Charles O. Finley, the owner of the Kansas City Athletics, is a handsome, compact, white-haired man with aggressive black eyebrows and a chummy disposition who looks older than his 42 years. His relation to his ball club is less that of an owner than that of a love slave. As befits a self-made millionaire businessman, when Finley relaxes at his home in Gary, Ind. or at his baseball headquarters in a tower suite at the Hotel Muehlebach in Kansas City, he voices certain credos. One of them is, "Sweat and sacrifice spell success." Another is, "I may be outsmarted but nobody can outhustle me."
You can believe it. Charlie Finley is a ball of fire, a plunger ("You have to spend money to make money"), a baseball revolutionary and an experimenter. When his general manager, Frank Lane, an experimenter himself, recently persuaded the field manager, Joe Gordon, to sit up in the press box to see if that was a better place from which to guide the destinies of the team, Finley topped him. Finley requested permission to have a telephone line installed between the umpire and Gordon, so that if Gordon disagreed with a decision, instead of clambering down onto the field, he could merely dial the umpire. The request was refused. Gordon tried the experiment twice, decided its disadvantages outweighed its advantages and is now managing from the dugout.
Finley has admitted, and Lane repeatedly seconds it, that he does not know much about baseball. But with an incredible amount of zest Finley is putting into practice all the flamboyant ideas he has been nurturing for at least seven years—the length of time it took him to nail down a major league baseball club. Few ball clubs, it must be acknowledged, have needed a Charlie Finley more.
The purchase of the A's by Insurance Broker Finley was a dream, as they say, come true. Afraid of nothing, least of all a clich�, Finley declares: "I was so hungry for a ball club I could taste it." Back in 1954 he had tried to buy a controlling interest in Connie Mack's Athletics when they were in Philadelphia. Arnold Johnson beat him to it. "I thought I'd be cute and show up 10 minutes before the scheduled time," Finley recalls. "But Johnson was even cuter. Mack's daughters verified his credit with a phone call and Johnson had his ball club. I had a check just as big-as Johnson's, but I never got the chance to wave it."
In 1956 Finley entered into a scramble to buy a piece of the Detroit Tigers. Thwarted there, two years later he vainly went after the Chicago White Sox. Then last year, in a two-week period, he made 10 airplane flights (three of them coast to coast) in a futile effort to obtain the Los Angeles Angels franchise. No sooner had the door slammed in his face on that project than he swooped down on the moribund Kansas City Athletics.
Here Finley found himself faced by somewhat reluctant competition—a syndicate formed by eight Kansas City businessmen. When it became known that Johnson's widow ( Johnson had died on March 10, 1960) planned to sell her stock to help pay taxes on the estate, they banded together to purchase a controlling interest in the club—mainly to make sure it would not stagger out of Kansas City. The season had been mighty glum for players and fans alike. In addition to Johnson's death casting a pall over the club, the players engaged in frequent squabbles with their despairing manager, Bob Elliott, and many of them played lackadaisical ball. ("It seemed sometimes like they were making out on purpose," a front-office veteran has commented.) After the middle of July, the team never rose from its niche in the cellar. Kansas City fans—among the world's most loyal—found the situation depressing. Attendance dropped to 774,944, the lowest since the A's were transplanted from Philadelphia.
"Losing our ball club would have been a black eye the city would have had a hard time getting over," one of the eight said recently. "Admittedly, none of us wanted to be part owners of a ball club—but we were desperate. Then Finley's bid came." Finley bought 52% of the stock from Johnson's estate for $1,975,000. That was on December 19. In February he paid about the same amount for the rest. He is now that rarity—a sole owner, the only other in the American League being Tom Yawkey of the Boston Red Sox.
It is a situation Finley relishes. Around 2 o'clock on a recent Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, when glowering gray clouds pressed down on Municipal Stadium in the early innings of a game between the A's and Orioles, Finley, wearing a cap just like the ballplayers', picked up the phone in his box directly behind the Athletics' dugout to call the organist. "Play It Ain't Gonna Rain No More," Finley instructed.
A few moments later, to the delight of the fans, the lilting strains of that tune rocked over the public-address system. Finley removed the cigar from his mouth, worried the shell off a peanut and then beamed. "That's the beauty of being a 100% owner," he confided. "You don't have to consult a board of directors or stockholders to put your inspirations into practice." Owner Finley had spoken to the organist and the organist had relayed the message to the elements. The rain, knowing what was good for it, held off.