Well, He Hands You A Nickel, He Hands You A Dime . . . Such was the way Maggie’s brother treated workers in Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” but Charles Oscar Finley doled out considerably more to the Beatles in 1964: $150,000.
Charles Oscar Finley longed to be adored, if not loved, though he acted despicably at times. He considered himself a self-made man and expected other men to meet his standards, even as those standards shifted wildly. In the mid-1940s, flat on his back with tuberculosis, Finley envisioned ways to make a fortune in the health insurance business. All Finley had to do was get well; then he could take on the world. He recovered well enough, making the big bucks and spending them in the public arena. Checkbook in hand, over a six-year period, Finley was set on buying a major league baseball team. After the end of the 1954 season, he came very close to purchasing the Philadelphia Athletics, for most of two decades the doormat of the American League, from Connie Mack and his family. However, Finley was outmaneuvered by Chicago businessman Arnold Johnson, who then moved the Athletics to Kansas City. Finley kept at it though, making bids to purchase the Detroit Tigers, then the Chicago White Sox, and the American League expansion team slated for Southern California, the Los Angeles Angels. Right after the “Singing Cowboy,” Gene Autry, was awarded purchasing rights to the Angels, Finley again cast his eyes on the Athletics, playing as woefully in Kansas City as they had in Philadelphia. For just under $2,000,000.00, Finley bought the Kansas City Athletics (A’s) prior to the 1961 season. Working the charm-offensive, Finley promised to “keep the A’s permanently in Kansas City and build a winning ball club.”
Over Finley’s first eight seasons as owner, the Athletics were nothing like a winning ball club. In the ’61, ’64 and ’65 seasons, for example, they lost a combined 308 games. The A’s, in their 13 years in Kansas City, never finished with a winning percentage better than .463, that being the ’66 season, when they finished 12 games under .500, yet showing some promise. It was during the ’66 season that two A’s pitchers, Jack Aker and Jim Nash graced the covers of The Sporting News — the “Baseball Bible!” But during the next season there were serious setbacks (some sad, others uproarious). Things got ugly, mostly because of Charlie Finley, but still, to those keeping up with the game in ’67, it was apparent the A’s had a solid future — in Kansas City or wherever.
Sing While You Slave. . . . Maggie, her brother, father and mother were exploitative bosses. As revealed by Bob Dylan, they doled out small change and contempt. Dylan’s ’65 recording, “Maggie’s Farm,” reflects the disdain and indifference directed at workers grinding out a living. A decade later, with “Catfish,” Dylan wrote of a more privileged and highly skilled worker, Jim “Catfish” Hunter. One of the finest pitchers in the history of major league baseball, Hunter, according to Dylan, worked on “Mr. Finley’s farm,” where “the old man wouldn’t pay.” Charles Oscar Finley, owner of the Oakland Athletics, failed to honor his contractual agreement with Hunter. That made Hunter a free agent. “He packed his arm and took his glove,” becoming a “million dollar man.” Finley’s parsimony and vanity got the best of him. He lost a workhorse of a pitcher who had won over 100 games for the Athletics in the 5 previous seasons. But as the Beatles found out, Finley wasn’t always so cheap. He saw an open date on their second American tour: September 17, 1964. Finley agreed to pay them $150,000 to play that evening at Kansas City Municipal Stadium, then the home of the A’s. The Beatles would’ve enjoyed their day off, but $150,000 was huge money then — even in the entertainment business. So just a few months before Dylan recorded “Maggie’s Farm,” the Beatles took the field in Kansas City and played at Finley’s farm.
Tickets to the concert read: CHARLES O. FINLEY IS PLEASED TO PRESENT FOR THE ENJOYMENT OF THE BEATLES FANS IN MID-AMERICA, “THE BEATLES” IN PERSON. Charles O. Finley wanted it known to Kansas Citians that he was responsible for bringing the Beatles to town. As far as he was concerned, it was time to score some PR points. He certainly hadn’t done so with the A’s in the four years since he purchased them, declaring, “My intentions are to keep the A’s permanently in Kansas City.” Actually, over those four years he considered moving the A’s to several cities: Louisville, Dallas, Atlanta, and Oakland. In fact, Finley, just a year earlier, guaranteed that if Atlanta built a new stadium near major highway exits south of its downtown, then a major league baseball team –presumably his A’s — would make the city its home. He was right; but it was the Milwaukee Braves, not the A’s, who in ’66 made Atlanta their new home. The Beatles, incidentally, played in Atlanta’s new stadium in August ’65, a few months after it was built, with Braves management already on site.
Charlie Finley, often referred to as Charlie O., a name he shared with his mule, was an American original. He was one of baseball’s most innovative and visionary owners but quite often an embarrassment to the game. The people of Kansas City were also embarrassed by him. Even bringing the Beatles to KC would win him no love. And Kansas Citians were especially embarrassed by his team. 1964 was the worst of the A’s thirteen seasons (’55-’67) since arriving from Philadelphia, winning only 57 games while losing 105, making the A’s only 4 games better than the New York Mets, then the laughingstock of sports.
Well I Try My Best To Be Just Like I Am . . . . In between vows of faithfulness to Kansas City, Finley often showed his contempt for the town. He told Atlanta Journal Sports Editor Furman Bisher, “This damn place don’t deserve big league baseball. It’s a hick town.” At least Finley was true to his word. For most of his years of ownership in Kansas City, the Athletics didn’t resemble a big league team. But he could always say he brought the Beatles to town.
Wishing to placate the denizens of the “hick town” and gain favor throughout the Midwest, the episodic Finley wildly overpaid the Beatles to play on what had been one of their few scheduled off days during their summer ’64 American tour. According to Larry Kane, author of When They Were Boys, The True Story Of The Beatles Rise To The Top, $50,000 to $80,000 was the usual Beatles concert fee on the ’64 tour. For $150,000 to do eleven songs, they’d pass on the day off. However, they didn’t count on a round of extended negotiations with Mr. Finley.
It occurred to Finley that since he was paying the Beatles so much money, they should play more songs. Of course, he thought of this after all the papers had been signed. That didn’t stop him from arguing the point, even if it meant dealing with a cocky and defiant John Lennon, suddenly eager to serve as the Beatles’ business manager. In the alcove of a parlor at the Muehlenbach Hotel in Kansas City, Finley pressed his case. Someone as self-important as Finley had to believe destiny was smiling upon him, as the Muehlenbach was a historic hotel, one that every President from Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan had visited. In talking with the Beatles, Finley assumed his own bully pulpit. Yet in John Lennon, Finley met his match. Larry Kane provides the play by play:
Much to the chagrin of manager Brian Epstein, John stared down the millionaire and steadfastly refused his request that the band sing a “few extra songs.” Finley quickly offered more money, and John immediately answered, “No, Chuck. Not enough (money), man. We won’t do it.” Finley upped the offer again, and a horrified Epstein, flushed with embarrassment, saw John look the storied baseball owner in the eye and say, “Chuck, no f—ing way.” At that point, Finley left the room in anger. Epstein, his honor shattered by John’s outburst, pleaded with the group to at least sing one extra song.
In Ticket To Ride, Kane’s 2003 book about the Beatles’ ’64 and ’65 American tours, Lennon is depicted as relishing the moment. He’s taking on Charlie Finley, insurance magnate and major league baseball owner. To Lennon, Finley represented the American Establishment, that club of rich guys who had made it big over the last two decades while the Beatles’ native England was still recovering from the toll of World War II. No matter how much Finley upped the fee, Lennon stood his ground: The Beatles would not play any additional songs. Yet Finley persisted. Kane writes:
But Finley wasn’t through. Just before the concert, he entered the Beatles’ dressing room to ask one more time but was told by Lennon, “Chuck, you shouldn’t have spent so much money on us.” Finley stormed out again. Acrimony was the order of the day.
Although Beatles road manager Mal Evans told Kane “not to bring my tape recorder,” he did witness and absorb the Finley-Lennon showdown. Kane, in a recent interview with Like The Dew, said Lennon was “extremely nasty,” even as Finley asked, “How about another 25K?” $25,000 more was a pittance when Lennon thought of the fun he was having, so he goaded Finley more, “No, go higher, Chuck.” Realizing he couldn’t intimidate Lennon as he would one of his players or a municipality, Finley gave up. A few minutes later, Kane walked over to Lennon and asked him why he had given Finley such a hard time. “I just didn’t particularly like him,” Lennon responded.
The fans who paid to see Finley’s team at Municipal Stadium, as well as many of his players and managers, would approve of Lennon’s sentiments. As owner of the A’s, Finley’s modus operandi was to threaten and belittle those who worked for him and show contempt for those who paid to see his team at least try to win some games. In those days, Finley was, at best, mercurial. He could reveal a generous side only to obscure it soon enough with acts of greed and stubbornness. For example: though he lost money on the Beatles concert, he gave $25,000 of the proceeds to the Childrens Mercy Hospital in Kansas City; that wasn’t long before he stated he would meet with his board of directors about moving the Athletics out of town. His board of directors was his wife and 7 children: the oldest age 22, the youngest age 6.
Even though Lennon “didn’t particularly like” Finley, he may, if he followed Finley in the American sports pages in the years ahead, have come to grudgingly admire the guy’s accomplishments. In the early to mid-60s, Finley and his baseball people began signing some of the most talented young players in the country, Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue, Bert Campaneris, Rollie Fingers, John “Blue Moon” Odum and Sal Bando. Shrewd trades were made for established players. Shaking the dust of Kansas City off his feet, Finley took the Athletics to Oakland in ’68, where things began to jell –so much so the Athletics won three straight consecutive World Series (’72, ’73, ’74), a feat unmatched only once since (The New York Yankees won three straight World Series beginning in ’98). The Oakland Athletics, for at least a decade, under Finley, were not only a great team, but a colorful, controversial, and always intriguing one. They were like characters from an epic novel, and, of course, Lennon appreciated a compelling story as much as anyone.
On that night in September ’64, Finley bristled, thinking John Lennon got the best of him. It may have been that Finley went to his grave in February ’96, still fuming over Lennon calling him “Chuck,” all the while goading him over the money he paid the Beatles for that one Kansas City gig. And while he wasn’t fuming, scheming, manipulating or even planning a thoughtful deed, he may have given Lennon, gone for a decade and a half by then, his due. He might also have taken the liberty of making favorable comparisons. Finley built a business and championship ball clubs. Lennon was the backbone of what he called, in a song he wrote for Ringo Starr, “the greatest show on earth.” With his artistic achievements and public persona, he built a legacy which resonates now as much as ever, even though he’s been gone just 5 years less than the 40 years he lived. Finley could also ponder how Lennon, like himself, could irritate and offend the established order; but unlike Finley, people still loved John Lennon. As Larry Kane told us recently, Lennon was the “most acidic, hostile, most controversial, but he was the one you liked the most.”
Kane was very fortunate to witness the Finley-Lennon showdown. It was a real life moment the political satirist Edward Sorel would’ve enjoyed conjuring for one of his illustrations in The Atlantic Monthly. Kane also got a first hand look at how the matter played out — to the delight of everyone, maybe even Finley. After Finley stormed away, Mal Evans walked up to Kane and said, “I think we’re gonna do something special for them.” The Beatles did. Their concert opener that evening was “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey- Hey,” which they would record a month later for their Beatles for Sale* album. Millionaire Charlie Finley would’ve been hard pressed to come up with the money that the thrill of Paul McCartney singing, “I’m going to Kansas City…” was worth to over 20,000 in Municipal Stadium that evening**. Indeed, as Evans told Kane, it was “something special.”
* Released in the UK in December ’64″Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey” appeared on Beatles VI, released in America in June ’65.
**The inclusion of “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey” is documented in Larry Kane’s Ticket To Ride, and confirmed by Kane in a 2013 interview with this site. It is documented in the Charlie Finley biography by G. Michael Green and Roger D. Launius, and it’s also cited in The Beatles Bible.
Author’s Note: Recommended reading on the subjects covered in this story include When They Were Boys, Ticket To Ride, and Lennon Revealed, all by Larry Kane and Charlie Finley, The Outrageous Story of Baseball’s Supershowman by G. Michael Green and Roger D. Launius, Charlie O and the Angry A’s by Bill Libby, Charlie O. by Herbert Michelson and Champagne and Baloney by Tom Clark. A special thanks goes to Larry Kane for taking the time to talk with us about “the greatest show on earth.”
Images: All of the photos in this story are promotional/fair use.