Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Interview with Nancy Finley, A Living Link to the A's 70's Dynasty

With all of the much-deserved pomp and circumstance of the recent '74 A's reunion, the conclusion of a rare three-year run as World Champions, nostalgia for the Charlie Finley-era teams is high. A steward of Finley's legacy is his niece Nancy Finley. Nancy has built one of the definitive virtual vaults for those looking to explore the A's 70's dynasty -- http://www.oaklandathleticshistory.com. Of course, her connection to the A's runs deeper than just her uncle. Nancy's father, Carl Finley, served as de facto general manager and vice president from the Kansas City days until the team's sale in 1980.

The following is an email interview. Nancy's comments (NF) have been lightly edited for clarity.

SMB: Your uncle, Charlie Finley, is essentially missing from the National Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF). Is he deserving of the honor?

NF: I definitely believe Charlie deserves a place in the HOF. The last time I checked, in 2012, the HOF had a time period split down the middle of our dynasty. This is 1947-1972, then 1973 to current. I would make sure Charlie was nominated under both time periods. Also, I believe my father, Carl A. Finley, deserves a place in the HOF under the Executive Category. Also, for both time periods.

SMB: Did Charlie Finley's divorce, and subsequent cash crunch, kill both the spirit and the means needed to keep the A's 70-era juggernaut alive?

NF: It seems common for most couples to experience a kind of "cash crunch" during a divorce. During this time, Charlie threw himself even more into the business. I noticed Charlie started leaning on dad more. More than the divorce, the main issues were "pending free agency," and (then MLB Commissioner) "Bowie Kuhn." I believe what killed the "spirit" the most was when we were served with a lawsuit in March 1979, on behalf of the city and county (Oakland and Alameda, respectively). Actually, the Coliseum Board was who authorized this lawsuit. The causes of action were ridiculous. This suit was thrown out of court, in our favor, a few months later the summer of 1979. Still, the fact this suit was prepared, after all we gave this area, was the final straw.

SMB: Describe your father's role in helping run the A's. Beyond just being a GM, how else was he involved?

NF: Where do I begin? When dad agreed to join Charlie and the team in Kansas City, dad was promised a minority ownership. This was a "given."  Then, it seemed like if any employee wanted to speak with Charlie, he would go to dad first. I remember Pat Friday (general manager from 1961-65), in our Kansas City days, at our home often. Dad had a way of knowing how Charlie would react, and what his answer would be. It was uncanny. Dad oversaw everything at the stadium, "on site."  Dad's title would have been vice president; however, I noticed dad referred to himself with various titles, depending on the circumstances. I call it a "situational title," depending on the situation, or, circumstances. Dad could put whatever title he chose in our annual yearbook.

Dad moved to Oakland the Fall of 1967 to prepare for the 1968 season opener. Player, Rick Monday came with dad. Both attended Bay Area events to help promote the new team. In Oakland, I remember how Charlie called dad every morning between 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. We were PST, Charlie CST. 

When dad saw talent in someone, he would "sell" Charlie on that person. Dad did this for Debbie Syvyer, aka Mrs. Fields, and Stanley Burrell, aka MC Hammer. So when Charlie visited Oakland, dad would make sure to introduce them. Dad focused on running the team, so Charlie could continue running his medical insurance company in Chicago. In Oakland, during home games, it was dad who signed off every day by 5:00 p.m. on our roster. In 1975, dad started attending the annual MLB owners meetings alone. Charlie turned over his proxy to dad. From 1975 onward, I noticed dad starting to settle on the title of vice president. It was about time.

SMB: Did Charlie Finley give Oakland a fair tryout before he started angling to move the club to cities such as Denver?

NF: Oh yes, I believe we gave Oakland a fair try. Also, our fans always came first. Our search for a place to move stemmed from frustration with the Coliseum Board. The front offices needed finishing. It was drywall and cement everywhere. In Kansas City, we were told the Coliseum was ready to move into. Then, we found out otherwise. It would be like moving into a house, without any flooring, or painted textured walls. It may sound minor; however, this is not what we were led to believe. The Coliseum Board is who we dealt with. Dad didn't deal directly with any politicians. At that time, it was the Coliseum board. We were promised the inside front office would be finished. We waited, and waited. When we started winning, we thought this would get the Coliseum Board's attention. Still nothing. Dad loved the Bay Area, and didn't want to move. I do remember when meetings were held with Marvin Davis in Denver. I suspected this was also to put a fire under the Coliseum Board, to make them finish our front office, as they had promised to do.

SMB: Did you ever get to see the NHL California Golden Seals play? Was your father involved with this Oakland-based franchise as well?

NF: Yes, I attended many Oakland Seals games. How nice you remember our Seals. Not many do. For some reason, no one seemed interested in hockey at the time. Now, look at the Sharks. I asked dad why Charlie purchased a hockey team. Dad said Charlie thought we had the "golden touch" with any sports franchise, because the A's were starting to win. Charlie acted like dad felt the same way, and that dad would do the same with the other teams. Dad said Charlie should not have assumed this. Dad reminded Charlie their goal was to focus on the baseball team. Dad walked away because of this. This was about 1969. Dad was back with Charlie by the time I moved to Oakland permanently, in June 1970. Charlie didn't have the time to devote to the hockey or basketball (Memphis Tams) teams. He didn't have the time for the A's either, which is what dad did. This is why the other franchises floundered.

SMB: What would Charlie Finley think of today's stadium mess? Would he be pushing to move the team to San Jose or out of California entirely?

NF: Today, Charlie would be so pleased with the fan support. In the 1970's, we were also the "new kid on the block," which may have hampered things. However, Charlie (and dad) would have enjoyed the great fan support. Also, the A's seem to have been granted many more "perks" than we ever had. This seems to have to do with when the Raiders returned to Oakland. Because the Raiders were given so much, the A's were entitled to some of the same. The press is much more understanding today. This is what I see. I have read some (team-issued) statements, knowing that if we (Finley-era ownership) ever said the same, it wouldn't have been pretty. Charlie wouldn't have had an outside ad agency, or, a front office so large. I wouldn't see Charlie wanting to leave this location, because the fans are so dedicated. It was always about the fans. If it turned out there was a defect (construction, not up to earthquake standards, etc) in the Coliseum, we probably would choose a location similar to where the Giants did -- on the water.

SMB: My understand is that you have a book in the works. Can you tell us some details and when it is slated to hit the shelves?

NF: I have much more to add to my website. I am waiting until my book is closer to the end. Thank you for the compliment.

 SMB: Your website has a treasure-trove of vintage A's clippings and images. Does it pain you that the team's history is somewhat invisible at their current facility?

NF: Yes, it does pain me.

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