One of the few things that could have made Finley happier at that moment would have been an early news broadcast informing him that Yankee Stadium had been condemned. Finley despises the Yankees with an emotion that is pure and almost joyous and extends even to the dimensions of their ball park. He blames a series of trades—such as the one that sent Roger Maris from Kansas City to New York—for the neurasthenic condition of his Athletics. "The Yankees have bled this team white," Finley said. "It will take years to undo the damage the Yankees have done to Kansas City."
Finley contends the Yankees have conned the American League out of most of their pennants simply by having a center-field fence that is 461 feet from home plate and by having relatively short foul lines. The idea, he says, is that when Yankee pitchers are in trouble they concentrate on forcing the hitter to hit the ball straightaway toward that distant fence, where some Yankee center fielder is waiting for the catch. Opposing pitchers, who see the Stadium nine times a year rather than 81, get smashed by Yankee hitters pulling toward the short fences at the foul lines.
"I know I'm right, because Ed Lopat [former Yankee pitcher, now a vice-president of the Athletics] told me," said Finley. "In 1958 baseball passed a rule that any new stadium had to have a minimum distance to the fence of 325 feet at the foul lines. The rule should have added that any present stadium must erect a screen or barrier to make the distances equivalent. Until 1958 the Yankees were asking themselves how much longer they could get away with this murder. So, lo and behold, baseball passes a rule that gives the Yankees their advantage forever. Fans are fed up with the Yankees, who have hurt both leagues tremendously. Those monuments to Ruth, Gehrig and Huggins out in center field at Yankee Stadium get me, too. If I put up a monument to the great Connie Mack in my center field, I'd get a telegram telling me to take it down or forfeit all my games."
Finley received a telegram like that in 1964 when he ridiculed the Yankees by building what he called a Pennant Porch in Kansas City. The porch sat behind a fence that started at the right-field foul pole, 325 feet from home plate, cut dramatically in across the outfield until it reached the 296-foot mark, the distance the Yankee Stadium fence is from home plate, and then went off toward center field. Commissioner Ford Frick and American League President Joe Cronin ordered Finley to take down the bizarre fence or forfeit his home games. "So what?" said Finley. "We lose most of the time anyway." But Finley moved his fence back and changed the name of the pavilion to "One-Half Pennant Porch."
This season Finley tried again. He put up a burlap roof to cover his One-Half Pennant Porch ("the fans need shade," he said) and extended the roof out across the outfield again to the 296-foot mark. Cal Hubbard, supervisor of American League umpires, conceded he was in favor of shade. "But that wing, or whatever you call it, has to go." That was three days before the opening game. Half an hour before the first pitch, Finley finally had the extension sawed off.
Then Finley installed a 20-second electric clock beside the One-Half Pennant Porch to check on the time it takes pitchers to deliver the ball with no one on base. The rule says that the pitcher has 20 seconds, but the rule is seldom, if ever, enforced. The clock was a glowing reminder of that neglect. Before a game in Kansas City, the rule was read over the loudspeaker, and the clock explained. Finley took down the clock after a few weeks, but while it was up he was about as popular with umpires as a foul tip. "I'm not trying to be popular," Finley said. "I'm trying to make it a fair game."
Almost from the moment Finley, a wealthy insurance man, came into Kansas City as owner of the Athletics, he was regarded as a menace by the American League, and his wild publicity stunts, his well-publicized feuds, his loud contract disputes with municipal officials in Kansas City, his continuing efforts to move the Athletics to Dallas or Oakland or Louisville have served to strengthen that unfraternal attitude. He sued the city after he was ordered to stop shooting off fireworks at night games. He had an Ernie Mehl Appreciation Day at the ball park and presented
Kansas City Star
Sports Editor Mehl with a "Poison Pen Award." He fired his original general manager, the flamboyant Frank Lane, and then got into a three-year legal dispute with Lane over back salary. Outraged at Kansas City's decision to give Professional Football Owner Lamar Hunt a $1-a-year rental on Municipal Stadium in order to lure Hunt from Dallas, Finley demanded and got a new contract from the city—a contract that was granted by the outgoing city council and promptly canceled by the incoming council. He told Kansas City he would play in a cow pasture if he could not get permission to move or the contract he wanted. He signed an agreement to place the Athletics in Louisville ("Finley is a fool," said Chicago White Sox Owner Arthur Allyn), warned American League President Cronin to leave him alone, had his request to move voted down 9-1 in a league meeting and then signed a new and apparently harmonious contract with Kansas City.
Finley pushed all these things out of his mind as he prepared to go to the ball park. This was to be something special—Rabbit Day. Finley likes rabbits. He built a mechanical ball-fetcher that pops up behind home plate and named it Harvey the Rabbit. He has six German checker rabbits in his zoo at the stadium. He planned to give away 250 rabbits during the double-header. "I was going to use the rabbits to show off our rabbit outfield," he said. "But with all the games we've lost this year, who would believe we have a fast outfield?"
Walking through the lobby, Finley was stopped by half a dozen fans. The doorman told the cabbie: "This is Mr. Finley. Take him to the stadium." Finley sat back delighted. He lit another cigarette. "I smoke too much," he said. "In 1946, when I was 28, I had pneumonic tuberculosis and spent 27 months in a sanitarium. I used to lie there and sweat and they'd have to change my pajamas and change my sheets. I was dying, but I didn't know it. Those were tough times. I had worked five years in the steel mills around Gary, Indiana, and five years in an ordnance plant for a shipbuilder and had been a caddie and had two years of college. When I got TB, we had two kids. We have seven now. My wife had to get a job as a proofreader on the Gary Post-Tribune at $40 a week. We lost our home. My wife and kids lived with her father. And there I was, dying, but I didn't know it. Well, I recovered. While I was lying there. I had plenty of time to think. I dreamed up ideas on insurance, and they were an overnight hit. I learned, too, that money is secondary. That's why when people berate me for this and that, when they ridicule me, it doesn't bother me. I've been down a rockier road than any road baseball can take me on. I've learned that being happy is what counts, and baseball makes me happy.
"Ah, but baseball," he said as the cab turned into a street near the stadium and the driver explained to a policeman that Charles O. Finley was in the back seat. "I got up everything I owned and could borrow to get into this game. I couldn't care less what the other owners think of my ideas. I remember a letter I got from a little old lady. She wrote she kept seeing the vote was always 9-1 against me, and she said thank heaven I had at least one friend. I wrote back and told her there is nothing in the rules against voting for yourself, and that one vote is always mine. I don't feel anger or hatred. When the other owners can't see the handwriting on the wall I feel sorry for them. When they're all against me I am disappointed but never discouraged. Anything that is worth having is worth righting for. When they vote against me it encourages me to fight more, because I know they need help.