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Charlie Finley wasn't the smartest baseball owner I ever knew, but he sure was the most interesting. With him in charge you never had to worry about being bored to death. If he wasn't firing a manager he was hiring a pinch runner or moving a franchise or dreaming up a gag or shaking up the front office.
There were times when he was like a father to me and times when he made my life miserable. In general we got along pretty well, probably because we recognized that we were both offbeat guys. But you couldn't work for Charlie Finley without having differences. He was turbulent, stubborn, opinionated and at times impossible. Yet he could be the sweetest guy in the world. I valued his friendship when I had it and would welcome it anytime he wants to extend it to me again.
Most of our troubles were financial. You see, Charlie loaned me plenty. At one time I owed him more than the salary he was paying me. He used to give me hell for my extravagances and, of course, he was right. But since I couldn't stop spending, the only way I could get out from under my debts—Finley wasn't my only creditor—was by hitting the jackpot somewhere along the line.
While I could always make an honest dollar on the golf course or at the pool table, my real hope was to bat my way out of debt. When I first went up to the Athletics I was making the major league minimum salary of $7,500 a year. I didn't get any raises the first two years because I was in the minors half that time, first with Portland, then with Dallas in the Pacific Coast League after I was sent down in 1964. Finley gave me a break when the 1965 season began—a big, fat $500 raise to $8,000. With McGaha now managing the A's, I had a big year, hitting 23 home runs and staying with the team all season. It was, incidentally, my only full season with them.
Although I figured a thousand bucks a home run was not unreasonable, I was very decent with Charlie about my 1966 contract. All I asked was double my 1965 salary—$16,000. I thought that was more than fair. Charlie disagreed. We settled for $12,000—a pittance. Hell, between Charlie and a few others, I owed more than that. Charlie could have solved it easily. All he had to do to wipe off his books was give me a raise covering my debt to him, but we never really got together on that point.
The fans loved me—used to yell, "Hawk! Hawk! Hawk!" every time I did something—and gave me standing ovations when I hit a home run or made a good fielding play. And life with Finley wasn't too bad. I was his favorite ballplayer, although he went crazy when I caught a ball close to the stands or picked up a long foul and threw it to the customers. He'd sit in his box and burn, and after the game send for me.
"Dammit, Kenny," he'd say, "those balls cost money."
And I'd say, "But, Charlie, it's great for the club. You couldn't buy that kind of goodwill for the price of a ball."
And he'd say, "If everyone on the club felt that way, you guys would break me in a season."