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What If Bowie Kuhn Didn’t Overturn Charlie Finley?



By Mike Silva ~ December 10th, 2011. Filed under: NY Baseball Memories.

The Winter Meetings ended Thursday afternoon, but the NBA picked up on the craziness with an evening of trade rumors and controversy. When Commissioner David Stern overturned the three-team deal that would have landed Chris Paul with the Lakers, it conjured up memories of a similar situation that occurred in baseball 35 years ago.

On June 15th, 1976 Oakland owner Charlie Finley saw the new world of free agency in front of him and  didn’t like it. He decided to sell off his stars that were about to become too expensive. In one day he sent OF Joe Rudi and closer Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox and LHP Vida Blue to the Yankees, in exchange for a total of $1.5 million dollars. The deal was voided by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who invoked the “best interests of baseball” clause as justification. Finley tried to sue MLB and Kuhn, but lost the case when the court ruled that the commissioner had the authority to determine what is in the best interest of baseball. Thank you anti-trust exemption! Rudi and Fingers would leave after the ’76 season, signing big free agent deals with California and San Diego respectively.

Finley had another deal overturned a year later when he tried to trade Blue to the Cincinnati Reds. Kuhn vetoed this trade as well, saying that it amounted to a fire sale. He claimed that adding Blue to the Big Red Machine’s pitching staff would tilt the NL West unfairly in favor of Cincinnati. I find this decision a bit curious since the Dodgers would win the division by 10 games, and Cincinnati was one of the league’s worst staffs with a 4.48 ERA. Of course, Finley was once again not asking for any talent in return, so you could see Kuhn’s point. Finley was eventually able to trade Blue to San Francisco before the ’78 season for Gary AlexanderDave HeaverloPhil HuffmanJohn Henry JohnsonGary ThomassonAlan Wirth, a PTBNL, and $300,000.

Reading this story made me wonder how the league could have changed if Kuhn didn’t elect to overturn the deal. The Yankees were 6 games ahead of Boston when the deals were made. New York ran away with the AL East, winning it by 10.5 games over the Orioles and 15.5 over Boston. Both players were free agents after the season and I doubt both would have re-signed in Boston.

Despite being a Gold Glove defender and consistent hitter, Rudi didn’t appear to have a spot in a Boston outfield that already had Dwight Evans, Fred Lynn, and Jim Rice. Maybe he could have switched over to third base over Butch Hobson, a position he played less than an inning earlier in his career. Fingers would have upgraded the bullpen immensely as Jim Willoughby was their closer that year. Maybe the Sox make it a bit more of a race, but the real impact would have been if they could have kept Fingers, perhaps the collapse of 1978 never happens. Think about Fingers in a bullpen with Bob Stanley that season?

What about the Yankees and Blue? Clearly, it wouldn’t have mattered for them in making it to the World Series, as they ran through the division and found a way to squeak past a dangerous Kansas City team. They also had a strong staff already with Catfish HunterEd Figueroa, and Dock Ellis. With that said, Blue did finish 6th in the Cy Young voting and won 18 games. He would have become the ace of the staff, as Hunter had begun to decline by that point. Ironically, it would have been an Oakland reunion, as Ken Holtzman made 21 starts for the Yanks that year as well.

Cincinnati was too good for the Yankees in the World Series that year, as they swept them in 4 games. Could Blue have made a difference? Maybe if he could shut out the Big Red Machine in Game 1. Don Gullett gave up only 1 run in 7-innings, so a yeoman’s effort would have been necessary.

Knowing George Steinbrenner, he would have re-signed Blue who had a lot of baseball left. Only 27, he went 68-59, with a 3.52 ERA the next five years for some bad teams in Oakland and San Francisco. Instead of trading for Mike Torrez, they could have Blue and Ron Guidry at the top of the rotation; in my opinion, a much better combo.

It’s impossible to know how the course of history is changed. This is just a fun exercise meant to strike out debate and conversation. It’s probably a project for our friends at Strat-O-Matic.

***

I actually found a picture of Rollie Fingers in a Red Sox uniform over at Big Hair and Plastic Grass. The website is by Dan Epstein, who wrote a book about 1970s baseball.

Dan appeared on my show a couple of years ago, and if you like to hear the replay of the interview you can download it here.

***

Here is an interesting fact I found via Wikipedia:

Blue, along with Chili Davis, were the last players before Ichiro Suzuki to wear their given name on the back of their uniforms instead of their surname, both having done so with the Giants.

I couldn’t find any pictures, if you happen to know of any, send it over.

Update: 

Thanks to our friend Chuck Johnson, we have a picture of Blue with “Vida” on the back of his uniform in San Francisco.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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12 Responses to What If Bowie Kuhn Didn’t Overturn Charlie Finley?

  1. Pete Marcello

    You’re an idiot. Joe Rudi didn’t play 3rd for the A’s. He was a left fielder/ first baseman.

  2. Stu B

    Indeed. The A’s third baseman was Sal Bando. Rudi played exactly 2/3 of an inning at 3B for his career, in 1972.

  3. jimsocks

    Someone needs an editor. Rudi was a LF, not a 3b. And it’s “Doc” Ellis…not “Dock”….who knows how much more in here is factual vs. based on cloudy memories and sloppy writing…

  4. Chuck Johnson

    “And it’s “Doc” Ellis…not “Dock””

    Wrong.

    Not only is it “Dock”, but Dock is his given name, it’s not a nickname.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/e/ellisdo01.shtml

  5. Mike Silva

    Totally botched the fact that Rudi played less than an inning at 3B- thanks Stu. I saw it listed under his positions and just assumed he would have slid over there – bad job by me.

    jimsocks. None of this is from a hazy memory. I was born on January 26th, 1977. On June 15th, 1977 I was still very much in early form in my mother’s womb. Doubt I could comprehend such a complicated issue at the time.

    I can assure you the rest of the piece is well thought out and researched. Although I will say that Rudi at 3B for Sox (as I point out in the updated piece), isn’t a far-fetched idea. Where else was he gonna play?

    Hobson was a clunker as a defender, is it that far-fetched. I will probably let Delgrippo or Chuck answer this.

    As for the Dock Ellis criticism, I guess Baseball Reference and Chuck answer that.

    Hey, I never proclaimed to be 100%, just 96.5%

  6. Chuck Johnson

    “I was born on January 26th, 1977″

    A month after I turned twenty-something.

    You share the same birthdate as one of the most dominating athletes ever.

    I know I’ve never seen anyone, at least in his prime, better.

    Wayne Gretzky.

  7. Chuck Johnson

    Hobson WAS a butcher at third, which, despite his bat, is the primary reason why he only played eight years.

    He was, however, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever been around.

    Always willing to talk to fans, never saw him say no to an autograph request.

    You know who else was like that?

    Jim Rice.

  8. Stu B

    “You know who else was like that?”

    Although I only asked a few of these for autographs: Jim Abbott, Vida Blue, Clete Boyer, Doug Brocail, Jay Johnstone (very funny guy!), Deacon Jones, Harmon Killebrew, Don Mincher, Terry Mulholland, Billy Sample (especially outgoing and friendly), Joe Torre, Bobby Bonilla (though some might not believe it), David Cone, Davey Johnson, Kevin Elster, Gary Carter, Mark Clark, Roger McDowell, Robert Person, Lance Johnson, Mookie Wilson, Bud Harrelson, and Keith Miller.

  9. Chuck Johnson

    Was there a point somewhere, Stu?

  10. Stu B

    There are a lot of nice guys in and around baseball.

  11. Chuck Johnson

    The mention of Rice was intentional, most people go by what a few media people say that he wasn’t friendly or approachable.

    Off the field, he was.

    Steve Carlton was, too.

  12. tnt1528

    i saw bonilla in shea lot.we were by ourselves and i asked him for his auto.he said he couldnt,he was 2 busy.(busy with what i have no idea,this is when he had thumb? surgery).piazza,when with l.a. wouldnt give time of day .and this was in theirmost popular days.

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