Rollie Fingers is one of the most recognizable figures in Brewers history due to his tremendous career as a reliever and his famous handlebar mustache.
When Number 34 exited the bullpen car, handed his jacket to the batboy, and hitched up his pants…. Brewers fans knew it was all over.
Already highly successful in his 13 years with the A’s and Padres before being acquired by the Brewers in December 1980, Rollie was part of a historic trade deal that took him from San Diego to St. Louis to Milwaukee, all in a four-day period. It was a momentous deal for the Brewers, which included players Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich, paving the way to two straight playoff berths.
Even though 1981 was a strike-shortened season for MLB, the Brewers were hot. They posted a 31-25 record in the first half of the season and finished the second half at 31-22. Known for his slider, Rollie came through for the Brewers, time and again. One of his more memorable moments in ’81 was his strikeout of Lou Whitaker, which put the Brewers in the playoffs for the first time ever. While the Brewers later lost to the Yankees in the division championship three games to two, Fingers won the American League MVP. He was the first reliever in history to do so. He also brought home the American League Cy Young Award.
In 1982, the Brewers and Rollie continued to dominate. Rollie pitched in 50 games, earning 29 saves and a 2.60 ERA before a muscle tear caused him to miss the rest of the season, including the playoffs. Would the World Series outcome have differed with #34 in the bullpen?
Fingers was unable to play in 1983 due to his injury, but by 1984 was game-ready. Before succumbing to a back injury in the second half of the season, he was having another career year, recording a 1.96 ERA. His 23 saves were not enough to save the Brewers season, where they finished 5th in the AL.
In 1985, things were looking up for Rollie, when he started the season off strong in his first four appearances. However, his luck did not hold when he blew three of his next four save opportunities. June of 1985 did not go any better when he blew another four saves and Milwaukee lost six straight games in which Fingers appeared. By late July, he was no longer the main closer, instead sharing the role with Bob Gibson, seeing less and less action. Rollie finished the year with an ERA of 5.04 and 6 losses.
While his last year was forgettable, his career stats and what he meant to the Brewers is anything but.
How Do You Spell Relief? R-0-L-L-I-E!
- Rollie Fingers finished his career with 114 wins, 341 saves, and a 2.90 ERA.
- Even more impressive is that 74 of those saves involved at least 7 outs. In today’s era of out-getters and closers, that is quite a feat.
- He was a 7-time All-Star.
- When Rollie left the game, he was the all-time save leader, with 341. His record held for over a decade.
- Fingers was in the top 10 for the Cy Young award four times.
- In 1981, he was the Cy Young and MVP award winner, when he posted a 6-3 record, 28 saves and a 1.04 ERA with the Brewers.
- Rollie won three world series titles with the Oakland A’s between 1972-74 and was the 1974 World Series MVP.
- Rollie Fingers was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992, only the second reliever at that time to receive the honor.
Rollie Fingers began his career as a starter, but due to inconsistent results, was moved to the bullpen, where he found his niche.
Rollie started growing his handlebar mustache during Spring Training 1972, in an effort to win a $300 prize from Oakland A’s owner, Charles Finley. The mustache has remained for the last 48 years. After being released after the 1985 season, he was offered the opportunity to play with the Reds in 1986, but turned it down due to Marge Schott’s “clean cut” policy. No mustache? Then no baseball!
Fingers is one of only eight major leaguers to have his number retired with multiple teams (Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland A’s).
At 73, Rollie Fingers still makes the circuit, touring ballparks during Spring Training and other events throughout the year. He continues to be a favorite, selling signed baseballs and pictures, and mugging for photos with fans, young and old.
Rollie Fingers is one of the greatest relievers of all time. Brewers fans and the Hall of Fame agree!
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