Academic journal article Nine

"Charlie Finley Has Soured My Stomach for Baseball": Charles O. Finley versus His Players

Academic journal article Nine

"Charlie Finley Has Soured My Stomach for Baseball": Charles O. Finley versus His Players

Article excerpt

Kansas City Athletics pitcher Vida Blue uttered this title's quote after resolving a season-opening salary dispute and holdout with A's owner Charles O. Finley in May 1972. (1) The holdout finally ended after Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn decided to mediate the dispute, and President Richard Nixon--in an irony too great to ignore--publicly sided with Blue. Blue went on to say that Charlie Finley "treated me like a damn colored boy." His experience with Finley exemplified the owner's relationship with many of his players during the late 1960s and 1970s. (2) Charles Finley could be a very generous, kindhearted, and charming person. On several occasions he spent huge sums of money helping players and coaches with family medical emergencies. However, Finley had a darker side--one of control and manipulation. He could be bombastic, egotistical, and confrontational. In later years Finley's "generosity" included many strings and caveats that damaged his relationships with his players.

In sum, Charlie Finley was a bully. This essay examines his bullying antics and the "paternal relationship" Finley imposed upon his players. It will explore Finley's positive and negative relationship traits with his players as well as the players' reactions to these traits. We will examine two of the most infamous Finley-player controversies: the 1967 airliner incident that resulted in Finley's eventual suspension and the release of Ken Harrelson and the 1973 World Series controversy involving Mike Andrews. These two controversies had a lasting effect on the A's and provided the American public with a negative picture of their eccentric owner. It is important to understand that wherever Finley went he engendered contempt, or so it appeared. And he never seemed to mellow with age. In Kansas City in 1961, many people thought him a jerk, and in 1980, when he finally sold his team to Oakland, many people still thought him a jerk. (3)

SHENANIGANS AT THIRTY THOUSAND FEET: FINLEY VERSUS THE 1967 A'S

Charlie Finley's cantankerous relationship with his players did not happen overnight. Throughout the 1960s Finley ran his team as he ran his insurance business--his way was the only way. Finley was not a patient man and did not trust advice from others. He was demanding and wanted to turn Kansas City into a winner. While he could be extremely generous and kindhearted, he also quickly betrayed pettiness, crudeness, meanness, and capriciousness. Finley lived by the creed "sweat plus sacrifice equals success." It was how he became a millionaire, and he demanded the same all-out effort from his players, coaches, and managers. Finley spent most of the 1960s fighting with his managers, general managers, and the municipal leaders of Kansas City. Never satisfied with having the team in Kansas City, Finley threatened to move the team if city leaders did not resolve his complaint of the moment. He also eventually alienated his entire fan base. He is remembered for his off-the-wall promotional ideas for increasing the sub-par attendance at Kansas City's Municipal Stadium. Finley was not initially involved in the daily activities of his players or field managers and avoided interfering with on-field decisions. This was about to change.

As the 1967 baseball season dragged through the hot and humid month of August, little was going right for the Kansas City Athletics. After a promising 1966 campaign in which they won 74 games and finished in seventh place, the young A's were experiencing the tougher side of life in the Major Leagues. The 1967 season began with great hope; Alvin Dark was back to manage the A's. Sports Illustrated ran a feature article on the young team in its March 13 issue that stated, "For the first time, the A's are not the subject of ridicule.... Some people have been so bold as to predict a K.C. pennant may be only two years away."

After a quick start, the overachieving young A's found themselves once again near the bottom of the American League. …

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