They called Charlie Finley the P.T. Barnum of baseball. As ringmaster of the Kansas City and Oakland A's for two decades, he championed Day-Glo orange balls, night World Series games, the designated hitter, the designated runner, multicolored uniforms, Hot Pants Day, Mustache Day (discount admission for anyone with a 'stache) and Senior Citizens Day (discount for everyone 65 and over, provided they were accompanied by their parents). Acting as his own general manager, head scout and business manager, Finley hired and fired with Steinbrennerian abandon: He went through 25 broadcasters, 10 farm directors and 17 managers. Along the way, his teams won five division and three world titles. He sold the team in 1980. * The ever-combative Finley, now 74, presides over his Chicago-based insurance company and attends a dozen Cub and White Sox games a year. "I'm glad to have met you," Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser told him recently. "I'm even gladder that I never had to negotiate with you."
Sports Illustrated: Would you want to own a baseball team today?
Finley: Definitely not. I would not want to go bankrupt. I sold the A's because I could foresee this coming.
SI: Back in 1975 you said the game was headed for extinction. How do you think the end will come?
CF: It's not what I think, it's what I know. You'll see one or two teams declare bankruptcy. That's not going to help the image of baseball one iota.
SI: Would you have approved the sale of the Mariners to the Japanese?
CF: Absolutely. Hell, they're the only ones standing in line. Salaries are so astronomical and unjustified that many clubs are having to leverage themselves just to make ends meet. The next TV contract will not be nearly so lucrative, and teams with the least revenue are going to be hurt. Eventually, baseball is going to have to pool all the TV money.
SI: How soon before all games are shown on pay-per-view?
CF: If and when pay TV comes about, it'll be a lot cheaper than going to the ballpark. Add up the price of tickets, concessions, novelties, souvenirs, parking, and the average family of four easily spends $100 a game. That's a lot of money. Families wind up having to hitchhike home. That's a hell of a way for baseball to treat the fans who've guzzled the beer and eaten the hot dogs and watched the commercials that enabled the players to make all this money.
SI: You once proposed, perhaps facetiously, that all players become free agents at the end of the season. Wouldn't this have led to total chaos?