A few weeks ago, there was a photo in the San Francisco Chronicle of three people, one of whom was identified as Charles O. Finley, the late iconoclastic owner of the Oakland A’s. The only problem was, it wasn’t Charlie Finley. It was his nephew, Carl A. Finley Jr.
This photo made me think of my first few years in Oakland and the man who kept the power on while Uncle Charlie made sure the spotlight was always on his latest promotional joust with his fellow owners and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
Carl was the invisible man behind the bombastic Charlie O. and the amazing success of the Athletics in the early 1970s.
When I was hired by the A’s in 1980, he was one of the first people I met. The Haas Family had purchased the franchise from Charles O. Finley in late 1980 for $12.7 million dollars. That’s right, $12.7 million -- which was less than the annual take home pay for 61 major leaguers in 2012.
My Oakland A’s adventure began with a trip to the men’s room. I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore when I spied a phone on the wall above one of the urinals. This was years before phones were commonplace in hotel bathrooms. I had no idea what this convenience was doing in the convenience. I went to the man who might be able to answer my potty question.
Carl Finley was the master of the Cheshire grin. He gave one of these to me when I blurted out my confusion on communication in the commode. So began my understanding of how Carl Finley filled more roles simultaneously than any other front office person in baseball and maybe all of sports in the 1970s.
Oh, the bathroom phone. He told me that “Charlie wanted to stay on top of his team even when he wasn’t in Oakland which was most of the time during his absentee ownership.” Seems Carl had to do play-by-play for Uncle Charlie by talking him through the game over the phone. When the game settlement was due he had to leave the press box and come downstairs to the ticket office. So when nature called, he would have a transistor radio in one hand and.......... well you get the picture, while giving Charley the paid ticket numbers along with important player and team stats.
Carl A. Finley, Jr. who passed away at 79 on March 30, 2002, was a minority owner of the Kansas City A's. Carl graduated from SMU in his native Dallas earning bachelor's degrees in History and Journalism. This prepared him for 13 years as a high school teacher and principal at Thomas Jefferson High School, while he started his family in his home town.
A career change in 1962 landed Carl with the club when he accepted a position with the Kansas City A’s after being recruited by Uncle Charlie. Carl wanted to stay out of the spotlight but he played a huge role in the success of the Oakland A's, as General Manager and Vice-President of operations throughout the 1970s. He was the peacekeeper of the organization that always had some sort of skirmish going on.
In addition to working with Charlie to build the championship teams, it was also Carl's job to implement and manage Charlie O's promotional ideas, such as the bright yellow and green uniforms, orange baseballs, Harvey the mechanical rabbit, promotion days, fireworks, “Charlie O” the Mule, and the A's Rally Railroad Bell Ringer.
Carl was the one who spoke at local organizations on behalf of the team, dealt with players' contracts, and attended MLB annual owners' meetings. Carl had the final say on operational issues on a day-to-day basis at the Coliseum. Carl dealt with the media, advertisers, season ticket holders, stadium operations and all the other details in running a franchise. He also supervised ticket sales, including ticket discounts to Oakland A's fans and the distribution of playoff and World Series tickets.
There’s been major controversy associated with Baseball’s Hall of Fame voting during the past year. Someday soon Carl Finley deserves the honor of joining the builders of the game in Cooperstown. He did more with less than anyone I have ever met in the business of pro sports.
Over his 40-year career, sports executive Andy Dolich has held positions at the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A's, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and Philadelphia 76ers. He is the Sports Business Insider for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.