[Once A Star raw: Charlie Finley #5]

This tape is part of an interview with renowned Oakland A's manager Charlie Finley. In the interview, Finley discusses the lighter side of his career, from incentivizing his players to grow mustaches, to the difference between a mule and a donkey (Charlie-O, a mule, was the A's mascot for a brief period of time) to his tumultuous relationship with former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn. It was shot for the documentary Once A Star.

00:00Copy video clip URL Color bars. Audio leading into video of former Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley claiming that he had gone in and spoken with every player on the team before every game during the World Series. “You talk to some of these boys that’ll tell you the truth about those things, they’ll tell you how much fun we had together.”

00:32Copy video clip URL Finley states that in his time as owner for the Oakland A’s, he saw his team play very few times in Oakland, but saw many of their road games in cities like Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit. “I’d say I saw a good 50 of the games each year.” The rest of the season, he explains, he would spend listening to the games on the radio. He estimates that while he only saw about 50 games from the stands, he listened to around 95% of the team’s total games.

01:38Copy video clip URL On the topic of his status as a “self-made man” with a Depression-era work ethic, Finley is asked how he felt about the players on his team who were of a generation that essentially rebelled against the values he held sacred. When asked about the players’ appearance in regards to their long hair and mustaches, Finley recounts an anecdote about how the team’s mustachioed look came into being. In 1972, he explains, all-star player (and player representative) Reggie Jackson came into Finley’s office and asked him whether he would have any objections to himself and some of the other players growing mustaches. Finley told him that he had no objections whatsoever, and even encouraged the players to all grow mustaches, giving each player the incentive of a $200 suit if the entire team would do so.  At the end of the season, the whole team had grown mustaches, Finley says, but they questioned the quality of the suit Finley would have provided them, asking for the cash instead. Finley remarks that in the 1972 World Series the Oakland A’s were labeled, “The Mustache Boys.” Finley also claims that the 1972 team set the stage for facial hair becoming commonplace in professional sports.

05:25Copy video clip URL Finley is asked to describe the difference between “a donkey, a mule, a jackass and a horse,” in reference to “Charlie-O”, the mule that was the Oakland A’s mascot for a short time. He then proceeds to explain the way a mule is created, stating that a mule is “the result of a jackass and a horse getting together.”

06:58Copy video clip URL Speaking about Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner of Major League Baseball during the majority of his time as owner, Finley justifies his distaste for him. “If there was ever a commissioner in baseball that was an idiot, Bowie Kuhn fit the bill 100% . . . Bowie Kuhn was the nation’s idiot in my book.” Finley goes on to cite a $3.5 Million deal that Kuhn negated on him, when he sold 3 players to the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Finley also alludes to a time at which he had bought stock on the New York Stock Exchange and Kuhn demanded that he sell the stock, when Kuhn himself had sold another owner the same stock through his law firm in New York. Finley refused to sell, demanding that Kuhn clear his name in regards to illegal stock trading, which he did after a few weeks, then threatened retaliation against Finley. Finley says that he decided to leave baseball after the incident that lost him $3.5 million.

11:24Copy video clip URL Finley rationalizes his reasoning for being the owner of the A’s while acting as General Manager simultaneously, stating that he had played baseball until he was 32 years old and knew the game well enough to manage. “I was blessed, I think, with the ability or the talent to recognize talent.” He refers to pitcher Ken Holtzman and outfielder Billy North as two of the players whose talent he had recognized early on. Finley states that at the time, he felt as if he knew as much about running a baseball team as any of the other General Managers, and decided to become his own. “There’s women sitting in the stands of ballparks today that know as much about running a ball game as some of these managers do, sitting there on the damn bench.”

12:50Copy video clip URL Finley proceeds to provide his theory about running a successful team, explaining his strategy of placing a player that was “a little above average,” at each position, which, he states, made for a well-rounded team. Finley then claims to have personally scouted many of the all-star players that the A’s signed, such as Catfish Hunter, Johnny “Blue Moon” Odom, and Joe Rudi.

13:45Copy video clip URL Though he was involved in nearly every aspect of the Oakland A’s team, Finley says that he never felt that he was ever over-involved. “I think any General Manager of a baseball or football team, or any kind of team, should be on top of the action every day.” Not only did he own the Oakland A’s, Finley says, but he was also “a General Manager working for Charlie Finley.” He says that he would speak with the coach of the team after every single game in the season, and predicts that in the future, baseball managers will sit up in the stands and run the team. Finley goes on to describe his ideal setup for running a baseball team if he were to do it again today. “I would hire a manager to sit up with me in the stands, and we would radio everything down [to the assistant manager on the bench] . . . that we wanted to do.”

15:38Copy video clip URL “That’s the only way that we were successful: by the General Manager, Charlie Finley, working with the manager.” Finley tells about his relationship with the managers of his team, stating that in essence, their job was to do what he told them to do, but that he would always listen to the managers’ ideas as well. “If they couldn’t show me where I was wrong, we did it my way. If we didn’t do it my way, if we didn’t do it Charlie Finley’s way, they had to hit the highway.”

17:04Copy video clip URL Finley tells about the time that he brought in Dick Williams as manager, who helped the team win the 1972 and 1973 World Series. Finley attributes Williams’s success to his ability to work together with him. He then recalls that at the end of the 1973 World Series, with one year left on his contract, Williams went behind Finley’s back and signed a contract with the New York Yankees, which caused him to become suspended from baseball for one year. After a half a year’s suspension, Finley says that Gene Autry, Owner of the Los Angeles Angels at the time, asked if he could hire Williams, to which Finley responded that he would sell him for $100,00. Finley claims that if Williams had come to him and asked his permission to sign with the Yankees, he would have given him his blessing, but because he betrayed Finley’s trust, Williams never got the opportunity to manage the Yankees.

18:55Copy video clip URL Finley talks about other players and managers that he had hired or fired at one point or another, mentioning how he came to acquire manager Chuck Tanner to manage the Oakland A’s for a season, and how he let catcher Haywood Sullivan out of his contract with one year left as a personal favor to Tom Yawkey (owner of the Boston Red Sox), in exchange for his vote to allow Finley to move the team from Kansas City to Oakland. “There was a method to my madness.”

21:02Copy video clip URL End of tape.

 

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