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Rollie Fingers

Relief ace still maintains mustache, competitive drive

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Rollie Fingers
Known for his handlebar mustache and sharp slider, Fingers appeared in 16 World Series games.
Richard Mackson/SI

By Julia Morrill

Hall of Fame pitcher Rollie Fingers was one of baseball's first dominant closers, the epitome of a reliever who betrayed little emotion under the stress of a tight game.

In 1980 as a member of the San Diego Padres, Fingers recorded his 227th career save, breaking the record set by Hoyt Wilhelm in 1972. The Padres finished sixth in the NL West that year, but Fingers went 11-9 with a 2.80 ERA and 23 saves.

Following a trade to the St. Louis Cardinals, who dealt him to the Milwaukee Brewers four days later, Fingers won the 1981 American League Cy Young and MVP awards, going 6-3 with a 1.04 ERA and 28 saves in the strike-shortened season.

Fingers was famous for more than his lethal slider. In 1972, when maverick Oakland A's owner Charles O. Finley offered $300 to any member of his team who grew a mustache, every player complied -- and Fingers sprouted the handlebar mustache that remains his trademark. "It's just grayer than it was before," he says. "I'm afraid to see what I look like without it."

These days, Fingers, 58, lives in Las Vegas with his fourth wife, Lori, and their son, Sammy, 2½, and daughter, Shaylan, 1. He takes part in fantasy camps for the Brewers and the A's, makes personal appearances for various corporations and hits the road every few weeks to golf on the Celebrity Players Tour.

A four-handicapper who usually shoots in the mid-70s, Fingers plays roughly eight events a year. "I do it to keep my competitive juices going," he says.

In the 25 years since Fingers broke Wilhelm's record, the usage of a closer has changed dramatically.

Fingers regularly pitched two or three innings to earn a save; he threw more than 100 innings in 11 of his 16 full seasons. Today, a closer typically is not summoned until the ninth.

"It's a completely different game," Fingers says.

As a result, Fingers, with 341 career saves, has slipped to eighth on the all-time list. He points out, though, that only one man ahead of him on that list -- Dennis Eckersley -- has earned election to the Hall of Fame. And Eckersley spent his first 12 years as a starter. (Fingers and Wilhelm, while making several starts in their careers, remain the only pure relievers in Cooperstown.)

Asked what his saves total might be had he been used like the closers of today, Fingers salivates.

"Jiminy Christmas," he says, "I could have had 650 or 700 saves."