Simply Baseball Notebook: Cover Stories

Rollie Fingers Speaks

April 2002

Rollie Fingers: A Baseball Original

by David Zingler

When Rollie Fingers entered the major leagues during the late 60s, 'bullpen' was a four-letter word to pitchers. If you weren't a starter, you were basically a failure. In the 30+ years since then, the bullpen has become an essential part of a winning team. Ask any manager where most playoff games are won or lost he will usually mention the bullpen right away. No one man has done more to change that perception than Rollie Fingers. He was the games' first dominant closer, the first to win the MVP, and the first to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I caught up with the legendary reliever after an autograph signing at the Mall of America, and chatted about a variety of subjects.

Fingers, who will turn 56 in August, recently learned he was going to be a father for the fourth time. He currently lives in Las Vegas and does autograph signings to keep himself busy, "I do maybe six or seven autograph shows a year," he said. "I do a lot of private signings, corporate outings that sort of stuff."
Another passion of the former closer is golf. He is currently a three handicap and tours with the celebrity golf circuit which consists of about fifteen tournaments a year and raises money for charity.

Fingers' son, Jason, was a 10th round draft choice by the Kansas City Royals in 2000 and spent last season with the Single A Burlington (Iowa) Bees. He will have shoulder surgery in late March and will undergo rehab in the Florida instructional league. The extent of the injury will not be known until the surgery takes place.

It has now been ten years since Fingers was inducted into the Hall of Fame and he has had ample time to assess its effect on his life, "I'm a little more active, people want your autograph more, you get to do more card shows. You're in the limelight a little more, it's more busy than I think I'd be if I wasn't in the Hall of Fame," he commented.   "The 'HOF' is now attached (to my name) that's big for a ball player."

Many thought that Fingers induction would open the door for other relievers, but to this point it hasn't. Fingers, however, believes that will change, "There's a lot of guys that I think should be given a closer look: Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith will probably go in, and (Dennis) Eckersley," he explained.
A lot has changed in the game since Fingers began playing over thirty years ago, not the least of which is the role of the closer, "Closers today are just one inning pitchers. You've got your long men, your setup men, and then the closer when I was pitching, I was all three."

One situation illustrates that point perfectly. In game seven of the 1973 World Series versus the New York Mets, Fingers entered the game with two outs in the sixth inning and finished it off. He even picked up a hit.  In today's game, putting a closer in before the ninth inning is almost unheard of.

There are many great closers in today's game, but Fingers says there isn't one in particular that reminds him of himself. "Most of the closers are usually about the same: they throw the ball hard, they hit spots, and they do well under pressure," he said. "I could probably throw a whole lot of guys into that category."


Another element of the game that has drastically changed since Fingers' days are the salaries. He can only wonder what kind of contract he would have received today, but he keeps things in perspective. "You can always look back and I say 'I could be making this or making that', but we had a lot fun when we played back then," he explained.

When Fingers first broke into the majors, many players even had off season jobs, "I worked at the bicycle shop (at Sears), I sold bicycles," he said.

"When I was in the minor leagues I worked at Sears, too, stocking shelves. It was just an off season job to keep busy," he went on to explain. "(Today's athletes) wouldn't even think about getting an off season job stocking shelves."

Over his 17 year career with the A's, Padres, and Brewers, Fingers made many lifelong friends. "I liked playing with all of the guys in Milwaukee: Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Jim Gantner, Gorman Thomas, Cecil Cooper - all those guys are good friends. In Oakland we had Ken Holtzman, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace, Sal Bando," he commented. "I see all the guys once and awhile, we'll run into each other somewhere along the line."

Fingers lists the A's three peat in 72, 73, & 74 and his magical 1981 season as his top memories in baseball. In '81 he saved 28 games and posted a microscopic 1.04 ERA while leading the upstart Brewers to their first post season appearance. He was rewarded with the Cy Young award and became the first relief pitcher to win the MVP.

"I was more surprised to get the MVP, the Cy Young award is basically for pitchers. Steve McCatty (of the Oakland A's) had a great year; it was a pretty close vote. Eddie Murray of Baltimore was up for the MVP, and I just happened to get both of them. It wasn't by very much," he explained.

No discussion with Rollie Fingers is complete without mentioning his famous mustache. It has been well documented that Fingers and the rest of his rebellious A's teammates grew mustaches in defiance of a team rule. Owner Charlie Finley decided he liked them and even offered bonuses for players sporting them.  But, why did Fingers decide to go with the handlebar style that has become his trademark?
"Just to be different," he said. " Everybody else was growing a regular mustache and I decided to be different and grow a handlebar, it stuck, I've had it ever since."

-David Zingler

Fingers' page @ Baseball-Almanac.com


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