With Drabowsky as adviser, Finley was far from a miser

February 21, 1996|By John Eisenberg

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- "Charlie Finley? Let me show you something," Moe Drabowsky said in the Orioles' clubhouse yesterday.

A reliever with the Orioles years ago and now one of the club's minor-league pitching coaches, Drabowsky reached into the toiletry kit in his locker and pulled out a thick batch of pink business slips.

"Look at these," Drabowsky said.

They were stock sale certificates, paperwork from 30-year-old transactions worth tens of thousands of dollars. All of them signed by Finley.

"Um, why are you carrying these around with your toothbrushes?" I had to ask.

One of the great pranksters in baseball history, Drabowsky, 60, raised an arch eyebrow.

"I was bringing them in to show to [Orioles farm director] Syd Thrift," Drabowsky said. "We were talking about Charlie the other day. I told Syd I was his stockbroker in the '60s."

True story, it turns out. Drabowsky wasn't joking this time. He had an unusual view of Finley, the famed baseball iconoclast who died Monday at 77.

Not only did Drabowsky pitch for Finley's Kansas City Athletics for 3 1/2 seasons before joining the Orioles in 1966, but he also developed an off-season business relationship with his boss.

"I worked as a stockbroker in Chicago in the off-season," Drabowsky said, "and Charlie lived in Chicago, too. We were wheeling and dealing. He was very unpredictable, to say the least."

It all began when Finley offered Drabowsky $500 for throwing a one-hitter against the Senators in 1964. Drabowsky refused to take the money unless Finley also gave bonuses to the other players in the lineup.

"Had to be the only time a ballplayer ever turned down his money," Drabowsky said. "He didn't know what to do. But I got that $500 back many times."

Obviously intrigued, Finley, who had made his money in the insurance business, began using Drabowsky as a stock adviser. They had a four-year run together, said Drabowsky, whose commissions were sizable.

"He was throwing around a lot of money," Drabowsky said. "Of course, he'd never mail me a check. I'd have to go over to his XTC office to pick up the checks.

"One day, it was $285,000, the next day $452,000. One day, he sat down and wrote me a check for $1.2 million.

"On other days, he'd call me up and ask what I thought about a certain stock. I'd have our research department look into it, and I'd call him back and say, 'We recommended not buying, Charlie.'

"He'd say, 'Good, buy me 10,000 shares!' I'd argue, but I'd end up buying it for him. He was a classic contrarian."

He was also a stunningly original thinker. His ideas for improving the game and marketing his team were unusual, to say the least. Colorful (green and gold) uniforms, a mule mascot, orange baseballs, night World Series games, the designated runner, white shoes -- all were Finley's ideas.

"One day, we stood in front of the team hotel in Detroit and gave away green bats to people walking down the street," Drabowsky said.

"One year, we played an exhibition game in Birmingham [Ala.] with orange balls. It didn't last long, because the batters complained that they couldn't see the seams."

Finley came up with the idea for using orange balls while sitting in halfcut,r,13l,6p6Drabowskya traffic jam, Drabowsky said.

"He saw a policeman wearing bright orange gloves so drivers could see his hands better," Drabowsky said, "and he figured people could see an orange baseball better, too. He was always trying to come up with a better way."

A cheaper way, too. After showing a willingness to spend money early in his ownership career, he became baseball's most famed miser.

"He would throw away thousands and save pennies," Drabowsky said. "They gave us sandwiches in between games of a doubleheader, but Charlie would send out a guy to get eight-day-old bread to save 14 cents."

To save on his groundskeeping bill, Finley put a flock of sheep on the grass behind the ballpark. The sheep eliminated the need for a mower.

During games, Finley stationed a shepherd with the flock.

"Poor guy had to stand out there in a toga in 105-degree weather," Drabowsky said. "He made $5 a game and $7.50 for a doubleheader.

"Someone told him he was getting a bad deal on a doubleheader, so he went in to ask for more. Next thing we knew, the flock was unattended.

"At the same time, the [A's mascot] mule was riding around the country in an air-conditioned van. One time, I saw Charlie check the mule into the Americana Hotel in New York, ride up the elevator and take the mule into a suite of rooms for the night."

Finley's bizarre cheapness didn't make for the happiest clubhouse. His payroll was low. Negotiating a contract with him was no fun.

"We had to wear wedding-white uniforms on Sunday," Drabowsky said, "and I made sure I got out there during batting practice and dove around on the dirt after some ground balls. If I couldn't get any money out of him, at least I could run up a laundry bill."

Yet it didn't surprise Drabowsky when Finley moved to Oakland and won three World Series in the '70s.

"He was very right-brain; he got the big picture," Drabowsky said. "He listened to everyone around him and made his own decisions. He had vision.

"He was always thinking, very conceptual, always looking for solutions. Just a very unique individual. I hadn't talked to him in 10 or 15 years, but I'm glad I crossed his path."

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