Rollie Fingers played for the Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, and Milwaukee Brewers. But he was also a member of two other organizations for a grand total of seven days, though he never played a game for either team. The A’s sold him tot he Red Sox in 1976, but three days after the deal the
dictator commissioner of baseball Bowie Kuhn voided it and ordered the reliever back to Oakland. He ended up leaving Charlie Finley for San Diego that off-season.
In December 1980, the Padres traded Fingers to the Cardinals, who then traded him four days later to the Brewers. He would finish his career in Milwaukee…but might not have, had Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott lifted the facial hair ban on her players. Fingers considered signing with the Reds, but opted to retire when he was told he would have to shave his famous handlebar mustache.
It took two voting cycles for Rollie Fingers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but there was little doubt after his initial 65.7% showing that he would be inducted by the BBWAA. In his second year on the ballot, Fingers received 81.2% of the vote. The reliever was a seven-time All-Star and won the 1981 AL Cy Young and MVP Awards. Pretty impressive for a relief pitcher. At the end of his career, Fingers considered signing with the Cincinnati Reds, but refused to shave his famous handlebar mustache.
Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s by Jason Turbow (2017)
Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic is the story of the Oakland A’s, a team stocked with some of the best players in baseball in the early 1970s. Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Dave Duncan, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers…they all played a key role in the team’s dominant run of three straight World Championships from 1972 through 1974. None was a bigger star—in his own mind, at least—than owner Charlie O. Finley. The businessman moved the A’s from Kansas City shortly after securing the team, and shrewdly managed his personnel until baseball’s labor laws broke down, causing an exodus of not only the A’s but many major league rosters in the late 1970s. Finley’s first major loss came when his star pitcher Hunter jumped ship, just a few years after the owner stood his ground against another young pitcher (and kept him, at the time).
But Hunter’s departure came later; from 1972-1974, nothing could stop the Oakland powerhouse. Their three-year reign saw them defeat the Cincinnati Reds, the New York Mets, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it was not all smooth sailing. Contract disputes, poor attendance, arguments over playing time, and Finley’s manipulation of players play a major role in by Jason Turbow’s historical account. The author freely admits that Finley, if living, “wouldn’t likely appreciate his portrayal here.”
Besides the verbal clashes with the front office, there were a number of physical fights in the clubhouse as well. Turbow says, “I detail the major dustups in the book, but omitted many others that didn’t fit into the narrative. I had a recurring experience during my interviews: Player says that it was all overblown and the team didn’t fight as much as the media made out; I recount to a player a litany of the most prominent skirmishes; player goes quiet, shakes head and grudgingly agrees that maybe there’s something to it after all.”
Dynastic. Bombastic, Fantastic is a great way to get your blood pumping for another great season of baseball.
I picked up two rack packs of 1983 Donruss last night at the Redsfest for $1 each. I thought surely they were just in the wrong place on the table, but no…$1 each. And with a Reggie Jackson Diamond King showing on top, how could I resist?
This is possibly the trickiest of all the rankings because of the ever-evolving role of the relief pitcher. Dennis Eckersley comes out on top by a large margin (204.46), but one must remember that he spent a good deal of his career as a quality starter and gets a large amount of his points from the wins and strikeouts during that part of his career. Of course he was no slouch as a reliever, and won the Cy Young Award and MVP in that role in 1992. But the best reliever, who was nothing but a reliever during his big league career, was (and is) Mariano Rivera of the Yankees (162.35).
Rollie Fingers (142.05) comes in as the third greatest reliever ever, just above Trevor Hoffman (#4, 138.83). Known as much for his handlebar moustache as his pitching, Fingers made seven All-Star teams and was named both the Cy Young Award winner and MVP in the strike-shortened 1981 season.
Goose Gossage (#5, 132.56) was a big personality and very popular during his career. Lee Smith (#6, 129.45) beats out Hall of Famers Hoyt Wilhem (#7, 129.42) and Bruce Sutter (#8, 117.41); Billy Wagner (#9, 116.71) and John Franco (#10, 113.09) finish up the top ten, while one-time career saves leader Jeff Reardon (#11, 102.48) is the only other reliever over the 100-point mark.
The role of the relief pitcher has evolved so much over the past few decades, you can’t really compare the big names from today like Mariano Rivera to the legends of the 1970s like Rollie Fingers. Regardless of how he might have performed in today’s game, I believe Fingers would still make the Hall of Fame based on his handlebar moustache alone.
Photo credit: Getty Images
Last month, Dick Allen Hall of Fame posted a couple of “what-if” cards featuring Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers. Charlie Finley sold the two star players to the Red Sox, but Bowie Kuhn voided the deal. DAHoF photoshopped the Red Sox logo on his customs, but there were actually some photographs made, as the deal stood for three days. I used one of those photos for my “fun card” above.
Here’s what Fingers said about the deal in an interview a few years ago on Bleacher Report:
I was happier than a pig in s*** to get traded to the Red Sox. I wanted to get the h*** away from Charlie Finley. He was a pain in the neck. He sold me to the Red Sox for $1 million. I was in uniform, the Red Sox had just come into Oakland for a three games series. I just picked up all my stuff from out of my locker and went over to the visiting locker and had a locker next to Carl Yastrzemski. I was there for three days and at the end of the three days, (former MLB commissioner) Bowie Kuhn nixed the deal. So I picked up all my stuff and went back to the Oakland A’s clubhouse. Had I got in a ballgame, I don’t think that Bowie Kuhn could have done anything, though.
Fingers did get away from Finley the next year, signing a 6-year deal with San Diego beginning in 1977; he was traded to Milwaukee in December 1980.
Three players, all Hall of Famers, honored by five teams make up the retired #34’s.
Kirby Puckett, Minnesota Twins
While I wouldn’t call it a “controversy,” there is some debate over the ease with which Puckett was elected to Cooperstown. In a career shortened by eye troubles, Puckett fell short of the “magic numbers” normally accompanying a first-ballot selection. He was a 10-time All-Star in just twelve big league seasons, leading the league in hits four times, batting average once, and thrice topping 100 RBI in a season. His numbers are, however, very similar to Don Mattingly‘s career totals, who has never received even 30% of the Hall vote in eleven years on the ballot. While I do believe Puckett belongs in the Hall of Fame, I also believe there is room for Mattingly as well.
Nolan Ryan, Houston Astros
Nolan Ryan, Texas Rangers
Rollie Fingers, Oakland A’s
Rollie Fingers, Milwaukee Brewers
When I started following baseball, Rollie Fingers was on his way out. But I knew he would be a Hall of Famer, and one of my most prized cards was a 1981 Donruss Fingers. I was sure that the card would skyrocket in value once the closer made it to Cooperstown.
That card can still be had for less than the price of a candy bar.
Yesterday, the only man in the history of baseball with 600 saves (until Mariano Rivera surpasses him at some point in the next two seasons), Trevor Hoffman, announced he was retiring. The question now becomes one of his place in baseball history.
Only a handful of relief pitchers have been inducted into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Goose Gossage (2008), Bruce Sutter (2006) and starter-turned-reliever Dennis Eckersley (2004) are the most recent, while Rollie Fingers skated in on his second ballot way back in 1992. Should Hoffman join them? Or is the recent shunning of Lee Smith indicative of the way voters will treat the (for now) all-time saves leader?
Before Hoffman, starting in 1993, all the way through 2005, Smith was on top. When his name first appeared on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, he received 42.3% of the vote. A very solid number for his first year, most expected him to make big gains and be ushered in within a few years. But that didn’t happen. His percentage has gone up and down, but has remained in the 35-45% range with the exception of 2010, when he was able to draw just over 47%. His percentage in the most recent tally? 45.3%. It looks more and more unlikely that Smith will be immortalized in Cooperstown by the BBWAA, and his fate may be left to the Veteran’s Committee.
Prior to Smith, the all-time leader in saves was Jeff Reardon, who overtook Fingers in 1993. He didn’t hold the title long, as Smith passed him in 1994. How did the BBWAA reward Reardon’s longevity and effectiveness? He was one-and-done on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2000, albeit only one vote shy of getting a second chance. Out of 499 ballots, “The Terminator” was named on 24 for 4.8%.
With Mariano Rivera just 42 saves away from the all-time lead, it’s doubtful Hoffman’s name will be at the top with he appears on the ballot. Will the writers remember his dominance? For that matter, was he dominating?
It will be a few years before these questions will be thoroughly examined and answered. We’re too close to his career right now to make that call. But it does give one something to think about. Whatever the case, he had a very good career for an 11th-round draft pick.
(BTW, is this a 1991 card or a 1992 card? It has ’91 stats on it, but also a ’91 copyright date. Donruss always threw me off with their 1982-1984 Diamond Kings the same way.)