Ultimately, it was $300 that led Rollie Fingers and his Oakland teammates to grow mustaches for the 1972 season. And it was Fingers' drive to be different that led to his distinctive handlebar mustache.
You see, Reggie Jackson arrived at the A's 1972 spring training camp with a mustache, which was basically taboo in Major League Baseball at the time. Jackson wouldn't cut it off, so four or five pitchers, including Fingers, decided they would grow a mustache, too.
"We thought manager Dick Williams would get upset and say we had to cut it off, and Reggie then would have to cut his off, too," Fingers said. "A's owner Charley Finley instead liked the idea of players with facial hair and said, 'Anyone who has a mustache on Opening Day would get a $300 bonus.' That's the only reason we kept the mustaches - to get the $300."
Most of the 25 players had a mustache on opening day, driven by financial incentives, along with most of the coaching staff.
The teams started strong in '72, so many players kept their mustache, "and the press started eating it up," Fingers said.
Next up: long hair and colorful uniforms.
Remember the white spikes?
"On the road, not just at home, we drew crowds. Everyone wanted to see the wackos from Oakland," Fingers said.
Oakland won the World Series in 1972 for the first of three consecutive championships. "It's tough to cut off the mustache after three straight championships," Fingers said.
But the right-handed pitcher did come within a razor's edge of cutting the 'stache in 1973. Fingers lost both ends of a doubleheader in Baltimore and actually had the razor right there, ready to cut it off, but didn't.
"That's about as close as I've ever come to cutting it off," he said.
So what gives with the handlebar look?
"I was just going to be different from everyone else. No one was growing a handlebar mustache, so I said, 'What the hell, I will,' " he explained. "I grew it and immediately pitched well, so I kept it. Ballplayers, remember, are the most superstitious animals that ever lived."
Almost 35 years later, Fingers is still the guy with that funny mustache.
"I can do it in my sleep; it takes 15 seconds every morning at most," he said.
Would you do it all over again?
Without a doubt, he said, "Just for the $300."
Fingers was the break-through relief pitcher of his day, but not before flopping as a starter. Midway through the 1971 season, after a series of early inning disasters, A's manager Williams had seen enough and sent Fingers to the bullpen.
"I thought I was on my way out of baseball because I wasn't getting anyone out," said Fingers, relegated to a mop-up pitcher.
But then the A's went to New York for a series against the Yankees. Oakland trailed 11-3, but eventually came back to lead, 13-11. Fingers was the only pitcher remaining in the team's bullpen - and he pitched two shutout innings for the save.
He snagged a save the following night as well.
Williams then told Fingers that he was the team's closer.
Fingers' major league career spanned 17 seasons for three teams: Oakland (1968-76), San Diego (1977-80) and Milwaukee (1981-82, 1984-85). He was a seven-time All-Star, four-time Rolaids Relief Man award winner and three-time American League leader in saves. Also during his career, Fingers:
Was the 1974 World Series MVP.
Won both the American League MVP and Cy Young Award in 1981 while with Milwaukee.
Was ranked No. 96 on The Sporting News' list of Baseball's Greatest Players in 1999, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
Recorded 341 career saves, including a career-high 37 in 1978.
"I was a control pitcher and had pretty good velocity; I threw the ball 92, 93 or 94 MPH. But I got by on control. And as a closer, you have to have control, or you won't survive," Fingers said. "I had command of two or three pitches. When I was in Oakland, I was a fastball and slider pitcher. Then when I went to San Diego, I started developing a forkball and change-up, and those pitches really helped me out quite a bit.
"I always tried to throw first-pitch-strikes, and that really helped," he continued.
San Diego's Trevor Hoffman, at the end of the 2006 season, recorded his 479th career save, moving past Lee Smith and into the No. 1 spot on the career saves tally.
"Trevor is a great one-inning pitcher, and that's what a lot of pitchers are today," Fingers said. "I had the luxury of getting a few one-inning saves, but not a lot. For that reason, you can't really compare today's closers with the closers when I pitched, such as Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter or Sparky Lyle. Often, back in the day, we were three- or four-inning closers."
So when would you rather play, then or now?
"Back when I did, for sure," Fingers said. "I needed a lot of work to stay sharp and really enjoyed going out there to pitch two- or three-innings. I just wish we made the same money they're now making. Why would I want to change it? I'm in the Hall of Fame."
Fingers had a 114-118 lifetime record, with 1,299 strikeouts and only 492 walks. He allowed 1,474 lifetime hits, including 123 home runs, over 1,7011/3 innings pitched.
"The thing that stands out the most from my career was, winning the three consecutive World Championships in Oakland. That was a lot of fun. It's always fun when you win," Fingers said. "From 1968-76, we basically had the same group of guys because, remember, this was before free agency. They were great guys; it was a great team.
"Most of us played together in the minors, then hit the majors at about the same time and we knew what to expect from each other," he continued.
Oakland won the A.L. West title in 1972 with a 93-62 regular-season record. The A's slipped past Detroit for the A.L. Championship, then defeated Cincinnati in a seven-game World Series.
In 1973, the A's again needed seven games to win the World Series, this time defeating the New York Mets.
In 1974, the A's captured the Series title in five games over Los Angeles.
"We were solid at every position," Fingers said. "We had great defense. Fundamentally, we were sound; we didn't make any mistakes. We always had clutch hitting. We only had one .300 hitter, Joe Rudi, so we obviously got by more or less on pitching. We had three quality pitchers: Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter and Kenny Holtzman. And we were deep in the bullpen with myself, Darold Knowles and Bob Locker. We had a cast of three or four guys who could close out a ballgame. We didn't blow out a lot of teams; we didn't usually score 8, 10 or 15 runs per game. Instead, we'd win games 5-3 or 3-1.
"We had a lot of guys on those Oakland teams, players with very short fuses," he continued. "So, we'd often fight in the clubhouse. We'd fight on the bus. We'd fight on the field. Guys were always getting into arguments. It was like being married. We were together for eight or nine years and you're going to have differences of opinions in a marriage and in a clubhouse. Fighting will happen. But when it happened with us, we were in first-place and yet people couldn't understand why people were fighting internally. But that's just the way we were."
Fingers' personal highlights were on the World Series fields. In 1972 and 1974, Fingers was pitching when the final out of the Fall Classic was made.
"That's what you dream about as a kid - being on the mound for that last out," he said.
In 1972, Fingers got Pete Rose to chase a fastball away, hitting a lazy fly ball to Joe Rudi in left field. Rose has since said that, of all his major league at-bats, that's the one at-bat he'd like to have back.
Meanwhile, in 1974, Von Joshua hit a ground ball to Fingers.
Fingers said he had the best luck throughout his career against Jim Fregosi.
"I don't thi nk Jim even ever hit a foul ball off me. It was like he had no idea how to hit me," Fingers said with a laugh.
Fingers made his baseball card debut in 1969, appearing on Topps card No. 597. Throughout the 1970s, he appeared on Topps and O-Pee-Chee cards. He has since appeared on cards from Donruss, Fleer, Leaf, Sportflics, Pacific and Upper Deck.
"The quality of the cards today is a lot nicer. Before it was just a cardboard card from Topps. Now, the quality is immensely better, with better paper stock," he said. "Plus, they're a helluva lot more expensive than when I collected as a kid. When I was growing up, you could get a pack of cards for a nickel or 10-cents. Now, packs cost $3 or more, at times a lot more."
Fingers said he probably has at least one of every card of his ever made, even after throwing away a bunch of them.
"When I first got to the big leagues in 1969, Topps sent me a box full of my rookie card, but I just threw them away. I didn't even think of collecting my own cards," he said.
Today, Fingers has about 40 of his rookie cards.
His favorites were the card produced from 1969-71, sans mustache.
"I think they're worth a lot more because I didn't have the mustache on those cards," he said.
Fingers appears at about five card shows annually.
"Card shows give guys like myself an opportunity to make a few bucks here and there," he said. "The amount of shows that I'm doing has dwindled annually since my Hall of Fame induction year.
"The memorabilia industry is great. I like all of the old stuff," he continued. "When I go to shows, I like to walk around, look at all of the old stuff that's out there. There are so many new cards out there now that I wouldn't even attempt to collect them. It seems like there are 88 different sets out every year. When I was playing, there was one: Topps."
Fingers, who was a card collecting kid, has slowed on the collecting trail of late, though he does have some of his old cards from 1958-61. "I'll give them to my kids when they get a big older, so they can appreciate them."
As a child, Fingers often got his cards signed.
"It's not the autograph that was valuable, but rather, just meeting the person who's signing the autograph," said Fingers, whose first autograph he ever obtained in person was Frank Howard. "Just meeting Frank Howard was enough. Getting his signature was a bonus."
Also during his playing days, Fingers recalls getting autographs from Willie Davis, Johnny Roseboro and Duke Snider, among others.
"My dad took me to games as a child and we'd sit outside the locker rooms, and we'd just hope we could meet one of the players after the game," Fingers said. "When I first met Sandy Koufax, I didn't wash my hand for a week."
The one autograph Fingers wants for his collection is John F. Kennedy.
"I think the craziest thing I've ever signed was at a card show in Phoenix about five or six years ago," Fingers said. "This guy walked up and took off his prosthetic leg to be signed. I signed it and he just put the leg back on and walked off. There were other autographs on the leg, too.
"One thing that upsets me more than anything is, the guys who are playing today just scribble a signature and then charge $100 for it," he continued. "If someone is going to charge that kind of money, then fans should at least be able to read one of the two names. Most of the Hall of Famers' signatures, you can read them. Most of the signatures of today's players, well, they look like they were done by a chicken with a pen attached to its legs."
Fingers is a willing by-mail signer ($10 per signature), though all requests must be sent to his P.O. Box, not his home address. Due to privacy reasons, SCD will not publish player addresses. However, the P.O. Box is available by visiting www.autographchaser.com and clicking on the baseball link. The website is currently free, but it does require users to sign up.
"I hate mail coming to my home; I hate it with a passion," Fingers said.
"And when I get fan mail at my home, I do not answer it, period."