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.

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34 Comments on "Were there Blue Mondays in Oakland, 1971?"

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Dan Franzen
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“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.

Debra
Guest

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?

bstar
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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.

scott-53
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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.

scott-53
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$6000.00 = about $37.00 dollars per game.

e pluribus munu
Guest
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… Read more »
e pluribus munu
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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… Read more »
Ed
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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.

Ed
Guest
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 more »
scott-53
Guest

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.

Jason Z
Guest

$6,000=offseason job.

Jason Z
Guest
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.… Read more »
scott-53
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Lots of people get injured on the job. Most don’t get a guaranteed signing bonus.

Jason Z
Guest

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

Mike L
Guest

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.

e pluribus munu
Guest
“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… Read more »
Artie Z
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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… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
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… Read more »
Mike L
Guest

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.

Artie Z.
Guest
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… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
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… Read more »
scott-53
Guest

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.

scott-53
Guest

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

Jason Z
Guest
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… Read more »
scott-53
Guest

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.

scott-53
Guest

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.

e pluribus munu
Guest
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… Read more »
scott-53
Guest

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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