Blast From The Past: A's Finley Strikes Out

Special Correspondent Donald Moore returns with another spicy tale from the lively past of the Athletics franchise. This episode occurred in 1967 and it involved the eccentric owner of the A's, Charlie Finley, his manager, his best hitter, allegedly drunk ballplayers on an airplane and the media. Click inside to read more...

"Charlie Finley is a menace to baseball." Those words were supposedly said in August of 1967 by Kansas City A's slugger Ken Harrelson, words that partly set-off a huge firestorm that included a near team revolt, the firing of then-A's manager Alvin Dark and the abrupt release of the A's best hitter, Harrelson.

The beginning of this story occurs when A's owner Charlie Finley received word that some of his players got drunk and unruly on a team flight from Boston to Kansas City. Singled out in this particular team flight was pitcher Lew Krausse, who earlier in the week shot a .38 caliber pistol out of his hotel window to let off some steam. (He told Finley he was depressed and needed to vent, so he shot his gun twice out the window, striking an Phillips Petroleum building across the street. Luckily, no one was injured and Krausse somehow got off on probation.)

Contrary to Finley's belief, there was no rowdiness, or brawl, nor any drunken behavior on the flight. There were only a three players who might have had a few too many drinks. After all, it was a commercial flight with women and children on it, so the players should have been on their best behavior in public.

A's player representatives and pitchers Jim Nash, Paul Lindblad and Krausse were the three who were closest to the drink cart and they claimed they didn't swear or engage in any illicit conversations or actions with the flight attendants or other passengers, as Finley was told.

The only person who complained about the players antics was none other than the A's announcer, Monte Moore. Moore was deeply distrusted by the A's players. They felt he was a spy for Finley and didn't like or trust him. Most likely, he was the one who told Finley of the plane incident.

Two weeks passed until Finley called manager Alvin Dark and wanted him to suspend Krausse and fine him $500 for coming off the plane drunk and using foul language in front of the other passengers. Finley also ordered A's press secretary Ed Hurley to put up a bulletin in the A's clubhouse that states, "effective immediately and for the balance of the season, no alcoholic beverages were to be served on commercial airlines to members of the Kansas City A's."

This, of course, angered many of the A's players. They didn't appreciate the fact that the whole team was being punished for the misdeeds of a few others and for being portrayed as a bunch of drunken hooligans. The A's players asked Finley to keep this information in-house, but it already made the morning papers.

The A's players got together and prepared a statement to counter Finley's and told manager Dark of their plans. Dark agreed with them, but wanted to see the final copy before it was released to the press. For some reason, it went out without him seeing it.

It read, "In response to Charles O. Finley's statement of August 18th, we, the players of the Kansas City Athletics, feel that an unjust amount of pressure has been brought to bear on several members of the club who no part whatsoever in the so called incident on a recent plane trip from Boston to Kansas City. The overwhelming opinion of the players is that the entire matter was blown out of proportion. Mr. Finley's policy of using certain unauthorized personnel in his organization as go-between has led to similar misunderstandings in the past and has tended to undermine morale of the ballclub. We players feel that if Mr. Finley would give his fine coaching staff and excellent manager the authority they deserve, these problems would not exists."

Finley got hold of the statement after it was released to the press and called Dark to his suite. Finley demanded that Dark back the Krausse suspension and fine and asked if he knew anything about this statement. Dark told Finley he knew they were going to prepare a statement, and that he didn't support the Krausse suspension and fine either. That infuriated Finley, and he fired Dark, claiming Dark had lost control of his players.

As soon as the A's players found out about Dark's dismissal, they talked about striking. Outspoken A's outfielder Ken Harrelson was very upset by Dark's firing and said, "because of something that never happened on an airplane trip nearly three weeks before, [Finley] had made a fool of himself, a scapegoat out of Krausse, alleged drunks out of all of us, and an apparently ineffectual manager out of Dark. The only thing I know, is Charlie Finley's actions the last few days have been bad for baseball. I think it's been detrimental to the game."

A reporter over-hearing this conversation misquoted Harrelson as saying "Charlie Finley is a menace to baseball." That evening on the news, this misquote from Harrelson made the headlines. Harrelson knew he was in trouble. Early the next morning, Finley called Harrelson and asked him if he made that statement and wanted a retraction put forth right away. Harrelson told Finley he would retract the menace part, because he never said it, but he wouldn't retract anything else.

Enraged, Finley hung up on him. He called him back a half hour later and told him he was no longer a member of the KC A's. He was given his outright release, thus making Harrelson one of the first ever Major League free agents. Harrelson would eventually sign-on with the Boston Red Sox and go on to play in the World Series with them.

The A's players were stunned that both Dark and Harrelson were fired. Finley was eventually dragged before the National Labor Relations Board to answer charges of harassment, but that action was soon halted when the MLB Commissioner stepped in and hammered out an agreement between Finley and his players, that resulted in the dropping of Krausse's fine and suspension.

The 1967 Kansas City A's finished in 10th place that year and went 62-99. The team included such names as Joe Rudi, Reggie Jackson, Rick Monday, Sal Bando, Dick Green, Catfish Hunter, Bert Campaneris, Dave Duncan and Paul Lindblad, all major contributers to the A's future success. One can only ponder, would the A's have made the World Series sooner if Finley didn't fire manager Alvin Dark and slugging Ken "The Hawk" Harrelson? I do.

(Source) - The Kansas City Athletics, a Baseball History 1954-1967 by John E. Peterson

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