Rollie Fingers still takes pioneer route

By Todd Dewey, Contributor

He still sports one of the most recognizable mustaches in sports history - only now it's as a relief specialist on the links, not on the diamond, where Hall of Fame pitcher Rollie Fingers helped lead the swashbuckling Oakland A's to three straight World Series titles in the early 1970s.

Fingers, a native of California who moved to Southern Nevada six years ago to work for Bill Walters -- who owns several golf courses in Las Vegas, including Bali Hai, Royal Links and Desert Pines -- left Walters Golf after less than a year, but recently got involved in the golf business again, as a partner in a company that distributes a new enzyme-based product, Oxypond, which cleans up lakes.

Fingers, also a part-owner of Trophy's, a sports-themed restaurant in Green Valley Ranch Station Casino in Henderson, said a recent test on a murky lake at the Oasis Country Club in Mesquite, Nevada, went extremely well.

"The algae was so bad you could almost walk across it, but we put (Oxypond) in, and after six weeks it was clear as a bell," said Fingers, now 57 and a 5-handicap. "This stuff will take off. There's no question in my mind on that. People are a little skeptical at first, but once we put it in and they see what it does, they're amazed."

Fingers, who said local courses slated to implement Oxypond include Shadow Creek, Bali Hai and, possibly, Cascata, knows firsthand the challenge of being a pioneer.

Fingers, a Cy Young Award winner, an American League MVP and a seven-time All-Star in a distinguished 17-year professional baseball career, helped pioneer the role of the relief pitcher, carving his niche as a closer.

"It wasn't a glamourous job back then. If you were a relief pitcher, you were a has-been starter, more or less," said Fingers, who broke into the bigs as a clean-shaven starting pitcher for the A's in 1968.

It wasn't until spring training 1972 that Fingers grew his mustache, along with several teammates, in hopes it would lead to the removal of Reggie Jackson's beard. The move backfired, though, as flamboyant A's owner Charlie Finley embraced the idea.

"He offered us $300 if we had a mustache on Opening Day and that's the only reason we had mustaches," Fingers said. "We started winning, so we didn't want to mess up the apple cart and we kept our mustaches. We won the Series in '72, '73 and '74, so it was tough to shave it off after that."

Fingers said he grew his trademark handlebar mustache just to be unique.

"I was just being different," he said. "Everyone else was growing regular mustaches and I thought I'd do it different, so I let it grow and put wax on it and it's been with me ever since."

Ironically, a debate over facial hair marked the end of Fingers' illustrious career, in which he posted a 2.90 ERA in 944 games and 1,701 1/3 innings. He retired with a then-record 341 saves and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.

Fingers said he would've played another season had the late Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott not insisted he shave off his mustache.

"Pete Rose wanted me in camp in 1986 and I said I'd love to. The general manager called me the next day and said he looked forward to seeing me in camp, but there was just one thing - I had to shave off my mustache," Fingers said. "I asked what did that have to do with my ability to pitch and he said Marge Schott didn't allow facial hair. I told him to tell her to shave her St. Bernard and I'll shave my mustache."

The 6-foot-4 Fingers, who still looks like he can get some batters out, possessed a sharp slider in his playing days and excelled in the World Series. In 16 games in the Fall Classic, he went 2-2 with six saves and a 1.35 ERA. Fingers was named World Series MVP in 1974.

Fingers posted a 1.92 ERA in 1973 and recorded a career-high 37 saves in 1977, for the San Diego Padres.

Fingers, who routinely pitched four innings of relief and once went eight innings, capped off his career with the Milwaukee Brewers, capturing both the American League Cy Young and MVP awards in the strike-shortened 1981 campaign, going 6-3 with 28 saves and a career-low 1.04 ERA.

"Nowadays, every team's got a great closer. In any one given year, anyone can shine over anything I did," he said. "But the key to my career was the longevity of it, doing it year after year after year - that's the hardest part - hanging around 17 or 18 years."

Fingers, who hit a pair of home runs in last year's Celebrity Softball Game during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, said he grew tired of the travel pro baseball demands, but would consider a coaching gig in spring training.

Fingers likely won't participate in this year's All-Star festivities, as he and wife Lori are expecting their third child in mid-July.

When Fingers isn't busy with his family and business interests, he finds time to hit the links, where his handicap has been as low as 1.

He met Walters when they were both members at the same country club in San Diego, The Farms, and worked in group sales for him in Las Vegas until he tired of the traffic.

The two remain friends, though, and Fingers said Walters gave him a lifetime membership to all his courses, with Bali Hai, a spectacular course located on The Strip and open to the public, his favorite.

"I like Bali Hai, and it's close to the house. Anyone can get on there and you're not going to find one nicer than that," Fingers said. "Royal Links is nice, too, if you like deep sand traps and hard greens."

"We lived next door to a golf course that was private and we didn't have the money to play, so we'd sneak out there all the time, after school. I'd get chased off there three times a week," he said.

Fingers has played on the Celebrity Players Tour for more than a decade, with a plethora of other former pro athletes, and has placed as high as third.

Todd Dewey, Contributor

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