Tonight we interrupt our team previews to bring you a special interview with Jason Turbow. Jason has a recently released book titled "Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s" and he’s here to tell us a little more about it! Plus, we’ll see how he feels about the upcoming baseball season!
Thanks for joining us Jason! We know you have a new book out about the early 70's era A's titled "Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s". Please tell us a little more about it!
It’s a look at a team that in the big picture won three straight World Series and nearly single-handedly dragged baseball from the sport we picture in the late 1950s, right on into the sport we picture in the late 1970s by ushering in colorful uniforms, wild facial hair and rebellious attitudes. (There were also the white spikes, which owner Charlie Finley forever insisted were made out of albino kangaroos.) In the little picture, the players beat each other senseless on an almost ceremonial basis—which seems like it would splinter a team apart, but which actually may have been the secret sauce behind their success. They held each other so mutually accountable through perpetual needling—if somebody made a mistake or exhibited bad behavior, they knew that they’d hear about it on an ongoing basis until that behavior was corrected—that they were able to sustain an amazing degree of excellence on the field. When those kind of boundaries are pushed, of course, they’ll occasionally be crossed, leading to some bruised feelings (and occasionally bruised faces). But it was effective. This team didn’t have one leader, it had nine or 10.
The primary thing that kept them from splintering was disdain for Finley. As much as they may have disliked each other, they disliked him more. At least they had that much in common.
Those teams were so fascinating and have stood the test of time as some the most interesting and truly great by winning three straight titles. What made you decide to write a book about them?
This was an underserved slice of essential baseball history. A few years back, I realized while walking down Main Street in Cooperstown, N.Y., that all the shops there were lousy with Yankees and Dodgers and Cubs and Red Sox stuff, but it was almost impossible to find evidence that one of the greatest teams of all time—the only one other than the Yankees to win three straight World Series—even existed. Once I began to dig into the day-to-day drama, it got even better. Fact is, even if this was a last-place team these stories would be too good not to tell.
Have you been a lifelong A's fan or were you just fascinated by this era of Athletics baseball?
Nope. I grew up in the Bay Area, but as a Giants fan. The A’s were always on the periphery of my consciousness as a kid, but nothing I was wild over. And teenage me really didn’t appreciate them during the 1989 World Series. Really I’m just a sucker for a good baseball story, and this team is packed with them.
What was the craziest thing you discovered while researching for the book?
How far Charlie Finley was willing to go to stick to his guns. He decided on what he felt was a fair resolution to a given situation, and damned if he could be budged from that spot. When Vida Blue held out after his splendid 1971 season (he won the AL Cy Young and MVP awards), Finley made him an eminently reasonable offer of $50,000 to pitch in 1972—not only a huge raise over the $14,500 Vida had earned as a rookie, but the highest salary ever paid to a second-year player. Vida, however, was the league’s biggest drawing card (one in every 12 American League tickets sold in 1971 had been to see him pitch), and held out for more. That Finley could have recouped the salary difference with the gate from a single one of Vida’s starts did not matter. He would not move from his initial figure. That Finley was crippling his own best interests both on the field and at the gate didn’t matter a bit to him. It was a pattern he’d repeat often over the years.
In another example, during Game 2 of the 1973 World Series, A’s second baseman Mike Andrews made a couple of errors in extra innings and Oakland lost to the Mets. Finley responded by trying to replace Andrews on the roster with minor leaguer Manny Trillo—but he could do so only if Andrews was disabled. So he got the team doctor to concoct a note saying that Andrews was too hurt to continue playing (note: Andrews was not too hurt to continue playing), strong-armed Andrews into signing it, and effectively fired him from the team. In the middle of the World Series.
Finley’s motivation was pure—he wanted to improve his roster with the addition of a capable defender—but his cluelessness about how those machinations would go down in the clubhouse and around the league was astounding. Players knew that if Finley could get rid of Andrews for making errors in the field, he could do the same to any of them. Then they revolted, openly discussing the possibility of a strike unless Andrews returned, and slagged Finley to the press at every opportunity.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn eventually ordered Andrews reinstated, but the damage was done. Manager Dick Williams, able to take no more, highlighted the team’s victory celebration in Shea Stadium after Game 7 by quitting on the spot.
As it was all playing out, and even after it was over, Finley never admitted to anything other than having done the right thing. Had he shown even an ounce of contrition it might have gone a long way in the clubhouse, but he never did. Instead, he came down hard on the clubhouse, opening up a years-long series of open battles between himself and his players.
Alright, so since you're a baseball writer, it's only right that we get your take on the upcoming season. What are some of your thoughts headed into the 2017 MLB season? What are some of the storylines you'll be paying most attention to? Who do you have winning it all in 2017?
As a Giants fan, I’m ready for San Francisco to start an odd-year streak of championships. Unfortunately, the Dodgers are loaded, both at the big league level and in the minors, and will be a tough obstacle to overcome. Ultimately, the addition of Chris Sale to the Red Sox makes them prohibitive favorites in my book, provided everybody stays healthy. With Sale and David Price atop the rotation, the team’s defending Cy Young winner, Rick Porcello, is somehow being overlooked.
Thanks again to Jason for joining us to tell us more about what sounds like a damn good book. He’s told me you can pick it up wherever books are sold (Amazon), and I know I for one will be scooping up a copy soon. Be sure to check out Jason’s Twitter where he’s giving day-by-day accounts of the 1972, ’73, and ’74 seasons (@DynasticBook). Also, be sure to check out his site www.baseballcodes.com where he’s blogging about the ongoing nature of the sports’ unwritten rules!
Check back soon for more team previews, and hopefully plenty of more interviews with some great baseball folks leading up to the season!