Rollie Fingers

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5+13 innings, allowing three hits and two runs. [12]

By the end of May 1971, Athletics manager Dick Williams decided that Fingers would be the late-inning closer. [9] During the 1972 season, Fingers entered games in the fifth inning on four occasions, but mostly entered in the sixth inning or later. [13] He did start two games in 1973—April 21 versus the California Angels at Oakland and May 7 against the Orioles at Baltimore, the latter being the final start of his career. Other than those two games, for the remainder of his career, his earliest entrance into a game was in the sixth inning, which happened on three more occasions. [14] He usually entered in the seventh, eighth, or ninth innings. [15]

Fingers was part of the Oakland Athletics team that accomplished the first modern-day "three-peat," winning the World Series in 1972, 1973, and 1974. For the third of those championships, he won the World Series Most Valuable Player Award, earning two saves and one win during the series.

Just prior to the start of the 1974 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Fingers and Odom got into a fight in the A's locker room after Odom made a comment about Fingers' wife. Though the incident lasted less than a minute, Fingers required six stitches on his head, and Odom sprained his ankle and had a noticeable limp. [16]

With the end of baseball's reserve clause, all players not under a multi-year contract were set to become free agents after the 1976 season. Believing he would not be able to afford to re-sign his key players, Athletics' owner Charlie Finley attempted to sell Fingers and Joe Rudi to the Boston Red Sox for $1 million each and Vida Blue to the New York Yankees for $1.5 million in June. Bowie Kuhn, the Commissioner of Baseball, nullified the sale, saying that the transactions were "not in the best interests of baseball". Finley sued Kuhn, and he benched Fingers, Rudi and Blue, saying that they belonged to other teams. Members of the Athletics threatened to strike against Finley if they did not play, and Finley relented. [17] After the season, Fingers signed with the San Diego Padres as a free agent. [18] [19]

Fingers as a Padre in 1977 Rollie Fingers - San Diego Padres.jpg
Fingers as a Padre in 1977

Fingers won the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award in 1977, 1978, and 1980 with the Padres. After the 1980 season, on December 8, the Padres traded Fingers, Gene Tenace, Bob Shirley, and a player to be named later (later selected to be Bob Geren) to the St. Louis Cardinals for Terry Kennedy, John Littlefield, Al Olmsted, Mike Phillips, Kim Seaman, Steve Swisher, and John Urrea. [20] [21] A few days later, the Cardinals traded Fingers, Ted Simmons, and Pete Vuckovich to the Milwaukee Brewers for Sixto Lezcano, Lary Sorensen, David Green, and Dave LaPoint. [22] In 1981, Fingers won the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award, the American League (AL) Most Valuable Player Award, and AL Cy Young Award. He saved 29 games for the 1982 Brewers, but he pitched most of the season in pain and was forced to miss the Brewers' first (and to date, only) trip to the World Series, where they were beaten in seven games by the Cardinals. Fingers missed the 1983 season with injury, and had a laminectomy to remove a herniated disk from his back in August 1984. [23]

His last major league appearance was on September 17, 1985, against the Baltimore Orioles at Memorial Stadium. He pitched in relief of Teddy Higuera in the bottom of the eighth inning, facing two batters. He allowed a home run to Gary Roenicke, but he struck out Rick Dempsey to end the inning as the Orioles won 6–0. [24]

At the end of his career, after being released by the Brewers the previous season, he was offered a contract by Pete Rose to play for the Cincinnati Reds for 1986, but owner Marge Schott had a "clean cut" policy for her players, mandating that all players must be clean shaven. Fingers's reply to Reds general manager Bill Bergesch was: "Well, you tell Marge Schott to shave her Saint Bernard, and I'll shave my moustache". [25]

Fingers and modern relief pitching

Rollie Fingers
Rollie Fingers - San Diego Padres - 1978.jpg
Fingers with the San Diego Padres in 1978
Pitcher
Born: (1946-08-25) August 25, 1946 (age 75)
Steubenville, Ohio
Batted: Right
Threw: Right
MLB debut
September 15, 1968, for the Oakland Athletics
Last MLB appearance
September 17, 1985, for the Milwaukee Brewers

When Fingers reached the major leagues, the role of relief pitchers was limited, as starting pitchers rarely left games while holding a lead; but as team offense increased following the 1968 season, and especially with the American League's introduction of the designated hitter in 1973, managers became more willing to replace starters in the late innings with a lead in order to forestall any late rallies by opponents. Through the 1960s, both leagues' annual saves leaders tended toward totals of 20–25 saves; few pitchers remained in the role more than two or three years, with significant exceptions such as Roy Face and knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm. But in the 1970s—in an era allowing for greater opportunities for closers than had previously been available—Fingers' excellence in relief allowed him to gradually increase his annual saves totals past 30. In 1980, he broke Wilhelm's record of 227 saves and eventually finished with 341—a record that stood until Jeff Reardon passed it in 1992.

Fingers is regarded as a pioneer of modern relief pitching, defining the role of the closer for years to come. As had generally been true in baseball through the 1960s, Fingers was moved to the bullpenand eventually to his role as a closerbecause of struggles with starting. Before Fingers' time, a former starter's renewed success in the bullpen led back to a spot in the starting rotation. However, with the successes of Fingers and contemporaries such as Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage, it has been widely accepted that an excellent pitcher might actually provide a greater benefit to his team as a closer than as a third or fourth starter. (Gossage, for example, was moved to the starting rotation after first serving as a reliever for a few seasons. As a starter, he pitched 17 complete games, but was clobbered and eventually was moved back to the bullpen permanently.) As a result, later teams have been more willing to move successful starters—notably Dennis Eckersley, Dave Righetti, and John Smoltz to the permanent role of closer, with no plans to bring them back to the rotation. (Smoltz bucked that trend by successfully returning to the rotation in 2005.) In 2006, Bruce Sutter became the first pitcher in baseball history elected to the Hall of Fame who never started a game in his Major League career.

Moustache

Baseball-Reference.com ranks Fingers's moustache as the best in history. [26] In addition to his pitching ability, Fingers was noted for his waxed handlebar moustache, which he originally grew to get a $300 bonus from Athletics owner Charles O. Finley. On the first day of spring training for the 1972 season, Reggie Jackson showed up with a beard. In protest—and believing the Athletics' management would want Jackson to shave—Fingers and a few other players started going without shaving to force Jackson to shave off his beard. Instead, Finley, ever the showman who would do almost anything to sell tickets, then offered prize-money to the player who could best grow and maintain their facial hair until Opening Day—April 15 versus Minnesota. Fingers went all out for the monetary incentive offered by Finley and patterned his moustache after the images of the players of the late 19th century. [25] Taking it even further, Finley came up with "Moustache Day" at the ballpark, where any fan with a moustache could get in free. [27]

Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman also went for the bonus, but Fingers with his Snidely Whiplash took the prize. [28] [29] Fingers later said, "Most of us would have grown one anywhere on our bodies for $300." [30] The players became known as the "Moustache Gang." [31] Prior to the disbandment of the original core, many Hall of Famers acknowledged the strength of not only their arms but also their mustaches. Willie Mays, prior to his retirement, acknowledged seeing Fingers' mustache as a proper send-off for his career. Bill Buckner said, "the only thing stronger than my swing was the beauty of his mustache." Lastly, Johnny Bench noted that as a catcher, seeing Fingers' mustache prepared him en route to winning two World Series with the Cincinnati Reds. Although most former Athletics players shaved off their moustaches after the team traded most of their players in 1975–76, Fingers maintained his after signing with the San Diego Padres as a free agent in 1977, and he still has the mustache today.

Honors and later life

OaklandRetired34.PNG
Rollie Fingers's number 34 was retired by the Oakland Athletics in 1993.
Milret34.PNG
Rollie Fingers's number 34 was retired by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1992.

In 1992, Fingers was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, joining Wilhelm to become only the second reliever inducted. Bruce Sutter, Rich Gossage, Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, and Lee Smith have since followed, as has Dennis Eckersley (who was a starter for half of his career and a reliever for the other half).

In 1999, Fingers ranked 96th on The Sporting News list of Baseball's Greatest Players, [32] and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Fingers later pitched a season in the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association.

Fingers is one of only ten players who have had their numbers retired from more than one team.

In 2000, Fingers was inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions, honoring that city's finest athletes both on and off the playing surface. [33]

In December 2020, Fingers' World Series championship ring was sold at auction for $75,330. [34]

Income tax controversy

Sports Illustrated reported on January 2, 2007, that Fingers owed the state of Wisconsin (in 2007) more than $1.4 million in income taxes dating back to his time with the Brewers (including $1.1 million in interest) and was at the time the seventh biggest tax delinquent in the state. [35] Fingers disputed the claim, saying he was shocked when he learned of it in 2005 and that taxes had been properly withheld from his Brewers paychecks.

On August 15, 2007, the Associated Press reported that Fingers' name had been removed from Wisconsin's delinquent tax list the previous month. "That's all been taken care of," he told the AP. "I've had more people try to tell me, 'You know, you owe $1.4 million.' I said, 'No, I don't.' We got all that squared away. I had to go all the way back to 1981 on my income taxes. That's all been taken care of, and I did pay my taxes back then, so there's no problem. The revenue department's happy with me right now, so it's all been resolved." [36]

In media

Fingers at the 2008 All-Star Game Red Carpet Parade. Rollie Fingers All Star Parade 2008.jpg
Fingers at the 2008 All-Star Game Red Carpet Parade.

Books

On April 1, 2009, Rollie Fingers and co-author Christopher "Yellowstone" Ritter released:

The work is a non-fiction baseball book that combines elements of humor, anecdotal storytelling, odd lists and historical trivia. [37]

The first book inspired a sequel, released March 16, 2010, by Fingers and Ritter: [38]

Television appearances

Rollie Fingers and four other members of his family appeared on a 1983 episode of the game show Family Feud . After the opening theme, to honor Fingers, host Richard Dawson led the crowd in a chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game". [39] Fingers also appeared in a pair of commercials for Pepsi Max, playing himself in a Field of Dreams setting along with other legendary players. In one commercial, when the Pepsi Max delivery man replenishes an empty vending machine, Fingers appears to take his moustache off and give it to the delivery man, saying, "Great save, kid. You deserve this."

Radio

In 1994/1995 a comedy segment entitled "Rollie TV", concerning a fictitious cable television channel devoted solely to the life of Rollie Fingers and helmed by a Fingers-obsessed host named Greg Shuttlecock, aired once a week on The Steve Dahl Radio Show on WMVP 1000 AM in Chicago. The idea and segment were created and performed by Jeffery C. Johnson and Jim Toth. A "Rollie TV" skit had originally aired in 1993 on Toth and Johnson's Chicago cable TV show Color TV and was then adapted into segments for radio.

See also

Related Research Articles

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References

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Achievements
Preceded by
All-Time Saves Leader
1980–1991
Succeeded by
Preceded by
No-hit game
September 28, 1975
(with Blue, Abbott & Lindblad)
Succeeded by