Before 1958, Major League Baseball did not exist in the San Francisco Bay Area. The fans there loved the Pacific Coast League teams that inhabited their cities but deep down inside, they knew that they were missing something very special in having their own major league franchise. That changed in 1958 and a decade later when the Giants and the Athletics both migrated to California. Two men, Horace Stoneham and Charles Finley, led these franchises to California. Though they never interacted much with each other, they are forever linked by how they impacted the Bay Area. These are their stories.
Horace Stoneham was born on April 27, 1903 in Newark, New Jersey to a wealthy family. His family owned the New York Giants and after dropping out of Fordham University, he began working in the family business. When his father died in January 1936, Horace Stoneham took over the team at the young age of 32.
Charles Oscar “Charlie” Finley was born on February 22, 1968 in Ensley, Alabama. After graduating from Gary High School in Gary, Indiana, he briefly played as a semi-pro before a bout with tuberculosis that nearly killed him forced Finley to retire as a player. After his playing career ended, he entered the insurance world, becoming one of the first to write group insurance policies for those in the medical profession.
Through various investment opportunities over the years, Finley amassed a fortune and was soon searching for a baseball team to purchase. He twice tried to buy the Philadelphia A’s (who then moved to Kansas City) and the expansion Los Angeles AL franchise. Both times he was rejected but he refused to cease his attempts at pursuing his dream. When A’s owner Arnold Johnson died in March of 1960, Charlie Finley purchased a controlling interest in the Kansas City Athletics on December 19, 1960.
The Years before Moving
In Horace Stoneham’s first year as the Giant’s owner, they reached the World Series, only to lose to the Yankees. They repeated this feat the following year as well. His early teams were good, led by Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell, but they struggled to get back to the Fall Classic. That all changed in 1951 with the lively bats of Monte Irvin and rookie Willie Mays. Amazingly, the Giants came back from 13 games to take the NL pennant from the Dodgers. Though the Giants lost to the Yankees in the World Series, they knew that better days were ahead.
Three years later, they defeated the Cleveland Indians for the World Series. It would be the only world championship of Stoneham’s career. Despite their success, the Giants struggled to attract fans as the Yankees played just across the river. Horace Stoneham knew that he needed to find a solution. Upon learning, about an opportunity to migrate to California, Stoneham decided to take the chance. In 1958, the Giants moved to San Francisco, breaking the hearts of loyal New Yorkers.
Meanwhile, Charlie Finley was struggling to build a winner in Kansas City. The local economy was not ready to support a major league baseball team and attendance was always low. The team struggled the entire time that it resided in Missouri and moved to Oakland in 1968. In their first year in California, they went 82-80, their first winning season since 1952 in Philadelphia.
When the Giants moved to California, they featured Orlando Cepeda and Felipe Alou, players who would help the city grow with the team. In subsequent years they would get players such as Willie McCovey and Matty Alou. While the team won games, they struggled to attract attendance and to reach the World Series. In 1962, they defeated the Dodgers for the National League title and reached the World Series.
In the first Fall Classic to truly go from coast to coast, the Giants battled the mighty New York Yankees in seven hard fought games. In the seventh game at windy Candlestick Park, Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry faced off against Willie McCovey in the bottom of the ninth inning. McCovey hit a tremendous line drive that initially looked like it would go out of the ball park. Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson had another idea and caught the hit to defeat the Giants 1-0. Horace Stoneham would never again reach the World Series.
Over the next decade, though the Giants won more than they lost, they continued to struggle in getting back to the post season. In those days there were no playoffs and whoever ended the regular season ahead in their league would go on to the World Series. The Giants had some stiff competition in the 1960’s with the Dodger’s Sandy Koufax and the Cardinal’s Bob Gibson but tough competition is not the only reason why the Giants failed to reach the postseason for a decade despite winning records. Stoneham continually had a farm system flush with talent but year after year he traded that talent away for less than desirable alternatives, thus halting the Giant’s championship aspirations. Slowly but surely, Giants fans were becoming more and more restless for a championship.
Meanwhile in Oakland, Charlie Finley’s A’s were quickly figuring out how to win in the Bay Area. In 1968, their first year in Oakland, the A’s earned their first winning season since 1952. In the years that followed, they got better and better as they added key pieces to their roster. Players such as Vida Blue, Reggie Jackson and Joe Rudi all became integral to the A’s dynasty.
By 1971, the A’s were in the ALCS, losing to the Baltimore Orioles. The following year and the next two years, were magical for the Athletics as they won three straight World Series. Along the way, Charlie Finley made a name for himself in baseball, from having a mule named after him, Charlie O., as the team mascot to introducing the major leagues to the wonders of orange baseballs in the spring of 1973. Though neither of these ideas lasted, they reside in the lore that is Charlie Finley.
Finley began to lose the respect of his team during the 1973 championship season. Angry with the poor play of infielder Mike Andrews, Finley tried to get him to claim an injury so that he could move Andrews from the active roster. The players were furious and refused to play unless Mike Andrews was on the active roster. Eventually, Finley relented and Andrews got a standing ovation from the crowd at Shea Stadium during Game 4 of the World Series. After the A’s completed their victory over the Mets, Finley rewarded his players with championship rings consisting of fake diamonds. It was a slap in the face of everything that the players had sacrificed for their owner and the team disbanded very quickly.
Finley ramped up his cost saving ways in the next few years with stories that became more and more ridiculous. There was the time after the 1974 World Series that he refused to make a payment on Catfish Hunter’s insurance policy that was a part of his contract, thus rendering Hunter the major league’s first free agent. During the 1975 season, he tried selling Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi to Boston shortly before they were to play the Red Sox. Once again, the team protested and MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn had to step in and tell Finley that he couldn’t sell his players for money. Though Finley held off from letting those two players back on his roster, he soon relented.
Selling the Teams
Despite its nice appeal, Candlestick Park was always a horrible place to play baseball. High winds and chilly nights doomed the team and over time those elements kept the fans away. Eventually, dwindling attendance forced Horace Stoneham to sell the team. The Giants were last in the MLB in attendance in 1974, 1975 and 1976. In 1975, Stoneham attempted to sell the team to a group from Toronto but several owners and the MLB stepped in and squelched the deal. In 1976, he sold the team to Bob Lurie who kept the team in San Francisco. Horace Stoneham passed away on January 7, 1990 at the age of 72.
Charles Finley realized that he couldn’t keep up with free agency and the rising costs of the game and began looking for buyers in 1980. He initially wanted to sell the team to Marvin Davis who had plans on moving the team to Denver, but after the Raider announced that they would be moving to Los Angeles, the city of Oakland refused to let the A’s out of their lease with the Oakland Coliseum. Forced to find another buyer, Finley found Walter A. Haas Jr. in August of 1980 and sold the team to him for $12.7 million. Charlie Finley passed away on February 19, 1996 at the age of 77.