The wake-up call came at 8:30 on a Sunday morning in a suite on the 18th floor of the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City. "Wumpf," said Charles O. Finley into the receiver. Four hours earlier, in the hotel coffee shop, Finley had made the waitress dilute his coffee with one-third hot water, but still he had threshed for another hour in the oversize bed before he could sleep. Finley sat up and reached out a bare arm to turn on the lamp. He scratched his head and lit a filter cigarette. Then Charles O. Finley, maverick, began to grin. He was remembering the evening before and an argument with a radio announcer from Los Angeles.
Sitting against a mirrored wall in the rose light of a bar across the street from the Muehlebach, the announcer had kept saying, "Look, Charlie, I've been in this game for 20 years." There is nothing that provokes Finley more than that sort of basis for an opinion. Finley has been in the game only five years—which is five years longer than most American League club owners have enjoyed having him at their conference tables—but he does not believe that simply hanging around for a great while breeds astuteness, and baseball is his case in point.
"Look, Charlie," the announcer had said, "I don't want to offend you, but what you've got to do is hire yourself some solid baseball men and let them operate. You're a businessman, Charlie, not a baseball man. To operate a baseball club you've got to let baseball men do it. You shouldn't have let an insurance executive like Pat Friday try to be a general manager of a baseball club."
"I suppose you think you'd be a good general manager," said Finley.
"Why, yes, as a matter of fact I do," the announcer said.
"Because you've been in the game for 20 years," said Finley. "Well, let me tell you something. It doesn't take any genius to run a baseball team, as a general manager or a field manager. A monkey could stand out there on the field and wave at the pitchers. I'm in baseball because I like it. Out of every dollar I make in the insurance business, I lose 99� in baseball. My wife says let's sell this club and invest in tax-free bonds and make more money in one year than we can in 10 years in baseball. But I wouldn't be happy. Baseball is a major part of my happiness. Sure, I take an active interest in what goes on with this club, all right. Wouldn't you if you had millions of dollars invested in it? But I do listen to the people who work for me, and I know Pat Friday is a smart man. and I know it didn't take him forever to learn the few things there are to know about baseball. My new general manager, Hank Peters, is a smart man, too, and a baseball man. But a lot of baseball deals are pure luck."
"Not so many," the announcer said.
"You think when the Angels got Willie Smith, who wasn't much of a pitcher, they knew they could play him in the outfield and he'd be their best hitter?" said Finley. "If you believe that, I'd like to hear your ideas about the Easter Rabbit."
Now, as he sat in bed waiting for his legs to feel like walking him to the shower, Finley's white hair was rumpled and his black eyebrows drew together in an amused squint. It gives him pleasure to kick holes in the hierarchy-perpetuated myths of baseball, although he insists he does it out of affection and out of a fear that the game may not survive unless it changes its washboard attitudes. Finley is, after all, not in baseball to become broke. He has been broke before, and rich is better. But five years of threats and harassments by the American League have not bent his heretical views any more than Finley's efforts have improved his Kansas City Athletics, who, unlike the Mets, lose without being loved.
Except by their leader, that is. Finley adores his Athletics. As he showered and dressed, he hummed to himself. He opened the drapes, and sunlight flooded in. It was a fine, bright day with a peach haze coming off the Missouri River, and there was going to be a doubleheader that afternoon, and Finley owned one of the teams involved, and what right-thinking man could want more than that? "Life," he said, "is beautiful."