A tall, lanky southpaw from Louisiana, Chuck Finley spent more than a decade toiling for the hapless California/Anaheim Angels organization as their ace before being traded to a perennial pennant contender in the offensive laden Cleveland Indians. The 6'6" lefty spent 14 years in one team's uniform, the third-longest of active players (behind Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn) when he finally left Edison Field in December 1999.
Having learned to use his left-handed status to his advantage, Finley dominated his hitters (especially left-handed ones) with dipping forkballs, good fastballs, and commanding slurves. Though a fine athlete, the Indians southpaw had a poor jump off the mound due to his awkward height, and was long considered one of the worst-fielding pitchers in the AL.
Finley's first call to the bigs came in 1986, at the request of then-manager Gene Mauch, who was in the middle of piloting the team to the pennant (where they would eventually lose to the Boston Red Sox). The tall 23-year-old came up, having only pitched 50 innings in professional ball. It didn't matter - Mauch made the right choice, and the Angels never looked back. By 1988, Finley was entrenched in the Angels rotation. Though his first season as a full-fledged starter saw him compile a 9-15 record with a 4.17 ERA, California - and the rest of the American League - knew he had a fantastic arm. Finley's former battery mate, Bob Boone, told him that if he pitched inside, he'd establish himself as a premier pitcher. Finley did, and the next year, had a breakthrough season, going 16-9, hurling nine complete games, and tallying a 2.57 ERA, the second-lowest in the AL. In 1990, Finley repeated his command performance, winning 18 games with a 2.40 ERA, and firmly establishing himself as the Angels' ace.
Unfortunately, by that time, the Angels were out of contention for the west, and would never regain the powerhouse status that they had in '86, Finley's inaugural season. For the next decade, the southpaw struggled for recognition on a team with little more starting pitching than Finley himself. Then in 1997, it looked like the Angels were finally going to compete with Seattle for the AL West title. But bad luck caught up with Finley when he broke his left wrist backing up home plate on a routine play. His season-ending injury put a stop to his ten consecutive wins that year, and Anaheim finished in second place.
After two minor league rehab starts in April 1998, Finley returned as Anaheim's number one starter. Once the Seattle Mariners shipped Randy Johnson to the Houston Astros mid-season of that same year, it was generally accepted that the Angels pitcher was the top lefty in the AL. Unfortunately, lack of run support cost Finley some respect - his 11 wins at the end of the season belied a low (relative to the league) ERA of 3.39, not to mention a monster 212 strikeouts.
Finley was as loyal to his one team as anyone could expect: even with the Angels in the doldrums, he re-signed with the team in the beginning of '96. But when his contract ran out in November 1999, he opted for free agency, seeking a winner as he hit the sunset of his career. The big lefty signed with the powerhouse Cleveland Indians in December of that year, hoping to make it to the postseason. As luck would have it, despite Finley's 16 wins, the Indians were dethroned as AL Central champs for the first time since the strike-shortened 1994 campaign.
However, not even Finley's limited October appearances could disguise his performance over a decade and a half. When he left the Angels, Finley was the franchise leader in wins, innings pitched, and games pitched, and was second in strikeouts to the king, Nolan Ryan. As testimony to his workhorse capabilities, at the end of the 2000 season, Finley had logged nine 200+ innings, especially impressive in an age of omnipresent injuries. (ME/AG)
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FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»November 11, 1990: California's Chuck Finley and Seattle's Randy Johnson combine to pitch a no-hitter in the finale of an 8-game exhibition series between American and Japanese all-star teams. But Japan still wins the series 4-3 with one tie, the first time since 1970 that a touring US team has left Japan with a losing record.
»September 28, 1995:
The Angels Mark Langston holds the A's to six hits and one run in six 2/3 innings, as California wins 4–1 to keep their division hopes alive The Angels, in first place for 124 days, beat Seattle 2–0 on Wednesday, the 27th, behind the strong pitching of Chuck Finley.
»July 6, 1997: At Anaheim, Chuck Finley allows four hits and strikes out 13 to lead the Angels to an 8–0 shut out over the Mariners. Dave Hollins fourth inning grand slam is the big blow, while Darin Erstad also homers, the first by a lefty off Jeff Fassero (8-5) in over three years. Tim Salmon also hits a solo homer in the third, his third in three games. Fassero left the game earlier in the 3rd inning after spraining his right ankle fielding Craig Grebeck's bunt single.
»April 1, 1998:
The Angels put together a four run rally in the 4th to hand the Yankees a 4–1 opening day defeat. Matt Walbeck's two RBI triple was the big hit in the game. Chuck Finley earned the win as he gave up a run on four hits and six walks in seven IP, with seven K's. Chuck Knoblauch entered the record books as he played his 1000th game at 2B and set the American League record for highest career fielding percentage.
»May 12, 1999:
The Angels edge the Yankees, 1-0, behind the combined 3-hit pitching of Chuck Finley and Troy Percival. Finley fans 11 Yankees in his eight innings of work, including four in the 3rd inning to become the 33rd pitcher in history to strike out four in a single frame.
»May 23, 1999:
Tampa Bay rookie P Ryan Rupe holds the Angels to one hit in nine innings, but leaves the game in a scoreless tie. Anaheim scores four runs in the 10th off Roberto Hernandez to win the game by a score of 4-0. Chuck Finley hurls nine scoreless frames for Anaheim as Troy Percival gets the win in relief.
»August 15, 1999: The Angels defeat the Tigers, 10-2, as Chuck Finley becomes the first pitcher in history to strike out four batters in an inning twice in his career. Finley previously fanned four Yankees in Anaheim's game with the New Yorkers on May 12. Both instances occurred in the 1st inning.
»April 16, 2000:
The Indians defeat the Rangers, 2-1, behind Chuck Finley. Finley, the only pitcher in history to fan four batters in an inning on two occasions, performs the feat for a 3rd time, fanning four Texas batters in the 3rd inning.
»April 3, 2002: Indians P Chuck Finley is scratched from his start, after his wife was arrested and charged with spousal abuse and battery yesterday. When the police arrived at his home, they noticed abrasions and scrapes on him. The team says Finley's physically able to pitch, but wanted to stay with his daughters. Ryan Drese starts in his place and records his first ML win, 6–5 over the host Angels. Drese allows three runs in five 2/3 innings as the Tribe takes the rubber game.
»April 16, 2002:
The White Sox score nine runs off Chuck Finley in the 2nd inning and go on to defeat the Indians, 10–5, ending Cleveland's 10–game winning streak. Magglio Ordonez has a grand slam in the 2nd, and Royce Clayton adds a 2–run home run. Damaso Marte picks up his first ML win in relief.
»July 19, 2002:
The Cardinals acquire veteran P Chuck Finley from the Indians for minor league 1B Luis Garcia and outfielder Covelli "Coco" Crisp, the Cards' minor league player of the year in 2001.
»October 12, 2002: Three Cardinals home runs help St. Louis to a 5–4 win over the Giants, who lead their NLCS by two games to 1. Jim Edmonds, Eli Marerro, and Mike Matheny clout round–trippers for the Cards while Barry Bonds adds one for SF. Chuck Finley gets the win for St. Louis.