Fingers in 1978
|Born: August 25, 1946|
|September 15, 1968, for the Oakland Athletics|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 17, 1985, for the Milwaukee Brewers|
|Earned run average||2.90|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Vote||81.16% (second ballot)|
Roland Glen "Rollie" Fingers (born August 25, 1946) is an American retired professional baseball pitcher who played 17 seasons in Major League Baseball for the Oakland Athletics (1968-1976), San Diego Padres (1977-1980), and Milwaukee Brewers (1981-1985). Fingers's effectiveness as a relief pitcher helped redefine the value of relievers within baseball and helped usher in the modern closer role. He is a three-time World Series champion, a seven-time All-Star, a four-time Rolaids Relief Man of the Year, and a three-time MLB saves leader. Fingers won the American League's (AL) Most Valuable Player Award and Cy Young Award in 1981.
Fingers retired in 1985 with 341 career saves, the most in MLB history until surpassed by Jeff Reardon in 1992. Fingers was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992, making him just the second reliever elected. He is also one of only a few MLB players to have his number retired by more than one club (Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers). Fingers is also known for his neatly groomed handlebar mustache.
Fingers was born in Steubenville, Ohio, to George Michael Fingers and Edna Pearl (née Stafford) Fingers. His father (who had played minor league baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals and roomed with Stan Musial), worked in a Steubenville steel mill. One day, George Fingers came home from work fed-up and said, "That's it, we're moving to California." His father then sold the house for US$1,500, bought a car, and took the family to Rancho Cucamonga. They could not afford hotels, so they slept in sleeping bags beside the highway. After getting to California, George Fingers had to eventually go back to work in another steel mill.
Fingers attended Upland High School in the Southern California city of Upland, and later, he attended one semester at Chaffey Junior College. The Los Angeles Dodgers offered Fingers a signing bonus of $20,000, but Fingers thought he had no chance to reach the major leagues for years because the Dodgers had a solid pitching staff including Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, they were already winning pennants, and their farm system appeared to be full of talented players. He turned down the Dodgers' offer and signed with the Kansas City Athletics for less money (a $13,000 signing bonus) on Christmas Eve 1964. At first, the Athletics did not know whether to make him a pitcher or outfielder, but after deciding to play him as a pitcher, he was assigned to the Leesburg A's of the Class A Florida State League for the 1965 season. In 1966, he played for the Modesto Reds of the Class A California League, and he played for two seasons (1968 and 1969) for the Birmingham A's of the Class AA Southern League.
On minor league opening day 1967 in Birmingham--just nine days after he married his high school sweetheart and the Upland High School team statistician (Jill)--a hit baseball struck Fingers in the face, breaking his cheekbone, jaw, and knocking out some teeth. His jaw was wired shut for five weeks, and when he returned to action, Fingers jumped every time the ball was hit; it took him about half the remaining season to get used to being on the mound again.
Fingers was a starter throughout his minor league career. He had started 19 games in 1970. However, a May 15, 1971, start against the Royals in Kansas City was his last in regular rotation. During that game, he gave up one run on four hits in five full innings. Fingers was called upon as a reliever in a game on May 21, 1971, entering in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins in Oakland after starter Blue Moon Odom gave up three runs and three walks in just eight batters. Fingers pitched innings, allowing three hits and two runs.
By the end of May 1971, Athletics manager Dick Williams decided that Fingers would be the late-inning closer. During the 1972 season, Fingers entered games in the fifth inning on four occasions, but mostly entered in the sixth inning or later. 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.Mainly he entered in the seventh, eighth, or ninth innings.
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.
With the end of baseball's reserve clause, all players not under a multiyear 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. After the season, Fingers signed with the San Diego Padres as a free agent.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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".
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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 bullpen—and eventually to his role as a closer—because 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.
Baseball-Reference.com ranks Fingers's moustache as the best in history. 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. Taking it even further, Finley came up with "Moustache Day" at the ballpark, where any fan with a moustache could get in free.
Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman also went for the bonus, but Fingers with his Snidely Whiplash took the prize. Fingers later said, "Most of us would have grown one anywhere on our bodies for $300." The players became known as the "Moustache Gang." 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 handlebar 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.
In 1992 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, joining Wilhelm to become only the second reliever inducted (Bruce Sutter and Rich Gossage 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, he ranked Number 96 on The Sporting News list of Baseball's Greatest Players, 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 League.
Fingers is one of only ten players who have had their numbers retired from more than one team.
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. 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."
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.
The first book inspired a sequel, released March 16, 2010 by Fingers and Ritter:
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". 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."
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.
On December 11, 2020, Rollie Fingers' World Series Championship Ring was sold at auction for $75,300.