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The way one of Charles O. Finley's legion of former employees tells it, Charlie O. was sitting around thinking up trades in a Chicago bar one day this spring when he was approached by a sprightly little fellow wearing a red necktie. " Mr. Finley," the intruder began, "my name is Applegate, and I've got a deal for you."
"I'm always interested in deals, sir," Charlie supposedly replied. "Whom do you represent, the damn Yankees?"
"Never," snapped the little man.
"Well, then, state your business, because I'm expecting a call from Denver."
Applegate took a swallow of his Bloody Mary and fixed the A's owner with a malevolent eye. "Forget Denver," he said. "I have it on low authority that you're staying in Oakland. Now here's my proposition: if you agree to my terms, I will have that ragtag assortment you call a baseball team on top of the American League West by April 25."
"Terms? What terms? What do you want, the franchise?"
"Certainly not," said Applegate. "Charlie, I want your soul."
"Sounds reasonable. It's a deal."
They shook on it, and as the little man went downstairs, Finley turned to the bartender, chortling. "That's the best trade I've ever made," he said, smoothing the lapels of his green blazer. "I got a lot more out of it than he did."
That, asserts the old Finley hand, is why Oakland astonished everyone by taking the lead in its division last week. Could be, but there are those—Bowie Kuhn among them—who say that not even the Devil could do business with Finley. Others stoutly insist that from a motley assemblage of minor-leaguers and bench warmers winnowed from other organizations, Finley actually has assembled a hustling, exciting young team that may be a good deal better than anyone expected. Certainly the handful of fans who saw the A's win three straight from the Twins last week, including back-to-back extra-inning thrillers, would support this notion. And so would the players, most of whom were forgotten men or lost boys in more substantial franchises.