Steve Finley, who excelled at the plate and in the field, debuts on Hall of Fame ballot
At every critical career juncture, Steve Finley has to prove his baseball ability.
He never once fell short.
“He brings defense to the table, and he’s a good offensive player,” said Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn when he was Finley’s teammate with the San Diego Padres in the mid-1990s. “He’ll steal you bases, score runs, get on base a lot. All of a sudden, it’s top-of-the-line player stuff.”
A top-of-the-line player – who now finds himself on the 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame ballot.
Finley, born March 12, 1965 in Union City, Tenn., was drafted in the 13th round of the 1987 MLB Draft by the Orioles out of Southern Illinois University. He earned a New York-Penn League All-Star berth that summer with the Newark Orioles, then found himself starting in the outfield for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings in 1989 – a jump of more than three minor league levels.
Red Wings manager Johnny Oates, who later managed the Orioles and Rangers before he passed away in 2004, took an immediate liking to Finley and pressed the Orioles to quickly move Finley through the system. By 1989, Finley was Baltimore’s Opening Day centerfielder.
“When I was at Triple-A, I was supposed to go back down I don’t know how many times,” Finley said early in his career. “But (Oates) kept fighting for me. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I’d be.”
But after playing in 142 games for Baltimore in 1990, the Orioles traded Finley – along with Curt Schilling and Pete Harnisch – to the Astros for first baseman Glenn Davis. Finley spent four years as Houston’s center fielder, averaging .281 at the plate and hitting 41 triples to go along with 110 stolen bases.
Following the 1994 season, Houston – trying to shed payroll – traded Finley, Ken Caminiti and four other players to the Padres for six prospects. In 1995, Finley topped 100 runs scored for the first time and won his first of five Gold Glove Awards.
“To me, if you’re going to be a complete ballplayer, you have to do it on both ends,” Finley said. “You’re not always going to get a hit, but you should always be able to play good, solid defense.”
Finley’s ability to hit was just starting to blossom. In 1996, he helped lead the Padres to the National League West title by hitting 30 home runs – 19 more than he had ever hit in a single season. From 1996-2004, Finley averaged better than 26 home runs a season while with the Padres, Diamondbacks (with whom he signed as a free agent before the 1999 season) and Dodgers, hitting a career-best 36 homers in 2004 while splitting time with Arizona and Los Angeles.
He finished his career with stints with the Angels, Giants and Rockies, totaling 1,443 runs scored, 2,548 hits, 304 homers and 320 stolen bases. He is one of just eight players in big league history with at least 300 homers and 300 steals, including Carlos Beltran, Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds, Andre Dawson, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez and Reggie Sanders.
Finley played in World Series in 1998 with the Padres and 2001 with the Diamondbacks, helping Arizona claim the Fall Classic title in 2001.
He retired following the 2007 season.
“He’s the type of guy you love having on your team,” Oates said. “He’s a manager’s player. We always hear about players’ managers. Steve Finley is a manager’s player.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum