Dan's Dugout: Finley Finally Reaches Cooperstown • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Finley Finally Reaches Cooperstown

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COOPERSTOWN – There’s finally a Finley in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Nancy Finley, author of Finley Ball, left dozens of signed books in the bookstore following her wildly successful appearance Wednesday.

Nancy Finley had a big crowd for her signing at the Hall of Fame Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Speaking as part of the summer Author’s Series, the visiting California resident made a strong case not only for Charlie Finley, her uncle, but also for her dad and Charlie’s cousin Carl, who was instrumental in running the Oakland teams that won consecutive world championships from 1972-74.

Wearing a lime-green suit just a shade different from the famous green-and-gold that Charlie chose for his Athletics, Nancy told a packed Bullpen Theater that her book is the only one that covers the colorful years when her Uncle Charlie owned the club (1961-80).

“The reason the team was sold has never been in any other book,” she said. “I tell the story from an insider’s point of view rather than repeating what other authors wrote.”

She noted that her dad was a hands-on executive while her uncle spent most of his time running his Chicago insurance empire.

“Carl dealt with travel, player contracts, the media, and so many other things,” she said, “but Charlie was there only during championships.”

The colorful Finley era was on full display Wednesday when Nancy Finley visited Cooperstown Credit: Dan Schlossberg

The colorful Finley era was on full display Wednesday when Nancy Finley visited Cooperstown
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

There were lots of those, with five straight American League West division titles from 1971-75.

Nancy grew up in Dallas, which she remembers as a segregated town, before moving to Oakland with her dad. She also remembers Carl’s close friendship with Joe DiMaggio, which led to his serving as a coach for the A’s.

When her cherished Uncle Charlie died in 1996, Carl started to decline, she said. “They depended upon each other.”

According to Nancy, the Finley cousins had diverse personalities but identical goals. “Dad wanted to take the high road,” she said when asked about her outspoken and sometimes-abrasive uncle.

Finley admitted that her book not only honors her family but also captures both its genius and its flaws. “I wondered why we were in the papers so often,” she said.

To be sure, Finley had more than his share of feuds: with Ernie Mehl of the Kansas City Star in Missouri, the Oakland-Alameda County Stadium Authority in California, and Commissioner of Baseball Bowie Kuhn, who vetoed numerous Finley deals using the ubiquitous “best interests of baseball” power.

Things got so uncomfortable in Oakland that the Finley children received kidnap threats, Nancy said. Living in the same apartment building as Huey Newton of the Black Panthers posed another problem.

Nancy Finley had a big crowd for her signing at the Hall of Fame Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Nancy Finley had a big crowd for her signing at the Hall of Fame
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

“Dad got me out of there and moved me in with his girlfriend,” she said. “Dad had his girlfriends but if they ever criticized me, they weren’t around very long.”

Concerned with restless fans who might become a bit too boisterous, the Finleys put extra money into stadium security. “Dad had a lot of undercover people in the Coliseum,” said Nancy. “We had the local sheriff involved and even the FBI. Maybe that’s why we never had any violence in the stands.”

Finley also barred players from cursing in front of kids. “Of course the first bad word I ever heard was from a player,” she laughed.

Making the case that both Charlie and Carl should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame gallery that was a few feet away from her Wednesday, Nancy Finley said they ran championship teams with skeleton front offices and gave baseball ideas that were ahead of their time.

“No idea could be called stupid,” she said of her innovative relatives, who dressed players and ballparks in bright colors, initiated the idea of mascots with a mule given by the Governor of Missouri, and even changed the stadium dimensions to match the configuration of Yankee Stadium.

“We shortened the distance to right field in Kansas City by building our Pennant Porch,” she said. “We were told not to do it but we went ahead in the interest of fairness.”

Although the team struggled in Kansas City, it thrived during most of the Oakland years.

“We had amazing players,” Nancy Finley noted. “They were like family. They could give each other a look and know what they wanted to do on the field. It’s not like that anymore.”

She had special praise for Catfish Hunter, who pitched a perfect game for the A’s en route to the Hall of Fame. “He was always well-loved by all of us,” she said.

Nancy Finley's book is an enjoyable and enlightening read Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Nancy Finley’s book is an enjoyable and enlightening read
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Hunter left Oakland for New York through a loophole before the advent of free agency. “Dad warned me the players would leave for more money,” the first-time author added.

The 1976 advent of free agency coincided with stadium issues that plagued the Finley family. “When the Haas family bought the team from us,” she explained, “they put $100,000 into the front office. The stadium authority had told us the cinder-block offices would be finished but even after we won three straight World Series, nothing was done.”

The Finleys, in the meantime, put $500,000 into dressing up the ballpark and making it more attractive for fans. According to Nancy, the Finleys were not only cast from the Bill Veeck mold but expanded the concept. It was Veeck who once said, “Give ‘em a show if you can’t give ‘em a ballclub.”

The Finleys provided both but were blocked from Cooperstown after Kuhn, their nemesis, and even the controversial and outspoken Veeck got in.

According to the author, the Finleys did not oppose free agency but felt it was heavily weighted in favor of the players union. Uncle Charlie wanted to make all players free agents simultaneously and rely on a system of one-year contracts but union chief Marvin Miller objected, she said.

Once free agency started, a mass exodus of A’s stars crippled the team so badly that it sparked a lawsuit from the Oakland stadium authority. “It said our players were beneath major-league standards,” Finley revealed.

Nancy's Uncle Charlie made the cover of TIME

Nancy’s Uncle Charlie made the cover of TIME

“We wanted to get better so Dad hired Billy Martin as manager during the 1979 owners meetings,” she said. “When we made the playoffs in 1981, it made us think we might have a repeat of the ‘70s.”

A permanent place in Cooperstown for Charlie Finley could have followed a potential movie starring George C. Scott as the enigmatic owner but the Hollywood project fizzled – much like the team before the advent of Billy Ball.

Before leaving the stage, Nancy Finley learned that her famous surname might be included on the Veterans Committee ballot at this year’s Baseball Winter Meetings in Orlando four months from now.

From this reporter’s perspective, it should be.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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