The one thing I have wanted to do in baseball, my last ambition, so to speak, is to start from scratch with a young team and take it to a championship. I can't imagine anything more rewarding for a manager. In San Francisco we won a pennant but I was working with a mostly veteran team. In Cleveland we traded away most of the veterans and replaced them with young players who might have had a chance, but the prospects were doubtful because the Cleveland farm system was weak. In Kansas City, when I took the job managing Charlie Finley's Athletics in 1965, there was no doubt in my mind we could do it. Finley had them on their way. The fact that I wasn't around when they did win in 1972 and 1973 obviously didn't slow them up much. Most managers only win pennants in their dreams.
This season has brought me new respect for the A's. It has taken awhile to learn the players again—they're older, I'm older. But I've never been with a harder-working bunch of guys, world champions or not. Up to now we've been struggling to stay near the lead in the Western Division. Reggie Jackson is even greater than I had heard. He was instrumental in seven of our first eight victories, and is as close to a Willie Mays as I've ever seen. I've made mistakes, as I expected to; there is an adjustment period when you have been out of baseball two full seasons.
Finley has been very active, which I also expected. We talk every day, and the talks sometimes get very animated. It's not hard to tell that he is proud of this club and what it has accomplished and is intent on winning again. Needless to say, I want to win just as badly.
It takes a man like Charlie Finley to get a club to the threshold as quickly as he did, because there is more to building an organization than paying a star like Jackson $150,000 a year. It takes somebody with guts and foresight and a willingness to put money into areas where the investment won't return much glory. That means in the farm system, in scouting. Show me a team that is a consistent loser and I'll show you a team that neglects its farm system and hires 70-year-old retired players on Social Security to do its scouting.
Finley is like Leo Durocher in that respect. He has guts coming out of his ears, and he doesn't care what anybody says or thinks, or that baseball resists making changes. If he thinks it is worth trying, he tries it. I didn't like the mule on the field either, or the softball uniforms, but for all his apparent fondness for theatrics you didn't have to be a detective to know that here was a man who was way ahead of everybody else. I said exactly that after he fired me in 1967, and I've said it since, and if he fires me tomorrow I'll still say it.
It has to be a tremendous satisfaction for Finley to realize that with few exceptions the guys who won world championships back to back were houseplants who came up through the A's system. Rudi, Bando, Campaneris, Green, Jackson, Fingers, Blue, Hunter, Odom—every one a player Finley went out and offered a bonus to and signed.
Baseball has never been able to hide the evidence of that kind of enlightenment. Baltimore has been picking up fine young players from the draft every year. The Orioles put their money in places where it will go to work for them. They hire good men to find good talent. The Yankees used to have four or five well-known, well-paid scouts who did a tremendous job. It was almost an honor to have one of them look at you.
Nowadays another club might make a big splash in the papers about signing its No. 1 pick, the first draft choice, but who doesn't know about that particular player? Every scout can predict who the top two or three draft choices will be. The good scout is the one who can spot the 18th and 19th rounder nobody else knew about, and then see him wind up playing regularly. Pay your scouting people chicken feed and you'll wind up with turkeys in your infield.
One thing I was sure about when I was fired by the Giants in 1964 was that there was a lot about managing I wasn't sure about. And that I certainly hadn't had my fill of it, despite the bitter circumstances of my firing. In 1965 John Holland, vice-president of the Cubs, asked me to coach under Bob Kennedy. Kennedy was a friend of mine, and I told Holland I'd coach but I'd never manage the Cubs. I would never want to coach for a manager if people thought I might someday replace him. In July, Kennedy was fired and Holland hired Lou Klein. A month before the season was over I won a little golf tournament among the Cubs in Chicago and the story was in the local papers. Charlie Finley has an office in Chicago. He read the article and, with the Cubs' permission, phoned me up.
"I didn't know you were coaching," he said. "You must have something better to do. How about coming with us?"