorced him and would not accept interest in the A's as part of a settlement. With most of the Finleys' money tied up in either Charlie O's insurance interests or the A's, the Finleys were forced to sell. The Finleys had been thinking of selling the team in any event due to the start of free agency.

In 1980, Charlie O. agreed in principle to sell to businessman Marvin Davis, who planned to move the Athletics to Denver. However, just before Finley and Davis were due to sign a contract, the NFL's Oakland Raiders announced they were moving to Los Angeles in 1982. Oakland and Alameda County officials, not wanting to be held responsible for losing Oakland's status as a big-league city in its own right, refused to let the A's out of their lease with the Coliseum. Forced to turn to local buyers, Finley agreed to sell the A's to Walter A. Haas, Jr., president of Levi Strauss & Co. in August 1980,[2][3][4] with the deal finalized before the 1981 season. Carl was asked to remain with the new owners as Vice President/mentor. Due in large part to the Finleys' efforts to rebuild the team, the A's made the playoffs in 1981.

Marketing[edit]

The Finley management was great at marketing. They changed the team uniforms to green and gold with white shoes and they gave some players fun nicknames. The Finley organization 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 the ability for fans to attend. Finley also was an outspoken advocate of the designated hitter rule, which he advocated until it was adopted by the American League. They were always full of new ideas, 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.[5]
  • A mechanical rabbit that would pop up behind home plate and deliver new balls to the umpire and was named "Harvey," at the A's home ballparks in Kansas City and Oakland.
  • 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."
  • Offering players $300 bonuses to grow moustaches during the championships. For star relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, the handlebar moustache he grew for Finley became a trademark.

Despite his reputation as a master promoter, Finley had less success marketing his team. According to baseball writer Rob Neyer, a Kansas City native, Finley thought he could sell a baseball team like he sold insurance. Soon after buying the A's, he sent out 600,000 brochures to area residents and only netted $20,000 in sales.[6] While in Oakland, the A's rarely had radio and television contracts, and were practically invisible even in the Bay Area. For the first month of the 1978 season, the A's radio flagship was KALX, the 10-watt college radio station of the University of California, Berkeley. A year later, the A's didn't sign a radio contract until the day before Opening Day. Largely as a result, the A's never drew well even in their championship years, and were even sued by the city of Oakland and Alameda County in 1979.[7]

The A's have recently held promotional days with throwback uniforms from the Finley years, and have invited former players and play-by-play announcer Monte Moore to attend.

Other sports ventures[edit]

Finley purchased the Oakland Seals of the National Hockey League in 1970,[8] 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.

In 1970, Finley also 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. He hired recently retired Kentucky Wildcats basketball coach Adolph Rupp as team president. Finley ran it on a shoestring budget. After the first season, he sold the teams and returned to baseball.

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.

Indiana legend[edit]

Charlie O. Finley resided primarily in Chicago and LaPorte, even as he owned the Oakland A's, making frequent trips to Oakland, he was in constant contact with his cousin Carl A. Finley who was overseeing the management of the team locally. Charlie O. was popular in his hometown of LaPorte, where he remained involved in the community late into his life.

While the Finley organization was building a championship team in Oakland, the LaPorte High School baseball team was becoming a powerhouse under coach Ken Schreiber. Charlie O. 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 lived his final years on his farm in LaPorte. He died at age 77 on February 19, 1996, three days before his birthday. He had suffered from heart disease and was admitted two weeks earlier to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.[9][10]

The Kansas City Beatles concert[edit]

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 encountered Epstein again in Los Angeles a week later and they agreed on $150,000. The Beatles earned what at the time was the highest fee ever for a musical concert, a staggering $4,838 per minute. Finley had a photo of himself in a Beatles wig printed on the back of all concert tickets.[11]

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

References[edit]

  1. ^ Oakland Athletics History
  2. ^ "Finley sells Oakland A's". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Associated Press. August 24, 1980. p. 1C. 
  3. ^ "Finley sells A's to Levi Strauss". Pittsburgh Press. UPI. August 24, 1980. p. D11. 
  4. ^ Johnson, Roy S. (September 1, 1980). "For the record: mileposts". Sports Illustrated: 89. 
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ Neyer, Rob (2006). Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders. New York City: Fireside. ISBN 0-7432-8491-7. 
  7. ^ Fimrite, Ron (May 21, 1979). "They're Just Mad About Charlie". Sports Illustrated: 36. 
  8. ^ "Charles Finley buys hockey club". Norwalk (CT) Hour. UPI. June 30, 1970. p. 25. 
  9. ^ "Former Oakland A's owner Charles Finley dies at age 77". Gettysburg Times. Associated Press. February 20, 1996. p. B3. 
  10. ^ Rosenthal, Michael (February 20, 1996). "Flamboyant Finley dies". The Dispatch (Lexington, NC). (Los Angeles Daily News). p. 1B. 
  11. ^ 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

Further reading[edit]

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