Results tagged ‘ Charlie O. Finley ’
Reggie Jackson had always gotten along with Bill North, and publicly praised the young center fielder several times for his fielding prowess. Sometime in mid-April, however, Bill failed to run hard to first on a routine ground-out. When he returned to the bench, Reggie harshly berated him in front of his teammates for not hustling. The seeds of The Fight were sown.
“He had crossed me, in some way, a couple of times,” Bill recalls without going into detail. “I tried to set him up for a month.” He gave Reggie the silent treatment despite Jackson’s torrid start, and refused to talk to him on or off the field. He would not congratulate Reggie after home runs. During this period, North lifted his average above .200, swiped seventeen bases in the month of May alone, and played exceptional defense. By the day of The Fight, he was batting .228 and leading the league in stolen bases. Jackson remained hot, batting .390 with a league-leading 15 home runs, and the A’s were first in the A.L. West.
Finally, prior to a night game on June 5, in the locker room at Tiger Stadium, Bill made a remark that infuriated Reggie and ignited the brawl. The superstar, who was not yet dressed for the game, charged North and the two wrestled on the floor, in full view of teammates and sportswriters. Catcher Ray Fosse, pitcher Vida Blue and others were able to separate the two, only to have the combatants tangle again a few minutes later. “It wasn’t a regular clubhouse fight,” said an A’s teammate anonymously. “There was no backing off. They went at it hot and heavy — twice.” When the dust settled, the consensus was that North had won the fight. Jackson ended up with a bruised shoulder and battered ego. Fosse suffered a separated cervical disk in the melee and was out of action until late in the season. Both North and Jackson played against the Tigers that night. Bill went 2 for 3 with a double, run scored and RBI while Reggie went 0 for 4. For the rest of June, the powerful right fielder batted .197 with just three doubles, no home runs and four RBI.
Bill looks back upon the incident with much more humility than braggadocio. “I had extracted my ounce of retribution,” Bill admits, but believes the path chosen to settle their score was from youthful ignorance. The Fight and its aftermath enabled Bill and Reggie to move forward as teammates with renewed respect for each other. Today, North says, they maintain a genuine friendship. Reggie Jackson wrote this about Bill in his autobiography: “North was a feisty little guy with a hair-trigger temper, and one of the reasons he was such a winner on the field was because he had a lot of piss and vinegar in him.”
originally written by Tim Herlich.
The following is an excerpt from Bruce Markusen’s amazing and vital book, “A baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s.
Reggie Jackson reported to spring training in 1972 replete with a fully grown mustache, the origins of which had begun to sprout during the 1971 American League Championship Series. To the surprise of his teammates, Jackson had used part of his off-season to allow the mustache reach a fuller bloom. In addition, Jackson bragged to teammates that he would not only wear the mustache, possibly a full beard, come Opening Day.
Such pronouncements would have hardly created a ripple in later years, when players would freely make bold fashion statements with mustaches and goatees, and routinely wear previously disdained accessories like earrings. But this was 1972, still a conservative time within the sport, in stark contrast to the rebellious attitudes of younger generations throughout the country. Given that no major league player had been documented wearing a mustache in the regular season since Wally Schang of the Philadelphia A’s in 1914, Jackson’s pronouncements made major news in 1972.
In the post Schang era, several players had donned mustaches during spring training, yet, in each case the player had shaved off the mustache by Opening Day, either by his own volition or because of a mandate from the team. After all, there existed an unwritten rule within the conservative sport, one that strongly frowned upon facial hair. In addition, several teams had more recently instituted their own formal policies (most notably the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960’s), policies that forbade their players from sporting facial hair.
Baseball’s conservative grooming standards , which had been in place for over 50 years, were now being threatened by one of the game’s most visible players. Not surprisingly, Jackson’s mustachioed look quickly garnered the attention of owner Charlie O. Finley and manager Dick Williams. “The story as I remember it,” says outfielder Mike Hegan, “was that Reggie came into spring training…with a mustache, and Charlie didn’t like it. So he told Dick to tell Reggie to shave it off. And Dick told Reggie to shave it off, and Reggie told Dick what to do. This got to be a real sticking point, and so I guess Charlie and Dick had a meeting and they said ‘well, Reggie’s an individual so maybe we can try some reverse psychology here.’ Charlie told a few other guys to start growing a mustache. Then (Finley figured that if) a couple of other guys did it, Reggie would shave his off, and you know, everything would be OK.
According to Sal Bando, Finley wanted to avoid having a direct confrontation with Jackson over the mustache. For one of the few times in his tenure as the A’s owner, Finley showed a preference for a subtle, more indirect approach. “Finley, to my knowledge,”says Bando, “did not want to go tell Reggie to shave it. So he thought it would be better to have us all grow mustaches. That way Reggie wouldn’t be an ‘individual’ anymore.”
Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter, Darold Knowles and Bob Locker followed Reggie’s lead, each sprouting their own mustache. Instead of making Jackson feel less individualistic, thus prompting him to adopt his previously clean-shaven look, the strategy had a reverse and unexpected affect on Charles Finley.
“Well, as it turned out, guys started growin’ ’em, and Charlie began to like it,” says Mike Hegan in recalling the origins of baseball’s “Mustache Gang.” Finley offered a cash incentive to any player who had successfully grown a mustache by Father’s Day. “So then we all had to grow mustaches,” says Hegan, “and that’s how all that started.” By the time we got to the (regular) season, almost everybody had mustaches.” Even the manager, Dick Williams, known for his military brush-cut and clan shaven look during his days in Boston, would join the facial brigade by growing a patchy, scraggly mustache of his own. Baseball’s long standing hairless trend had officially come to an end.
Alvin Dark was fired by owner Charles O. Finley in 1967 and here he was taking his grief, again, in 1974. The Oakland ball-club had just lost to the Sox, 3-2, and Charlie O. was throwing a tantrum of epic proportion in the manger’s office. Dark knew that the players had heard some of the one-sided conversation and hoped that his embarrassment would light a fire under their asses.
“I’m playing to win!” screamed Charlie, veins protruding from his neck and eyes popped out as if he was being squeezed by an anaconda. This was, after all, the jungle.
“If you don’t start playing aggressive baseball I’ll kick your fucking ass out of here!” “We won the World Series two years in a row without you and we can win again without you!”
Al understood what was going on– Charlie was from Chicago and hated losing to the Sox more than getting a root canal or a coat that wasn’t plaid. Dark was a Christian so he didn’t raise his voice or even curse. He just sat there, eyes staring directly ahead in an omnipresent out-of-body experience that lasted about 30 seconds until he snapped out of it.
“We’re not wrestling with the mysteries of the universe here, Charlie, it’s just a goddamn….”
Dark stopped himself in mid-sentence and privately scolded himself for the blaspheme.
Mr. Alvin Dark walked the parking lot of the Coliseum alone, the primordial universe spread before him. He slowly lowered himself into a green ’74 Mercury Cougar and started flipping through radio stations with impunity. Thoughts began to develop and unfold as he forgave Charlie for his paradigm of curmudgeon behavior. The song “Thankful for what you’ve got” poured out of the speakers as Dark thought, ” It’s not that the celebration becomes less fun as we get older, it’s more purposeful. Our intentions adjust with the weight of responsibilities and existential dread….and the slow erosion of joint cartilage.”
Dark put key to ignition and foot to pedal as he drove away, leaving an empty parking lot…and the primordial stars to themselves.
1. Let’s start at the beginning- you were drafted by the Cleveland Indians but opted to go to Arizona St. instead. What prompted this decision?
I had a great high school senior season; but I only had three college scholarship offers – ASU, USC, and UCLA. UCLA didn’t have a very good program, but I really enjoyed meeting assistant coach Glen Mickens (who is now retired in Hawaii keeping baseball score books). I almost signed with USC, but I had sent a letter to Bobby Winkles (later the A’s manager in 77), who had assistant coach Fred Nelson do some research on me, and they offered me a full ride. I had read the Sports Illustrated article in 1967 about the ASU national championship and knew that’s where I wanted to go.
The Dodgers had called and spoke with my mom the week before the draft and told her if I’m still available by their first pick (20th) they’ll take me; but their Florida scout convinced them to pick Rick Rhoden.
Before the draft the sports editor of our school paper asked me who I’d like to be drafted by, and my reply was, “Anyone but the Braves and Indians.” Both were terrible at the time. The day of the draft I was in chemistry class when I good friend peeked through the door window signaling two fingers for the second round and mimicking four fingers over her mouth, the Woo-Woo. My heart sank – a double-whammy of not being in the first round, and by Cleveland. When their scout called to want to meet with me I told him don’t bother, I was going to college. But he came to visit and they offered me $20,000. and $8,000. for college; a joke. My third/last season at ASU my foot got cut very badly and I didn’t have my high velocity, so the Rangers picked me in the 16th round (I think 356). But Harley Anderson, their scout, had watched me for five years and knew I would get better. I signed for $15,000. plus $7,500. incentive. My foot healed, I pitched great at AA Pittsfield and got it all a year later.
2. You made your ML debut with the Texas Rangers in 1975… with the first batter faced being future HOFer Rod Carew. Can you take us through the gamut of emotions you must have been feeling?
I remember it very vividly; opening night at home, 28,000 at Arlington Stadium; my dad flew in from L.A. (it was near his birthday). We were losing 7-1 with one out and a runner on first in the seventh. Naturally I was quite nervous. I went into my stretch position and my left knee wouldn’t stop shaking (I thought sure I’d get a balk call). First pitch, perfect curve right on the corner, but the ump (Bill Haller) calls it a ball. Second pitch, exact same thing… right on the corner, ball two. I’m thinking this is a tough league and if they’re not going to call those pitches strikes than I’ve got no chance. The standard nickname for a curve was “Uncle Charlie” (I don’t know why). Mine was so good that Dave Nelson called mine “Lord Charles”. And Earl Weaver told me at a formal spring event in 81 that Steve Stone, and Blyleven and I had the 3 best in the AL. I would have added Tanana’s curve. Bert’s was the best I ever saw… it would break twice! Tanana made the best transition I ever saw. Throwing across his body so much, it was clear to me his arm would blow out sooner than later, but when it did he learned the discipline to keep it low and change speeds quite well – I wish I was that smart. Anyhow, I throw a fastball inside at the belt and Carew grounds to second for a force-out. Two out, Lyman Bostock is at the plate. I throw the same three pitches – two great curves on the corner that were called balls, and a fastball at the hands for a grounder to second. Inning over, and I get a loud standing ovation as I’m trotting off the field. P.S. – Carew was 3-for-22 and ended up not playing against me.
….And did you have much of a relationship with manager Billy Martin?
Managers don’t usually have close relationships with players – it’s tough to fire/trade/release friends.
Billy was a genius on the field and a maniac off. I recall a few times coming to the clubhouse early and he’d be on the training table with 3 or 4 ice packs on him. Standard Napoleon complex with some momma’s boy/Italian tough guy blended in. But Billy was not afraid of using rookies – Sundberg and Hargrove were prime examples. Our first spring games of 75 we flew to Mexico City to play their two best teams. Opening night I relieved to start the 5th or 6th inning and struck out the first four batters I faced and got the next two out. I had a great spring – 16 innings, 16 K’s, 4 walks. A left-hander with control??? Uh oh, look out. But Ken Holtzman made it look the easiest – 5 or 6 curves, 70-80 tailing fastballs away – the ultimate “pitch to centerfield”. Doubt he ever broke a sweat. Too bad he retired early because of too much travel. Speaking of sweat… one night game in august 76 in Arlington, I lost 14 pounds in two hours, changed my undershirt three times. Right after the season ended, I took a hot date to an all-you-eat high-class steak place in Dallas and ate salad, bread, baked potato, and 6+ t-bones. I only stopped because it was getting late.
But the worst manager I played for was Billy Hunter in 78. My 77 season was awful, but I worked hard that winter lifting weights and drinking protein shakes and came to camp ready to impress. Corbett noticed and he and Hunter made a $100. bet – Corbett that I would make the team, and Hunter (the manager who makes that decision) that I wouldn’t! Opening game at Ft. Lauderdale against the Yankees, I was clocked at 93, and I blew away their starting lineup (Reggie, Rivers, Munson, White, Piniella) for three innings. I continued to have a great spring, and made the team.
3. You were traded to Oakland prior to the 1977 season…did you have any contact with Charlie Finley during this time? What was your experience like in an Athletics uniform and how did you feel when they sent you to the minors that very same season…was it due to battling injuries?
Before I answer I want to state that it was clear to see there were many young talented guys – Mitchell Paige, Wayne Gross, Rob Picciolo, Rick Langford, Mike Norris, Bob Lacey. One of the coolest experiences I ever had was with Richie Allen one Sunday morning sitting in the dugout – he was in a 3-piece suit and talking about his mom. I always remembered him from a quote in the late 60’s, that he loved playing, he just wished the stadium seats were empty. I had strained my elbow tendon at Royals Stadium in May of 76, and it wasn’t fully healed. And unknowingly I had a serious case of depression.
Charlie traded for me because I pitched a great game (losing 1-0 in 11 innings) one night in June 76 in Chicago on local TV. Spring of 77 I was not at my best and there were “trade winds” in the air. I had not signed my contract yet and AL Pres. Lee McPhail came to Pompano to speak with me for some odd reason. Understand that free agency was created in July 76 (I was at the meeting in Philly), I signed that spring for four years and a lot of money, and I invented the bonus money for being traded clause, and two months later received $25,000. Turns out, I was a rent-a-player, Charlie and Brad Corbett had pre-arranged that the Rangers would get me back after the season. I had some discussion with the players association as to whether I should get another 25k for being sold back to Texas, and contractually I probably could have won, but I didn’t want to rock the boat, so we didn’t proceed in that direction. It’s a great game, it’s a tough business.
4. You were involved in the longest professional baseball game (33 innings) in which you pitched 10 scoreless. Can you take the readers through the madness a bit and explain the emotional ups and downs you must have had over those 2 days?
Craziest night ever – full moon, cold wind blowing in from left, scheduled to start at 7:30 but a problem with the lights delays until 8:00. The mound was chewed up, so I pitched all 10 innings out of a stretch, and I had great stuff. I’m nocturnal, so coming into the game at 2am was right up my alley. Two hours and eight minutes later, ten more innings passed and the umps finally said let’s suspend the game (we had a 1pm game 9 hours later). Dave Huppert caught the first 31 innings! (go try squatting for almost eight hours!) In 2006 the Pawtucket club held a 25 year reunion – with limos, nice hotel, big luncheon (with a PowerPoint showing pictures and music from 1981), and a game where they introduced us on the field by positions.
5. Finally… what was life like for Jim Umbarger after baseball? Aren’t you a bit of a golf nut?
Yes, very much so; though the appropriate term may be fanatic or addict. I’ve played in over 400 charity celebrity tourneys (the best were hosted by Frank Quilici in Minneapolis). Next year will be our 30th annual tourney here in Phoenix that Lou Klimchock and I initiated way back when. I was fortunate enough to eventually get real with myself and achieved the steps to becoming a full-time teaching professional. And in 2009-10 I wrote a 280-page book about some of the horrible golf instruction that is prevalent. In 2013 I wrote a 150-page autobiography (just for my own amusement).
In case any of the readers have ever wondered why so many pitchers are drawn to playing golf, here’s my take. Baseball is great, pitching is great. But pitchers are frustrated from depending on the defense and offense and umpires and managers to determine their fate. Golf is a game of personal responsibility, each shot and each score is up to the individual, which pitchers enjoy.
In 2014 I watched a lot of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (and Geoff).This next take is from him and doesn’t apply to the readers who have made it this far, but in case they have any friends who have a short attention span, here’s some recommended readings… Of Mouse and Man, Five Shades of Grey, A Tale of One City, and my personal favorite – The Grape of Wrath.
Former MLB guys on the Arizona alumni committee who put some effort into our annual golf tourney – Ethan Blackaby, Cisco Carlos, Jack Heidemann, aforementioned Lou Klimchock, Leon Brown, Kevin Kobel, Ken Rudolph, Bart Zeller.
Nowadays, retired and having turned 62, my life is all about Maggie, my 16+ yo Australian herder collie, the smartest, most sensible, loving, quickest, best being I have ever known. I play some celeb tourneys, watch a ton of true life crime shows, and yell at the stupid politicians. To keep my mind sharp I solve expert level Sudoku.
A major highlight of my life I will excerpt from my personal autobiography. “The highest compliment I have ever received occurred in late-May that year. For you baseball fans, pay attention here; if you are not a baseball fan, you may skip the rest of this paragraph. In 1970 and 71, I was a very good high school baseball pitcher. During my senior year in 71, I had the honor of Casey Stengel coming to watch me pitch three different games. I happened to pitch well those games (and most of the others), and I was usually informed afterwards that Casey was there in attendance. Unfortunately, my team, the U. S. Grant High School Lancers (in Van Nuys, California), lost our semi-final playoff game in the Los Angeles City playoffs in mid-May. At the time, I was being recruited to play college baseball at UCLA and USC (Southern Cal for you southerners). I attended the championship game that was being played at Dodger Stadium and during the third inning, my date, Kathy Brigham, and I started walking up the aisle to visit the concession stand. As it turned out, Justin Dedeaux and Casey were sitting a few rows higher up from where we were sitting. Justin was the USC recruiter and had been contacting me to play for them. So Justin sees me and says, “Hi Jim, there’s someone here I’d like you to meet. Jim, this is Casey Stengel. Casey, this is Jim Umbarger. Casey, we’ve been talking with Jim about playing for USC and we think he’s going to be a fine pitcher someday”. Casey’s simple and immediate response was, “He already is.” I was flabbergasted then, and I still am today. When Casey died in October 1975, I cried. And nothing anyone has ever said, or will ever say to me, could top Casey’s off-the-cuff, from the heart, comment. Thank you “Ol’ Perfessor”. I have cried a few times at different times of my life at the wonderful compliment and memory from a great guy.”
Charles O. Finley. Genius. Rabble-Rouser. Inventor. Millionaire. Cheapskate. Many things have been said about the man who was the principal owner of the Oakland Athletics during their World Series championships of 1972, 1973 and 1974, yet one thing is missing in this man’s resume– The Hall of Fame.
Dad’s goal was to work in the Texas State Dept. of Education.
Regarding Charlie’s 1975 TIME magazine cover shoot–
7.) What mistake was made on the 1974 World Series trophy?