In 1992, he became only the second reliever to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Fingers is also one of only a few MLB players to have his number retired by more than one club (Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers). Fingers is also known for his neatly groomed handlebar mustache.
Fingers was born in Steubenville, Ohio to George Michael Fingers and Edna Pearl (née Stafford) Fingers. His father (who had also played minor league baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals and roomed with Stan Musial), worked in a Steubenville steel mill. George Fingers came home from work fed-up one day, said "That's it, we're moving to California," and sold the house for $1,500 and bought a car and took the family to Cucamonga. They could not afford hotels so they slept in sleeping bags beside the highway. After getting to California George Fingers had to eventually go back to work in another steel mill.
Just nine days after he got married to his high school sweetheart and the Upland High School team statistician (Jill), on minor league opening day 1967 in Birmingham, a ball hit Fingers in the face, breaking his cheekbone, jaw, and knocking out some teeth. His jaw was wired shut for five weeks and when he returned he jumped every time the ball was hit; it took him about half the remaining season to get used to being on the mound again.
Fingers was a starter throughout his minor league career. He had started 19 games in 1970. But a May 15, 1971 start against the Royals in Kansas City would be his last in regular rotation (he gave up one run on four hits in five full innings; final score Royals 5 - A's 4). He came in on May 21, 1971 in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins in Oakland after Blue Moon Odom gave up three runs and three walks facing eight batters. He pitched 5-1/3 allowing three hits and two runs (Twins 10 – Oakland 1). After that his earliest entrance to a game was in the sixth inning, and only three times. Mainly he came in the seventh, eighth, or ninth (he came in once in the eleventh and once in the twelfth).
By the end of May 1971 his manager with the Athletics, Dick Williams, had made up his mind that Fingers would be the late inning closer. The following season, 1972, Fingers entered the game in the fifth four times, otherwise it was the sixth or later. He did start two games in 1973 (April 21 versus the California Angels at Oakland and May 7 against the Orioles at Baltimore; His May 7, 1973 start was the last of his career), other than that he came into the game no earlier than the sixth on three more occasions. After that he rarely entered a game before the seventh inning for the rest of his career.
Fingers was on the Oakland Athletics team that accomplished the first modern-day "three-peat," winning the World Series in '72, '73 and '74. In 1974, he won the World Series MVP Award while with Oakland, earning two saves and one win.
With the end of baseball's reserve clause, all players not under a multiyear contract were set to become free agents after the 1976 season. Athletics' owner Charlie Finley, believing he would not be able to afford to re-sign his key players, attempted to sell Fingers and Joe Rudi to the Boston Red Sox for $1 million each and Vida Blue to the New York Yankees for $1.5 million in June. Bowie Kuhn, the Commissioner of Baseball, nullified the sale, saying that the transactions were "not in the best interests of baseball." Finley sued Kuhn, and benched Fingers, Rudi, and Blue, saying that they belonged to other teams. Members of the Athletics threatened to strike against Finley if they did not play, and he relented. After the season, Fingers signed with the San Diego Padres as a free agent.
At the end of his career, after being released by the Brewers the previous season, he was offered a contract by Pete Rose to play for the Cincinnati Reds for 1986, but owner Marge Schott had a "clean cut" policy for her players (mandating that all players must be clean shaven). Fingers's reply to Reds general managerBill Bergesch was: "Well, you tell Marge Schott to shave her Saint Bernard, and I'll shave my moustache".
When Fingers reached the major leagues, the role of relief pitchers was limited, as starting pitchers rarely left games while holding a lead; but as team offense increased following the 1968 season, and especially with the American League's introduction of the designated hitter in 1973, managers became more willing to replace starters in the late innings with a lead in order to forestall any late rallies by opponents. Through the 1960s, both leagues' annual saves leaders tended toward totals of 20–25 saves; few pitchers remained in the role more than two or three years, with significant exceptions such as Roy Face and knuckleballerHoyt Wilhelm. But in the 1970s, in an era allowing for greater opportunities for closers than had previously been available, Fingers' excellence in relief allowed him to gradually increase his annual saves totals past 30. In 1980 he broke Wilhelm's record of 227 saves, and eventually finished with 341, a record that stood until Jeff Reardon passed it in 1992.
Fingers is regarded as a pioneer of modern relief pitching, essentially defining the role of the closer for years to come. As had generally been true in baseball through the 1960s, Fingers was originally moved to the bullpen—and eventually to his role as a closer—due to struggles with starting. Before Fingers' time, a former starter's renewed success in the bullpen would have led back to a spot in the starting rotation; but since the successes of not only Fingers but also contemporaries such as Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage, it has been widely accepted that an excellent pitcher might actually provide a greater benefit to his team as a closer than as a third or fourth starter. (Gossage, for example, was moved to the starting rotation after a first few seasons in relief—and he got clobbered despite pitching 17 complete games and was then moved back to the bullpen to stay.) As a result, later teams have been more willing to move successful starters—notably Dennis Eckersley, Dave Righetti, and John Smoltz—to the permanent role of closer, with no plans to bring them back to the rotation (although Smoltz bucked that trend by successfully returning to the rotation in 2005). In 2006, Bruce Sutter became the first pitcher in baseball history elected to the Hall of Fame who never started a game in his major league career.
In addition to his pitching ability, he was noted for his waxed handlebar moustache which he originally grew to get a $300 bonus from Athletics owner Charles O. Finley. On the first day of spring training for the 1972 season, Reggie Jackson showed up with a beard. In protest, Fingers and a few other players started going without shaving to force Jackson to shave off his beard, in the belief that management would also want Jackson to shave. Instead, Finley, ever the showman who would do anything to sell tickets, then offered prize-money to the player who could best grow and maintain their facial hair until Opening Day (April 15 versus Minnesota). Fingers went all out for the monetary incentive offered by Finley and patterned his moustache after the images of the players of the late 19th century. Taking it even further, Finley came up with "Moustache Day" at the ballpark, where any fan with a moustache could get in free.
Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman also went for the bonus, but Fingers with his Snidely Whiplash took the prize. He would say later: "Most of us would have grown one anywhere on our bodies for $300". The players would become known as the "Moustache Gang". Although most former Athletics players shaved their handlebar moustaches off after the team traded most of their players in 1975–76, Fingers maintained his after signing with the San Diego Padres as a free agent in 1977, and still has the moustache today.
In 1992 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, joining Wilhelm to become only the second reliever inducted (Eckersley, Sutter, and Gossage have since followed). In 1999, he ranked Number 96 on The Sporting News list of Baseball's Greatest Players, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Fingers later pitched a season in the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball League.
Sports Illustrated reported on January 2, 2007 that Fingers owed the state of Wisconsin (in 2007) more than $1.4 million in income taxes dating back to his time with the Brewers (including $1.1 million in interest) and was at the time the seventh biggest tax delinquent in the state. Fingers disputed the claim, saying he was shocked when he learned of it in 2005 and that taxes were properly withheld from his Brewers paychecks.
On August 15, 2007, the Associated Press reported that Fingers' name had been removed from Wisconsin's delinquent tax list the previous month. "That's all been taken care of," he told the AP. "I've had more people try to tell me, 'You know, you owe 1.4 million dollars.' I said, 'No, I don't.' We got all that squared away. I had to go all the way back to 1981 on my income taxes. That's all been taken care of, and I did pay my taxes back then, so there's no problem. The revenue department's happy with me right now, so it's all been resolved."
Rollie Fingers and 4 other members of his family appeared on a 1983 episode of the game showFamily Feud. After the opening theme, to honor Fingers, host Richard Dawson led the crowd in a chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game". Fingers also appeared in a pair of commercials for Pepsi Max, playing himself in a Field of Dreams setting along with other legendary players. In one commercial, when the Pepsi Max delivery man replenishes an empty vending machine, Fingers appears to take his moustache off and give it to the delivery man, saying, "Great save, kid. You deserve this."
In 1994/1995 a comedy segment entitled "Rollie TV", concerning a fictitious cable television channel devoted solely to the life of Rollie Fingers and helmed by a Rollie Fingers obsessed host named Greg Shuttlecock, aired once a week on The Steve Dahl Radio Show on WMVP AM1000 in Chicago. The idea and segment were created & performed by Jeffery C. Johnson and Jim Toth. A "Rollie TV" skit had originally aired in 1993 on Toth & Johnson's Chicago cable TV show "Color TV" and was then adapted into segments for radio.
^Fingers, Rollie; and Christopher "Yellowstone" Ritter (2009). - Rollie's Follies: A Hall of Fame Revue of Baseball Lists and Lore, Stats and Stories. - Cincinnati, Ohio: Clerisy Press. - ISBN 978-1-57860-335-0.
^Fingers, Rollie; and Christopher "Yellowstone" Ritter (2010). - The Rollie Fingers Baseball Bible: Lists and Lore, Stories and Stats. - Cincinnati, Ohio: Clerisy Press. - ISBN 978-1-57860-342-8.