It is no disgrace, of course, to be cashiered by Charlie Finley. In the 12 seasons he has owned the A's he has had 12 managers, eight publicity men, seven farm directors, six traveling secretaries, four controllers and four general managers, not counting himself. One day Finley may achieve the ultimate by firing himself. When the A's win the World Series, he has said, "The first man I'll get rid of will be Charles O. Finley. After that, somebody else can run the show." That, say the Finley alumni, will be the day.
Finley enjoys hiring at least as much as firing. He has been known to meet people on airplanes for the first time and hire them as, say, "administrative assistants" before the plane touches ground.
"He just likes selling and being sold," says John O'Reilly, now a San Francisco television sports broadcaster but once a Finley promotion man. O'Reilly ran afoul of his boss on one occasion when he refused to introduce long-haired Joe Pepitone on the public address system as "Josephine Pepitone." Finley, ever anxious to entertain the customers, thought it would be good for a laugh. O'Reilly, to his sorrow, disagreed. Still, he survived that dereliction of duty, which is more than can be said for the Coliseum fireworks man who shorted Finley one bomb charge and was fired posthaste.
Bob Bestor, now a vice-president for an outdoor advertising firm, has the singular distinction of working as a public relations man for both Finley and Al Davis, the manipulating and almost equally eccentric boss of the Oakland Raiders football team. " Davis," he said, carefully drawing the distinction, "is like the CIA; Charlie is like the 4th Marine Division. He just rolls over you. The thing that finally got me out of there was when he took a full hour explaining to me how to address an envelope."
"He leaves you not a shred of dignity," said one former aide. "It gets to the point where you are almost brainwashed. If he doesn't chew you out one day, you're like a prisoner of war saying to yourself, 'How nice of them not to beat us tonight.' "
"Charlie," said broadcaster Elson, "has this one little weakness: he just doesn't treat people like human beings."
Much of Finley's impatience with his underlings may be attributed to the self-made man's distrust of the glib, the subtle, the easy. Finley wears his humble origins like a coat of arms. "My God," said Dauer, "I've heard the story of how he made his money 500 times." "Sweat and sacrifice," says Finley about every chance he gets, "spell success."
Finley relishes a confrontation with a supposed equal. His first general manager was Frank Lane, a strong-willed and experienced executive whom Finley described to Kansas City fans as "one of the best brains in baseball." The words were still echoing when Lane was sacked. "I," said Finley afterward, "know more about baseball than he does."
The newest challenge could be Adolph Rupp, the crusty 71-year-old former Kentucky basketball coach who is "president" of Finley's Memphis TAMs. At the moment their relationship is harmonious in the extreme. Finley is "proud to have the Baron on my team" and Rupp, uncharacteristically deferential, has said of his boss, "He's a magnetic man, a great man. Trying to top him is like trying to get the sun past the rooster."
Finley is perennially at sword's point with the press. Last month he was outraged when Ron Bergman of the
The Sporting News
that the A's announcers, Monte Moore and Jim Woods, seemed to be engaged in a contest "to see which one can make the most complimentary remarks about Owner Charlie Finley." Finley is fiercely protective of his announcers, although with the notable exception of Moore, who has been with him from the beginning and is darkly accused in some quarters of being the boss' informer, they come and go about as often as managers and publicity men.