Commissioner recalls Finley's fire sales in the '70s
By Peter Gammons Special to ESPN.com
Bud Selig remembers the night of June 15, 1976.
The then-owner of the Milwaukee Brewers remembers it well, in fact.
Bud Selig (with Donald Fehr) recalled his dealings with Charlie Finley.
"I was trying to get Sal Bando," said Selig. "Charlie Finley answered the phone, 'Finley's Meat Market.' He told me he wanted between $1 million and $1.5 million for Bando. I told him I'd give him prospects, that I had some good prospects.
"He told me, 'I don't want any prospects, what would I do with them?'," Selig recalled. "I tried to suggest that he needed players to put on the field, and he told me to forget it."
That afternoon, Finley had extracted $2 million from the Boston Red Sox for Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers, and $1.5 million from the New York Yankees for Vida Blue. In Boston -- courtesy of then-general manager Dick O'Connell's notes, provided by the Yawkey Foundation -- the Red Sox had tried several combinations of trades involving players and money ranging from a 5-for-5 involving some of Boston's potential free agents (including reigning MVP/Rookie of the year Fred Lynn) to a 3-for-2 that would have sent $2 million, catcher Andy Merchant, outfielder Rick Miller and pitcher Jim Willoughby for Rudi and Fingers.
"Finley says forget the damn players," O'Connell noted on June 14.
That night 27 years ago flashed across Selig's mind when he heard at 12:30 a.m. ET on Thursday that the Reds had shipped Aaron Boone and Gabe White to the Yankees for Brandon Claussen and $3 million. He talked to Sandy Alderson and told him that he would not approve it.
Alderson called Selig at 9:30 a.m. ET on Thursday to tell him that both the Yankees and Reds asked that he reconsider. "No way," Selig said. "There's no way that they're going to exceed the $1 million limit."
Selig did agree to talk to Reds owner Carl Lindner and Yankees president Randy Levine. "They made their cases, but I made mine in pretty strong terms," says Selig. "I told them that they'd have to restructure the deals with prospects and do it with Sandy. They weren't happy about it, and I probably used some choice language, but this is all part of a competitive balance problem that this industry faces."
In the end, the Yankees agreed to add pitcher Charlie Manning and make it $1 million in cash for Boone. They split off Gabe White, made it $400,000 and added low-level prospects.
"So I at least got it cut in half," says the Commissioner. "The Boston deal (for Scott Williamson) exceeded the $1 million limit ($1.25 million), but that was our error and we'll work it out.
"Look, I understand that players being sold off like this is a serious concern, and something that troubles fans -- and me," said Selig. "But there's only so much I can do. I tried to do something."
It is not lost on Selig that the same two teams that bought Rudi, Fingers and Blue at the 1976 deadline filled Lindner's pockets with $2.65 million as he unloaded his best pitcher and his best player.
"I thought about that immediately when I got word of the Boone deal," says Selig. "How could I not think about it? I was trying to get Sal Bando and all I was offering was players when all Charlie wanted was cash."