Authors: Nancy Finley
Copyright Â© 2016 by Nancy Finley
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First e-book edition 2016: ISBN 978-1-62157-542-9
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Finley, Nancy, author.
Title: Finley ball: how two baseball outsiders turned the Oakland A's into a dynasty and changed the game forever / Nancy Finley.
Description: Washington, DC: Regnery History, 2016.
Identifiers: LCCN 2015040963
Subjects: LCSH: Oakland Athletics (Baseball team) | Finley, Charles Oscar, 1918- | Finley, Carl A., 1924-2002. | Baseball team owners--United States--Biography. | BISAC: SPORTS & RECREATION / Baseball / History. | BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Sports. | HISTORY / United States / 20th Century. | HISTORY / United States / State & Local / West (AK, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, UT, WY).
Classification: LCC GV875.O24 F56 2016 | DDC 796.357/640979466--dc23
LC record available at
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To the memory of my father, Carl Finley, and with special thanks to our Finley Family, especially my husband Morgan D. King, my sons Doug and Morgan, and my daughter Taylor
ooks have been written about the Oakland A's baseball team, a team with a history of success second only to the New York Yankees. And books have been written about their charismatic owner Charlie Finley.
When Charlie Finley's niece, Nancy Finley, decided to put her memories of the Finley baseball epoch down on paper, she asked herself, “What can I say that hasn't already been said?” To her surprise, the more she thought about it, the more she realized the answer was: “Quite a lot.” She could write the untold story.
A sports dynasty as spectacular as the Oakland A's of the early 1970s naturally generates a certain mythology, and at the heart of A's mythology is the caricature of an outrageous owner, the “great Satan” of MLB, a man who was “bad for baseball.” But forty years after Charlie Finley's team won its third World Series title, it's time to get past the myths. In telling the Finley side of the story, Nancy brings to life one of the most fascinating characters in baseball history.
She also writes about another man, who was rarely mentioned in the sports media but was as responsible for the team's achievements as Charlieâher dad, Carl Finley, the “unseen hand” behind Charlie and the success of the franchise. Providing an insider's perspective on how these cousinsâan insurance salesman and a high school principalâside-by-side took a perennial last-place team and rebuilt it into what
proclaimed the “Team of the Century,” she reveals the secrets of their success.
Starting with a “fateful midnight meeting” in Kansas City, she fills in the gaps in the story of Charlie's battles with two men who were determined to destroy himâthe sports editor of the
Kansas City Star
during the A's stint in that city, Ernest Mehl, and the commissioner of Major League Baseball through most of Charlie's years with the A's, Bowie Kuhn.
And she tells the Finley side of the Mike Andrews affair, the most famous “brouhaha” in the team's history, in which Charlie was the subject of a show trial in the court of public opinion.
She also writes about a fascinating scientific explanation for Charlie Finley's fascination with colorsâa rare genetic condition that might also explain his uncanny insight into the game of baseball.
Until now, much of the history of the Oakland A's from the mid-1970s to 1981 has been a blank page. But Nancy was there and knows what happened in those fateful years when free agency set the franchise back by several years.
She saw and heard things about Charlie and Carlâ“those rascals”âthat no one has ever told: their flirtations and affairs, their pranks, their arguments, their eccentricities, their failures and achievements.
It's a story of strong-willed men, and some women too, in the glitter and glory of an amazing baseball eraâ
, James Bond, and the Three Stooges rolled into oneâa story untold till now.
t felt strange to be back.
It was 2003, and I was sitting behind the Oakland A's dugout on the first deck, inhaling the familiar salty fragrance of the San Francisco Bay. I hadn't been inside the Oakland Coliseum in a long time.
At age nine, my blue-eyed daughter, Taylor, was scheduled to throw the ceremonial first pitch in honor of her grandfatherâmy dad, Carl A. Finleyâwho passed away on March 30, 2002.
Art Howe introduced himself to Taylor when she entered the field and walked her out to the pitcher's mound. He was speaking softly, and I could tell they were talking about the correct way to hold the ball. He looked a bit surprised when she showed him she knew how.
I could see Taylor's confidence rise in Mr. Howe's presence. She was shy and looked so tiny out on the mound, her long blonde hair restless in the gentle Bay breeze as she positioned herself to wind up, just like Catfish Hunter. I held my breath. She cocked her left knee, aimed her glove at home plate, and tossed the hardball over her head toward the
batter's box. Her pitch was true and straight toward the home plate. It fell a foot short, but she looked like a natural. I let out my breath slowly, glad to witness this moment. The next day, Taylor's image appeared on the front page of the
Contra Costa Times
, and the
. She had her moment in baseball history, the latest in our Finley family line to do so.
Sitting in that ballpark I had a familiar feelingâthat anticipation of what will happen next on that storied baseball field, where almost daily I watched A's legends like Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, and too many others to name now. I wondered how many baseball games I had attended there. A thousand? The Coliseum felt haunted by the ghosts of my Uncle Charlie and my dad, Carl A. Finley. If they could speak, they would tell a bitter story, a thrilling story, a story about silly things, and secret things. But since they're gone, I'll tell it for them.
It's a story about a baseball team and the men who owned it and steered its destiny for twenty years. It is about me, as well, growing up and coming of age amid the glitter and glory of major league baseball. It is a story untold till nowâthe Finley side of the story.
All stories have to begin sometime, somewhere. This one starts in the late 1950s with three men, whose lives were previously unconnected.
The first was Charles Oscar Finley, my uncle, who ran a health insurance company in Chicago. The idea for his insurance business had come to him when he was hospitalized for twenty-four months with tuberculosis in the 1940s. By the time he got out his body had withered to ninety-five pounds, but his mind was sharp, and he saw an opportunity. He learned that the doctors did not have a health insurance program designed just for them. He soon offered group insurance to doctors for health and disability, added malpractice to the coverage, and in a few years he was wealthy. Charlie was a great salesman, but otherwise there wasn't anything unusual about him. He was married and had seven children (my cousins). He liked to fish in a pond on his property in La Porte, Indiana. And one of his favorite sports was baseball.
The second man was Arnold Johnson. In 1954 he bought the Philadelphia Athletics and moved the team to Kansas City. Johnson also had
financial interests in Yankee Stadium, and he seemed to pay more attention to the Yankees than to the Athletics. In 1959 he made a rare appearance at his team's spring training, where he dropped dead of a cerebral hemorrhage. He left his 52 percent share of the club to his wife and young son. Mrs. Johnson quickly remarried and put the franchise up for auction.
The third man was Ernie Mehl, the sports editor of the
Kansas City Star
. Passionate about bringing Major League Baseball to his city, he had helped Johnson win MLB's approval for the Athletics' move from Philadelphia. Upon Johnson's death Mehl organized a group of Kansas City investors to bid on the team.
My part of the story begins in Dallas. I was a little girl, the only child of Carl and Helen Finley. We were living a Norman Rockwell life in a comfortable one-story brick house with a swing in the backyard. My parents had met while Dad was at Southern Methodist University and Mom was a nurse at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. Both had studied Latin and Greek. They loved history and could recite the entire line of Roman emperors. I have memories of books on ancient Egypt all over the house.
Mom was a medical officer in World War II and made a desperate escape from Corregidor in the Philippines with Douglas MacArthur. Dad worked with the army's Navajo Code Talkers, who devised a code that the Japanese could never break. After the war he studied law, but his interests were academic, and he became the principal at Thomas Jefferson High School, within walking distance of our home. Mom resumed her profession as a nurse at Parkland Hospital.
I would wake in the mornings to the smell of strong coffee. On weekends I would find my parents in the kitchen with the
Dallas Morning News
, working the crossword puzzle and talking of current events. But that was all about to change. Something was going to happen that would throw all of these men and their wives and me into a twenty-year drama that would wreck marriages, tear apart families, rip my dad out of his academic career in Dallas, ruin a writer's dream of owning an MLB team, and pit Charlie against a legion of lesser men who couldn't
stand the idea that a mere insurance salesman could waltz in and . . . well, that's the rest of the story.
It all began on an ordinary Saturday morning with a phone call that changed our lives. Over the next two decades I heard conversations, arguments, lies, and expressions of regret. The players in this drama never noticed me, and I never spoke up. I just held my breath, hoping things would turn out okay.
But now, seeing my daughter out there, I realize that I'm the only one left who can tell this story, and it's time to tell it.
My name is Nancy Finley.