In my baseball history post yesterday, I mentioned two Kansas City pitchers with great nicknames: Jim “Catfish” Hunter and John “Blue Moon” Odom. If you got the impression that K.C. owner Charlie Finley liked pitchers with colorful nicknames, you are right.
Hunter says “Catfish” was a nickname Finley bestowed on him. The pitcher recalled:
[Finley] told me, “A player’s got to have a nickname,” and he asked me what I liked to do. “Hunting and fishing,” I said, and he said, “Let’s call you “Catfish”. . .
“The story is, when you were 6 years old you ran away from home to fish and by the time your parents got to you you’d caught two catfish and were just about to bring in a third. Got that? Now you repeat it to me.”
Odom, by contrast, had been called “Blue Moon” since the fifth grade. The nickname was legit and fabulous.
Whitey Herzog told the story of how Finley’s nickname obsession factored into the attempt to sign Don Sutton to a contract with Kansas City. Finley wouldn’t meet Sutton’s asking price and Sutton wouldn’t budge. Hoping to break the stalemate, Herzog made one more run at persuading ownership to give Sutton the bonus.
Herzog was informed that Finley might pay more for a pitcher with a great nickname. Whitey passed the message to Sutton. He replied:
Heck, I don’t care. Tell him my name is Pussyface Sutton if you want. Just get me the money.
“Pussyface Sutton” never happened. Don Sutton signed with the Dodgers and had a Hall of Fame career. He pitched a complete game victory against Finley’s team in Game 2 of the 1974 World Series (won by the A’s). He took a no-decision in the final game (Game 5). Blue Moon Odom picked up the win.
In 1971, Finley wanted to change the name of Vida Blue, a third ace on Finley’s championship teams, to “True Blue.” He offered Blue $2,000.
Blue did not accept, nor should he have. “Vida Blue” is more colorful.
Finley instructed the A’s radio and television announcers to refer to Blue by the nickname. Blue asked them to stop. He also asked the team’s public-relations people not to refer to him as True Blue in press releases or to use the name on the scoreboard. This situation is said to have caused the friction between Blue and Finley that led to a major dispute after the end of the season, as described here.
There was only one Charlie Finley. Thank God.