My colleague, Mike Green, and I have been working on a biography of Charles O. Finley, owner of the Kansas City/Oakland A’s between 1960 and 1980. Look for it from Walker and Co. in the summer of 2010. Between 1972 and 1974 his A’s won three straight World Series, the only team other than the Yankees to do so.
Finley, of course, had a public persona as one of the dark princes of Major League Baseball. He engaged in manipulation, connivance, and cajolery for what he wanted, and mostly what he wanted was unflagging respect and success. He publicly and bitterly warred with his players, his many managers, other MLB owners, the city leaders where his team played, sports journalists, and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. He enjoyed joking that his initial “O.” stood for “Owner,” a title he ensured no one ever forgot. Others had different words, and “obnoxious,” “outrageous,” and “obstreperous” were only a few of them. The meddlesome Finley micro-managed every aspect of his team’s operation, even including field tactics during games. He had spies watching the actions of his employees and reporting on incidents both large and small. His autocratic manner was well-known throughout MLB and stories of his antics abound, forever affecting perceptions of his reign over the A’s.
Finley was famous for his fights with Major League Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, for his outlandish promotions (some of which he stole outright from Bill Veeck), for meddling in the A’s club house, and for his abuse of players and any other employees he had around him. He is also famous for some of his innovations, including colorful baseball uniforms, night World Series games, and the designated hitter. Some baseball purists might damn him dor championing these ideas but there is no mistaking that they changed the game.
Here is the story of one incident in which Finley tried to do something nice for the fans in Kansas City. In the fall of 1964 Finley was in the doghouse in Kansas City because of his seemingly constanct efforts to move the team someplace else–it was Dallas one day, Seattle the next, Oakland every third Wednesday, etc.–and to gain fan approval he engineered a concert with the Beatles in Kansas City. Finley saw that the Beatles did not have a Kansas City stop on their first U.S. tour, and he tracked down manager Brian Epstein at the Cow Palace in San Francisco to try to bring the band to Municipal Stadium. He offered $50,000 for an appearance, but Epstein said that the going price was $100,000 so Finley countered with a $150,000 offer.
Epstein agreed to divert the band’s tour to Kansas City for an additional concert date at the Kansas City Municipal Stadium, and they played on September 17, 1964 for only 31 minutes to a crowd of about 20,208 fans. Drew Dimmel recalled that “When confirmation was announced on my local ‘rock’ station, WHB, that tickets were going on sale to see The Beatles, live, at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City I persuaded my dad to drive me down to the ticket booth. I bought two field-level tickets, paying $6.50 apiece; one for my little brother and one for me. I was 15 and he was 12.” In actuality, the standard ticket price for this concert was $8.50, making it the highest in the 1964 tour, except for one concert in New York City. But Finley also had a $2.00 ticket, which is one of the lowest admission prices of any Beatles concert. Never shy about publicity, the back of the $8.50 tickets featured Charlie Finley wearing a Beatles Wig as a joke.
Jim Schaaf, who ran the A’s promotions department in Kansas City, recalled the excitement surrounding that first Beatles tour through the U.S. The band “came in early in the morning, and there was all kind of people at the Muelbach Hotel. I mean, people lined up all over the place…young kids out there when the Beatles came in, and then…When these guys came in, they got in about 2:00am…and they were a bunch of fun guys. They didn’t go to sleep.” The next morning they held a press conference, inviting all of the high school journalists in the Kansas City area to meet the Beatles. Schaaf recalled trying to get them out of bed, “I felt a heck of a lot of pressure because they wouldn’t get up!” Schaaf knew this was something that Finley prized, and he eventually pushed the press conference back to noon and it turned out well. Finley was delighted. Schaaf concluded, “I thought we had a big crowd because we had people sitting on the infield.”
The Beatles began their set with the song “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey,” and the crowd went wild. Some fans rushed the stage but stage manager Derek Taylor settled them down. The Beatles then continued their show. Because it did not sell out, Finley did not make back his promotion of the concert. Of course, some did make money on the deal, especially the two people who acquired the sheets on the beds of the Beatles rooms in their hotel. They cut them into small squares and sold them as souvenirs. They netted $159,000 for their efforts.