On July 15, 1955, Quincy Major Leo Lenane proclaimed that Sunday, July 24, 1955, was to be Jim Finigan day. Quincyans were urged to attend the baseball game that Sunday in Kansas City. The community wished to honor the local boy who had not only made it to the big leagues but who had also been on theAmerican League All-Star squad in 1954 and 1955. Sponsoring the drive to recognize Finigan was the Quincy Knights of Columbus. The Knights planned to present Finigan with a gift and sought financial “support from organizations and private individuals in the Quincy area.”
To ensure a large Quincy contingent, the Knights chartered a “300-passenger railroad excursion for the double-header between the Athletics and the New York Yankees.” The Herald-Whig wrote that “in addition to giving Quincy fans an opportunity to honor Finigan,” it “will give most their first opportunity to see the Quincy sandlot product in action in the major leagues.”
That Sunday a standing room only crowd watched the A’s drop two games to the Bronx Bombers. But who won or lost mattered little to the Quincyans in attendance, for they had come to honor the hometown boy wearing the Athletics uniform.Between games, Finigan was presented with a new automobile and an engraved watch. Mayor Lenane proclaimed it was Jim Finigan Day. He told the “crowd that Quincy was proud of Finigan and reminded them that Finigan ‘came up the hard way.’”
James Leroy Finigan was born in Quincy on August 19, 1928 to Clifford and Anna Kemmer Finigan. His father died in 1931, and his mother raised five children— three girls and two boys. The Finigan family lived at 1826 Oak Street within sight of both St. Francis Catholic Church and school, which the children attended.
In the days before organized youth sport, boys like Jim and his older brother John honed their skills in vacant lots and schoolyards. Both were natural athletes. John quarterbacked the Quincy Notre Dame football squad and was named to the All-State Team. Regarding his younger brother, John said that Jim could play any sport, but “‘in baseball, he could do it all.’”
Jim graduated from high school in 1946 and enrolled at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, where he played both football and baseball.
But, before his sophomore baseball season, he was approached by a Cardinals’ scout and tendered a contract. While mulling over the opportunity, Oscar Shannon, president of the Quincy Gems, then affiliated with the Yankees, offered Jim $400 to sign with the New York club. Jim went with Yankees and started his professional baseball career with Independence in the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League. He had a great year, leading the team in hits (127) and batting average (.309).
The 1949 season found Jim with the Joplin Miners in the Western Association. Finigan had another superb season and led the Miners in hits (189), doubles (34), triples (19), batting average (.320).
Continuing his climb through the minors, Jim spent 1950 with the Norfolk Tars in the Piedmont League. His numbers were down, but he batted a respectable .260.
Called into military service, Jim spent the next two years in the army. Returning to baseball in 1953, he was assigned to Binghamton of the Eastern League, where he hit .300, led the league in doubles with 36, smacked 13 homes, and drove in 81 runs.
Jim’s play caught the attention of Joe O’Rourke, an Athletics scout. O’Rourke touted Finigan as “a great prospect.”With O’Rourke’s report in mind, Finigan was included in an 11 player swap the A’s and Yankees made in December 1953.
Cornelius McGillicuddy, better known as Connie Mack, not only owned but also for 50 years managed the Philadelphia Athletics. By 1954, Mack’s American League franchise had fallen on hard times and was nearly bankrupt. However, for the 25 men making up the A’s roster, especially a rookie like Jim Finigan, it was big league baseball; and back then, this was the dream of every American boy.
Finigan’s first big league game was Sunday, April 25, 1954. That afternoon the A’s played a doubleheader with the Yankees. Used as a pinch runner in the first game, he started the second game, playing third base and “got on base three times—via a double, a single and a walk. . . .”The rest of the year Jim was a mainstay in the A’s lineup, playing in 136 games. He batted .302 for the season, finishing ninth in the American League, while his 25 doubles were good for tenth. Yankee manager, Casey Stengel, named Jim to the AL All-Star squad. When the ballots for AL Rookie of Year Award were counted, Jimwas runner-up.
Sagging attendance forced the Mack family to sell the Athletics, and the team was moved to Kansas City for the 1955 campaign. In his second season Jim was switched to second base but still played some at third. All total he got in 150 games, starting 146. In the ‘50s the major leagues played 154 games.
Jim’s batting average dropped to .255, and but he clouted 30 doubles—fourth overall in the AL. The season’s highlight was being voted by the fans as the starting third baseman for the AL in the All-Star game. He received 1,659,278 votes. The Herald-Whig reported: “Although he failed to hit in three appearances at the plate, Finigan reached base on his first time at bat as Eddie Mathews bobbled his hot smash to third.”
Jim Finigan played another season for the Athletics, and then was traded to Detroit for the 1957 season. In 1958 and 1959, Finigan suited up respectively for the Giants and the Orioles, but both years he spent time back in the minors.
During the 1950s, 1,560 men played at least one major league game. Jim Finigan played in 512. His last appearance was on July 5, 1959 against the Red Sox. Jim started at third base, batted leadoff, and went hitless in three at bats.
For a season or two, Jim Finigan was as good as the best, and better than the rest.
Bitker, Steve, The Original San Francisco Giants: The Giants of ’58. Sports Publishing Inc., 1991.
Marazzi, Rich and Fiorito, Len, Baseball Players of the 1950s, A Biographical Dictionary of All 1,560 Major Leaguers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland &Company, Inc., Publishers, 2004.
Peterson, John E. The Kansas City Athletics: A Baseball History, 1954-1967. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2003.
Taylor, Ted, The Ultimate Philadelphia Athletics Reference Book 1901-1954. Abington, Pennsylvania: Xlibris, Inc., 2010.
Quincy Herald-Whig, July 11, 1954; September 29, 1954; July 5, 6, 8, 10, 13, 17, & 25, 1955; July 3, 1977; August 22, 1979; May 16 & 17, 1981; and October 17, 1999.