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02/26/07 10:00 AM ET
Finley's influence still felt in baseball
Former owner of the A's to be voted on by Vets Committee
By Jim Street / MLB.com
Whenever the words "maverick owner" are mentioned, Charles O. Finley comes to mind. He was one of the most flamboyant, colorful, innovative and controversial club owners in the business during the 1960s and 1970s, first in Kansas City and then in Oakland. He introduced such things as white baseball shoes, Kelly green and Fort Knox gold uniforms, suggested that World Series games be played at night so kids and workers could watch, and even attempted to get his fellow owners to use orange baseballs because hitters could see them better than white baseballs during night games. The orange baseball concept never made it to first base, but his influence on the game -- 25 years after he sold the team and nearly 11 years after his death - remains visible. Every Fall Classic game is now played at night, the A's still wear white shoes, and some teams even wear red shoes. As a result, Finley once again is among the 15 candidates listed on the "Composite Ballot" for election to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. To be elected, eligible candidates are required to garner votes on at least 75 percent of the ballots cast. Finley fell short in 2003 -- the last time managers, umpires and executives were considered for Hall consideration -- receiving nine votes from the 79-member voting committee. Elections are held every four years. A former semipro player in Indiana, Finley developed a love of the game at a young age but a near-fatal bout with tuberculosis in 1946 ended his playing career. However, his extended stay in the hospital led to him developing an insurance company for doctors, putting him in such good financial shape that he purchased the Kansas City Athletics in 1960. Finley ruled his team with an iron fist and made a lot of the trades on his own, assembling the foundation for an A's team that moved to Oakland prior to the 1968 season and won consecutive World Series championships in 1972-73-74. It was the first MLB dynasty since the New York Yankees won five straight World Series titles from 1949 through '53. Along the way, Finley, named The Sporting News Man of the Year in 1972, feuded with then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn and butted heads with most of his managers, many of his players and a large contingent of the media, local and national. He hired former track star Herb Washington exclusively as a pinch-runner (no at-bats in 105 MLB games) and introduced "ballgirls" at the Oakland Coliseum. One of them, Debbie Sivyer, would later become "Mrs. Fields" of the famous cookie-making company. Before becoming rap star "Hammer," Stanley Burrell was Finley's hand-picked vice president during the late 1970s, although his duties never were clearly defined. "The guy is unique," former A's player Ted Kubiak once said. "He seems like he's got two personalities, like two people. There are times when he can be great, and other times ... I don't think I've ever met anybody like him." Dick Williams, the most successful of the many managers Finley had during his 20-year ownership tenure, said he didn't have to worry about the players being angry with him because all of their anger was directed at the owner. Williams managed the Athletics to their first two World Series championships, resigning after the 1973 Fall Classic because Finley had "fired" second baseman Mike Andrews for making two errors in one inning in Game 2 of the World Series. Andrews was reinstated on orders from Kuhn, but Finley had to find a new skipper. Alvin Dark replaced Williams and the A's won a third straight World Series title in 1974, but the dynasty began to crumble shortly thereafter. Star pitcher Catfish Hunter became a free agent because Finley didn't make payments to Hunter's life insurance, an annuity clause in Hunter's contract. Within a year, Finley sensed that his powerful team would be dismantled by free agency, so he began a roster overhaul. He traded Reggie Jackson to the Baltimore Orioles prior to the 1976 season and during that season attempted to sell Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi to the Boston Red Sox and Vida Blue to the New York Yankees. Kuhn voided all of the proposed deals because they were "not in the best interests of baseball." Seven players, including Fingers, Rudi, Blue, third baseman Sal Bando and catcher Gene Tenace, became free agents and signed elsewhere. Finley began rebuilding the team and the team was en route to another division championship in 1981 when he sold the franchise to the Levi-Strauss Company. He suffered a fatal heart attack on Feb. 19, 1996.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.