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THE FINLEY PERPLEX
What is one to think about Charlie Finley? Is he an ogre, an Ebenezer Scrooge? Or a hardheaded, practical man who, on the basis of results, must be doing something right? Finley insisted last weekend that his reason for not releasing his resigned manager, Dick Williams, from the two years remaining on his contract (so that Williams could sign with the Yankees) was not to cause trouble, or to revenge himself against erstwhile enemies in baseball, but merely to gain compensation for losing a valued employee.
"I don't mean money," Finley said, possibly thinking of the fines slapped on him by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn for his antics during the World Series. "I mean a player or players." Finley said he had received a phone call last Friday from Gabe Paul of the Yankees. "I told him," Finley said, "that if he wants to give us somebody like Mel Stottlemyre or Bobby Murcer or Thurman Munson, fine, I'll let Williams go. He didn't seem very interested." Finley said Paul hired Hank Peters away from the A's several years ago when Paul was with the Cleveland Indians (others say Peters quit the A's first), and that two years ago Paul hired Phil Seghi after Seghi left Oakland, both for front-office jobs. "I told Gabe it was about time he went out and built his own organization."
Finley said, "Look, I resent losing my manager. When someone steals my manager, it doesn't register too well with me. It's like someone stealing your wife. Sure, I can find another manager, but I want Dick Williams. If Dick elects to sit out the contract, that's his prerogative, but he'll have to sit out two years. I always told Dick that if he wants to make a change, that's fine with me. But what's right is right and wrong is wrong. You don't stop a man from resigning, but I smelled a mouse all along."
Meantime, in Hertford, N.C., Finley's star pitcher, Jim (Catfish) Hunter, had a few things to say. Hunter played hookey from the A's victory parade in Oakland after the Series. "I asked Mr. Finley about going on home," Hunter said, "and he said, 'Now, Jim, you know there's a $1,000 fine for missing the parade, and I'm throwing this big parade to promote baseball in the Bay Area.' But I told Mr. Finley I hadn't seen my wife and kids in six weeks, and I told him that if we hadn't promoted baseball by winning two straight World Series then we'd never do it. So far I haven't seen anything about the fine."
Hunter talked about Williams ("He left because Finley was putting the pressure on, doing little, irritating things"); about Mike Andrews ("That was the worst thing I've ever seen in baseball. Mr. Finley tried to railroad Andrews right out of a career, and there was no way we were going to stand by silently and let it happen"); and about Finley himself. "Really, he's good to the players," Hunter said. "He'll invest money and give them good returns. He's done this for me. But at other times he puts you in a corner. Like in the Series, we knew what was going on, but Mr. Finley acted as though we were children and didn't know what to do."
In a period when thoroughbred and harness racing tracks are crying poverty and resorting to gimmicks from rock bands to superfectas to build up trade, quiet little Del Mar in Southern California is enjoying a boom. It has been helped considerably by the fact that Caliente, 30 miles south in Tijuana, Mexico, has been inoperative since a fire in 1970. But beyond that, simply by sticking to business as usual, which means one daily double and two exactas and that's it, Del Mar has had a 52% increase in attendance since 1969, its betting handle has gone up 64% and the state's share of the take has risen 75%.
Del Mar thinks its success may be largely because it is a nice place to visit for a day's racing. It lies along the seashore above San Diego, and its architecture is California Spanish. Maybe the bettors like the idea of losing their shirts under old log-beam ceilings and tile roofs. In any case, the charm and atmosphere of Del Mar, built in the 1930s by a group headed by Bing Crosby and Pat O'Brien, is paying off handsomely.