Charles O. Finley is being disagreeable again. On Friday, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn notified the 26 club owners to make no major deals before advising him of their intentions. On Saturday, Finley took deliberate action. He spit in Kuhn's eye.
He sold a good Oakland Pitcher, Paul Lindblad, to the Texas Rangers for $400,000, and then invited Kuhn to read all about it in the newspapers if he was eager to keep up with current events.
So Kuhn has called a hearing to ask some questions of both Finley and Brad Corbett, the hitherto conformist owner of the Rangers. In effect, Kuhn is opening a second front with Finley because still on in a Chicago court is his litigation with the A's owner who wants $3.5 million in damages for Kuhn's veto of certain player sales last summer.
Thus far, Corbett has remained silent, but not Finley. He has accused the commissioner of "shocking interference" in the business activities of the teams, and later he added some specifics on his newest defiance of the commissioner.
"My telegram to Kuhn told him to go to hell," Finley explained.
It is such inelegant subleties, plus a few other character faults of Finley, that have doomed any plan to move him and the Oakland franchise to Washington as members of an expanded 13-club National League.
NL club owners have unified, quickly, against any such move by Finley, even if it would leave the San Francisco Bay area to the suffering Giants, as, a wholly National League owners have indicated they would accept the Oakland franchise in Washington without Finley, meaning he must sell the team. He has long been an American League problem. They don't want him as an NL problem.
Finley is known to have financial difficulties, newly burdened by his wife's hefty alimony demands and $800,000 in losses suffered last season by the A's. With the team stripped of its best players, who opted to become free agents, Oakland's 1977 losses are envisioned as huge.
The NL owners, who are now genuinely concerned about putting a team in Washington, are said to have a plan: Let Finley die on the vine in Oakland next season, then force him to sell or move a bankrupt Oakland team without Finley to Washington on their own terms, with a buyer waiting. The cost of breaching the team's lease on the Oakland Stadium would be prorated, perhaps among all 26 teams.
Meantime, Finley does appear to have solid ground for his latest beef against Kuhn and his "clear it with Bowie" ukase to all teams before they make a major player deal. There is evidence the commissioner overreached himself in assuming such sweeping powers of scrutiny. Not even Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the awesome one, ever took unto himself the authority to inspect deals before they were made.
Finley may have the sympathy of all other clubs in his protest that Kuhn doesn't have to be privy to every big deal they may be trying to transact. The fact is that in the his- tory of baseball, only one club. Oakland, and one owner, Finley, ever had a major deal nullified. Kuhn is invoking a power that is unnecessary. Even in his courtroom defense against Finley, Kuhn has merely maintained he has the power to overturn a deal after it has been announced.
There is little doubt that Kuhn's action in demanding clearance rights on big deals was aimed a Finley. The wording of his notice said, "This office has information indicating certain clubs may be considering a transaction involving a star player's contract for a very large sum . . ." The only club engaged in the practice of selling star players for substantial cash, in recent times, has been Oakland, and Kuhn was apparently aware that Finley was in action again.
Kuhn's proper concern is that too many cash sales of star players by one club can destroy a franchise, against the best interests of baseball, and it was for that reason that he nullified Finley's $3.5 million sale of Joe Rudi. Rollie Fingers and Vida Blue last summer. A Chicago judge is still mulling whether Kuhn had that authority. There is solid belief he does.
Finley is counting on the award of the $3.5 million damages in that suit to help rebuild the A's next season. If the verdict goes against him, the $400,000 he might yet receive for Lindblad would hardly suffice to buy the new players Finley says he aims to acquire for the A's.
But Finley's reasoning if often times suspect, as in his current situation. After losing Rollie Fingers, the A's invaluable relief pitcher, by the free-agent route. Finley is now proposing to help strengthen the A's by selling off Lindblad, his next-best relief pitcher. It is this example of Finley's magic that tells the National League it wants no part of him.