10/25/12 10:53 AM ET
Fingers recalls '70s Royals as fiesty young ballclub
Hall of Fame pitcher enjoyed going toe-to-toe with Kansas City
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com
In the mid 1970s, Rollie Fingers could feel the Kansas City Royals coming on.
The emerging Royals wanted to eventually go where the Oakland A's had been as three-time world champions from 1972 through 1974. Mission accomplished.
In 1976, which was Fingers' last year with the A's, the Royals got over the hump against their division rivals and advanced to the playoffs for the first time. That started a 10-year run, which culminated in a Kansas City championship parade in 1985.
The big step up the ladder of success in '76 came as no surprise to Fingers, the Hall of Fame reliever who was in Kansas City in July for the All-Star festivities.
"The Royals had a great young ballclub and you could see that they were going places," Fingers recalled. "We were always going toe-to-toe with those guys and we got in a lot of fights with them. They were the team you had to look out for, no doubt."
By the time the Royals had put it all together with a 102-win season in 1977, Fingers had moved on to San Diego. But his legacy with the A's franchise was secure. After making the transition from struggling starter to ace reliever, Fingers was a huge part of the Oakland green-and-gold dynasty. Blessed with a durable arm and two pitches -- fastball and slider -- that he learned to control with pinpoint accuracy as a reliever, Fingers became a pioneer for modern relief pitching.
The lanky right-hander, known for his trademark handlebar moustache, never liked sitting around and thinking about his next start for four days. The bullpen role meant spontaneous action, and Fingers adjusted to that mindset with such brilliance that he became one of the great relievers of all time.
In the seasons he competed against the Royals as an Oakland mainstay, Fingers was an All-Star in 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1976. Fingers remembers the 1973 All-Star Game in Kansas City as one of the better performances on his All-Star resume. He was selected for the Midsummer Classic seven times.
"I had one inning in the '73 All-Star Game and didn't allow a run," Fingers said. "Kansas City was a hot place in July and they had the Astroturf then. I remember pitching a game there when it was so hot I came to the dugout and stuck both feet in two ice buckets. By the time I walked from the dugout back out to the mound, my feet were dry. That's how hot the Astroturf was."
Fingers, who finished his 18-year career with 341 saves, had his greatest single-season accomplishments with the Brewers in 1981 when he won the AL MVP award as well as the Cy Young Award.
"It was one of those years when nothing went wrong," Fingers said. "I beat out Eddie Murray for MVP, and I was pretty pumped up when I heard about that. That's an award that usually goes to an everyday player."
Fingers retired after the 1985 season and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992. At the time, the only reliever to have entered the Hall was knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm.
No matter where he goes these days, Fingers is still known for the handlebar moustache which now has a few flecks of gray. The moustache saga developed in 1972 when Reggie Jackson showed up for Spring Training with a beard. Other players went without shaving in an effort to pressure the club to make Jackson get rid of the beard. But showman owner Charlie O. Finley thought the facial hair gave his team a distinctive flair.
Finley offered each man $300 if he showed up with a moustache on Opening Day, and 25 ballplayers, four coaches and a manager took the owner up on that deal. Facial hair coincided with excellence on the field and the A's weren't about to change their identity as they piled up three consecutive World Championships.
"Ballplayers are the most superstitious people in the world, so that's why we kept them [the moustaches]," Fingers said.
Fingers gained more moustache notoriety while doing a commercial for Pepsi Max. He played himself in a "Field of Dreams" setting with other great players from the past. When the delivery man replenished an empty vending machine, Fingers took off his moustache and handled it to the delivery man and said, "Great save, kid. You deserve this."
As a reliever and as a showman, Fingers has always been a guy who's in control. The Royals players from the 1970s know that better than most.
Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.