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Pioneers/Executives

GM Update #14: Charlie Finley

Charles O. Finley ran the Athletics like so many had before him and like only one more would after him. He was an owner-operator. He rolled the duties of owner, presiding officer, and general manager up into one man. When he vacated those GM duties to Billy Martin and then sold the team in the early 1980s, only Calvin Griffith remained to exemplify the one-man-show approach. And then Griffith sold in September of 1984, and that brand of management died.

We are probably better off as fans for the extinguishing of that model, but it did go a long way toward establishing the style, character, and identity of a team. In Finley’s case, it famously lent his Athletics a feisty, fighting spirit that sometimes seemed more like a club of brawlers than a roster of ballplayers. But his A’s won three straight World Series from 1972 to 1974, the last team to accomplish the feat. They played five straight years in the League Championship Series, which no AL team has matched before or since, and which has only been exceed by the Atlanta Braves, who appeared in eight consecutive NLCS from 1991 to 199 (if you skip the strike year).

And then Finley lost the touch, the dawn of free agency led to an exodus of all his starts from the chaos of “Those Swingin’ A’s,” and the team sputtered. Yet the team did rise again to make the playoffs in 1981. Before we see just how Finley did it, a note. For this purpose, I have considered Finley the GM for the seasons 1962 to 1980, from the day in 1961 when Frank Lane resigned until Finley gave player decisions to Billy Martin. In some seasons various sources list a “general manager,” for example Hank Peters in 1965. The reality appears to be, however, that Finley made player decisions, not anyone with the usual title. So Finley gets all the credit and blame.

Team Performance

  • RECORD: Won-Loss record while GM was in office
  • PCT: Winning percentage
  • vs EXP: An adaptation of the expected wins formula Bill James introduced in his managers book. Except we use pythagenpat records instead of actual records to calculate it.
  • OCT: Postseason apperances (starting in 1969).
  • OCT v EXP: Measures postseason appearances against the basic probability of any random team making it.
  • WS APP: World Series appearances
  • WS APP v EXP: Similar to OCT v EXP
  • WS WINS: Championships won
  • WS WINS v EXP: Ditto
  • MGR PYTH: This is the team’s variance against its Pythagenpat record as a measure of how much value the GM’s manager brought to the team.
TEAM PERFORMANCE
NAME RECORD PCT. VS EXP OCT OCT VS EXP WS APP WS APP VS EXP WS WINS WS WINS VS EXP MGR PYTH
BARROW 2281-1394 .621 +160 N/A N/A 14 +11 10 +8.5 +72
BAVASI 1 2386-2166 .524 +54 2 +0.2 8 +5.1 4 +2.5 +42
BROWN 1816-1625 .528 +48 5 +2.5 2 -0.2 2 +0.9 -5
CAMPANIS 1576-1280 .552 +44 6 +4.9 4 +2.5 1 +0.2 +8
CAMPBELL 1733-1605 .519 +40 1 -1.5 1 -0.8 1 +0.1 +31
CASHEN 1342-1177 .533 +27 4 +1.2 1 -0.3 1 +0.4 -1
DALTON 2175-1965 .525 +64 4 +1.4 5 +3.0 2 +0.9 +9
FEENEY 1956-1655 .542 +64 0 -0.2 3 +0.3 1 -0.3 +14
FINLEY  1488-1577 .485 -17 5 +3.1 3 +1.4 3 +2.2 -14
GILES 1136-1165 .494 +2 0 N/A 2 +0.1 1 +0.1 +11
GILLICK 2276-1993 .533 +95 11 +5.7 3 +1.0 3 +2.1 +23
GRIFFITH 2967-2964 .500 +24 N/A N/A 3 -1.88 1 -1.44 +35
HOWSAM 1331-1049 .559 +63 5 +3.3 4 +2.8  2 +1.4 +44
MACPHAIL1 904-777 .538 +69 N/A N/A 2 +0.6 1 +0.3 +6
MACPHAIL2 1181-1036 .526 +54 0 -0.7 0 -1.4 0 -0.8 +31
O’CONNELL 1042-892 .539 +58 1 -0.5 2 +1 0 -0.5 +29
QUINN 2147-2126 .502 +20 0 -0.5 3 -0.1 1 -0.5 -7
RICKEY 32653015 .520 +87 N/A N/A 8 +2.7 4 +1.5 +46
SCHUERHOLZ 2348-1794 .567 +140 16 +10.8 6 +3.4 2 +1.1 +69
WEISS 1503-1303 .536 +28 N/A N/A 10 +7.9 7 +5.9 +3
BAVASI 2 756-869 .465 -41 0 -2.9 0 -0.6 0 -0.3 -6
ROBINSON 683-772 .469 -6 0 -1.5 0 -0.5 0 -0.3 -5
SEGHI 883-989 .472 -11 0 -2.0 0 -0.9 0 -0.5 -4
SMITH 566-776 .422 -49 0 -2.1 0 -0.6 0 -0.3 -38

Finley inherited the awful Arnold Johnson Athletics. The ones that consistently traded away their good players to the Yankees for peanuts and a slap on the back. It took time to build up the talent base, and in the meantime, the team lost 100 games twice, 90 two times, and 85 or more twice. Hard to blame that on Finley, especially since he he was out shopping for amateur talent such as Catfish Hunter. Then the draft came along in 1965, and Charlie got the first pick. He drafted well for a few years and the team developed into a powerhouse. Sadly, Finley’s personality and penuriousness drove away players when free agency arrived, cratering the team until another wave of draftees such as Rickey Henderson came along. So that explains how a guy with six playoff appearances ends up with such a mediocre record. The veteran exodus of 1976 and 1977 also explains why his performance against expected wins is poor. From 1977 to 1979, the A’s were 52 games worse than expected based on the our calculation. That’s what happens when your entire All-Star/HoME-level core defects at once. A lot like Connie Mack’s sell-offs in the 1910s and 1930s, really.

GM Performance

Now let’s look at how the GMs themselves did at constructing competitive clubs.

  • BASE: Talent in WAR that a GM inherited
  • GM: Talent in WAR that a GM acquired
  • CONT GOAL: The amount of talent the GM needed to acquire to field a contender, a .550 team
  • med%GOAL: Median seasonal %GOAL
  • WS GOAL: The amount of talent the GM needed to acquire to field a typical WS entrant in his era
  • med%GOAL: Median seasonal %GOAL
GM PERFORMANCE
NAME BASE GM CONT GOAL med%GOAL WS GOAL med%GOAL
BARROW 217 923 719 119% 959 94%
BAVASI 1 373 690 791 100% 972 88%
BROWN 281 552 557 101% 696 81%
CAMPANIS 342 407 364 119% 469 90%
CAMPBELL 354 386 493 89% 596 68%
CASHEN 255 361 370 85% 462 61%
DALTON 500 426 337 84% 449 68%
FEENEY 185 766 728 101% 913 66%
FINLEY 107 485 672 85% 766 74%
GILES 144 320 441 69% 591 55%
GILLICK 385 684 671 107% 807 91%
GRIFFITH 198 1025 1313 79% 1703 60%
HOWSAM 338 229 243 81% 350 53%
MACPHAIL1 183 193 257 46% 356 36%
MACPHAIL2 300 185 258 69% 346 57%
O’CONNELL 197 270 295 91% 354 71%
QUINN 222 729 824 97% 1066 72%
RICKEY 428 879 1132 78% 1580 58%
SCHUERHOLZ 487 576 539 105% 667 88%
WEISS 252 358 460 107% 615 67%
BAVASI 2 191 128 234 52% 282 47%
ROBINSON 124 183 260 73% 315 60%
SEGHI 115 239 350 72% 420 60%
SMITH 97 114 247 55% 293 47%

Again, we see how the up-and-down effect of the big rebuild and the great exodus affected Finley’s fortunes. Typically, his moves got his team about 85% of the way to contention and about 74% of the way to the World Series. These right around the group medians as well, so Finley is about average among our pool of good GMs. Actually he’s better than that in terms of contributing to World Series-level teams.

Transactions Detail

OK, let’s see what these guys actually did to build their teams.

  • AM FA: Amateur free agent
  • PUR: Purchased from another pro team
  • FA: Free agent (includes the short-lived free-agent compensation picks of the early 1980s)
  • AM DF: Amateur draft (any time of year, only players who signed with the team and played in MLB)
  • R5 DF: Rule 5 Draft
  • ML DF: Minor League Draft and First Year Draft
  • ML XD: Expansion Draft
  • TR: Trade
  • WV: Waivers
  • SLD: Players sold to other teams
  • REL: Players released
  • NOTE: Unkown transactions not included except in TOT
TRANSACTION DETAILS: NUMBER OF INBOUND TRANSACTIONS
NAME AM FA PUR FA AM DFT R5 DFT ML DFT EX DFT TR WV TOT
BARROW 49 45 13 N/A 4 2 N/A 74 6 294
BAVASI 1 101 42 48 69 6 15 29 135 2 455
BROWN 93 27 20 49 7 7 0 85 3 294
CAMPANIS 40 10 38 79 5 2 0 69 2 247
CAMPBELL 35 30 25 95 7 5 0 92 7 303
CASHEN 31 8 46 97 4 2 0 116 3 313
DALTON 36 37 91 127 15 2 0 141 7 461
FEENEY 112 28 20 28 10 21 0 77 15 343
FINLEY  46 51 41 57 10 3 0 97 7 331
GILES 42 40 10 N/A 11  5 N/A 45  9 232
GILLICK 71 40 207 148 19 8 0 130 31 663
GRIFFITH 36 72 18 N/A 35 2 N/A 115 23 608
HOWSAM 33 23 14 50 7 1 0 95 1 228
MACPHAIL1 45 73 18 N/A 10 1 N/A 43 14 246
MACPHAIL2 47 38 18 33 13 6 0 82 7 255
O’CONNELL 19 21  16 59 7 0  0  59 0 182
QUINN 137 70 33 25 16 15 0 113 8 436
RICKEY 174 78 32 N/A 25 11 N/A 108 24 748
SCHUERHOLZ  62 14 265 142  7 1 0 150 17 659
WEISS 131 66 17 13 9 8 22 70 9 360
BAVASI 2 16 15 157 43 4 0 0 69 16 322
ROBINSON 11 15 130 70 4 1 0 58 15 309
SEGHI 10 14 33 38 4 1 0 106 5 212
SMITH 11 7 103 34 9 2 0 65 22 254
TRANSACTION DETAILS: NUMBER OF OUTBOUND TRANSACTIONS
NAME SOLD REL R5 DFT ML DFT EX DFT TR WV TOT
BARROW 65 16 14 2 N/A 74 13 213
BAVASI 1 49 59 27 13 6 135 10 308
BROWN 46 51 14 15 12 85 6 218
CAMPANIS 13 63 12 5 0 69 8 179
CAMPBELL 52 59 6 4 11 92 7 237
CASHEN 21 45 16 4 0 116 3 208
DALTON  33 89 16 2 11 141 0 300
FEENEY 62  41 17 23 11  77  13 268
FINLEY 55 59 13 6 9 97 8 264
GILES 52 30  5  3 N/A 45 9 157
GILLICK 25 127 22 2 6 130 21 337
GRIFFITH 69 36 3 1 N/A 115 21 304
HOWSAM 22 24 11 3 5 95 1 164
MACPHAIL1 37 27 3 0 N/A 43 6 129
MACPHAIL2 28 30 14 0 14 82 3 178
O’CONNELL 21 43 9 3 12 59 0 149
QUINN 82 51 21 15 0 113 5 300
RICKEY 111 50 36 9 N/A 108 34 388
SCHUERHOLZ 6 170 11 2 6 150 18 366
WEISS 37 44 18 7 0 70 9 207
BAVASI 2 6 83 0 0 2 69 3 169
ROBINSON 4 66 3 1 5 58 13 155
SEGHI 10 39 2 0 0 106 1 165
SMITH 4 53 5 3 0 65 15 151

To his credit, Finley tried a little bit of everything and left no stone unturned. He may not have done all those things well or consistently well, but he did them.

TRANSACTION DETAILS: VALUE IN WAR TO TEAM OF INBOUND TRANSACTIONS
NAME AM FA PUR FA AM DFT R5 DFT ML DFT EX DFT TR WV TOT
BARROW 297 124 154 N/A -1 0 N/A 480 7 1216
BAVASI 1 430 70 36 235 1 0 54 257 -1 1106
BROWN 313 2 3 228 2 4 0 216 -2 765
CAMPANIS 48 40 2 171 -1 1 0 257 0 518
CAMPBELL  9 13 7 352 1 -1 0 164 29 580
CASHEN 56 2 9 251 -1 0 0 270 3 590
DALTON 18 47 65 313 4 1 0 285 2 733
FEENEY 556 6 59 52 -1 13 0 189 24 911
FINLEY 84 20 -2 277 1 1 0 190 0 570
GILES 178 63 8 N/A -1 11 N/A 139 5 452
GILLICK 132 62 194 295 60 -1 0 228 -2 978
GRIFFITH 95 233 26 N/A 39 -1 N/A 416 11 1087
HOWSAM 98 7 2 104 6 0 0 228 0 445
MACPHAIL1 116 100 38 N/A 19 0 N/A 219 48 632
MACPHAIL2 244 0 16 113 13 0 0 195 8 632
O’CONNELL 21 4 46 387 10 0 0 91 0 559
QUINN 443 45 183 141 25 2 0 480 1 1318
RICKEY 794 116 211 N/A 122 1 N/A 262 0 1898
SCHUERHOLZ 117 9 142 298 -1 0 0 246 7 818
WEISS 480 70 5 21 -1 -1 11 168 7 764
BAVASI 2 27 9 96 131 0 0 0 24 5 290
ROBINSON 7 14 69 98 6 0 0 59 8 264
SEGHI -4 14 4 32 2 2 0 275 -1 323
SMITH 3 -2 27 36 -2 3 0 140 10 215
TRANSACTION DETAILS: VALUE IN WAR OF PLAYERS IN OUTBOUND TRANSACTIONS
NAME SOLD REL R5 DFT ML DFT EX DFT TR WV TOT
BARROW 158 3 50 26 N/A 440 75 794
BAVASI 1 15 20 129 20 30 438 19 674
BROWN 18 10 4 29 59 343 -2 496
CAMPANIS 22 13 4 23 0 298 17 374
CAMPBELL 39 9 -2 0 29 154 1  239
CASHEN -3 8 8 4 0 304 -1 330
DALTON 18 0 7 0 42 284 0 354
FEENEY 36 2 27 37 29 415 3 575
FINLEY 38 25 28 18 16 220 12  385
GILES 74 24 -2  0 N/A 147 36 303
GILLICK 16 20 25 0 -2 285 10 357
GRIFFITH 157 -2 0 0 N/A 528 73 832
HOWSAM 8 4 27 -1 -3 251 0 286
MACPHAIL1 45 39 9 0 N/A 146 4 395
MACPHAIL2 37 -2 15 0 95 166 1 332
O’CONNELL 10 4 2 26 12 200 0 253
QUINN 75 38 3 81 0 496 25 711
RICKEY 337 10 62 -4 N/A 573 8 1040
SCHUERHOLZ 7 46 2 -1 26 246 6 332
WEISS 28 22 13 51 0 326 17 463
BAVASI 2 1 8 0 0 -1 147 0 154
ROBINSON 3 10 2 3 12 92 8 129
SEGHI 2 3 16 -2 0 253 0 272
SMITH 2 1 0 0 0 141 0 144

Obviously, the draft, trades, and amateur free agents were Finley’s main sources of inbound talent. Here’s the moves he made that set up the team’s amazing stretch of dominance in the early 1970s. The number in parentheses is the total BBREF WAR the player supplied the A’s during his stay in Oakland:

  • 6/8/64: Signed Catfish Hunter as an amateur free agent (32)
  • 12/4/64: Signed Rollie Fingers as an amateur free agent (13)
  • 6/8/65: Drafted Sal Bando (52), Gene Tenace (24)
  • 12/1/65: Received Joe Rudi (22) and Phil Roof (0) for Jim Landis and Jim Rittwage
  • 6/7/66: Drafted Reggie Jackson (48)
  • 6/6/67: Drafted Vida Blue (29)
  • 11/29/71: Received Ken Holtzman (11) for Rick Monday
  • 11/21/72: Received Bill North (20) for Bob Locker

Bert Campaneris, by the way, had been signed prior to Finley’s taking over as GM.

You can see here that it took Finley a little while to find top gear. He’d been running the club for two and a half years by June of 1964. But once he got there, he acquired 220 WAR from just 7 players in only four years and seven transactions, then he added two more important contributors right as the team came into its own.

Similarly, Finley built the 1981 ALCS Billyball A’s this way before Martin put the finishing touches on the team:

  • 1/10/73: Drafted Mike Norris (8)
  • 6/24/73: Signed Steve McCatty as an amateur free agent
  • 6/5/73: Drafted Dwayne Murphy (32), Wayne Gross (11), and Matt Keough (6)
  • 6/8/76: Drafted Rickey Henderson (34)
  • 3/15/77: Received Tony Armas (13), Doug Bair (1), Dave Guisti (1), Rick Langford (12), Doc Medich (0), and Mitchell Page (8) for Chris Batton, Phil Garner, and Tommy Helms

Despite Finley’s eccentricity, iconoclasm, and egomania, he knew how to build a team the old-school way through young players and trades for contributors.

That said, he also had a stains on the resume. Here’s his best and worst trades as well as a few other moves that didn’t work out real well.

TRADES WON

  • 12/1/65 (+22): Received Joe Rudi and Phil Roof (22) for Jim Landis and Jim Rittwage (0)
  • 3/15/77 (+22): Received Tony Armas, Doug Bair, Dave Guisti, Rick Langford, Doc Medich, and Mitchell Page (35) for Chris Batton, Phil Garner, and Tommy Helms (13)
  • 11/21/72 (+18): Received Bill North (20) for Bob Locker (2)

TRADES LOST

  • 6/15/75 (-22): Received Stan Bahnsen and Skip Pitlock (3) for Dave Hamilton and Chet Lemon (25)
  • 5/25/63 (-17): Received Doc Edwards (-2) and $100,000 for Joe Azcue and Dick Howser (15)
  • 3/24/73 (-14): Received Ray Fosse and Jack Heideman (2) for Dave Duncan and George Hendrick (16)
  • 12/15/63 (-11): Received Nelson Mathews (-1) for Fred Norman (10)
  • 1/15/70 (-11): Received Ron Clark and Don Mincher (3) for Mike Hershberger, Lew Krausse, Phil Roof, and Ken Sanders (14)

This is a pretty typical trade record overall. Finley did a respectable job of keeping losses down on his worst deals, but his best deals were far from steals. At least he didn’t trade away his core players.

BLACK EYES

Finley, did, however, have a few head scratchers worth looking at. The number in parentheses is the outbound WAR

  • 12/4/61 (-12): Released Joe Nuxhall
  • 11/30/64 (-18): Felix Milan selected away in First Year Draft
  • 4/7/67 (-21): Returned Dave Roberts after selecting him in the Rule 5 Draft
  • 12/2/68 (-25): Darrell Evans selected away in the Rule 5 Draft
  • 12/16/74 (-10): Catfish Hunter declared free agent due to Finley missing an annuity payment

These are the worst moves, the ones that suggest impatience or lack of subtlety or simple mismanagement. Every GM has warts like these, of course, but with Finley everything is magnified due to his personality and his outsider persona. In fact, some of those issues are also suggested by certain patterns in his moves. Every GM has favorite players. We’re researching Bing Devine now, and he has a complete man crush on some bench warmer named Duke Carmel. Acquired him three, four times. Branch Rickey had a thing for Flint Rhem. It happens. Finley frequently reacquired players. He acquired 30 different players at least twice, including seven that he picked up three times each. Is this unusual?

We have complete transaction logs now for 33 GMs with substantially long careers: some good, some great, some stinky, some average. Finley reacquired about 9% of all his players. That leads all 33 GMs. Branch Rickey is second by tenths of a percent. The lowest rate of reacquisition is 2% by Phil Seghi, Warren Giles, and Dick O’Connell. Even more telling for Finley, however, is what I’ll call his stalking percentage. That is, the percentage of his players whom he reacquired at least twice. That raw number of them is seven, which leads all comers twice over, and his stalking percentage of 2.1% is also double the next highest finisher, Randy Smith.

God knows what Charlie Finley was thinking, but his volatile mix of brains, hard work, and belligerence paid off in World Series titles. Until it didn’t work anymore.

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