Remembering the early Hammer, a pitch for Charlie O. and oh yeah, an A’s game

In for Joe Stiglich on 80s Day at the O.co Coliseum. Joe was probably playing with Hot Wheels back in those days …

As for me, I’m probably one of the few people around anymore who remembers Hammer in his Oakland A’s heyday, when he was owner Charles O. Finley’s “eyes and ears” around the ballpark for the much of the 1970s. Fresh out of college and working for the Hayward Daily Review, I did some backup work on the A’s in 1977 and 1978 (as I’m still doing now, quite amazingly) when Hammer was regularly in the press box during games. He would participate and sometimes organize betting pools with the sportswriters of the day — the great Ron Bergman of  the Tribune, Glenn Schwarz of Examiner, Herb Michelson of the Sacramento Bee and others. Amazingly, Hammer hustled his way to victories in most of those pools, particularly attendance pools where so many of us believed young Stanley Burrell was privy to inside information on the crowd counts. Hey, it didn’t really matter. Hammer kept us entertained during a lean time for the A’s.

I asked Hammer about those pools Sunday and he remembered them well.

“We had the first-hit pool and the attendance pool and I used to tear you journalists up,” he said. “It was fun times. You could look and tell, you watch enough ballgames, you could estimate the crowds pretty good.”

But what about the details on the inside info?

“When you have no story, create one,” he said. “Such is the life of a writer.”

Funny thing, the 80s really weren’t Hammer’s decade. He was a young celebrity with the A’s in the 1970s, but left the scene following the 1980 ownership change. When he emerged as a music star, he didn’t really hit it big until 1990, when his monster hit “U Can’t Touch This” became the first rap single to hit the top 10 Billboard charts.

Hey, whatever works if you’re the A’s. The Hammer Bobblehead Day was well attended, as it should be for a true local hero. Whether you’re  a Hammer fan or not, you have to respect his legacy. The hardest part is knowing that next year, he’ll turn 50 years old. Remembering the days when he was 15-16 years old, that makes me feel like a true dinosaur.

There is little question Hammer’s early exposure to Finley helped him in his later career in the music biz, because he learned some valuable lessons in self-promotion. He didn’t deny it.

“I think some of the biggest things was being around Mr. Finley himself, the architect,” he said. “There’s one game that’s played on the field, but there’s another game that is worked out upstairs that allows for the product and the game to happen the way it does. The game was quote-unquote not as entertaining as the marketing genius Mr. Finley would like, so he would say, `Hey, let’s have a mechanical rabbit to pop out of the ground to give the umpire the balls. That’ll make the kids laugh, that’ll make everybody happy. If the game is too masculine, let’s get ball girls instead of ball boys, put a beautiful young girls out there.”

Hammer ticked off several other Finley innovations, then summed them up by saying, “The genius of Charles O. Finley, and being exposed to that year-in, year-out, from the time I’m basically 9 or 10 years old until I’m 18, played a tremendous part, which is why I took him on Oprah Winfrey and thanked him on Oprah, thank God before he passed away.”

Hammer thinks unequivocally Finley should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Absolutely, but not as somebody’s favorite, just on facts,” he said. “You won’t be doing Mr. Finley a favor, you’ll just be doing what he earned. You’re talking about a man who would acquire talent, curate talent, market and promote the team and then actually win division and world championships and let you know it wasn’t an accident by doing it consecutively, year in and year out.”

Tough to disagree. What’s remarkable is that Finley has no real memorial at the Coliseum, and he’s not in the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, either. He was directly responsible for three of the five A’s retired numbers. He hired the late Dick Williams, also in the Hall. He drafted Rickey Henderson for the next generation of A’s fans.

As I finish this, the A’s are up 8-0 in the top of the third. Now that’s a throwback to the ’80s, particularly the latter part of the decade!

Carl Steward