Gnames in the Gnews
True, the Washington Bullets announced last week that they will become the Wizards beginning in the 1997-98 NBA season, but that isn't the worst news on the new nickname front. For that we turn to Savannah, where the Class A minor league baseball team will this season begin playing under the moniker Sand Gnats.
"With all the humid weather down here, we've got these gnats," says Nick Brown, the team marketing director. "Either us or Charleston had to grab the nickname."
Nick, you're welcome to it.
The Finley He Knew
Special contributor Ron Fimrite recalls Charles O. Finley, who died last week at the age of 77.
Reading the obituaries of the former As owner, I was struck by the frequency with which certain adjectives kept turning up. Flamboyant was, as expected, everywhere, and colorful was certainly standard fare. So were controversial, outrageous, innovative and contentious. The overall impression conveyed by such flamboyant and colorful language was that while the controversial and contentious Finley must have been hell on wheels to work for, the outrageous and innovative Charlie O. must have been a barrel of laughs, a real fun guy with a wicked sense of humor.
That, I regret to say, was not the Finley I knew when he was an owner in both Kansas City and Oakland. That Charlie O. was about as much fun as a carbuncle. If he had a sense of humor—and over the years I saw little evidence that he did—it was of the pig-bladder school. A mule in a banquet hall was funny to Finley. So were cow-milking contests. And ballplayers in mustaches. He had all the subtlety of Ricki Lake. Actually, what seemed to amuse him most was bullying people, little people and famous people alike.
Once when I was working on a story about one of his World Series teams, he surprised me with an invitation to lunch at the apartment he kept near downtown Oakland. ( Finley, who lived on a farm in La Porte, Ind., was always promising the city fathers that he would move permanently to Oakland, but he never did.) The man cooking the hamburgers, serving the drinks and generally acting as hired kitchen help was Jimmy Piersall, only recently retired as one of the game's premier defensive centerfielders and then working in some amorphous capacity in the Finley front office. Charlie O. ordered this once fine—albeit troubled—player about as if he'd just been sent over from an employment agency, effectively robbing Piersall of whatever dignity he had left. It was just Finley's way of showing off.
There is no question that this strange man put together some wonderful ball clubs, and for this he deserves acclaim. The As of the early 1970s won the World Series three years in succession, something that no team other than the New York Yankees has ever done. And yet those Oakland teams are remembered not only for their considerable accomplishments but also for their clownish uniforms, their infighting and their running battles with a showboating owner. They, too, were robbed of some of their dignity.