SI Vault
Edwin Shrake
July 19, 1965
As rival club owners cringe, the Athletics' Charlie Finley practices the gospel of Bill Veeck (SI, June 14), who says that all baseball really needs is a little more showmanship
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July 19, 1965

A Man And A Mule In Missouri

As rival club owners cringe, the Athletics' Charlie Finley practices the gospel of Bill Veeck (SI, June 14), who says that all baseball really needs is a little more showmanship

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Down on the field, the A's were losing as usual. But they were doing it in the Kelly green and Fort Knox gold uniforms that Finley got for them after wangling a rules change in 1963. "Imagine how colorful football would be if you saw Texas, wearing white, playing SMU, wearing gray," he said. "It used to be that all cars were black. Now you almost never see a black car. The colors don't make cars run better, but they sure sell better. That's one reason pro football is such a great, colorful game. Pro football has strong progressive leadership, and it has adapted itself to what the fans want. I'd like to use orange baseballs. The Army dresses our ski troops in white so nobody can see them. In baseball, we fire a white ball out of a white uniform under a bright sky. Suddenly we realize that's dangerous and make the players wear helmets. Why not use an orange baseball that everybody can see? We need a commissioner who is not afraid, who has enough red blood to stand up for what is right.

"Baseball faces more competition than the owners realize. Times have changed. I remember my mother and father saying it's too early to go to bed and too hot to sit at home, so let's go somewhere. They don't say that now, with television and air-conditioning. We never went on a trip until summer vacation, and then it took forever to go 200 miles in a Model A. Now people drive 300 miles on a weekend to visit Aunt Fanny and think nothing of it. I have seven youngsters on a 300-acre farm in La Porte, Ind. I moved out there for the kids, because it's clean and healthy. But in the hot summer it's tough getting them out of the house. They flop in an easy chair, turn up the stereo, flip on the TV and have any kind of entertainment they want. Baseball has never rolled with the punch, never made the fans feel wanted and appreciated. In any business you draw a line called success and a line called failure. When your business starts slipping you may not discover the line has gone down for several years. You may have slipped to the point of no return before you find out. Baseball has definitely slipped. No doubt about it. But how far? Let's pray we haven't reached the point of no return. The pathetic, frustrating thing is that all the owners know baseball has slipped, but they don't do anything. In baseball we could correct the problems overnight. We know what they are. We have to begin by letting all the fans see our best product—the World Series—by playing the first game on Saturday afternoon, the second Sunday afternoon, the third, fourth and fifth on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and the sixth and seventh, if necessary, on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. That way nobody is at work or school during the Series, and we're not thumbing our noses or hiding our best product in the basement. We have to have interleague play. Think of the rivalries! The Mets and the Yankees, for example. We have to play our season openers on Saturday or Sunday so a working man can go. We have to start the games earlier and end them quicker. If you film a three-hour baseball game and cut out all the no-action, you wind up with 12 minutes. It's ridiculous!"

An Angel pitcher was trudging slowly toward the dugout after being relieved. The organist was playing Have You Ever Been Lonely. Finley said: "But nobody catches the humor in that because they can't hear it because we got a lousy P.A. system."

After another inning, it was an Athletic pitcher who was taking the familiar walk. Muttering to himself but smiling at the fans, Finley leaped up from his seat in the stands and went to the pressroom snack bar and ordered two hamburgers with onions. A message came that there was a call from Ralph Houk, general manager of the Yankees and a man with whom Finley thinks he made one of his sharper trades—Catcher Doc Edwards for John Blanchard and Roland Sheldon. "Why does Raf Hawk want me?" Finley said. "He ought to talk to Peters or Lopat. I don't run this club. I just own it." Finley laughed. "Oh, that Raf Hawk. He's got to talk to CBS before he can make deals. He'll find out when he deals with CBS he is dealing with hard guys."

The sale of the Yankees to CBS made temporary allies of Finley and Arthur Allyn in their opposition to the move. Finley threatened to get out of baseball—a rather empty threat, since that is what American League owners want him to do. But he asked $8 million for his franchise, a price that kept him in baseball after all. Sitting there on the snackbar stool, with buckets of pickles and tomatoes in front of him and with his hamburger patties sizzling on the grill, Finley bent his head toward the radio and learned the Angels were ahead by three runs. He frowned and shoved his rabbit's foot into his pocket. Then he began to grin again. This was still his ball club, wasn't it? Despite the pressures, he was still in the game, wasn't he? A maverick five years ago, he is an unregenerate and unashamed one today.

"Well, anyhow, we're better than we used to be," he said. "We're going to surprise everybody before this season is over."

When most owners say that, they mean the usual business about winning more games than expected. But when Charlie Finley says surprise, the American League jumps. Regardless of what they think about him, they certainly have to pay attention.

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