The book: “Finley Ball: How Two Baseball Outsiders Turned the Oakland A’s into a Dynasty and Changed the Game Forever”
The author: Nancy Finley
The vital statistics: Regnery History, 354 pages, $27.99
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website.
The pitch: The publisher of this book prides itself on its titles that relate to the Civil War, World War II, the Cold War, American politics and overseas espionage. Regnery History “brings new light to old subjects and introduces stories that deserve attention, but may have been ignored or even covered up in the past … to celebrate unsung heroes, bust myths, and bring out the story behind the conventional wisdom.”
So, sure, this one about Charles O. Finley fits here just fine.
Finley was often at war with the baseball establishment. He never felt the media really understood what he was doing. He was definitely against conventional wisdom.
So through the voice of his cousin’s daughter – Nancy, who used to refer to him as “Uncle Charlie, where there in the middle of most of his baseball life comes this version of Finley that, despite the title, may not have changed the game forever, but certainly had its colorful impact.
Nancy Finley’s father, Carl, was a high school principal in Dallas who was often summoned for advice by his cousin, Charles, who lived in Chicago and sold medical insurance.
Before they both figured things out, Charlie bought the Philadelphia Athletics, moved them to Kansas City (at a time when they could have moved to L.A. in the late ’50s), then pushed them through to Oakland before winning three World Series from 1972-74, the last one against the Dodgers.
There have been several bios written on Finley — in July 2010, there was the latest, “Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball’s Super Showman” by Roger Launius and G. Michael Green – but enough is enough.
With Nancy, who was 23 when Charles O. Finley sold the team to the Haas family in 1981, and then saw her dad stick around with new ownership until he was eventually replaced by Sandy Alderson, there is definitely more insider information that sheds some perspective on what happened and why.
She has all the legal paperwork involved in the Mike Andrews controversy from the 1972 World Series, when the former South Torrance High infielder made a couple errors in a key loss, signed off on an injury diagnosis but then claimed Finley coerced him. Turns out, there was much more to it.
She knows much more about the push and pull Finley dealt with in Kansas City – most of all from the sports editor of the Kansas City Star who was part of a group that wanted to buy the A’s, had Finley outbid him, then tried all kinds of unethical ways to make Finley’s life miserable.
Most fascinating is Nancy Finley’s discovery that through a genetic condition her daughter had, it became clear that Charles O. Finley likely had the same – synesthesia – which cross-connected things like colors and number, words and sensations, emotions and visual experiences. It also allowed Finley almost to see the game as a 3D chess set.
Thus, the team developed non-traditional uniforms, a combination of Kelly green, Fort Knox gold and wedding gown white, to go with albino kangaroo white shoes. (And a desire to introduce orange-colored baseballs that never happened.) At a time when color TV was becoming more common, Finley’s teams definitely were easier to identify.
The last A’s championship under his watch, against the Dodgers in 1974, capped a run that brought the word “dynasty” to the conversation.
As Nancy Finley writes about that time: “Charlie was at the top of the baseball world again and, this time he had made history. He had started in 1960 as an outsider, leading the running punchline that was the Kansas City Athletics. Less than fourteen years later, he had beaten the insider’s inside, the Dodgers’ owner, Walter O’Malley, and reached the rarest of rarified air – three consecutive World Series title.”
As Nancy Finley later tries to figure out “Uncle Charlie’s” legacy, she allows much more pride to get in the way of what she just got done documenting.
She says many were critical of him as a “helicopter owner,” and all his meddling. But that causes her to deduct: “If more owners did a little more Finley-style micro-managing, Major League Baseball might have been spared some of the steroid scandals that have tarnished so many reputations.”
She says the sports media had “excoriated him as incompetent, rude, crude and meddling.” But the next paragraph explains that when he bought a mule to act as the team’s mascot, it allowed him to use the line: “If you want to be my friend, kiss my ass.” She also tells several stories of times that he practically sexually harassed employees that in today’s world would have led to scandalous TMZ treatment.
Despite that, “Finley Ball” remains worth putting on the shelf with the others, as one more Finley filter of the events in his time.
As former A’s star Vida Blue says in a cover review: “A book from the Finley point of view is long overdue.” True enough, if only it could have come from Charlie O. himself instead of someone who could be accused of having a bit of agenda here.
More to know:
== A local Oakland TV station does a story on Nancy Finley in 2015 when she wanted more recognition for Charlie O. Finley’s contributions during a “Turn Back the Clock Day” promotion — including producing the boxed ashes of the former mule mascot.
== Other bios in the past on Finley and the A’s:
= “Charlie O. and the Angry A’s” by Bill Libby in 1975
= “Charlie O” by Herb Michelson in 1975
= “Champagne and Baloney: The Rise and Fall of Finley’s A’s” in 1976
= “Mustaches and Mayhem: Charlie O’s Three-Time Champions: The Oakland Athletics: 1972-74″ by SABR Digital Library in 2015