By: Amaury Pi-Gonzalez
When Charlie O. Finley, the controversial but successful businessman and owner of the Oakland Athletics, told me in 1977: “Yes, you can broadcast in Mexican,” little could he have envisioned that Hispanics would be the largest minority in California and in the United States some 40 years later.
I never really knew if Finley believed Mexican was an actual language when in fact it’s a nationality. Today, there are 33 different countries in Latin America and the Caribbean–most of them with Spanish as their main language. In Brazil, the largest country in Latin America, Portuguese is the official language. So, regardless of what Finley believed, the fact remains that he was an old school baseball owner who was much involved with his team as he had a passion of the game. He could talk baseball with the best of them. He was an insurance magnate, and when he became involved with baseball as owner, he challenged tradition and changed the game in many ways, especially the marketing with his loco promotions. By the way, the classic A’s Front Office was just a handful of folks–mostly his relatives–who actually used the three World Series trophies to file the mail.
This is what Glenn Dickey wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle about Finley in 1996: “The irony of Charlie Finley’s life was that everybody seemed to focus on what he did poorly and ignore what he did well. His promotions were farcical, often disastrous, but the man put together a baseball team that was the only non-Yankee team to win three straight World Series for the American League.”
But among his many crazy promotions–like the live mascot, a mule called Charlie-O–my all-time favorite was Harvey the Rabbit. And this season, the A’s brought the rabbit back. We now see this mechanical rabbit prior to each game at the Coliseum.
The original Harvey the Rabbit was something special. He was a mechanical rabbit who rose from the grassy ground behind home plate near the umpire with a basket full of baseballs for the umpire to put in play.
- Orange baseballs: Tried in a few exhibition games, but hitters found it too hard to pick up the spin.
- Hired Stanley Burrell (who would later gain worldwide fame as rapper MC Hammer) as Executive Vice President when he was just a teenager to be his “eyes and ears.” Burrell would called Finley on the telephone to give him exclusive updates of what was happening in the game. Sometimes, Burrell will bring us coffee or soda to our broadcasting booth. Burrell was a great kid.
- Offered players $300 bonuses to grow mustaches during the championships. For star Hall of Fame relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, the handlebar mustaches he grew for Finley became a trademark.
Finley lived in Chicago, where he died in 1996. He was a great salesman who made a fortune. His flamboyant marketing revolutionized baseball. He changed the traditional uniforms that were white and gray with black shoes and dressed his A’s with Green and Gold uniforms with white shoes, allowed facial hair, which has been making a comeback in baseball in recent years.
Finley owned and operated the Kansas City and Oakland A’s for 20 years. He would come to Oakland for a series of games, sit behind the A’s dugout many times wearing a green blazer and waving an A’s pennant on his right hand. He was passionate and involved like George Steinbrenner was with the New York Yankees years later.
More often than not, Finley would be in his “owners box” at the Coliseum. You could see his reactions to the game. When the team lost, he would not be happy and depending. When they lost, he would be furious. I remember him walking by the press box many times with Sarge (bodyguard) and his friends and/or associates screaming and complaining about a play, an umpire or even his own manager.
Finley was not what they call “politically correct” today. He said what he had in mind. After winning three consecutive World Series, he refused to pay his players millions of dollars to stay with the A’s. So one by one, Catfish, Reggie, Campy and others said “adios” to Oakland.
The only owner today among professional sports that reminds me of Finley is Dallas Mavericks billionaire owner Mark Cuban, but aside from Cuban, who also appears on TV on Shark Tank, most baseball owners today are not like Finley. Depending on what you like, that could be good or bad for the game of baseball.
Different times, different baseball…