This article was written by Norm King
There was actually method to the madness behind Charlie Finley’s idea that people would want to see his ass.
Finley had some bizarre ideas when he owned the Kansas City-Oakland A’s, such as orange baseballs and designated runners, but even he didn’t go so far as to moon the fans. In 1965, however, he bought a new mascot for the Kansas City team as a gimmick to bring people to the ballpark — a mule named, appropriately, Charlie O. It seemed that everything was up to date in Kansas City except fans’ interest in watching an inept baseball team, and Finley needed to find ways of attracting people to Municipal Stadium.
Finley and his promotions director, Jim Schaaf, staged all kinds of shenanigans. In addition to standard bat days and ball nights, they concocted events like “Automobile Industry Night,” where they would dress cars up and give them away to fans as is. This meant that the winning fans could drive the car off the lot, but there was no guarantee the car would get much beyond the lot without breaking down. Part of the fun included having the players arrive on the field in limousines.
This whole business with Charlie O. started the winter before the 1965 season. The A’s had finished 10th in the American League in 1964 with a 57-105 record and had attracted only 642,478 fans (ninth in the league). Finley, always on the lookout for new ideas, called Schaaf at 4 o’clock one wintry morning after reading an article in the Chicago Tribune about how Missouri mules helped the Allies win World War I by lugging ammunition and supplies through the mud and snow of France faster than the Germans could. Finley ordered Schaaf to get the finest mule in the state of Missouri.
How one determines which mule is the finest in the state is a daunting task. Schaaf nonetheless persevered. He called up Howard Benjamin, the owner of Benjamin Stables, which housed War Paint, the horse that ran around Municipal Stadium every time the American Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs scored a touchdown. Through his connections, Benjamin found Charlie O. Schaaf and Finley went to see the animal, whose parentage is unknown except for the fact that his mother was a horse and his father a donkey (them’s not fightin’ words; that’s the way it is with all mules). Finley was smitten.
On Opening Night 1965, Warren Hearnes, the governor of Missouri (and a Democrat) presented Charlie O. to Finley, who rode his namesake around the field to the fans’ amusement.
Charlie O. was a big hit. He stood 16.2 hands high and weighed 1,400 pounds according to the 1971 Oakland A’s yearbook.[fn]A hand is 4 inches and each number after the decimal represents an inch, so Charlie O. measured 5-feet-6 from the ground to his withers.[/fn] He wore a uniform that consisted of a blanket, a bridle, and an A’s cap, all in the team’s green and gold colors. He was driven to the stadium in a trailer equipped with air conditioning and a stereo system, which caused players to gripe that he was getting more perks than they were. He spent the games in the stadium’s picnic area zoo so that fans could pet him. He was also a community ambassador for the team. When a high school in Lawson, Kansas, unveiled a new scoreboard for its athletic field that it had purchased through a fundraising drive, Charlie O. was there for the dedication. A Kansas City country singer, Gene McKown, even recorded a song called “Charlie O. The Mule.”
Finley also took Charlie O. to all the other cities in the American League in 1965 and 1966 to much media fanfare. Even Howard Cosell attended the press conference in New York in ’65.
Charlie O. was not allowed on the field when he visited Chicago’s Comiskey Park. Ever the operator, Finley quickly organized a protest across the street from the stadium with pretty girls acting as protesters and a six-piece band playing songs like “Mule Train.”
Alas, for the all the hubbub, Charlie O. wasn’t the fan magnet that Finley hoped he would be. The A’s attendance in 1965 (a league-worst 528,344) was even lower than it had been the previous year.
When the A’s moved to Oakland after the 1967 season, Charlie O. went with them and was along for the ride during he A’s glory years of the early 1970s. He once even startled Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk during the 1975 American League Championship Series when he (the mule, not Fisk) was led into an Oakland hotel coffee shop. He died of deterioration of the liver on December 15, 1976, at the age of 20 (80 in human years).
“He symbolized the stubbornness of his owner, Charles O. Finley, the never-say-die proprietor of the A’s,” wrote Ron Bergman in The Sporting News. “And Charlie O. represented what was good about the franchise and the wonder world of the young on Sunday afternoons at the ballpark.”[fn]Ron Bergman, “A’s Fans Mourn Charlie O., the Mule,” The Sporting News, January 1, 1977.[/fn]
This article originally appeared in “Mustaches and Mayhem: Charlie O’s Three Time Champions: The Oakland Athletics: 1972-74″ (SABR, 2015), edited by Chip Greene.
Armour, Mark, SABR biography of Charlie Finley.
Green, G. Michael, and Roger D. Launius, Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball’s Super Showman (New York: Walker and Company, 2010).
Independent Press Telegram (Long Beach, California).
Kansas City Star.
Spartanburg (North Carolina) Herald
The Sporting News
1971 Oakland A’s Yearbook