Overbearing, Ostentatious and Odd
Overbearing, ostentatious, odd. All three words could describe the way Charlie O. Finley operated. You won’t want to miss this week’s read, “Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball’s Super Showman” by G. Michael Green and Roger D. Lanius.
1. Charlie Finley did some good.
Up until the end of his tenure, the Kansas City/Oakland owner committed himself to doing whatever was necessary to field good teams at all levels. This helped him discover and sign All-Star talent. While Reggie Jackson emerged as “Mr. October” in Oakland, he also endured death threats. Finley did everything he could to protect his star. Finley also took a special interest in a future star, making 11-year-old Stanley Burrell an honorary club vice president. According to some, Finley nicknamed the boy “Hammer” for his resemblance to Hank Aaron. Hammer later added an “MC” in front.
2. Charlie Finley did some bad.
When Finley assumed ownership of the Kansas City Athletics, he vowed, “And when I got a place to roost in Kansas City, brother, I mean to tell you I’m here to stay. (37, Charlie) Nevermind that rumors circulated almost as soon as he deplaned that he was already negotiating to move the team. “On the way back to the hotel, all he could do was talk about moving the club out of Kansas City. That was the first hint I had of future trouble,” A’s broadcaster Bill Grigsby said. (55)
At one point, Finley staged the burning of a school bus to mark the end of trades with the Yankees for a PR stunt. Evidently Finley wasn’t thinking of PR or the media when he called for “Ernie Mehl Appreciation Day.” Finley instigated a long time feud with the veteran KC columnist and offered Mehl a poison pen award along with serenades of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” to commemorate the “honor.”
3. Charlie Finley did some just plain ugly.
After second baseman Mike Andrews made a pair of miscues in game two of the 1973 World Series, Finley determined to do something about it by whatever means necessary. He recalled Andrews had battled shoulder injuries earlier in his career and demanded that Andrews cite his shoulder as a liability so that the A’s could replace him with another player. Except Andrews’ shoulder was in fine shape by that time, and when Commissioner Bowie Kuhn got to the bottom of it, he blocked Finley’s multiple attempts at trickery. It took Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal to knock this messy soap opera off of America’s front pages.
Finley’s search for a mascot to replace the franchise’s original elephant caught plenty of notice too. He settled on a mule after reading a Chicago Tribune story about the importance of Missouri mules in World War I. Finley called his prize mascot Charlie O. and took him to every American League city. He then bought a baby mule that he insisted be carted on the field as soon as it arrived during the middle of a ballgame.
Perhaps worst of all, Finley’s volatility forced manager Dick Williams to resign voluntarily in the middle of the team’s 1973 World Series celebration. Williams couldn’t take it anymore. Winning wasn’t worth it.
Charlie Finley’s middle initial stood for Oscar. He would have done well to leave it at that. Instead “O” stood for Oscar the Grouch and a whole lot more.
Sam Miller is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he worked with various teams in sports information and received the Freedom Forum – NCAA Sports Journalism Scholarship for his achievements. During the 2009 season, Miller served as communications intern for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Prior to that, he worked as a communications intern for USA Basketball and as an associate reporter for MLB.com.