Almost as famous for his handlebar mustache as his pitching, the lanky righthander retired as the greatest relief artist in baseball, lasting 17 years. When he finally called it quits in 1985, Fingers held the major-league records for most career saves (341) and World Series saves (7).
Known for his control and durability, Fingers made it a point never to pitch more than two innings at a time in order to maintain his strength. Like many relievers, Fingers began his career as a starter. He began both the 1969, 1970, and 1971 seasons as a starter, but finished all three seasons in the bullpen. In 1972 he finally became a full-time reliever, winning 11 games in relief and saving 21 to lead Oakland to its first-ever World Series appearance. In the decisive seventh game against the Reds, Fingers worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the eighth inning to preserve the 3-2 victory and the championship. He piled up another 22 saves with a 1.92 era in 1973 with two World Series saves, and led the AL in games in 1974 with 76.
In 1974 Fingers pitched the final two innings of the only four-pitcher no-hitter in baseball history as he, Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, and Paul Lindblad combined to blank the California Angels 5-0. Fingers shone in the World Series that year, earning the victory in Game One, then saved Oakland’s other three victories over the Dodgers to win Series MVP honors. Fingers led the AL in appearances in 1975 with 75, but lost 11 games in relief in 1976.
Like many Oakland players, Fingers fled Charlie Finley, and signed on with San Diego as a free agent in 1977. He promptly led his new league in appearances with 78, and also led the league for the first time in saves with 35. He followed with 37 saves in 1978 to tie the then-ML record, even though he also lost 13 games in relief. He slumped to just 13 saves and a 4.50 ERA in 1979, then came up with a forkball to supplement his sinker and slider. In 1980 he saved 23 games and won 11 more games in relief.
After the season, San Diego believed Fingers, now 34, was past his prime and, in an 11-player deal, swapped Fingers and former Oakland teammate Gene Tenace to the Cardinals. Four days later, he moved to Milwaukee in a blockbuster 7-player swap. Fingers showed he still had plenty of arm left, though, leading the AL in saves with 28 with a 1.04 ERA and the 1981 Brewers to their first post-season appearance. Fingers figured in 55 percent of his team’s victories, and won both the MVP and the Cy Young Awards. He pitched much of the 1982 season in pain, saving 29 games, but missed the entire 1983 season.
At the age of 38, Fingers came back in 1984 to post a 1.96 ERA and compiled 23 saves for a team that won only 67 games. In 1985 age finally caught up to Fingers, who slumped to a 5.04 ERA, and he was released by the Brewers at the end of the year.