If the designation “starting pitcher” was ever applicable, it is a description that fits the career of right-hander Gar Finnvold. He pitched in 113 professional baseball games and every single one of them – both in the minor leagues and in the majors – was as a starter.
The tall 6-foot-5, 195-pound righty hails from Boca Raton, Florida, born in neighboring Boynton Beach on March 11, 1968, as Anders Gar Finnvold.
There were a number of dentists in his family and for a while, he seemed destined for a career in dentistry. His father was Anders K. Finnvold, who came to the United States from Sandnes, Norway, in order to attend dental school at the University of Minnesota. Both his father and his older brother were dentists. Anders had missed an application deadline for dental school in Norway, and rather than wait a year he came to a region in America where there were a number of Norwegians. He received his degree in dentistry in 1959. He then enlisted in the United States Army, where he served as a captain in the 88th Medical Detachment in Germany.1
Gar Finnvold said, “He was a big fan of this country, which did a lot for him. He felt a loyalty to the country, so he served, to give back. He did that for, I think, two years in Germany during the rebuild after World War II. He came back to the States and married my mom [Carol Kay Olson]. They met in Minnesota, went back to Norway for a year, then came back to the States and ended up settling in what was a small town back then – Boca Raton.”2
Carol and Gar Finnvold had three children – Monique, Jill, and Gar. Carol Finnvold was a homemaker, though she did some occasional work such as modeling for local dress stores.
Gar attended St. Andrews School for his first three years of high school, then transferred to Pope John Paul II High School, which had better teams in baseball and football. After graduation, Gar enrolled at Palm Beach Junior College in Lake Worth, Florida, though he missed almost his entire freshman year due to chicken pox.3 Late in the season he joined the baseball team and found himself in the odd situation of being drafted by a major league team after throwing a total of one inning. “We qualified for the state tournament but by the time that happened, I had pretty much recovered. We were in the loser’s bracket and we’re playing Winter Haven at Chain of Lakes. It was like the consolation game and at the end of the game, I got to pitch the ninth. The coach said, ‘All right, Finnvold, get out there.’ I went over there and pitched one inning, the only inning of the year – and I ended up getting drafted from that.”
Finnvold was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the June 1987 draft. He wasn’t selected, however, until the 42nd round and was the 1,041st selection overall. Rather than turn professional, he continued to pursue his education and play college baseball. A pre-med major, he received an athletic scholarship and transferred to Florida State University in Tallahassee and pitched well for FSU. He was named an academic All-American in 1989 and pitched for the Seminoles in the College World Series that June.4 He won the first game, beating North Carolina, but – though only giving up four hits – lost to Wichita State in the finale. Pitching his junior and senior years at Florida State, he compiled a 25-7 record with an earned run average of 2.69.
He wasn’t drafted in either his sophomore or junior years but had earned first-team All-American Academic honors in 1989 and earned second team All-American from Baseball America in 1990.5 The Boston Red Sox selected him in his senior year, in the sixth round of the June 1990 draft. He was the 173rd selection, and he signed – the signing credited to top Red Sox scout George Digby. Finnvold’s father had been Digby’s dentist in Boca Raton.6
Finnvold talked about being initially drafted by the Mariners. “Luke Wrenn was the scout then – a pretty well-known scout. It makes me feel good that the scouts who drafted me were pretty well-known and respected scouts. He was with Seattle at the time, and he drafted me. I didn’t sign because I was going to go to school. I did another year at Palm Beach. Ended up at Florida State. It was never my goal in life to play professional baseball. That wasn’t my mantra. It had never really crossed my mind. I just enjoyed the game, enjoyed the competition.”7
His first assignment was to short-season Class-A ball with the New York/Penn League’s Elmira Pioneers. He started 15 games and worked more than six innings per game, with a record of 5-5, an ERA of 3.13, walking only 22 batters while striking out 89.
In 1991, he played for three teams – the Class-A+ Carolina League’s Lynchburg Red Sox, the Double-A Eastern League’s New Britain Red Sox, and the Triple-A International League’s Pawtucket Red Sox. He had a losing record for all three – though wins and losses are not necessarily of prime importance in player development – and an earned run average that understandably rose as the level of competition increased. The progression had been Lynchburg, then New Britain (where he was 1-2, 4.25), up to Pawtucket – where pitchers were “dropping like flies” and even pitching coach Rich Gale had to activate himself and throw 5 2/3 innings – and then back to New Britain.8
- Lynchburg: 2-3, 3.32 ERA in 38 innings
- New Britain: 5-8, 3.82 ERA in 101 1/3 innings
- Pawtucket: 1-2, 6.60 ERA in 15 innings
Overall, for the three teams combined, he struck out 121 batters and walked 50.
That he had been in dental school appealed to sportswriters. The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote that Finnvold was “very much like a young Jim Lonborg. And, like Lonborg, he is planning a career after baseball in dentistry.”9
Finnvold spent the full 1992 season with the New Britain Red Sox, working 165 innings in 25 starts and striking out 135 opponents. His season ERA was 3.49. The team finished in last place. His won/loss record was 7-13.
The full 1993 season was played in Pawtucket. Finnvold started 24 games and got in 136 innings of work, striking out 123 batters and walking 51. He gave up 21 home runs, more than in 1991 and 1992 together, but his ERA was 3.77. His won/loss record was 5-9. A National League scout told the Boston Globe, “He’s never going to be a No. 1 guy. But he’s got a major league fastball. He’s a smart kid with a real idea of how to pitch.”10 After the season, Red Sox GM Lou Gorman let it be known he thought Finnvold could help them at the major league level in the year to come.
Finnvold began the 1994 season with Pawtucket but within a month got the call to Boston after Frank Viola went on the disabled list with a serious left elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Finnvold’s record when called up was 5-1 (3.29). New GM Dan Duquette said, “We have a lot of good candidates, but we thought we would give Gar the opportunity. He’s pitching well and he has more experience.”11
Finnvold’s big league debut was on Tuesday evening May 10, 1994, at Fenway Park. The team was playing well for manager Butch Hobson, coming into the game with a record of 20-11 and just a half-game behind the America League East-leading New York Yankees. Finnvold was facing the Milwaukee Brewers and starter Jaime Navarro. A base on balls, a stolen base, and a single saw the Brewers score a run before Finnvold recorded his first out, but it was the only run that scored. The Red Sox matched that run in the first inning and took the lead in the second when Scott Cooper homered. Milwaukee got another run in the top of the third, and the Red Sox responded with three runs in the bottom of the third. After five innings, the score remained 5-2, Red Sox. Finnvold was replaced by Scott Bankhead and would have been in line for a win, but the Brewers put together six runs off three Boston pitchers in the top of the seventh and ultimately won the game, 9-5, the loss assigned to Greg Harris.
Finnvold’s second start was 11 days later, in Minnesota. Kevin Tapani started for the Twins. Finnvold pitched the best game of his time in the major leagues, allowing just one run in seven full innings on a one-out double by Dave McCarty and a two-out single by Chuck Knoblauch. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Tapani threw 8 1/3 innings of scoreless ball and Rick Aguilera got the final two outs, combining to shut out the Red Sox, 1-0.
One week later, in Texas against the Rangers, he pitched another very solid game, allowing just a solo home run to Jose Canseco in the first inning and another run in the bottom of the seventh, when the Rangers scored once more on a triple by Doug Strange that had eluded a dive by center fielder Otis Nixon and a sacrifice fly. Finnvold departed after completing the inning. The Sox tied the game in the ninth and won in the 10th, but the win went to Greg Harris.
After three strong starts, adversity arrived. He gave up five runs in four innings when the Rangers came to Boston on June 3, then four runs in 3 1/3 innings in Detroit on June 8. He lost both games, as well as a fourth on the 14th, back in Boston against the Twins – on five runs (three unearned) in four innings. He had two more starts, both against Cleveland, one on the road and one at home. Neither resulted in a decision, but he was hit for three runs and five runs (the latter in just 1 1/3 innings). The Detroit News hadn’t been kind to him after the game on the 8th, writing, “Gar Finnvold…sounds more like a cross-country skier than a pitcher – and might be more of a cross-country skier than a pitcher – certainly was hittable.”12
In the June 19 game against the Indians, he had to leave in the bottom of the fifth inning “after straining a rib-cage muscle on a pitch to [catcher Sandy] Alomar.”13 He was reactivated on August 7 after Scott Cooper went on the DL.
His last major league game was on August 7, 1994. On the 8th, he was optioned to Pawtucket. Three days later, the Major League Baseball Players Association had its members go on strike. The last game the Red Sox played in 1994 was the game on August 10. They finished 54-61, in fourth place in the A.L. East. Their last 47 games of the season were never played. There was a requirement that at least 24 players be on each team’s roster, and the Red Sox were going to be one short, so they added Gar Finnvold, who was sidelined with a sore shoulder. The minor leagues were still playing baseball. “We have to be at 24,” said GM Duquette. “We were at 24 when we traded [Scott] Bankhead. This is something we have to do. Finnvold was on our major league roster until we sent him back before the strike. And we needed to choose a player that wouldn’t hurt Pawtucket’s chances because they’re in the playoffs.”14
Finnvold had started eight games but, despite the three good starts, had nothing but an 0-4 record and an ERA of 5.94 to look back on. That winter he played ball for Caguas in Puerto Rico as part of his rehabilitation work. Before the strike, he said, “I had hurt my ribs in Cleveland. I tore some cartilage on the left side. Rather than send me down to Fort Myers, they sent me to Triple A back in Pawtucket to do my rehab. It was pretty much a you’ve-got-to wait-for-it-to-heal kind of thing. But it was pretty severe. I couldn’t even rotate. It felt like someone stuck a knife in there. That’s sports. You get these kooky injuries.
“Looking back, I think I was rushed a little bit. And part of it was probably my fault, too, just because I was young and dumb. I was a guy who never really had any arm trouble. I kind of had a rubber arm. I could throw nine innings and then long-toss the next day. I had some tendinitis here and there but for the most part had a pretty Gumby arm. That year, I think I started to come back a little too quick and I ended up having some shoulder issues. I probably should have had an MRI right then and there. Had there not been the strike, it probably would have been a whole different story.”15
Pitching for Al Nipper in Caguas, his shoulder never really did get better.
The following spring, in 1995, he pitched for Pawtucket, but very little. He had but one start in all of 1995, working 3 2/3 innings and giving up one base hit and one unearned run. In early May, he was on the DL with a sore right shoulder, apparently not having recovered from the previous summer. In the first part of June, it was finally determined that he had torn his labrum. He had surgery and was out for the rest of the season.
In 1996, he started eight games, for a total of 35 1/3 innings. He had a winning record of 3-2 but an earned run average of 6.62. “In ’96, I was feeling good and strong and then – it might have been in Toledo or somewhere, I don’t remember – my control wasn’t quite there but I was feeling pretty strong. I remember throwing one pitch and my forearm went numb. What the hell was that?” In retrospect, Finnvold acknowledges some resentment at the shortcomings in diagnosis and treatment.
Stating something that comes as no surprise to Red Sox fans in that era, he said, “At that time, the Red Sox weren’t known to have a crack medical staff. They were always behind the times. Duquette had just come in, but the rest of the organization hadn’t caught up yet. A lot of other organizations were a little bit more on the ball. It took about six weeks for me to get an EMG [electromyography]. They finally figured out it’s a nerve issue, that I had strained 15 centimeters of my musculocutaneous nerve which is the nerve that goes from your shoulder. There’s five nerves in your brachial plexus and one of them is the musculocutaneous nerve. It only heals about a millimeter a day, so basically, I couldn’t pick up a ball for 150 days.”
The Red Sox released him. He went to spring training with Cleveland, but they elected not to sign him. His agent found a possibility with the Mets, but they settled on someone else, and Finnvold told himself it was time to move on.
Finishing up his degree in dentistry was his first move, but in the intervening years the requirements had changed, and he would have had to take all his university science classes over again. Instead, he built on some of the offseason work he had been doing in instructing baseball. He had worked at Bucky Dent’s Baseball School, and a friend – Jeff Bennington, who had spent a couple of years in the lower ranks of the Houston Astros minor league system – told him of a plan to start a baseball training facility.16 As they waited for the facility to be built in a couple of years, he spent time giving lessons. It was hard work, always after school, and tied up evenings and weekends. Five years passed, and none of the facilities came to fruition.
He had known Bennington since playing with him in Little League and high school. “We were doing good with our lesson and camp business, but the facility was the goal, and it just never came to fruition so we both kind of transitioned over to real estate.”
Finnvold got his real estate license just before 9/11, which was far from the best time to work in real estate, but he was able to keep the lessons going and the market eventually returned. As of the time of our October 2021 interview, he has been working for the Douglas Elliman firm. His own webpage says that he “handles luxury residences and condos in all price ranges in East Delray Beach, Boca Raton, and other South Palm Beach County communities.”17
As of late 2021, Gar Finnvold and his wife, Adriana, have two children – a son, Carsten, named after Gar’s paternal grandfather, and a daughter, Alexis.
Finnvold said, “My wife is Colombian. Her nickname is ‘A.’ She’s a very successful architect here. She’s busier than six cats in a bag.” Concerned about the drug trafficking in Medellin, her parents brought their children to the United States here in the early ‘80s. Adriana earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Florida and has worked in the field of architecture, for other firms and on her own, since 1999.18
As of October 2021, son Carsten is playing freshman baseball at the University of Florida. “He’s a pitcher. Believe it or not, he’s a left-handed pitcher.” Daughter Alexis is in her senior year of high school and will be attending the University of Louisville and playing college volleyball. Her original interest was softball, and her father was interested in learning more about pitching in softball, but his sisters had daughters who were volleyball players and told him that Alexis was tall and could make a good setter.19
Finnvold’s website says, “In his free time, Gar enjoys spending time on the water free diving and fishing and loves coaching baseball and sharing his knowledge and experiences with young athletes.”
Last revised: March 15, 2022
This biography was reviewed by Donna Halper and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Terry Bohn.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, SABR.org, and the Encyclopedia of Minor-League Baseball. Thanks as well to Rod Nelson of SABR’s Scouts and Scouting Research Committee. Thanks to Gar Finnvold for agreeing to the October 2021 interview.
1 Obituary for Anders K. Finnvold at https://www.glickfamilyfuneralhome.com/obituary/Anders-Finnvold. Accessed October 22, 2021. Mr. Finnvold was born in 1930 and died on August 30, 2021.
2 Author interview with Gar Finnvold on October 21, 2021. Unless otherwise indicated, all direct quotations come from this interview. Of his father, Finnvold said, “For some reason, he had a liking for baseball, and he was a big Yankees fan. He didn’t know a thing about baseball, never played, but during baseball season – Little League or whatever—the guy would sit back there and catch me a couple of times a week at 5 o’clock. It was kind of a little bit of his guidance that got me going in the direction I ended up going. A lot of credit to him.”
3 In 2010, the college changed its name to Palm Beach State College.
4 Associated Press, “Finnvold heads Academic team,” Newark Star-Ledger, June 2, 1989: 87.
6 Nick Cafardo, “They’ve hit bad streak,” Boston Globe, June 10, 1990: 53.
7 He added, “But I just kept playing until they took the uniform away from me.”
8 Nick Cafardo, “The prospectus has changed,” Boston Globe, June 16, 1991: 57.
9 Nick Cafardo, “Pawtucket cast change,” Boston Globe, April 28, 1991: 87.
10 Nick Cafardo, “Finnvold is in the wings,” Boston Globe, July 11, 1993: 50.
11 Joe Burris, “Two pitchers prepare for different challenges,” Boston Globe, May 10, 1994: 31.
12 Tom Gage, “10-run fifth staggers woozy Red Sox, 14-5,” Detroit News, June 9, 1994: 5D.
13 Chuck Melvin, “Tribe rallies, extends win streak,” Repository (Canton, Ohio), June 20, 1994: C1.
14 Nick Cafardo, “Finnvold’s promotion doesn’t pay,” Boston Globe, September 3, 1994: 64. Bizarrely, Finnvold stood to gain financially. He wasn’t going to be paid the major-league minimum salary of $109,000, because the players were on strike. And since he was taken off Pawtucket’s roster, he was to lose the $18,5000 PawSox salary. But he was eligible for licensing money because he was on a major-league roster and the money from the most recent year had come to $81.000 per share.
15 He added, “It was probably a combination of two things – coming back too fast, and I was compensating in my delivery somewhere. I really think that was the issue. I was trying to throw, but I wasn’t throwing in my normal delivery. I was compensating and somehow altering my mechanics which was probably what ultimately led to the injury.”
16 For Bennington’s career, see https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=bennin001jef
17 See https://gfinnvold.com/. Accessed October 22, 2021. On his site, he adds, “Sports and real estate both require hard work and dedication, and I believe mastering those traits as an athlete set me up for success in the real estate industry.”
19 He added, “We transitioned away from softball into volleyball – boy, that was nice. Number one, it was air-conditioned. Number two, you didn’t have any weather delays. And generally, everything ran on time. It was completely different from baseball and softball because you’re always dealing with the weather.”