In his aerie 25 floors above Oakland's Lake Merritt, Charles O. Finley advanced upon the kitchen and, with the solemn meticulousness that has made wretched the lives of once-carefree subordinates, cooked up a batch of hamburgers.
He chopped onions with surgical precision, kneaded the raw red meat like a sculptor molding clay and snapped instructions at his houseguest, Jimmy Piersall, the old Red Sox centerfielder, who is for the moment director of "group sales" for Finley's Oakland A's baseball team.
"You can cut those tomatoes later, Jimmy. Run next door now and borrow some cooking oil."
"Yes, sir," said Piersall, age 42.
"And then you can resume cutting the damn tomatoes."
"I don't brag about much of anything," Finley said convincingly as Piersall dutifully sped off on his errand, "but I will tell you this: No son of a gun can outcook me."
For a man of such culinary pretensions, hamburger seemed a trifling challenge, but Finley had misplaced his new upper plate on a visit to his equally new basketball team in Memphis and, awaiting an acceptable replacement, was resigned to ingesting ground meat. The missing denture also contributed an incongruous sibilance to Finley's senatorial diction, and for this he apologized profusely. His is a command voice, deep in texture, measured in pace, an effective instrument. The occasional hisses that now escaped detracted from his style.
His real teeth had been removed to remedy an oral infection that had caused him spells of dizziness, some even severe enough to abbreviate his normally interminable telephone conversations. With the teeth out he was a healthier, if somewhat lesser, man.
Despite his pale complexion and white hair, Finley, who is 54 (he was born on Washington's Birthday, an irony not lost on his fellow owners), is in no way fragile. He is robust, erect, handsome in a craggy way and obviously indefatigable. Still, health—or, more accurately, the loss of it—is a matter of grave concern to him, as well it might be, for at age 28 he fell ill with pneumonic tuberculosis and spent the next 27 months in a sanitarium.