Fingers has local collectors eating out of his hand
Rollie Fingers, one of the greatest relief pitchers of all time, still wearing his famous handlebar mustache, was in Ephrata last Saturday for the 35th annual Ephrata Lions Card Show. Ephrata Review staff writer Bruce Morgan had an opportunity to sit down and interview the baseball legend about his career with the Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers.
The following is a transcript of their conversation:
Bruce Morgan: What are you up to these days?
Rollie Fingers: I play a lot of golf. I just got back from spring training. I was down with Fergie Jenkins’ foundation, they do about seven or eight different charities in the Phoenix area, so we sign autographs every day at the ball park. We’re out there for about four or five hours every day. Me and Gaylord Perry, Bert Campaneris, Blue Moon Odom, some of the guys I used to play with. And I play a lot of golf in Las Vegas, chase my kids around – I’ve got a 10 and 11-year-old, so they keep me busy.
BM: Looking back on the Oakland A’s run in 1972, ‘73 and ‘74 when they won the World Series, that still has to be a source of pride for you, right?
RF: Oh yeah. At the time when you’re doing it, you don’t think that much about it because you’re having fun, you’re playing the game and you don’t think about, ‘Well hey, we just won three in a row. We’re going to try to for four in a row.’ You look back on it now and see that nobody else has done it and it’s a pretty nice accomplishment. We had some great teams in Oakland. We had fun, played well. It’s always fun when you win. We had a good time.
BM: Could you have won another one or two if the Big Red Machine wasn’t in its heyday at that point?
RF: Oh yeah, I think so. We were all young. We were all 28, 29, 30, we were in our prime. Everybody – Reggie Jackson, Bando, Rudi, Campaneris, Tenace, Holtzman, Catfish, Vida Blue. We had the nucleus of a great team. And after the ‘76 season when free agency hit, man, everybody went everywhere. Charlie could have signed us, but he just didn’t want to spend the money. That’s why a couple years after free agency hit, he got out of the game. We won the World Series in ‘72, ‘73 and ‘74 and our team salary for the whole team in ‘75 was $1.1 million. He was making money hand over fist and he wasn’t giving it to us. I don’t know where it was going, but he wasn’t giving it to us.
BM: You were a starter early in your career and then in May of ‘71, Dick Williams converted you to the back of the bullpen.
RF: He didn’t convert me. I just got lucky. I was in the right place at the right time. I stunk as a starting pitcher and he threw me in the bullpen. I was more or less a mop-up guy. I was within probably a week and a half to two weeks of going back to the minor leagues and being out of ball. We were playing a game in New York against the Yankees and we were getting beat like 11-1 and it got to the eighth inning and we were winning 13-11 and I’m the only guy left in the bullpen. He’s got to use me. It’s me or the pitching coach. So he brought me in and I pitched two shutout innings. We went to Boston the next day and he brought me into a game in Fenway and I pitched three shutout innings, got a save and he called me into the office and said, ‘From now on, you’re my closer.’ I was just in the right place at the right time because I was on my way out of the game.
BM: Tell me the story about the handlebar mustache.
RF: That started in spring training ‘72. Reggie Jackson came to spring training with a mustache and wouldn’t shave it off, so me and Catfish, there were about four of us pitchers, we were down in the bullpen one day and we said, ‘Let’s start growing mustaches.’ There were no mustaches in the big leagues at the time. We figured (manager) Dick Williams was going to say, ‘OK guys, shave your mustaches off,’ and then Reggie would have to shave his off. Finley got wind of what was going on and as crazy as Finley was, he thought it was a good idea and he told everybody on the ball club, ‘If you made the ball club on Opening Day and you had a mustache, you got 300 bucks.’ So Opening Day, Charlie Finley came down to the clubhouse and he had 30 checks. Twenty-five for all the players, four coaches and a manager, and he gave everybody $300 and we started growing mustaches.
Ephrata Lion Nevin Rutt: Tell us your story about (Cincinnati Reds owner) Marge Schott.
RF: After I got released by the Brewers in ‘85, Pete Rose called me up on the phone in December and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to have you in camp with the Reds this coming spring.’ I said, ‘Great,’ and we had a nice little talk. He said, ‘I’ll have my general manager call you up the next day and set up everything.’ So the GM calls me up the next day and says, ‘I talked to Pete and Pete wants to have you in camp. So do I. But there’s just one thing. You have to shave your mustache off.’ And I said, ‘What difference does it make whether I have a mustache?’ He said, ‘Well, that’s Marge Schott’s facial hair policy. No facial hair.’ And I said, ‘Well, you tell Marge to shave her Saint Bernard and I’ll shave my mustache.’ That’s the last I heard from the Reds. So I didn’t sign and that was it.
Ephrata Lion Gary Snavely (Reds fan): We would have loved to have you pitching for the Cincinnati Reds instead of against us.
RF: I would have been more than happy. I still could throw the ball. I was only 38 years old, but I wasn’t going to shave it off for her. She had more facial hair than I did.
BM: You had a lot of accomplishments in your career. You were the Cy Young Award winner and MVP in 1981. You were the World Series MVP. What accomplishment in addition to winning the three straight World Series are you most proud of from your career?
RF: Oh golly. Getting the last out in the World Series. As a kid, you grow up and you always dream about being on the mound during a World Series game, and the seventh game, getting the last out. I was there twice in ‘72 and ‘74, so that’s a pretty good feeling. I got Pete Rose to fly out to Joe Rudi in ‘72 and in ‘74, (Dodgers’ player) Von Joshua hit a ground ball back to me for the final out. So those were nice times. You wait your whole life for that, and then in five seconds, it’s gone. Those five seconds are great.
Ephrata Lion Barry Rupp: Who was your favorite player when you were growing up?
RF: Koufax. When he pitched, I always asked my dad, ‘Hey, if Sandy is going to pitch, take me to the ball park.’ He was my idol growing up as a kid and now I sit down and have dinner with him. He’s a great guy.
NR: You had some good stories (Friday) night. If you don’t mind, tell us your most embarassing moment.
RF: We were playing the Red Sox, it was a packed house in Miwaukee and I was pitching. A ground ball went to Cecil Cooper, our first baseman. Cecil fielded it and I ran over to first base, took the throw from him and in Milwaukee, from first base to the dugout, it’s really close. So I caught the ball and I flipped it over my shoulder back to the mound and walked down into the dugout, sat down and put my jacket on. And I looked around and there’s nobody in the dugout with me. Everybody else was still out on the field. The umpire comes over and says, ‘Fingers, get your (butt)back out here. There’s only two outs.’ When there’s 45,000 people and you’re the pitcher, you can’t hide nowhere. I got a standing ovation. I got out of the inning, but I didn’t want to give up a home run. That was about the most embarrassing thing.
BM: Have you had any offers from clubs to help out as a consultant or anything?
RF: Nope. Once you get out of the game, they kinda don’t bug you. They retired my uniform in Milwaukee and in Oakland and they don’t call me up for anything. Milwaukee’s been a little better. Oakland hasn’t called me up. The last thing they called me up for was to retire my number in 1992.
GS: Did you play in college?
RF: No, I played one year of college basketball and then I signed on Christmas eve of 1964. This was before they had the draft. I could’ve signed with the Dodgers, but my dad wouldn’t let me. He didn’t want me to get buried in the minor leagues because they had 20 minor league teams and they had Koufax and Drysdale and they had some great pitchers, so I would’ve been buried in the minor leagues. So my dad said, ‘No, you’re not going to sign with them.’ They offered me 20,000 bucks and my dad said, ‘No.’ So Art Lilly, he was a scout for the A’s, came knocking on the door and said, ‘Our owner Charlie Finley would like you and we’ll give you 13,000 bucks.’ So my dad said, ‘OK.’ So I got 13,000 bucks, gave my dad three, bought my mom a sewing machine and I bought myself a ‘56 Chevy and I blew the rest. It didn’t take long.