They Were There: Ernie Fazio
“(Charlie Finley) always took care of his players—invested money for them; put down payments on houses for them, that type of stuff. I used to ride the mule for him all the time. I didn’t mind. I said to myself, ‘There's worse things to do.’”
Ernie Fazio, the first player ever signed by the Houston Colt .45s/Astros, was a bonus baby who never grew up—at least not on the field, batting .182 through 141 major league games before a life-threatening virus forced him to retire in 1967. But Fazio hardly made for a quick fade away from the game; he worked in the Oakland A’s front office and is one of those rarest of people who had more good than bad to say of Charlie Finley; and he is currently at the forefront of a lawsuit against Major League Baseball to allow over 1,000 retired players with less than four years’ major league experience to receive pension money retroactively.
As told to Ed Attanasio, This Great Game
“I went to the Kansas City A’s in 1966 to play for Charlie Finley. I loved that man. He always took care of his players—invested money for them; put down payments on houses for them, that type of stuff. I used to ride the mule for him all the time. I didn’t mind. I said to myself, ‘They’re worse things to do.’”
I got to hang out quite a bit with Joe DiMaggio during his time with the A’s. I asked him how he stayed in such great shape, because you know he smoked cigarettes, and he said, “I run.” He ran all the time to keep those legs in shape. He didn’t like the public. When we would play in these charity golf functions, he’d always skip the dinners afterwards. He just didn’t want to be bothered by people always coming up to him.”
On beginning his career in Houston: “I signed out of Santa Clara University in 1962 with the Houston Colt .45s for $100,000. My parents got $10,000. The people in Houston told me they would help me meet a girl down there, so that I could get married and save on income taxes. That was part of their pitch to me. They would set me up.”
“I really had a great time in Houston. I got to meet some of the astronauts, including John Glenn. I still have my original Colt .45 uniform. Collectors call me up all the time and want to buy it.”
“I hurt my arm that first year and they sent me down to Oklahoma City in the Pacific Coast League. I still have the record in that league for home runs by a second baseman (25). We won the PCL title, and I was healthy and all ready to go back up to the big club. I told them, I’m ready to play now. They said, “You’re not going up, you’re going home.” They had decided to go with Joe Morgan. We’re still good friends, Joe and I.”
“My problem was that when I got to Houston, they tried to change my batting style. They wanted me to become a slap hitter, to punch the ball, like Nellie Fox.”
“That stadium the Colt .45s played in (Colt Stadium) was so damn hot and humid and there were so many mosquitoes out there every day, they were like hordes of locusts. Johnny Temple used to eat lots of honey to keep the bugs away. It seemed to work.”
On playing with Bo Belinsky: “After I left the A’s, I played in the minors in Hawaii. My roommate was Bo Belinsky. We had a great time, two single guys in Honolulu. Bo was a great guy to hang out with. He had his choice of any woman he wanted. And that’s all I can really say about that.”
On his role in the pension lawsuit against MLB: “Bo introduced me to Jim Acho, an attorney, who got me involved in the pension case against major league baseball. The issue is that, in the old days, players who played for less than four years didn’t qualify for the pension. Back then, those were the rules. Now, if you play one day, you get medical benefits for life. If you are with a ball club for more than 45 days, you qualify for some pension money. There are over a thousand players out there who didn’t get a dime because they played less than four years.”
1966: Wish You Were Here, Mr. DeWitt Frank Robinson dominates the American League for the Baltimore Orioles—and proves to his former employers in Cincinnati that he's not an "old thirty."
The 1960s Page: Welcome to My Strike Zone In a decade where baseball as a tradition is turning stale with America's emerging counter-culturism, major league owners see its biggest problem to be, of all things, an overabundance of offense in the game. The result? An increased strike zone, further contributing to a downward spiral in attendance, but greatly aiding an already talented batch of pitchers.
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