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.