SI Vault
Ron Fimrite
May 21, 1979
As few as 653 fans have seen the A's play, but it's owner Finley who's being sued for nonsupport
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
May 21, 1979

They're Just Mad About Charlie

As few as 653 fans have seen the A's play, but it's owner Finley who's being sued for nonsupport

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

The suit contends that Finley has published a declining amount of promotional literature, such as schedules, team photographs, posters, calendars, newsletters and yearbooks, and has mounted no paid advertising campaign. Other complaints are that he has no continuous year-round sales program, that he maintains a front-office staff—Carl Finley is pretty much it—too small to conduct effective public relations, provides no discounts for young fans, schedules no giveaway days and won't cooperate with the Boosters Club. Actually, on those rare occasions in the past few years when the A's have had giveaways, they have been stuck with thousands of unclaimed items, the supply having far exceeded the demand. And sales apparently are less than brisk at the souvenir stands; last week the concessionaires were offering buttons celebrating Ken Holtzman, who last pitched for the A's in 1975; and Dal Maxvill, who has not played in the majors since that year. Last June the Coliseum offered to put up $100,000 for promotion if Finley would match the figure. He wouldn't.

There was no first-ball ceremony at the A's opener this year, and Finley himself was among the no-shows. In fact, the owner would seem to be in the very forefront of the A's non-fans. By the end of April he hadn't watched his team play a single game, either in spring training or during the regular season.

The players see subtler indications of his disenchantment. He made no trades in the first month of the season, a time when he ordinarily moves more bodies from place to place than the Long Island Rail Road. He hasn't hired a "designated runner," a specialist along the swift lines of such Finley greyhounds as Allan (the Panamanian Express) Lewis, Herb (the World's Fastest Human) Washington or Matt (the Scat) Alexander. Stanley (the Hammer) Burrell, the teen-ager Finley employed a year ago to telephone game accounts back to him in Chicago and, it was darkly suspected, to deliver spy reports on the players, has been around only as an occasional spectator. And because Charlie O. himself is never on the premises, there have been no "dehumanizing" harangues from the master to his servants. Because of Finley's absence and his comparative silence, it would appear that Jim Marshall, the 17th man hired to manage the A's in Finley's 19 seasons as owner, may be the first who is truly a manager and not an answering service. Marshall discreetly refuses to say how often he communicates with his employer, but the players firmly suspect the game plan is no longer being dictated by phone from Chicago. "He's not calling at all," says Lacey. "He's not paying attention."

The strangest twist is that Finley himself seems to have drifted into semi-seclusion. For one who habitually blossoms in the limelight, he has become something of a shrinking violet. He issued no immediate public response to the Coliseum lawsuit and hasn't been returning any calls. And this is a man who used to spend more time on the phone than most people do in bed.

To be sure, Finley's reticence might be traced in part to some severe problems outside of Oakland. He was charged with battery after a barroom altercation in Chicago with one Roger Seacrist, a 38-year-old advertising man. Seacrist told police he had merely inquired of Finley if a seat at Hillery's Bar was vacant. After Finley told him it was occupied, Seacrist says he replied, "Oh, sorry to bother you." For some reason, Seacrist told police, Finley took offense at this courteous rejoinder, and after an exchange of epithets, the 61-year-old Finley socked Seacrist in the face. Seacrist filed his complaint three days after the April 6 incident, claiming to have suffered a hairline fracture of the jaw and impaired hearing. He is also threatening to take civil action. Finley is scheduled to be in court on June 5 to answer the charge. Later next month his wife Shirley's divorce action against him will be tried in an Indiana court.

These legal assaults may cost Finley dearly, but despite his occasional poor-mouthing, it is doubtful if he is losing much money on the A's. He rarely makes a player deal these days that doesn't involve cash. Last year such transactions grossed him more than a million bucks—400,000 of them in the deal that sent Vida Blue to the Giants—a sum that was just about sufficient to meet his player payroll, which is the lowest in baseball. No Oakland player earns as much as $100,000 at a time when that figure is very nearly the average annual wage for major-leaguers. When Finley attempted to cut the salary of Reliever Dave Heaverlo, his highest-paid employee, Heaverlo took him to arbitration and won a $95,000 contract. Finley was 0 for 5 in the latest round of arbitration hearings.

The A's get $900,000 as their share of the major leagues' national television package, and last year Finley signed a three-year agreement with a San Francisco station to do local telecasts that is worth an additional $600,000 per annum. The A's drew nearly 1.4 million to their road games last year, and because visiting teams receive 20% of the gate, Finley made money at the considerable expense of his fellow owners, a turn of events that, considering his well-known regard for those colleagues, is not likely to induce pangs of conscience. For their part, visitors to Oakland took the well-known bath. A three-game series with the Angels last month attracted only 7,877 spectators, which means that after paying air, motel, meal, bus and trucking expenses, the visitors lost a bit more than $2,200, according to the Los Angeles Times' calculations. The check they received from the A's of a little more than $5,500 barely covered Rod Carew's daily earnings of $4,938. And the Angels' home base is only 420 miles from Oakland. Teams from the Midwest and the East obviously suffer far greater losses. One Midwestern executive said, "It would be cheaper for us to forfeit all of our games out there."

Finley's lease with the Coliseum, which runs through the 1987 season, is one of the most favorable in all of baseball. His annual rent is only $125,000, and he gets 25% of the gross receipts from concessions and 27½% of the income from parking.

Of course, it has been Finley's renowned unwillingness—or inability—to keep good players on his payroll that has most dramatically reduced his expenses. Since 1975 Sal Bando, Don Baylor, Blue, Bert Campaneris, Rollie Fingers, Phil Garner, Holtzman, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Bill North, Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace and Claudell Washington—in short, enough talent to form a championship team—have all departed Finley's employ, either because they went elsewhere for lucrative free-agent contracts, or because Finley traded them in anticipation that they would become free agents, or because Charlie O. simply unloaded them, apparently to get cash.

Further, Finley employs no full-time scouts or minor league hitting and pitching instructors, and he fleshes out his directory of club officials by including secretaries and clerks as well as Trainer Joe Romo, Equipment Manager Frank Ciensczyk and Visiting Clubhouse Manager Steve Vucinich. Discounting himself and Charles O. Finley Jr., who is listed as secretary-treasurer, Finley has precisely three executives, Executive Vice-President Carl Finley, Controller Chuck Cottonaro and Minor League Director Norm Koselke. Of these, Carl is the chief cook and bottle-washer. Formerly a high school vice-principal in Dallas, he is as soft-spoken and good-natured as his cousin is bombastic and cantankerous. As Charlie seems to be removing himself from stage center, Carl, six years younger, is hesitantly emerging as a somewhat quieter spokesman. But there is no questioning his loyalty and subservience to the boss in Chicago. "Charlie and I have always been close," he says. "He's a great guy."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4