Red Sox Memories: Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers join Boston for three days
By Rick McNair
The Boston Red Sox tried to buy a pennant in 1976 and failed when Commissioner Bowie Kuhn negated the sale of Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers.
The Athletics have an extensive history of baseball yard sales that continue to this day. The first great selloff was after the conclusion of the 1914 season after the A’s had lost the World Series to the Beantown predecessor of the Red Sox, the Boston Braves. Owner-manager Connie Mack was a rather parsimonious sort who treated even a nickel like the proverbial manhole cover.
A new league – The Federal League – was being formed and enticing players to jump. A repeat of just what the American League had done to the National League in 1901. Mack refused to match salaries and his team was dismantled and fell to 43-109 and last place.
In the early 1930s, the A’s were once again a dominant team with back-to-back World Series titles in 1929 and 1930. The key to the next selloff was The Great Depression. Mack needed money and in stepped a new owner of the Red Sox – Tom Yawkey. Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove eventually came to Boston.
In the mid-1970s the A’s had migrated across the country with a stay in Kansas City before settling in Oakland. The current owner Charles O. Finley was an iconoclast and took special delight in tormenting fellow owners and the Commissioner Bowie Kuhn with his antics.
By 1975 free agency was surfacing and the A’s – winner of three straight World Series titles – were going to be sold off, traded, or otherwise cut to the fiscal bone. Finley had the goods and Boston and the New York Yankees had the millionaires.
"“While I am aware that there have been cash sales of player contracts in the past, there has been no instance in my judgment which had the potential for harm to our game.” – Bowie Kuhn via Hardball Times"
In 1976 the Red Sox and Yankees were battling it out. The Red Sox were coming off a league championship and the Yankees with George Steinbrenner wanted the streak to end at one. Both teams wished to load up and Finley had the ammunition (players) and the Yankees and Red Sox the powder (money).
Red Sox GM Dick O’Connell stepped in and the price tag for Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers was $1 MM each. The Red Sox were willing to pay. The Yankees were after lefty Vida Blue and another million was to be in the Finley bank account. Commissioner Kuhn – who considered Finley the devil incarnate – put the hammer down on the deal. That was not the end of it.
In America when disappointment hits you sue and that is what Finley did. Of course, with Charlie O being Charlie O verbal blasts were also part of the package. Eventually, the mess was settled in adjudication and Finley lost.
Rudi eventually did play for Boston but it was 1980 when the right-hand hitter’s skills had evaporated like a popsicle in the noonday Sahara sun. Rudi hit just .180, but in 1976 Rudi hit .270 and won a Gold Glove Award.
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Fingers – one of the best closers in baseball history – went 13-11 with 20 saves in 1976. Later in his career Fingers won a Cy Youn$Award and MVP in 1981 with Milwaukee. And the 1976 Red Sox? The final 83-79 record was a third-place finish with Jim Willoughby and Tom Murphy combining for 18 saves. They also blew eight saves so Fingers may have been just what was needed.
In 1976 the Yankees won the AL pennant and were dismantled by the Reds in the World Series. Blue went 18-13 for the A’s and never pitched for the Yankees. Reggie Jackson – another Finley dumping via trade to the O’s – signed with the Yankees and we all know that story.
If this was anyone but Finley the deal may have gone through. The other option was making it a trade where Finley gets cash considerations, a frozen pierogi, and a prospect who would probably be cut from a good high school team.
A few weeks after the failed sale Yawkey died and as for Finley? Finley had started rebuilding of the A’s but divorce intervened and Finley was forced to sell the A’s in 1980. And then comes Steinbrenner and that is one of the numerous championships and twice being suspended from baseball – once for life.