For someone that never owned or was officially associated with the Chicago White Sox, Charles O. Finley’s name pops up a few times in their history.
Finley was born in 1918 in Birmingham, Alabama. Finley was a born hustler, putting together a lawn mowing business in Birmingham along with selling newspapers and magazines and serving as batboy for the Birmingham Barons. When Finley was in high school, the family moved to Gary, Indiana.
It was there that he was began as an apprentice at the steel mill before working there fulltime, and selling insurance on the side. He became successful enough as an insurance salesman to be able to do it full time before launching his own company. We’ll get to the Sox, I promise.
He was determined to buy a big-league ballclub. He tried buying the Athletics after Connie Mack died, and was unsuccessful. He then tried buying the Tigers from the Briggs family, again to no avail. Then the Comiskey family wanted to sell the White Sox, and Finley went for it. Unfortunately for Finley, Bill Veeck was able to buy the team.
But in 1960, Athletics owner Arnold Johnson – the man who moved the A’s to Kansas City – died, and Finley was able to buy controlling interest in the team from the Johnson estate. He was finally a big league owner.
He was popular in Kansas City, as he was a promoter very much in the Veeck mold. And he endeared himself as much to the baseball establishment as Veeck did. Ironically, had Finley not gone after the A’s, he could have bought the Sox once Veeck had to sell the team to John Allyn, as Veeck was diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t operate a team and be treated at the same time.
One of the reasons that Finley was popular in Kansas City was that he pledged to keep the A’s there. In short order, he pitted Kansas City against Oakland, Atlanta and Dallas in a bidding war for his affections, or more to the point, a stadium. In 1964 he actually signed a deal to play in Louisville, but the league vetoed it. In 1967, he was able to finally cut a deal where the American League would expand to Kansas City and Seattle, and his A’s would move to Oakland.
Finlay was, as legendary Jim Murray said, “A self-made millionaire who worshipped his creator.” His players despised him. At one point he called his young star pitcher Vida Blue in the middle of the night, suggesting he change his name to “True” Blue. Blue replied, “Not unless you change your name to True O. Finley.”
But in the final days of the reserve clause, the players had nowhere else to go.
In very short time, Finley was unhappy with the situation he was in. When word came out that John Allyn was looking to sell the White Sox, again Finley saw an opportunity.
The city of Seattle had sued Major League Baseball, as their expansion Pilots left town after one year. They wanted a team, and MLB wanted the suit to go away. Finley really wanted out of Oakland. So his idea was to have a group from Seattle buy and relocate the White Sox, then he’d move his A’s, winners of three straight World Series, into Comiskey Park and become the new White Sox. Here’s a good description of that episode.
Oh, and while he was in Oakland, he hired Harry Caray after the Cardinals fired him. Finley was a micromanager, not only with promotion and operation of the team, but on-field as well. And micromanagement didn’t work with Harry.
But Finley’s plan was foiled by the return to baseball of Veeck. At this point, the baseball establishment preferred Veeck to Finley. Meanwhile, free agency served as an escape hatch for all the star players who had won for years in Oakland. They became very bad very fast.
But still, there’s two different times that Charles O’ Finley almost owned the White Sox. So when the Sox and A’s lock up this week in the Wild Card series, this common thread runs between them.