Tuesday, November 8, 2011

#35 Rollie FIngers

Card:  This is Rollie Finger's fifteenth Topps card.  His rookie card was back in 1969 on a three player Rookie Stars card.

Picture:  Nice action shot of Fingers in his delivery.  Having two umps wandering around in the background indicates Fingers is warming up.  No fans in the seats.

Player:  Rollie Fingers signed with the Kansas City A's in 1964, choosing the A's because he thought he would have an easier path to the big leagues, instead of the Dodgers who offered more money.  A successful starter in the minors the 22 year-old Fingers was called up in September of '68 and was ripped for four runs in an inning and a third in his only appearance.
Fingers made the '69 A's as an occasional starter and middle relief pitcher.  Starting a trend that followed his entire career, Fingers pitched much better out of the pen with 12 saves, and a 2.91 ERA in 74 relief innings with a 5.04 ERA in 8 starts.  Fingers started 1970 in the pen but after allowing only one run in a 8.2 inning relief appearance, Fingers was moved to the rotation.  Fingers would move in and out of rotation all year but again was much better in the pen (2.19) than as a starter (4.50 ERA). 

New A's manager Dick Williams put Fingers in the rotation to start the 1971 season but after eight starts moved him to the pen.  Fingers would save 17 before the year was over claiming his closer role in the back end of the A's talented bullpen.  The A's won the AL West but lost to the Orioles in a three game sweep.

Comfortable in his role as relief ace, Fingers  racked up 21 saves with a 2.51 ERA pitching 111 innings in 65 games.  Manager Dick Williams preferred to use multiple closers with Fingers sharing some of the the load with Bob Locker and the left handed Darold Knowles.  Fingers was the definition of a fireman, putting out the fire whenever things got hot.  In what would become routine in the way he was utilized, Fingers had 11 outings with three or more innings pitched.  Fingers and the A's rolled over the Tigers in the ALCS and defeated the Reds to win the 1972 World Series.

Fingers was stellar again in '73 with a 1.92 ERA and 22 saves in the first of seven All-Star seasons.  The A's won the West yet again and defeated the Orioles in the ALCS.  Dick Williams getting the most out of his pen, used Fingers in six games over 13.2 innings as the A's triumphed over the Mets.

1974 was another great year for Fingers.  Used in the same way by new manager Al Dark, Fingers racked 18 saves, appearing in a league high 76 games with a 2.65 ERA.  Fingers had another good postseason, pitching well against both the Orioles and Dodgers as the A's won their third consecutive championship.

Fingers led the league again in games pitched with 75 and saved a career high 24.  This time the A's met their match in the ALCS as the Red Sox swept the A's in three games as Fingers allowed three runs in four innings, taking the loss in Game two.  Over five consecutive playoffs from '71-'75 Fingers pitched in 27 games, 52.2 innings with 8 saves and a 2.22 ERA.

In 1976 as Fingers and several other A's stars were about to become free agents at the end of the year, owner Charles Finley attempted to sell off some of his stars while he still had them under control.  In June, Finley sold Fingers and Joe Rudi to the Red Sox and Vida Blue to the Yankees but the sales were nixed by commissioner Bowie Kuhn as being "not in the best interests of baseball".  Fingers thrived despite the turmoil, winning 13 games, saving 20 and working 134 innings with a 2.47 ERA.  The 30 year-old veteran signed in the off-season with the San Diego Padres, inking a six-year, $1.6 million deal.

Although the Padres were a poor team in '77, Fingers would not lack save opportunities, saving a National League leading 35 games.  Fingers also led the league in games with 78 and logged 132 innings.  Fingers followed up with another great season in '78.  With a 2.52 ERA, it was Fingers' eight straight campaign with a sub 3.00 ERA.  Fingers appeared in 67 games and again led the NL with 37 saves, a career high.

1979 would be Fingers' worst year of his career.  Things were proceeding as normal until late June when Fingers' season fell apart.  Over the next two months Fingers allowed 25 earned runs in 28 innings and was shut down for the year after August 25.  Fingers finished with only 13 saves and an unfamiliar 4.52 ERA.  Fingers rebounded in 1980, saving 23 with a 2.80 ERA.  In December, the Padres traded Fingers in an eleven player blockbuster to the St. Louis Cardinals.  Four days later the Cardinals swapped Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vukovich to the Brewers four four players.

In Milwaukee, Fingers was welcomed to a strong offensive team and it was hoped that Fingers would help push the team over the edge.  In the strike shortened '81 season, Fingers came through in every way, dominating hitters and allowing only 69 base runners in 78 innings.  Fingers saved 28 games to lead the AL and posted a minuscule 1.04 ERA helping the Brewers win the second half portion of the schedule thus securing the Brewers' first postseason appearance.  The Brewers would lose to the Yankees in the ALDS despite a save and a win from Fingers. The veteran relief ace was named the AL's Cy Young winner and Most Valuable Player.

Fingers came back in '84 but was unable to stay healthy.  Pitching in just 33 games, Fingers nonetheless saved 23 and had a 1.96 ERA.  Fingers scuffled in '85, saving 17 in his final season with a 5.04 ERA. 

Stuff: Low to mid 90s fastball and slider.  Developed a forkball in '79.

Flipside:  As a relief ace, Fingers logged 100 plus innings eleven times and won 10+ games four time, an indication of how he and other specialists like Goose Gossage and Sparky Lyle were used in the 70's.  Prior to this the bullpen was often a holding place for unproven youngsters, journeyman, and struggling starters.  When relief pitchers had success they were often put back in the rotation.  Fingers and his contemporaries helped pave the way for specialization in the bullpen.

Mustache:  Yeah, it gets it's own category.  Unhappy when teammate Reggie Jackson showing up with a scruffy beard in spring training of '72, Fingers and his teammates grew facial hair thinking that owner Charles Finley would make them all shave.  Instead the eccentric Finley offered $300 to the player with the best facial hair.  Fingers grew what would become his trademark- his 19th century style handlebar mustache.  Fingers took the prize and still has the 'stache today.

Oddball:  Fingers was offered a contract by the Reds for the '86 season but there was an obvious problem.  The Reds under owner Marge Schott had a no facial hair policy.  Fingers was reported as saying something to the effect of "Tell Schott if she shaves that St. Bernard of hers, I'll shave my mustache". 

History:  Fingers is one of the best relief aces of all time and dominated the 70's and early 80's.  From '71 to '84, Fingers averaged 27 saves, 106 innings with a 2.65 and a 1.119 WHIP.  Fingers was the all-time saves leader, passing Hoyt Wilhelm in 1980 with his 228th save.  Fingers held the mark with 341 career saves until passed by Jeff Reardon in '92. Fingers won three World Series rings, an MVP and a Cy Young award and was a seven time All-Star.  Fingers was voted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992 and had an excellent induction speech.
A terrific golfer, Fingers stays busy appearing at charity golf outings.


  1. Any idea what park that photo was taken in? It's kinda unique, blue wall + gap + orange seats. I'm trying to place it but I can't.

  2. Fingers could've been a Dodger ...

    I never knew that.

  3. Devon, I'm not sure. Maybe we can figure it out by eliminating the obvious. It's not in Milwaukee, NY, Boston, Toronto, Oakland, Detroit, Seattle, Chicago or KC. That leaves Texas, Baltimore, Cleveland, Anaheim, or the old stadium in Minnesota. Still not sure....

  4. Night Owl, I thought you might get a kick out of that. In fact the Dodgers offered $20,000 to the A's $14,000 but Fingers reportedly looked at the Dodgers system and thought his road would be much harder to the big leagues.

  5. Devon, I am pretty certain this is in Anaheim. Look at the Doug Corbett card in a previous post. Almost the same background and Corbett is in his home white jersey.