Jason Turbow is our guest on the latest Voices Podcast. Turbow is the author of Baseball Codes and his new book, Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, will be available on March 7 at your favorite bookseller.
During the first half of the 1970s, the Oakland A’s won five consecutive division titles (1971-1975) and three consecutive World Series titles (1972-1974). In fact, the A’s and the New York Yankees are the only two teams in history to have won three or more consecutive titles.
Despite the championships, not everything was blue skies and sunshine in Oakland. You can thank A’s owner Charlie Finley for that. Today, the success of the Finley era (1968-1980) is overshadowed by drama and controversy.
“Finley’s a no-good S.O.B. but he has made himself a thorough student of player talent,” Frank Lane, the veteran general manager and former Finley employee, told Sports Illustrated after the 1973 season. “He calls all the shots (on the A’s) and he’s become a damn good manager. That’s right, I said manager.”
Finley was known for being meddlesome, controlling and tight-fisted.
“Black or white, doesn’t make a bit of difference to Charlie Finley,” said Reggie Jackson. “All people are the same color to him. Green.”
Finley flew coach and refused to buy postage for fan mail and after the 1973 World Series. Rollie Fingers said the A’s were upset because the WS rings were “just a piece-of-crap ring with no diamond in it … the rings looked like they came from a ‘Cracker Jack’ box.”
This is the same owner who reportedly bought Vida Blue a Cadillac and “Catfish” Hunter a six-figure loan to buy a farm and paid his players to grow facial hair.
According to league payrolls data, the average salary for a Major League Baseball player during the A’s championship season was:
- 1972: Average salary – $34,000
- 1973: Average salary – $36,000
- 1974: Average salary – $40,000
Baseball Almanac reports 14 of the 25 players on the 1972 Oakland A’s were paid above the league average; 12 of 25 players on the 1973 roster made above the league average; and 10 of the 25 players on the 1974 championship team made above the league average.
His players fought him — and each other. An egomanical owner, proud players and constant friction made life interesting in Oakland. The greater the turmoil, the more they won. Drama was like oxygen to the Oakland Athletics. “If you try to figure Finley out, you’ll only succeed in confusing yourself,” wrote former Kansas City sportswriter Joe McGuff. “His capacity for turmoil is incredible. He thrives on it. He enjoys tough times so he can work his way out of them and give himself credit.”
“He just wanted to win,” said Ken Holtzman. “Sure, the players didn’t like him, but it never hurt their performance.”
In 1996, the year Finley died, his championship teams showed just how much they didn’t like their former owner when only two of his former players attended his funeral (Jackson and Hunter).
Note: MLB Network will air an hour-long documentary on the Swingin A’s this Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. The program is narrated by M.C. Hammer.