**The Quotes as presented are direct from Rollie Fingers courtesy of an interview that he was kind enough to grant me in conjunction with his new book.**
When people approach professional athletes, they are usually looking for a career retrospective or a biography. That is exactly what Yellowstone Ritter had in mind when he contacted Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers.
With the idea on the table, Rollie said no. So Yellowstone went back to the drawing board with Rollie, and what they came up with was Rollie’s Follies: A Hall of Fame Revue of Baseball Stories and Stats, Lists, and Lore.
When discussing the book, I was treated to a conversation that covered many facets of Rollie’s Hall of Fame career, and the stories and opinions were as diverse and colorful as the book that he helped author in his name.
After bypassing the notion that talking about himself for 250 or so pages was a good idea, Rollie did start to hash out a plan with Yellowstone, who he credits with doing a lot of the interesting research in the book.
“I don’t want to get into autobiographies, I don’t want to talk about myself.”
Fingers explains, “We started hashing it out, and decided he has done a lot of research on baseball. So why don’t we do a book on basic baseball itself. So we decided that’s what we were going to do.”
“We went through a bunch of statistics and facts and came up with a bunch of things that you might not know about…different crazy stats of things that happen, who are the best hitting pitchers of all time, you don’t know that.”
“People think of the greatest home run hitters of all time and think of Babe Ruth, they don’t think about that Warren Spahn hit more than anybody.”
In 1958, Warren Spahn, in just 108 at bats, hit .333, and also mustered 35 home runs, 189 RBI’s in his career.
The book, as Rollie and I discussed, is really about expanding on what people love so much about baseball.
As Rollie said, “That’s all baseball is, is numbers, it’s run by numbers, averages, percentage and odds. Managers make their decisions based on the numbers.
“If this guy hits the ball 7 out of 10 times to the left side then they’ll play a shift to the left…there is more books on statistics than you can think of and we just brought out some of the ones that we thought were the most interesting.”
To look back at Rollie’s career by the numbers, one American League Cy Young (1981), one American League MVP (1981), 341 Career Saves (10th all-time), 944 career games (17th all-time), 709 career games finished (5th all-time) and 81.1% (the total number of writers hall of fame ballots he was elected on for the Hall).
He appeared on 349 of 430 Hall of Fame ballots, getting him over the 75% required for enshrinement.
We talked a little bit about his place among baseball immortals. I asked Rollie about his engagement two weeks ago to see his peers Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice take their place in Cooperstown.
“I’ve been back every year since 1992 when I went in. I have been there a few times before that, they used to have the Hall of Fame game, and I played once with the A’s and one game with the Padres.
Then I was there in 1964 when I was named the American Legion Baseball Player of the Year, I received my award at Doubleday Field in 1964, that’s the first time I was there.”
When I asked why Rollie returns with such frequency, he answered me as if there was no other option.
“I think it’s important because when I went in there was a lot of guys there.” He said. “They supported my induction into the Hall of Fame and my career. I felt that I should be there for the new guys coming in,” Rollie continued.
He also let me in on a little secret; “it’s nice seeing the guys go through what you have to go through to get in.”
The first trip to Cooperstown is the hardest.
“That weekend is a hectic weekend, getting ready for your speech, taking care of all your family members making sure everything is done right, people wanting you to sign autographs going to the dinners, going to the parties. The easiest time is the following year.”
“The hardest thing in the world to get through is the speech,” said Rollie, and remember this is a guy with 3 World Series rings and 341 career saves.
As for his description of this year’s inductees, “Rickey Henderson was a pain in the butt. You don’t want to walk him; it’s like walking a triple. I had a real slow motion to the plate, so I knew if he got on base within two or three pitches he was going to be standing on third.”
On Jim Rice, “The two scariest things in the world are standing on the mound at Fenway Park looking over your right shoulder and seeing the wall there, and the second scariest is looking in and seeing Jim Rice. Those were the two scariest things about Boston when I played.”
Ironically enough for the nightmare was that the wall was a disputable 310 feet away.
Fenway was not Rollie’s least favorite place to pitch. Counted among his least favorites were the domed stadiums.
“I didn’t like The Astrodome, or any of the Astro-Turf fields. Probably my worst ballpark was The Met in Minnesota, I hated that place, I was so glad when they tore that place down, you have no idea. My first big league start at the Met I threw a five hit shut out, and my lifetime record at The Met is one win and 11 losses.”
Fingers went on to recount a move this his manager used to save him the horrors of The Met on one occasion.
“It was really bad, nothing went right for me at that ball park. Actually Alvin Dark with the Oakland A’s, we had a double-header and he didn’t even want me in uniform, he put me in street clothes in the stands for a double header and this is when I was the closer.
“Crazy stuff would happen there, and I’d always end up having a bad game. So he just decided, what the heck I might as well throw you in the stands so I won’t be tempted to use you.”
Rollie Fingers was part of multiple transactions in his career. He was a free agent, he was traded, and he was even sold once by Charlie Finley to the Boston Red Sox.
As it turns out, Joe Rudi and Rollie, after being sold to the Red Sox for a million dollars apiece, were promptly returned after the commissioner’s office ruled that the transaction would not stand.
Luckily for Rudi and Fingers, the Red Sox were the visiting club and they simply packed their bags and walked through the bowels of the Oakland County Coliseum to set up shop in the visitor’s clubhouse.
After three days, Bowie Kuhn, Major League Baseball’s fifth commissioner, told Charlie Finley he couldn’t do that, although Rollie does believe “if Joe or I had gotten into that game, there wouldn’t have been anything they could have done. I warmed up but never got in the game.”
Rollie then signed with the Padres, where he spent four seasons before he was shipped to St. Louis in the off-season, where he ironically once again spent three days, matching his stay with the Red Sox. The Cardinals then moved him out to play with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Speaking of the team that would be Harvey’s Wallbanger’s, “Paul Molitor was about a three or four year man up, Robin Yount was a six or seven year guy…I was happy to be going to Milwaukee, I was just happy to be wearing the same uniform as those guys.
“The line up we had there was unbelievable: Ted Simmons, Molitor, Yount, Cooper, Ben Oglivie, Gorman Thomas, I mean I wouldn’t want to face that line up, I was just happy to have a Milwaukee uniform on that year.”
Rollie and I had a little fun as I mentioned former Major Leaguer and Fingers’ teammate, 1982 Cy Young Award winner Pete Vuckovich.
Following Pete’s playing career, he’s probably best known as “The Biggest Indian Killer of them All” Clu Heywood according to Harry Doyle (played by longtime Brewers announcer and Major League Catcher Bob Uecker).
So I asked Rollie, “Who would play Rollie Fingers?”
“Oh golly, I have no idea who would play Rollie Fingers, you’d have to be able to grow a handle bar mustache, who that person would be I have no idea, or whether in the future they’d put me in a movie.”
But a guy that looks like me and can grow a handle bar mustache is the way they’d have to go I guess, like the movie 61, they cast those two guys who looked pretty much like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris…I don’t think about that stuff.”
You hear the words dynasty thrown around; when you won the first World Series in Oakland did you know you had something special?
Rollie is much like the other major leaguers I’ve talked to, when they talk about things they are incredibly focused in the moment and recall it as such.
“At the time you don’t. After we won the first year it was the first time we’d ever won and sure you want to win two and we knew we had a pretty good team. We played together, we all played together in the minors because it was before free agency and we basically had the same line up for eight years at the time we played in Oakland.
“Winning three in a row, it was great; you don’t think about how great it was then, you know I’d like to have kept winning. That’s what it’s all about, we had a chance in ’75 but we got beat in the playoffs by the Red Sox, I think if we’d have had Catfish Hunter that year, that was the year we lost Catfish Hunter…we had a chance to be a dynasty there if Charlie Finley kept us together.
“He wasn’t about to do that, he didn’t want to pay the salaries, so when Free Agency hit, he lost all of us, he could’ve kept that team together if he’d have just paid us.”
I asked him specifically about the fans in his career, and the fans in Milwaukee, “Milwaukee is a great baseball town…they’ll open their arms up to you.”
“I enjoyed playing there, I enjoyed the fans, I did a lot of charity when they had stuff going on at the ballpark it was fun…I had a lot of fun because I was getting guys out and we were doing good.”
We talked a lot about Rollie’s contemporaries so I decided to ask, if there was anyone now that he enjoys watching pitch.
I asked is there anyone that if you know that they are pitching you’ll throw the game on?
“There’s a few players, I don’t mind watching a good pitched ball game, Randy Johnson, Halladay in Toronto, that’s the way I was when Greg Maddux was pitching, I would sit and watch him, because he knew what he was doing. He wasn’t over powering; he moved the ball around, hit spots. That’s pitching.
“I don’t watch ball games on TV anymore cause I hate to see a pitcher go zero balls and two strikes and lay one right down the middle and the guy hits it out of the ballpark.
“What’s he thinking about? That’s not pitching to me; that is throwing. I get too upset watching those types of games, so I don’t watch them anymore.”
He continued, “I don’t go to games anymore, but if I know a certain guy is pitching, Beckett with Boston, I’ll watch him pitch, or Santana, he’s got a pretty good idea.”
I asked what the best innovation or change in the game has been since Rollie left the game, and all he came up with was, “guys are making money,” he laughed.
As far as detriments to the game, he listed harder balls, harder bats, smaller ballparks, home runs are up, umpires have taken away the inside part of the plate from pitchers and the way pitching staffs are used.
Rollie clearly pitched in a different era, but he makes a lot of interesting and valid points about pitchers use and their health in recent years.
Most major league teams carry 13 pitchers on their 25-man roster, when Rollie pitched, “you’d break training camp with 8 or sometimes 9 pitchers.”
Because of that we talked strategy and how the game has changed, he talked about the difference in the way that bullpens are handled across major league baseball.
“Guys in the bullpen should go longer distances instead of being a one-inning pitcher.”
I asked him if it is frustrating to watch a guy get pulled after one inning or in sometimes one batter.
Rollie definitely had some strong opinions in this area, “The biggest problem I have with the way bullpens are run is a set up guy will come in, in the eighth inning and strike out the side in a 4 to 1 ball game and then he is taken out and the closer will come in to finish the game.
“Why don’t you let the guy that just struck out the side go back out and start the ninth inning? You still have your $10 million dollar man in the bullpen to get out of jams. Give that guy an opportunity to get a save. He did his job in the eighth and give your closer a day off.
“If he struck out the side he probably has his good stuff that day…I see ball games that are 2-1 ball games and I look at the box score and there was 12 pitchers used.”
He continued, “I needed a lot of work to stay sharp, I don’t think I could’ve done what they are doing today.”
Career High Innings
Season Plus 100 Inn
We talked about another of Rollie’s peers in Nolan Ryan. We didn’t talk about Ryan’s Hall of Fame credentials, but the success that he had thus far in rejuvenating the Texas Rangers pitching staff this year.
I asked Rollie if that was the way to go, if we’d see starters going deeper into games and potentially less pitching injuries?
“I pitched for the Oakland A’s for 8 years, we’d complete 45 or 50 ball games a year with Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, and Kenny Holtzman. In the 8 years I was there I don’t remember any of these guys being on the disabled list. 8 years in a row, I never remember them going on a 2 week DL or 1 month DL.”
“They were out there doing their 40 starts a year; they pitched 275 to 300 innings each year, Catfish Hunter would complete 20 ball games himself, and you just don’t see that anymore.”
“Why these guys are getting hurt, I don’t know, I think if they got stronger and pitched more they would have less injuries.”
“I was down in Texas talking to Nolan and he said yeah that’s what we want to do, we want to see if we can get our starting pitchers into the seventh and eighth inning and if they are still going good, get a complete game. I don’t see any problem with that at all, I think you’re going to get fewer injuries.”
In 1975 Catfish Hunter had 30 complete games in his 39 starts!
One of the more intriguing points he made was about pitch counts. Rollie’s thoughts on pitch counts really showed the difference between baseball now and 25-30 years ago.
He began when I asked him about tie games where people are taken out.
“Even if it’s a tie, let them throw their 130 and 140 pitches. They are strong enough and capable of doing it, but you have to get used to it. These guys go out now, five innings that’s a quality start, and 100 pitches.”
“I’d like to know who the animal was that came up with this 100-pitch rule. I guarantee you he wasn’t a pitcher, I’m sure he was a doctor that doesn’t know anything about pitching. That’s my guess, because 100 pitches is nothing.”
To put it in perspective in a conversation Rollie had with fellow Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax he asked, “What’s the most pitches you’ve ever thrown in a game?” Sandy’s response was 230.
We talked about a game that pitted Juan Marichal vs. Warren Spahn, the Hall of Famers combined to each go 16 innings and throw over 200 pitches a piece.
We talked about 1976 Hall of Fame inductee Robin Roberts who completed 28 straight games, a feat that would be unthinkable with today’s managers.
“If you have good mechanics and you are strong and you know what you’re doing out there you can do it. Manager’s won’t let starting pitchers do that because they are afraid someone is going to get hurt, they’re going to have to answer the questions. They are going to get second-guessed.”
“You have a lot of money sitting there and you don’t want it on the DL, but the thing is more starting pitchers are going on the DL than are not.”
We talked about Halladay’s last start before the trade deadline; Doc had a stat line of 1 earned run, 9 innings and got a no decision after 115 pitches.
“He’s old school, pitchers go out there thinking they’ve got to just go 5 or 6, he’s thinking about going 9. He’s thinking 9 more than any pitcher in baseball today. He’s big enough and strong enough he could go 140 pitches.”
“If Nolan Ryan had been on a 100 pitch count he’d have never got a decision, he threw that many by the fifth inning. You could watch Nolan throw 170 pitches, strike out 14, and walk 10 in a complete game.”
“But he was strong and could do it. Tom Seaver was another guy, he’d throw a lot of pitches, but he was strong and had great mechanics.”
Rollie is a wealth of pitching knowledge about the history of the game and Rollie’s Follies: A Hall of Fame Revue of Baseball Stories and Stats, Lists and Lore expands on that.
The book covers everything from the best hitting pitcher, to the Milwaukee Sausage Races and it’s on field list of imitators, to Hall of Fame and not so Hall of Fame profiles and the Kenny Lofton curse (you’ll have to read that one yourself).
In Rollie’s Follies, Fingers and Ritter managed to put together a baseball book that I am not sure it starts or ends more debates but it allows fans of America’s past time to do what they love best.
Wow, their friends with the most obscure, interesting and odd facts and stories about the grand old game.
Rollies Follies is co-authoured by Rollie Fingers and Yellowstone Ritter, it is published by Clerisy Press, available at www.clerisypress.com
David is a fellow Bleacher Creature, you can find his work there by following this link. He has also written for RBI Magazine and a few other places as well.