Another Owner Who Can’t Get Out of His Own Way
On Aug. 20, 1961, the Kansas City Athletics played the Chicago White Sox in a home doubleheader. Unsurprisingly, the A’s were swept — that was yet another terrible A’s team — but the big news came before the game, as fans awaited the rescheduled fireworks show. A specially designed truck entered Municipal Stadium and circled the outfield so that everyone could see it.
The truck had an 8-by-12-foot mural of Ernie Mehl, the sports editor of the Kansas City Star. On it, he was dipping a quill pen into an inkwell marked “poison ink.” Above it, the words “Ernie Mehl Appreciation Day,” appeared. And on the doors, there were more words: “1961 Poison Pen Award.”
This was all the doing of the A’s owner, Charlie Finley, who had grown obsessed with Ernie Mehl’s criticism of the team. To be fair to Finley — and it’s not easy to be fair to Finley, who was, in 1961, perhaps the most incompetent owner in baseball history — Mehl was publicly exposing him on a daily basis.
“There has never been a baseball operation such as this,” Mehl wrote three days before the Poison Pen truck. “Nothing so bizarre, so impossibly incongruous. … Had the ownership made a deliberate attempt to sabotage a baseball operation, it could not have succeeded as well.”
Mehl reported that Finley fired manager Joe Gordon only “a day or two after the owner lauded him as one of the great managers in the sport.” He reported that players had basically given up and wanted nothing more than for the season to end. He reported that scouts were about to quit en masse. He reported that general manager Frank Lane, who Finley hired in January and continuously called the “greatest general manager in baseball,” was losing his mind (“Are we working for the same ballclub?” he reportedly asked Finley), and would not be with the team much longer. He and fellow reporter Joe McGuff reported that even though Finley was publicly threatening to move the team to Dallas, the actual city of Dallas had never actually heard from him.
And so on.
Everything Mehl reported was true, as you probably guessed. Finley would fire Lane just three days after the truck thing (“It’s a great relief,” Lane said) and hired a 37-year-old guy named Pat Friday, who had been the team treasurer for eight months and had no experience whatsoever in baseball. Six scouts did quit. The move-to-Dallas threat was a hoax.
But Finley’s ire was focused entirely on Mehl. He was obsessed with Mehl.
After the truck thing, commissioner Ford Frick flipped out and called Mehl to apologize “both personally and in the name of baseball.” He then demanded that Finley explain himself. “Such things do not belong in baseball,” he said.
Finley responded by sending a 20-page letter to Frick basically saying that if anyone was due an apology, it was him.
Charlie Finley. What a prince.
I thought about all of this on Monday, when Awful Announcing reported that Baltimore’s lead TV announcer Kevin Brown had been quietly and indefinitely suspended by Baltimore Orioles owner John Angelos. Why? If Awful Announcing’s reporting is accurate — and I’m guessing here that it is, especially because former announcing icon Roy Firestone confirmed it — the reason is so ridiculous, so absurd, so pitiful that it boggles the mind.
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