Legendary Hall of Fame relief pitcher Rollie Fingers recently came out with a new book entitled Rollie’s Follies: A Hall of Fame Revue of Lists and Lore, Stories and Stats from Baseball’s Most Famous Moustache. The book is, like the title says, a collection of some of Rollie’s favorite stories and statistics that he learned of or experienced during his famed 17 year career in baseball. Besides being one of the greatest relief pitchers to ever play the game, Rollie easily solidified himself as having one of the greatest, if not the greatest mustache in baseball history. He kindly spoke with The Wright Stache’s very own Teufel Stubble about the new book, baseball, and of course…mustaches. Check out the conversation below:
TWS: Maybe we’ll start out talking about the book a bit. The book has a lot of anecdotes, the lighter side of baseball, players joking around and things like that. Do you have one favorite story from the book?
RF: Probably the one about striking out Johnny Bench in the World Series on the fake pitchout. Even today people come up to me and ask me “were you the guy pitching on the mound when Bench was hitting and you struck him out on the fake pitchout”. That story is in the book. Johnny and I are real good friends. I never bring it up to him unless he brings it up first.
TWS: Alright, that’s gentlemanly of you.
RF: Yeah. It’s one of the most embarrassing moments on the field. That’s one of the ones I like.
TWS: And it involves you, which is always helpful.
RF: Yeah, definitely.
TWS: How actively are you following baseball these days?
RF: A little bit. I watch the ball clubs that I used to play for – the Padres and the Brewers are doing real well. They’re kind of so-so right now, but I guess the Padres are on a real hot streak right now winning 10 in a row. So I’ve been watching them. I haven’t talked to the ball players on the team or guys that I’ve played with because I’ve been out of the game for so long, but you still have those ties to the cities that you’ve played with. So I watch Milwaukee and San Diego just to see how they’re doing.
TWS: Sure. Do you think that this generation of players joke around and has the same type of relationship with each other that players had when you were active?
RF: I’m sure that they still have the camaraderie in the clubhouse and whatnot. The difference between when I played and today is the free agency. Guys jump from one ball club to another. When I was with the Oakland A’s before free agency, all of us guys came up through the Minor Leagues together. We were more or less a family. We came up from the time that I signed in 1964 until I left in 1976 basically playing with the same guys every single year. Even when I got to the big leagues in 1968, we had the same lineup in ‘68 as we did in ‘76 more or less. But nowadays you don’t see that because of free agency. Guys will be on the team for 3 or 4 years maybe and become a free agent and go elsewhere. I think it was much more of a family type of thing when I was playing than it is today.
TWS: Got you. When you were playing, were closers as respected and revered and considered as special as they are now or was it a whole different attitude towards closers back then?
RF: Back then not every team had what you would call a closer. You had relief pitchers, but it kind of started around the time I got into the big leagues. There were a couple of guys prior to myself: Clay Carroll, Dave Giusti, Jim Konstanty, and Hoyt Wilhelm. These guys were considered closers, I guess you would say, but nothing specialized until we started doing it in the late 60s and early 70s that’s when I, Goose Gossage, Sparky Lyle, and those kinds of guys came into play. We kind of started the whole thing. Dan Quisenberry and Kent Tekulve, I mean the list goes on. After around 1972 or 1973, I think organizations realized that they better have a closer in a bullpen, they better have somebody down there that can 2-3-4 innings and shut down the opposing team otherwise you’re not going to win. That’s how it all evolved.
TWS: Had you envisioned yourself coming up in baseball that you would eventually be a specialty pitcher? What did you think of it at first?
RF: Heck no. I was on my way out of baseball. I was a starting pitcher. I got into the big leagues as a starting pitcher in 1971. I couldn’t get out of the 3rd inning or the 2nd inning. I was getting knocked all over the place. Dick Williams, our manager, said “that’s it; you’re out of the rotation.” He threw me down into the bullpen. I was more of a mop up guy. I was pitching in ballgames where we were losing by 6 or 7 runs just to finish the game. We had a game in New York where we were playing the Yankees, and I’m the only guy left in the bullpen. He had to use me in the game, we just happened to come back from an 11-3 deficit to be winning 13-11, so he had to use me. I pitched 2 shutout innings and got a save. The next night he brought me into another ballgame, and I pitched 2 or 3 innings and got another save. He called me into the office and said “from now on you’re my closer.” I was happy as heck. I was getting guys out. I was enjoying it. I liked coming in at save situations.
TWS: So it saved your career basically?
RF: Oh yeah, without a doubt. I was going to go back to Sears and Roebuck. That’s where I was at.
TWS: So I’ve heard that you initially grew your mustache because Charlie Finley was offering up a $300 bonus.
RF: I never had a mustache before, and 300 bucks was a week’s salary back then. Guys would grow a mustache in for $300. That’s why we started growing mustaches. That was in Spring Training in 1972.
TWS: Why did he even have the idea?
RF: Reggie Jackson came to Spring Training with a mustache, and he wouldn’t shave it off. All the guys got on him, and he wouldn’t shave off the mustache. So we decided, me, Catfish Hunter, Darold Knowles and 3 or 4 pitchers, to grow mustaches. We thought that if we grew mustaches that our manager, Dick Williams, would say “alright that’s it, shave those mustaches off” then Reggie would have to shave his off. That’s the only reason why we started growing them. Charlie Finley caught wind of what was going on with the mustaches and thought it was a great idea. He told everybody in the club that if they had a mustache on opening day they would get $300. At the time, there was no facial hair in the big leagues, so we started it all. At the beginning of the season we started off 10 and 2 or 11 and 3 or something. We were winning. The press ate it up. They loved the mustache thing. They loved the long hair, the white shoes, the goofy uniforms, that and we were always fighting. We packed houses on the road. We would draw less than a million at home, and we’d go on the road and get 2.5 million. It was crazy.
TWS: Well now you see why we want David Wright to grow one.
RF: Hey if you can get a few more hits by growing a mustache, then go for it.
TWS: Exactly. Once the handlebar mustache became your signature and everyone kind of knew you for it, did Finley want in on any of the action for that? Did he take credit for it?
RF: No. Charlie took credit for us growing mustaches, but it wasn’t him who came up with the idea. We came up with the idea before him to grow them. So he didn’t get in on any of the credit for that.
TWS: How did you end up deciding on growing a handlebar mustache?
RF: I just wanted to be different. Everyone in the ball club was just growing a regular mustache. Maybe it would come down along the side of their lips and maybe to their chin a little bit like a fu manchu type mustache. I was just being different. I wanted to see what a handlebar mustache looked like, so I started growing the handlebar. We got to the World Series in ‘72, and everybody saw me pitching on TV with all the air coverage and TV coverage, and I did well. Baseball players are the most superstitious animals in the world. I had to keep it after the ‘72 Series, and then we won the ‘73 Series, and then the ‘74 Series. It’s kind of tough to cut it off after 3 straight world championships, but I was just being different just to see what it would look like.
TWS: Since then, have you ever gone without a mustache?
RF: Nope. I never had it off since Spring Training of 1972. I’ve had the handlebar mustache everyday. I came close to shaving it off one day in Baltimore; I lost both ends of a double header on 2 pitches. Frank Robinson hit a homerun in the first game. I came back in the second game and threw the first pitch to Brooks Robinson, and he hit a homerun. I got 2 losses on 2 pitches, and I had the razor right there. I decided not to do it.
TWS: Do you go through a tremendous amount of mustache wax every year having the handlebar mustache?
RF: Not really. I’ll go through a tube maybe every month or so. I just do it in the morning. I do it once a day. A tube will last me a month or 3 weeks, something like that. I get a box of mustache wax at the beginning of every year, and it will last me all year long.
TWS: Do you have a wax sponsor? Have you been approached by sponsors?
RF: Nope, never been approached by any sponsor at all. I use Pinauds clear mustache wax for 30 years. No one has ever contacted me about doing any kind of promotion. I guess there isn’t really too much of a demand for mustache wax.
TWS: It’s a bygone era I suppose.
RF: Yeah, really.
TWS: You said that no one had mustaches in baseball until you guys started growing them. It does all seem to be cyclical. There were mustaches when the game was created in the 1800s and then you guys brought them back. Then they were popular in the 70s and the 80s. Do you see mustaches making a comeback? A couple of players have experimented, but do you see mustaches making a baseball comeback?
RF: There are mustaches in the big leagues now. There are a lot of guys with mustaches. A couple of the teams don’t allow facial hair. I think the Yankees might be one. I think Cincinnati doesn’t allow facial hair. What are you going to do? That’s the organization. Today it’s no problem; if a guy wants to grow a mustache then he’ll grow one. No one is going to say anything. I think there are more guys growing them than not growing them. I don’t know what the ratio is with big league ball players with mustaches, but I’m sure there are quite a few of them out there.
TWS: What is it with closers and mustaches? There seems to be a disproportionate amount throughout the years of closers who have sported some sort of mustache.
RF: I don’t know, maybe it makes them look meaner or something. You look at Goose Gossage with the mustache he had, and Bruce Sutter with the beard and mustache. Maybe you looked a little meaner and a little more intimidating with the mustache. I don’t know how you could be intimidated by the handlebar mustache, but maybe I was. I think that’s the reason why pitchers have them.
TWS: There’s a young guy on Arizona right now named Clay Zavada who has a handlebar mustache.
RF: I didn’t know that.
TWS: I just happened upon that the other day actually.
RF: Does he get anybody out?
TWS: So far so good. He’s no Rollie Fingers, but he’s doing alright. He’s hanging in.
RF: I’ll have to check it out and see how he’s looking.
TWS: Yeah. You said that your career wasn’t doing all that well before you were a closer. Did you feel differently pre and post mustache? Did you feel hitters were intimidated by it?
RF: I don’t know if they were intimidated by it. I think they were more intimidated by my abilities as a ball player. Being a closer, the more successful you are, the more intimidating you are. It kind of came up together with me – having the mustache and being able to get guys out in the closer role. Whether or not the mustache is intimidating them or not, I don’t know, but the fact that I was getting guys out consistently, that’s where the intimidation comes in. When you got one strike on the hitter before he steps into the box then you’re successful. I don’t know if the mustache had anything to do with it or not, it just came with the package.
TWS: You and Keith Hernandez are two of the more famous baseball mustaches. Do you think you have the better mustache than Keith Hernandez?
RF: Without a doubt. Are you kidding me? I guess he won the mustache contest. They had a big mustache contest right?
TWS: He did. The American Mustache Institute had best sports mustache of all time, and Keith Hernandez beat you.
RF: I didn’t even know he had a mustache at the time. I didn’t know he had a mustache that he kept for any length of time.
TWS: Did you ever pitch against Keith?
RF: I don’t know if I ever faced Keith or not. I don’t know what year he came up in the big leagues. I know he was with the Mets, but I can’t remember if I pitched against him. I was in the American League at the end of my career. He was with St. Louis too.
TWS: Right he won an MVP out there.
RF: I was in the American League when he was in the National, so I wouldn’t have faced him. I’d have to check and see and go through a bunch of statistics to see if I did. In fact, I got a thing right here. I got a printout of everybody I faced in the big leagues.
RF: Yes. I faced him 11 times. He got 2 hits, 1 double, I struck him out 3 times, and he hit a .182 off me.
TWS: Seems like you won that battle on the field.
RF: I did better than him on the field.
TWS: You won that one.
RF: Yeah, he’s 2 for 11 off of me and I struck him out 3 times.
TWS: That’s all that really matters at the end of the day.
RF: Yep, that’s bragging rights.
TWS: For a young player like David and we’re trying to get him to grow a mustache, what type of advice would you give someone who is just entering the world of mustaches?
RF: Well first you would have to be able to grow one. If you can grow one and it looks halfway decent, then you just try different types, maybe you’ll grow a fu manchu or something like that or something straight across your upper lip. You have to make sure that it is well trimmed so that it looks nice and people will accept it. Who knows, maybe he’ll look good. You have to look good with a mustache too. If he doesn’t look good with one, maybe he won’t grow one. You have to keep it trimmed; you have to make it look nice. I don’t know how women feel about mustaches. Maybe some women like them and some don’t. Who knows?
TWS: That’s what I was going to ask you. Did you find over the years that your mustache made you more or less popular with the ladies?
RF: I never even worried about that stuff. My wife liked it, and as long as she liked it that was fine with me.
TWS: Do you think she would hate it if you got rid of it?
RF: I don’t know. I’m afraid of what I’d look like without it. I’m afraid to cut it off. I might have to get a picture and have someone do something on the computer so I could see what I would look like without it.
TWS: Are there any circumstances that you could imagine where you would get rid of it?
RF: No, not really. I’m kind of stuck with it right now because I’ve gotten so used to it. I can put mustache wax on in 15 or 20 seconds and have it up and running. It’s something that I can do real quickly, and it’s no bother to me. If it was a big bother to me all the time then I might get rid of it, but it’s no bother.
TWS: Got you. You won the MVP and the Cy Young awards in 1981. It was a strike shortened season. Were your trophies the same size as a regular full length season?
RF: Oh yeah. They were the same size. No different. [Chuckles]
TWS: Do you still display those? Do you still have those trophies?
RF: Oh yeah. I have an office at home, and I’ve got all my awards in my office. I did have some restaurants where I displayed them, but then I took them all out and brought them home. That’s where they’re at.
TWS: If you ever were to get rid of your mustache, could I have it?
RF: [Laughter] Could you have it? I don’t know, I might sell it hair by hair. Maybe you can have one hair out of the Rollie Fingers mustache for 1000 bucks.