Courtesy of Nancy FinleyCharles O. Finley
Charles O. Finley moved the A’s to Oakland and won the World Series three years in a row, from 1972 to 1974.
He spearheaded changes that transformed the sport – the designated hitter rule, night World Series games – and pushed for others that didn’t get any traction, like orange baseballs and designated runners.
Finley also inadvertently helped bring about baseball’s big-money era of free agency by losing a particularly bitter contract dispute with star pitcher Catfish Hunter.
Along the way, this hard-charging Chicago insurance tycoon drove a lot of people – players, fans, other owners and especially the baseball establishment – to distraction.
Now, 39 years after his ball club began its brilliant run, and 15 years after his death, baseball is trying to pretend the Finley era never existed, complains Nancy Finley, who is Finley’s cousin and who spent her girlhood in Oakland with her father, Carl Finley, the team’s longtime vice president.
“I’ve had so many people say, ‘(Baseball) should do this or do this or do that to honor your family,’” she says. “I have tried and tried, and what I get from Oakland is total silence.”
The Athletics dispute her contentions, saying the club honors its history and regards Finley as a remarkable innovator.
But Ms. Finley, who now lives in the East Bay suburbs, cites a series of slights, oversights and public misstatements that by her account reflect baseball’s attempt to write the Finleys out of the game’s history.
For example, in 2008, there was a pre-game event at the Oakland Coliseum marking the 40th anniversary of the team’s move to Oakland from Kansas City. But the Finleys weren’t included, she says, and it was the same story at an Old Timers’ game the following year.
The club has created a tribute jersey to honor the memory of Walter Haas Sr., the wealthy sportsman who bought the A’s from Finley and built the team that won the 1989 World Series over the San Francisco Giants.
Jimmy Tyler/FlickrFinley lost a particularly bitter contract dispute with star pitcher Catfish Hunter.
But she says there’s no jersey for Finley, even though his teams won more championships and weren’t implicated in steroid abuse, as were the ’89 A’s.
“I had an e-mail from someone in Japan who’s a 1970s A’s fan,” she says. “He said, ‘I don’t see a Finley tribute jersey.' ”
Meanwhile, the baseball Hall of Fame credits the late Commissioner Bowie Kuhn with initiating night World Series games, she complains, even though everybody knows Kuhn fought the idea tooth and nail when Finley first pitched it.
Then there’s the matter of a recent “80’s Night” promotion featuring famed Oakland rapper M.C. Hammer.
Once again, the Finleys weren’t involved, she claims, even though her father discovered Hammer when he was a kid hanging around the Coliseum parking lot looking for odd jobs.
At Charles Finley’s insistence, the teenage Hammer later was brought into the radio booth to broadcast an inning of an A’s game, she recalls.
In an e-mail, Athletics spokesman Bob Rose said he didn't understand Ms. Finley's complaints.
“We absolutely appreciate the role Charles O. Finley has played in our franchise’s history,” he wrote. The club has had a number of events honoring players from the great teams of the 1970s, he noted.
Of the M.C. Hammer event, Rose wrote: “M.C. held court with the media before the game and perhaps his main message was ‘Charlie Finley belongs in the Hall of Fame.’
With her other concerns in mind, Ms. Finley says she has come to dread the upcoming release of “Moneyball,” the new Brad Pitt film celebrating the Oakland Athletics of a decade ago. The low-budget team won 20 games in a row in 2002 but didn’t make it into the World Series. She fears the film will give no sense of the team’s glorious winning history.
“There was as commercial on TV, a preview of ‘Moneyball,’ and I just wanted to go in the corner and lay in fetal position for a few weeks,” she says.
Ms. Finley speculates that baseball and the A’s want to downplay the success of the '70s because they want to give up on Oakland.
For years, present owner Lewis Wolff has pushed to move the team to San Jose, but so far the effort has stalled because of opposition from the San Francisco Giants.
“I don’t think he wants to be here,” she says. “I don’t even know if he knows about the Finley years.”
Courtesy of Nancy FinleyNancy Finley, right, takes in an Oakland A's-Texas Rangers game in April 2011.
Ms. Finley acknowledges that her complaints may be so intense because she has such fond memories of Oakland and the A’s.
When the team moved West, her father came along to run day-to-day operations, while Charles Finley remained in Chicago. Ms. Finley went to Westlake Junior High School and then Oakland High.Ms. Finley acknowledges that her complaints may be so intense because she has such fond memories of Oakland and the A’s.
For a time, she and her father lived in an apartment on the top floor of the 1200 Lakeshore highrise on Lake Merritt.
Another top-floor unit was occupied by Black Panther leader Huey Newton, who had been freed from prison after appealing his conviction for killing a police officer. A nearby unit was occupied by an FBI surveillance team, she recalls.
Newton, whom she often saw in the elevator, was “very nice,” she says, and his bodyguards were “very polite.”
Ms. Finley says she often helped out in the A’s front office. She got to know the stars of the era – Hunter, slugger Reggie Jackson, relief pitcher Rollie Fingers and manager Dick Williams, all later elected to the Hall of Fame.
On a visit to Oakland when she was 16 or 17, Mr. Finley was so pleased with her work that he announced he was promoting her to vice president, she says. Her father took the title away the following day.
Now she has created a website devoted to A’s history and hopes to write a memoir of the team.
The definitive book on the A’s of the 1970s is sportswriter Ron Bergman’s “Mustache Gang, the Swaggering Saga of Oakland’s A’s.” It features a brittle portrait of Finley as a penny-pinching, wheeler-dealer sports executive.