Were there Blue Mondays in Oakland, 1971?

I’m reading the biography Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball’s Super Showman, by G. Michael Green and Roger D. Launius. It’s quite enjoyable, if just a bit academic, and the quotes and main factual claims are thoroughly footnoted.

Because of a recent HHS thread about Tim Lincecum and Vida Blue, this passage in the book that touched on Blue’s amazing year in 1971 caught my eye:

 

Finley also sought to ensure that Blue pitched during home games on Monday nights, Finley’s proclaimed Family Night. This was to bring more fans to the game, since Blue was such a powerful draw that summer. “Looking back on it now,” Blue said “I realized how we got manipulated, and I was no different…. [W]hen they would hold me back a day, claiming that I was getting an extra day’s rest, in all reality they were holding me back to pitch at home on Family Night … since I was a natural draw anyway because of the season that I was having, and that kind of disturbed me once I got a little older.”

Sounds plausible, right? And the more you know about Finley, the more you can believe it. But nothing like that actually happened on Mondays in 1971.

According to the game log on Baseball-Reference.com:

  • Just 5 of Oakland’s 73 home dates in 1971 were on Mondays.
  • Blue started just one of those five home Mondays, April 26. If there was a promotion on, someone forgot to tell the fans, as just 6,998 showed up. And Blue pitched that game on 3 days’ rest; remember, his complaint was about being held back a day.

Could the authors have mixed up which night was Family Night at the Coliseum in 1971? For most of baseball history, Monday has been the most lightly scheduled day of the week, so it seems odd to hold a recurring promotion on Mondays, even for a skinflint like Finley. But I found a separate source describing Monday as Family Night in 1972, when they had just 7 home Mondays. So it probably was Monday in ’71 as well.

To be thorough, I checked the day for each of Blue’s home starts in 1971: 6 occurred on Friday, 4 on Wednesday, 4 on Sunday, 3 Tuesday, 2 Saturday, and 1 on Monday. If Family Night had actually been on Fridays that year, maybe the gist of the story would stand up. But there’s no sign of Blue being “held back” (or moved up) for home Fridays; out of those 6 Friday starts at home, 4 were on 3 days’ rest and 2 on 4 days’ rest.

There’s nothing irregular about Blue’s rest pattern for 1971. After Opening Day, 36 of his remaining 38 starts came on either 3 or 4 days’ rest (19 and 17, respectively). One start came on 5 days’ rest because the A’s had two off days in a week, and one technically came on 6 days’ rest due to the All-Star game, in which he pitched the first 3 innings; he actually had just 2 days’ rest before his next real start.

Other pitchers with about the same number of starts that year had similar rest patterns.

There’s no sign that Blue was held back for home dates on any day of the week in ’71. The longest break he got in terms of team games was 4 games, which happened 14 times; those games were split, 7 home and 7 away. Over all, he started 20 times at home, 19 away.

So maybe the authors cited the wrong year? Blue did pitch on 3 home Mondays in ’72. The first of those was June 12, and there may well have been a promotion because over 50,000 turned out for the opener of a set with Baltimore, while the next two games of that series drew just 13,000 combined. And Blue did pitch that game on 5 days’ rest, unusual for that era. But he made 4 other starts on 5 days’ rest that year, none being a home Monday. His July 31 start in a Monday home game came on 3 days’ rest. His last Monday home start of ’72 came on August 28 with 8 days’ rest, perhaps nursing an injury; he had left his prior start after 1 inning. Above all, we come back to Blue’s quote: “I was a natural draw anyway because of the season that I was having.” That has to be about 1971, his only spectacular year.

Anyway, the notion of a pitcher boosting attendance is usually bunk, and there’s little reason to think differently in this case. If Blue really was a powerful draw that year — and bearing in mind that Blue had tossed a no-hitter and a one-hitter the previous September and was the Opening Day starter in ’71 — that drawing power should have been evident at least by May 19, when he took the mound with a record of 8-1, 1.27. But only 10,000 showed up. His subsequent home starts had attendance peaks and valleys, most likely due to weather and opponent and recent performance of the team, just like the vast majority of games. When he pitched on Friday, June 25, the A’s were humming along with a 10-game lead in pursuit of their first division title, and 34,000 turned out. His next start drew 35,000. But his next 7 home starts averaged 23,000, and his last 4 starts averaged just 9,000. Despite Blue’s brilliant season, the 3 biggest home crowds came to see Catfish Hunter (twice) and Blue Moon Odom.

Was there ever an attempt to get Blue more starts at home? His home/road breakdown for his 7 years in Oakland: 20/19, 12/11, 18/19, 21/19, 19/19, 19/18, 19/19. Total: 128/124, a disparity of less than 1 per year.

In conclusion, there is ample evidence of Finley mistreating his players, especially at contract time. But I looked as hard as I could for evidence of manipulating Vida Blue’s starts to fall on particular home days, and I couldn’t find anything.

34 thoughts on “Were there Blue Mondays in Oakland, 1971?

  1. 1
    Dan Franzen says:

    “For most of baseball history, Monday has been the most lightly scheduled day of the week, so it seems odd to hold a recurring promotion on Mondays, even for a skinflint like Finley.”

    Wouldn’t this be a reason to schedule a promotion for that night? Not only is the night underscheduled historically, it’s underattended, and a promotion would help that, particularly if it were recurring.

    • 2
      John Autin says:

      OK, Dan, I see your point there. I was thinking in terms of a team trying to get its fans to associate Monday with Family Night at the ballpark. It’s hard to imagine an association forming when there’s less than one home Monday game per month. I don’t know if I’m getting into words why it seems weird to me … “Hey fans! Mondays are Family Night at the Coliseum! And there’s hardly any of them, so buy your tickets now!”

      • 3
        Dan Franzen says:

        And personally, I’d put a Family Night on a Friday. Although once they’ve paid for their tickets, it’s not important that they stay the entire game, right? Long as they buy stuff.

  2. 4
    Debra says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but for a steady WS team in those days, the A’s had woeful attendance regardless of the pitcher(s). Maybe they were pining for Rick Monday or Fats Domino?

  3. 5
    bstar says:

    This reminds me of the Bob Gibson “I gave up a grand slam on the last pitch of my career” thing (it was his second-to-last batter faced that hit the GS). After years and years, the details become fuzzy even for those directly involved.

  4. 6
    scott-53 says:

    The Major League Baseball Players Association was formed in 1953. The first “collective” bargaining agreement was 1968. The Major League Minimum Salary was raised from $6000.00 to $10,000.00 The 1970 “collective” bargaining agreement added arbitration to settle disagreements. Imagine that players and owners disagreeing. They pretty much leave things to “their people” to settle things now.

  5. 7
    scott-53 says:

    $6000.00 = about $37.00 dollars per game.

    • 11
      e pluribus munu says:

      A $6000 minimum looks like slave wages now, but it didn’t look the same then. Inflation over the period 1968/2012 brings that figure to just under $40K for an 8-month work year (and many players did work in the off-season), or about a prorated $60K rate in today’s dollars. What that reflects is a continuation of the perception of average ballplayers as members of the working class. $60K starting pay for a 21 year-old isn’t bad today, though any MLB ballplayer would laugh at it.

      Stars who earned “high” salaries, like Mays ($125K in ’68 = $432K today), were getting paid like business executives, as a time when pay scales were much less extreme than they are today. Ruth’s $85K in 1930 would convert to well over a million today, which would seem astronomical if income differentials resembled the the ’50s and ’60s, and if media contracts (you pointed to those yesterday) had not placed big sports on the high end of the revenue spectrum. People found it shocking that Ruth earned more than President Hoover’s $75 (leading to his famous quip about Hoover’s bad year), but today the MLB minimum exceeds Obama’s salary.

  6. 8
    e pluribus munu says:

    John, Whatever prompted you to focus on this particular issue for close detective work? Whew!

    However, following in your wake, I found The Oakland Tribune reporting on Tuesday, May 18, 1971 that “tonight” would be Family Night at the Coliseum (the night before had been an off night). (Blue didn’t pitch and the attendance was 6K, vs. 10K the following night, when he did.) My suspicion (no further evidence) is that Family Night in ’71 may not have had a set weekday, as it clearly did in ’72 and after (Mondays, as you wrote). Looking at Blue’s starts, there are a couple of longer rests – 5 and 6, with starts on Saturday, 6/12 and Friday, 7/16 – both at home with ok attendance (24K – the night before the latter, attendance was 5K for a team with the best record in baseball). Maybe one of those was a Family Night.

    • 10
      Ed says:

      EPM – Looks like we posted at exactly the same time with some complimentary information. One other thought that occurred to me. Family Night was just one of several promotions the A’s were running in the 70s. I suppose it’s possible that Blue has forgotten about that and just thinks of all the various promotions as Family Night.

    • 28
      John Autin says:

      epm — I’m interested in the unreliability of memory, especially since discovering that a treasured family experience — my late dad “correctly” predicting 3 straight HRs in the 9th inning for the first Tigers win with my family attending — could not have happened.

      I think authors too often take at face value a ballplayer’s remembered anecdote, and I like checking up on them.

      BTW, I referenced Blue’s 7/16 start in the post — that was the one after the All-Star Game where he pitched 3 innings, so while the Game Log makes it look like 6 days’ rest, it was actually just 2. (Also, that was the ASG in Detroit when Reggie hit the light tower. He was PHing for Blue, and the 2-run rocket started the AL’s comeback to snap an 8-game losing streak.)

      • 31
        e pluribus munu says:

        Now I see why you followed up, John. (And also why you saw the 7/16 start for what it was, while I didn’t.)

        I feel the internet has made life worse by altering the past – I resent it when faceless facts suddenly emerge online and attractive memories that have loyally enriched life for years suddenly have to be let go.

      • 33
        Ed says:

        John – Years ago I remember watching a Pistons-Lakers game on tv. This was when Magic was still with the Lakers and the Pistons were at the height of their Bod Boy image. The game was in LA and the Lakers had a 10 point lead late in the 3rd quarter. The Pistons went on a run and tied things up right before the end of the 3rd quarter. To make matters worse for the Lakers, Magic got hurt near the end of the quarter and had to be carried off. So going into the 4th quarter, the game appeared to be the Pistons. Magic was out, the Pistons had momentum and the crowd had been taken out of it. So what happens? James Worthy completely dominates the 4th quarter and the Lakers win easily.

        So here’s the thing. A few months ago, I decided to look for the box score on Basketball Reference. I couldn’t find it! I even checked to see if the game was in Detroit. Nope. I swear the game happened and yet I can’t find a record of it. I would have been willing to go into to a court of law and sworn that this game happened the way I described above. And I would have been wrong.

      • 34
        Robbs says:

        Approximately half a million people remember “being there” for the light tower home run, although Tiger Stadium capacity around 50,000. I did see Gibby hit one over though.

  7. 9
    Ed says:

    John – Thanks for posting this! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I did a bit of research and this is what I found:

    1) The A’s did indeed have a Family Nights promotion and it did occur on Mondays.

    2) However the only definitive references that I could find to it were for the ’73 and ’74 seasons. I saw one possible reference to it in ’76 though I haven’t confirmed that.

    3) They had 12 Monday Family Nights in 1973 but only 4 in 1974.

    4) Family Nights basically meant that tickets were half price. However, from what I read, they were anything but family oriented. Here’s one anecdote though I found similar ones:

    “About midway through the first game the fans near the Royals’ bullpen began calling their players out and were actually reaching in and trying to pummel them. In those days, and especially on these raucous Family Nights, you didn’t boo fans for behaving like that, you cheered them on. The Royals had to clear their team off the field until order was restored and that was the beginning of the end for them. The house was rockin’ and the A’s went on to sweep.”

    http://www.athleticsnation.com/2009/9/17/1034664/as-flashback-1974

    BTW, there’s another aspect of Blue’s story that doesn’t make sense. He’s claiming that he was a big draw and that Family Nights were a big draw (which they were). If your team is struggling to draw fans you don’t combine your “attractions”, you separate them. No halfway intelligent person would do what Blue is claiming.

  8. 12
    scott-53 says:

    At 6—- Typo. The major league minimum was raised from $6000 to$10,000 per season in 1968. (44 years ago). From about $37.00 to $62.00 per game. Over a 6 month baseball season that equals going from about $1000 to $1667 per month.

  9. 13
    Jason Z says:

    $6,000=offseason job.

  10. 14
    Jason Z says:

    Every MLB player should thank Curt Flood for their salaries today.

    Also Marvin Miller (who should be in the HOF), and Donald Fehr.

    A friend of mine who played six years in the 90’s told me that
    Donald Fehr is one of the smartest people he ever met.

    Fact is that the baseball players union is very powerful and is by
    far the best union in sports (from the players perspective).

    The players in the NFL wish they had a union like this. It is a crime
    that with the risk the NFL players take, their contracts are not
    guaranteed. Injured today, cut tomorrow, no salary (soup) for you.

  11. 15
    Jason Z says:

    Mark Fydrich, 1976, now that guy affected attendance big time.

  12. 17
    Mike L says:

    A little perspective. When I went to JHU in the early 70’s the total cost was about $3000 per year. Now, my son’s education costs about $60K per year. I don’t have a problem with MLB players making what they do. They have a unique talent, and scarcity drives demand.

    • 18
      e pluribus munu says:

      “Scarcity drives demand.” Sort of: demand beyond supply drives up price, and the strength that demand determines how high. There are a lot of skills as scarce or scarcer than MLB-quality play that are not priced as high – MLB skills are, after all, simply the highest available quality of common skills with no intrinsic value off the diamond. (I know you must have meant this; I’m just seizing the opportunity for some longwinded comments.)

      Our social values can, in one concrete sense, be determined by the price we place on skilled performance. Our willingness to pay lots of money for ballgame tickets is a direct reflection of what we value; our level of demand for TV sports and responses to TV ads are less direct ones. By these measures, our society values an entry-level MLB player (>$480K) roughly ten times more than a good entry level high school teacher, and an avreage MLB player (a little over $3m/yr.) ten times more than the average oncologist (a little under $300K last year – which can make JHU, with its great med school, a great investment).

      Like you, I have no problem with players making what they do – they’re in business and we can always decline to go to the park or turn off the set. (Besides, we prefer to resent the team owners.) But I do think societies whose behaviors reflect values in the way ours does should consider this a cause for reflection.

      • 25
        Artie Z says:

        epm: The problem is that you are comparing the salaries of the wrong groups of people. The players in MLB are not of average skill level (or even entry level skill level), even the Jake Taylors (guys making the league minimum) of the world. When looking at salaries of MLB players you are looking at the salaries of the most skilled players (the top 750-800 players currently playing in the US). When you start to take into account minor league and independent league players the average salary falls dramatically. The true “entry level” salaries of baseball players are not MLB salaries, but minor league (maybe even independent league) salaries, which are probably less than those of entry-level high school teachers.

        I know nothing about oncologist salaries, but if you just looked at the top 750 oncologist salaries then that average number would shift upward a great deal (assuming there is not some law that all oncologists make the same amount). It still might not approach the average salary of an MLB player, but it’s probably a lot closer.

        • 26
          e pluribus munu says:

          Excellent points, Artie. This is a major weakness in my reasoning. Let me try to spin things back my way with some ad hoc counter-arguments.

          For example, I’d argue that for most minor league players, the minors are considered training, rather than career jobs. For the oncologist, training is paid for by the trainee and very costly. Minor league players who don’t make it to the Bigs by age 30 or so, would be comparable to oncologists in training who don’t make the cut after Med School and/or residency, in their late 20s. Those players who do make it are instantly among the economic elite.

          Piecing together information from absolutely reliable sources (guaranteed by the fact that they are online), there appear to be about 10,000 oncologists in the US, and the 90th percentile of oncologist income is currently about $500K (a high online estimate; worth noting: it appears that average patient/paperwork time among all oncologists runs at about 55-65 hours per week), so we might assume that indeed, an oncologist entering the economic elite of his or her trade (presumably towards career’s end for most), would earn roughly what a 20-something MLB player would earn after enduring several years of grunt pay.

          Of course there may be some A-Rods of oncology out there – I don’t know. I have to hope for their patients’ sake that their pay levels and performance success correlate a bit better.

          I think your argument works best with the school teacher comparison, since teacher training is basically complete at age 22 and entry salaries are significantly higher than minor league pay – again, since minor leaguers are rewarded like paid interns. (I am leaving aside the issue of drafted players, signing bonuses, etc.) Of course, I’d bet none of the top 750 classroom teachers in the US currently receives a third of what an entering MLB player receives, despite the fact they may be in their 50s or 60s.

          • 29
            Mike L says:

            I was in a running store earlier today looking for a pair of shorts. Nike has a new model out a “dual system” which is essentially a pair of classic swimming trunks. $58 for piece of nylon and a zip pocket. Can’t cost even $2 to make. A third year lawyer at a big firm makes more than the Chief Justice. You can buy a suit for $43,000 (that’s not a typo). We place all kinds of discordant values on things, and they sell for a price that reflects demand.

          • 30
            Artie Z. says:

            Let’s say that the 750 MLB players are the most highly skilled baseball players on the planet. There are probably some out there who are not in MLB who could be (there are probably some professional players in other major leagues, some in other major sports, some trapped in the minors for various reasons, and a few others who are just undiscovered – though I’m guessing that if there was a penguin on Antarctica who could hit a curve ball the ghost of Bill Veeck would have found him and signed him for at least a day). It is unlikely that any of these players could earn higher salaries anywhere else.

            The top 750 classroom teachers could probably earn higher salaries – possibly much higher – if they chose a different profession. Many of them could probably be professors, who make a little more money. Some could probably be CEOs, who make a lot more money. But I’m not even sure that comparing only classroom teachers is the right way to go.

            When I think of baseball players I think of ridiculously rich people (billionaire owners/corporations) bidding for players. This is not the same structure as classroom teachers, many of whom work in the public sector (I can’t imagine two public high schools getting into a bidding war over a teacher). Now, when I think about the highest paid 750 teachers, I think about other ridiculously rich people hiring private tutors for their children. I have no idea what celebrities do regarding their children’s education, but I would guess that some of them hire private tutors for their children (as well as private oncologists), and that those folks are making really good money (I’m thinking of Back to School where Rodney Dangerfield hires Kurt Vonnegut to write a report on Vonnegut’s own work). I don’t know if it is A-Rod type money, but perhaps they don’t lock aging tutors and oncologists into long-term deals (and they almost certainly don’t go all Arte Moreno and sign a guy who has a decent year to a $50 million contract over 5 or 6 years).

            And so what you have with MLB players is (1) the very best of the best (2) who have a low opportunity cost of playing baseball and (3) a labor market structure such that they (especially the stars) are paid not necessarily equilibrium salaries, but salaries that are closer to first degree price discrimination wages (economics speak for essentially finding the person/team with the highest marginal value for that player and using the free agent process to get paid about that amount – think Tom Hicks bidding against himself to secure the services of A-Rod).

            I think once all those considerations are made it becomes difficult to compare the average salaries of an MLB player with the average salaries of various other professions. I would bet that if Donald Trump has an oncologist that person probably makes a lot of money (not only working for Trump but others with Trump like amounts of money). And that person is operating within a labor market structure more similar to that of MLB players – if Donald Trump REALLY wanted a particular oncologist at a particular point in time he would pull a Big Stein and just pay more for that person. And I have no idea how that salary would get recorded in a data set (I recall from a labor economics class that some survey data – maybe it was the CPS – was topcoded, so that people who earned a certain amount above say $1 million would just be listed as earning “greater than $1 million”, making it even more difficult to compare the censored salaries of other professions with fully reported MLB player salaries).

          • 32
            e pluribus munu says:

            Artie, There are certainly reasons why labor rewards are skewed to what we might expect given the values people generally claim to hold. As Mike L wrote, we place discordant values on things (which implies a norm against which they are discordant). You note that if the material rewards are low, really fine classroom teachers can always find alternative careers. I expect that is, in fact, what many extremely talented potential classroom teachers do. Perhaps one became a marketer for Nike swim trunks and another for $43K designer suits. And there are certainly talented doctors who choose to specialize in diseases of the very rich. These outcomes are discordant with values that most people would probably wish to be identified with, which is, I suppose, the sort of social reality that allowed a black humorist like Vonnegut to make good money as a novelist (imagine what he could have done with the character of Donald Trump’s oncologist).

            There were objective reasons why average and below average MLB players — among the best of the best — received mediocre working class pay before the 1970s, and to object to those reasons as a type of market distortion caused chiefly by the reserve clause. Most fans did not concern themselves too deeply with it. There are reasons now why the same level players are part of the economic elite and to wonder whether that’s not a distortion of a different kind, where many intersecting levels of market structure have created a Hidden Hand that looks less like Divine guidance and more like Mad Magazine humor.

  13. 19
    scott-53 says:

    A little more perspective. 20 times $6000 = $120,000. $120,000 times 162 games = $19,440,000. Minimum wage was $1.60 per hour times 20 = $32.00 per hour. $32.00 times 162 = $5184.00 per hour minimum wage.

    • 20
      scott-53 says:

      $5184.00 per hour times a 40 hour week = $207,360.00 per week.

      • 21
        Jason Z says:

        According to Baseball-Reference, Alex Rodriguez has
        made $325,416,252 in his career. Almost $90,000,000 more
        than Derek Jeter who is second on the list.

        This regular season Arod earned $1,611,111.10 for each homerun
        and…

        $54,820.42 each plate appearance.

        $237,704.91 each game played.

        $391,891.89 each time he crossed home plate.

        $230,158.73 each base hit.

        $508,771.92 each RBI.

        All this for a player whose OPS+ has declined
        six straight seasons.

        Final depressing thought. Figuring an average
        salary of 60K, $29,000,000 translates to 483
        public school teachers.

        We have come a long way since 1975 when the average
        player salary was $44,676. On December 23, 1975
        arbitrator Peter Seitz abolished the reserve clause
        granting the players free agency.

        The effect was immediate.

        In 1976 the avg. player salary was $51,501.

        It jumped to $76,066 in 1977.

        The fact is that since free agency was established,
        the average player salary has increased approximately
        6,400%.

        It’s late. Good night and good luck.

        • 22
          scott-53 says:

          Thanks for the info. Home Box Office was the first nationwide satellite pay television channel. Also in 1975. In 1968 Nolan Ryan was a rookie. Tom Seaver was in his second year. Frank Howard was in his 11th year. Hank Aaron his 15th. Willie Mays his 17th.

          Like (e pluribus munu) I also don’t have a problem with what the players earn. But It takes more than turning off the television to figure out what they are worth to the market place. People have been turning to non-sports programming for at least 25 years.

  14. 23
    scott-53 says:

    According to (zap2it.com). The 1980 World Series between the Phillies and Royals averaged 42.3 million viewers. The 2009 World Series between the Phillies and Yankees averaged 14.3 million viewers.

    • 24
      e pluribus munu says:

      I hadn’t realized the scale of the drop, scott. On the other hand, the total postseason has about doubled in number of potential games since 1980, and the value of local regular season TV contracts has gone through the roof.

      Moreover, the chief revenue sources of the pre-union days, ticket sales, have greatly multiplied in both absolute price and number sold in recent years. Over the past 20 years, average prices have risen 2-300% in inflation-adjusted dollars, and attendance has risen to levels undreamed of in the pre-union days. (A mindlessly cherry-picked example: the 2011 Astros, losing 106 games in a medium market city, drew more fans to the park than any Yankee team in the quarter century 1951-1975.)

      • 27
        scott-53 says:

        The NFL,NBA,NHL,NCAA and MLB rake it in from all over the place compared to 40 years ago. My two biggest pet peeves are the cable television networks covering their losses with monies charged to non sports fans. Also the pros playing for less money in the playoffs than they play for in the regular season.

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