Charles O. Finley's decision to lower ticket prices last week seems the final desperate act in his bid to run a solvent baseball franchise here. He is a wizard at building a team but a klutz at getting anyone to love it, a man now trying to make ends meet from prior reserves and expansion money - and failing grandly.
That was emphasized again Friday night. There were all sorts of reasons why that first game of a home stand ought to have drawn splendidly, perhaps as many as 20,000. The night struggling toregain the .500 mark. The night was gorgeous, the opposition, Toronto, could hit but an Oakland victory seemed imminent.
The paid attendance: 3,030.
In truth, an air of inevitability about Finley divorcing the Oakland area on grounds of nonsupport began to form in 1974 when attendance dipped below a million the year after the A's won their second straight world championship and were en route to a third.
For 23 dates this season, Oakland is averaging, 6,810 paying customers, which projects to just under 500,000 or about 280,000 fewer than a year ago. Insiders fear Finley's decision to cut prices in half for mid-week games, apparently made under prodding by the American League, will hurt his weekend business.
Finley's claim of losing nearly $600,000 last season is accurate, one source said, and although several high salaries are gone a few, Dick Allen and Manny Sanguillen to name two, were added. And Finley has given six raises of $10,000 each this season.
"It's possible he could lose $1 million this year," the source said. "He could recover, possibly, if he moved the frachise, the league helped him pay off the lease here and he got a lot of up-front (local television) money from the new town."
It is assumed here that Finley will fight to the end to avoid selling the team, to walk away from the national attention he so covets and drift back to being just another rich 60-year-old insurance salesman. Also, it is said, Finley would like to avoid Washington, because that would satisfy his major tormenter, commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
And it must be asked: Who has the funds - and - interest - to buy a team for Washington?
But Oakland clearly is giving Finley the back of its hand, and at a time he is in the process of creating what under other circumstances would be regarded as one of the joys of baseball. Having had a superior team devastated, in part because of his own actions, a collection of talented rookies and veterans no one wanted.
Finley's skill at building a team has long been acknowledged, if not applauded, throughout baseball. This year, though, with Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace, Campy Campaneris, Rollie Fingers, Don Baylor and Sal Bando missing from a team that lost Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman earlier, it was assumed the A's would hit the pits opening day and stay there.
Not so. They led the Al West at one point, than sank drasticolly, only to right themselves with seven victories in their last 10 games to skip a game over .500 after beating Toronto Friday night. But no one seemed to care.
"It's all Finley's fault," said one long-time observer. "Why? Let's use this as an example: the Raiders project themselves as the people's team; this is Finley's team, and he lets you know it all the time."
Finley's gave the Oakland area an exquisite team - talented and outspoken - but Finley never got involved with the area. He lives in Chicago, and is too concerned with himself to give proper attention to production of his ball club.
The cut in ticket prices is another example. It concerns just 16 of the final 46 dates and has features the Giants, also in financial trouble, already have adopted. Finley's own ticket department did not know of the change until the boss announced it.
Still, there are some here two insist that despite the Giants having promotions and better community involvement, they will be the ones to leave the Bay area. And still others beleive that Finley would continue to lose money heavily even if that took place.
"We have never had anyone with a Giants' cap in the stands," said one Finley aide. "They simply won't come over from there. Actually, the center of the area Finley is itching for is San Jose."
Some of Finley's staff see a new spirit in the man.
"When he announced the salaries for all those players last year," said one worker. "We all sensed that he was getting bored with it all. Now he seems to be challenged again, to create something good again."
After Finley's latest act, the who-will-survive debate in the area was rekindled.
"In the long run," wrote columnist Glen Dickey of the San Francisco Ghronicle, "The A's prospects look better than the Giants, because they have some young players - notably Mitchell Page and Wayne Gross - who are potential stars. The Giants do not seem like a team which could develop into a contender.
"The final solution to the battle of the Bay may rest on the personalities of the two men involved. (Giant owner Bob) Lurie loves his participation in the club, but he doesn't need it in a way Finley does."
And at his press conference to announce thechange in ticket policy, Finley was talking about public ownership of the team. "If I could find 10,000 people and get them to put in $100 each, we could fight all those millionaires. What an angle. We could be the poor folks fighting the rich ones."
Later, he added: "I'm just trying to survive."
What Finley has proved is that a baseball franchise must be more than entertainment to make money, that the team and its owner must be deeply rooted in the community. Finley never has returned whatever affection the fans built up for the A's.
"He caused Reggie Jackson to say: 'He took the little boy out of me,'" said one fan the other night. "The man simply has no personal involvement. There's never been a Fan Appreciation Night. A while back someone said to me: 'Our Yankees are going to beat your A's.' I said: 'Your Yankees are our A's.'"