The Barnum of Baseball

Lucas Reilly
Ryan Inzana
Ryan Inzana / Ryan Inzana

Charlie Finley worked as an insurance salesman, but he never insured himself. At 28, he contracted a nearly fatal case of tuberculosis, and his health—and bank account—suffered. Finley was hospitalized for two years, rendering him destitute. Then he had an idea.

While in the sanitorium, Finley used his sob story to convince doctors to buy disability insurance—and boy, did they! Within a few years, Finley was a multimillionaire, and in 1960, he bought the downtrodden Kansas City Athletics.

Finley immediately became one of the league’s most eccentric owners. In 1963, he replaced the Athletics’ old elephant mascot with a live mule named Charlie-O. Finley brought the mule everywhere, from cocktail parties to press conferences. In 1965, relief pitchers were required to ride Charlie-O from the bullpen to the pitcher’s mound.

Three years later, Finley moved the team to Oakland, California. In 1972, he offered a $300 bonus to the player who grew the best moustache. By Father’s Day, all 25 of his players were sporting lip mittens—but Rollie Fingers’s handlebar bristles won the prize.

Fans ate it up, but the stunts motivated the players, too: Starting that year, the A’s won three straight World Series titles.

This story originally appeared in an issue of mental_floss magazine. Subscribe here.