Updated: Oct 13, 2020
The Oakland A’s won three World Series from 1972 to 1974. They accomplished this feat with an incredibly talented roster and a dominating closer, Rollie Fingers. He personified the flamboyant decade of the 1970’s with one of the most identifiable handlebar mustaches in all of baseball history. He was only the second reliever to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame; the first being Hoyt Wilhelm. During his era he was not the best known player but with his handlebar mustache he was the most recognizable.
Roland Glen “Rollie” Fingers was born on August 25, 1946 in Steubenville, Ohio but moved to Rancho Cucamonga, California a few years later. He starred at Upland High School and spent a single semester at Chaffey Junior College. Professional baseball soon beckoned and the Dodgers offered him a $20,000 signing bonus. Fingers knew his skill set and he knew that the Dodgers had a loaded pitching staff led by both Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale as well as a solid farm system waiting in the wings. He signed with the Kansas City Athletics for a $13,000 bonus on Christmas Eve 1964. The A’s were initially undecided whether to play him as a pitcher or as an outfielder. They quickly realized his natural ability as a pitcher was superior to his capabilities as an outfielder and thus began his journey as a major league pitcher.
After spending four years venturing his way through the A’s farm league, Rollie Fingers was called up to the A’s on September 15, 1968. He only played in one game that year but he had a home in the big leagues from that day forward. Though he became a Hall of Fame reliever, he started his career as a starter. He was average, winning 13 games against 22 losses from 1969 to 1971. It was during the 1971 season when the A’s coaches decided to try him out as a reliever.
A tilt against the Minnesota Twins on May 21, 1971 destined him as a great reliever and launched the A’s dynasty. He entered the game in the middle of the first inning after teammate Blue Moon Odom had already given up three runs and three walks against just eight batters. It really wasn’t the A’s day as Fingers gave up an additional three hits and two runs but in 5 1/3 innings. The A’s lost that game but manager Dick Williams had seen something in Fingers and decided to play him in later innings.
The A’s lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the ALCS that year but they knew they had the formula to win multiple championships. It was during this time when owner Charlie Finley offered a $300 bonus to anyone who would grow a mustache for the season. Fingers was one of a number of teammates who took up the challenge and it became a rallying cry for the team as they won their first World Series in Oakland. Fingers kept his handlebar mustache and it became his signature style for the rest of his career.
During the A’s glory years, Fingers proved to be just what the team needed. His ERA was 2.51 in 1972, 1.92 in 1973 and 2.65 in 1974. Beginning in his first year as a reliever he saved 17, 21, 22 and 18 games while the A’s dominated the competition and tore their way to championship after championship.
His star shined brightest during the postseason, winning or saving eight out of the A’s 12 wins in the World Series. He was named to the All Star Game four times while in Oakland and was named World Series MVP in 1974. He left Oakland for the San Diego Padres following the 1976 season and continued to shine. He signed with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1980 where he played some of his best baseball. Incredibly he was named AL MVP and earned the AL Cy Young Award in 1981. In that incredible season, Fingers recorded an incredible 1.04 ERA and 28 saves.
It was his last truly great year. In 1982 despite saving 29 games, his ERA slipped up to 2.60. After taking 1983 off, he rebounded in 1984 with a 1.96 ERA and 23 saves. He retired following the 1985 season with the most saves in MLB history with 341 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.