(Check out our other player card posts here.)

Take a look at most any Chuck Finley baseball card, and you’ll find the image of the diamond rock star that fans came to know well in the late 1990s — long, lean physique and movie-star good looks set off by a flowing mane fluttering from the bottom of his California Angels cap.

He was like the son Randy Johnson and Rick Springfield never had.

 

1994 Mother's Cookies Chuck Finley

 

But before Finley became famous for his late-career conditioning and his volatile marriage to real rock (video) star Tawney Kitaen, he was just trying to fit in with his Angels teammates.

At least according to his early Topps cards.

Following Suit … or Following Hirsute?

California selected Finley in the first round (fourth pick overall) of the 1985 Major League Baseball January draft. It took him parts of just two seasons in the minors before he made his debut in the Bigs on May 29, 1986.

In 25 appearances that season, he went 3-1 in a mostly mop-up role.

That was good enough to land Finley rookie cards in the major 1987 sets, including Fleer and Donruss entries that look about like you’d expect them to.

 

1987 Fleer Chuck Finley

1987 Donruss Chuck Finley

 

But those cards were lies.

See, back in those days, the California Angels — especially their pitching staff — had a distinctive look. Here, take a gander at the 1987 Topps Gary Lucas card (skunk-smelling variation):

 

1987 Topps Gary Lucas

 

And the 1987 Topps Traded Greg Minton card:

 

1987 Topps Traded Greg Minton

 

And the 1987 Topps Mike Witt card:

 

1987 Topps Mike Witt

 

And John Candelaria:

 

1987 Topps John Candelaria

 

Granted, Kirk McCaskill, Don Sutton, and Ron Romanick took a less hirsute approach to the mound, but when you thought about the 1986 American League West champion California Angels, you couldn’t help but think about mustaches.

A hairy lip was a tradition stretching back to the days of Bruce Kison

 

1982 Topps Bruce Kison

 

… and extending to everyday players like Rob Wilfong

 

1986 Topps Rob Wilfong

 

… and Ruppert Jones:

 

1987 Topps Ruppert Jones

 

Who was this beanpole rookie (Chuck Finley) to disrupt that flow?

He was nobody.

And so Finley capitulated, for at least part of one year, as evidenced by his 1987 Topps card:

 

1987 Topps Chuck Finley

 

And if his 1988 Topps card is to be believed, his compliance stretched into a second Big League season:

 

1988 Topps Chuck Finley

 

That 1987 season, when his first ‘stache card was hitting store shelves and when the photo for jos second ‘stache card was snapped, was a pretty rough one for Finley. He went 2-7 with a 4.67 ERA, and there probably were some doubts about his future as a Big Leaguer.

Starting in 1988, though, Finley turned things around.

That season, at age 25, he pushed his way into the rotation and crafted a 9-15 record with a 4.17 ERA. Not awe-inspiring, but solid enough for 2.0 WAR, the first of 13 consecutive seasons Finley hit that Sabermetrics plateau.

From there, Finley was off to the races, regularly winning 12-18 games per year over the course of a decade and becoming renowned for his superb conditioning. When he finally hung up his spikes at age 39 in 2002, his record stood at 200-173, supported by a 3.85 ERA.

 

2002 Topps Chuck Finley

 

By then, Finley had long given up the mustache or trying to conform to any style standards other than those dictated by his Hollywood lifestyle. He had also moved on, first to the Cleveland Indians, then to the St. Louis Cardinals, where the end of his baseball career coincided nearly exactly with the end of his high-profile marriage.

But the Angels and their fans haven’t forgotten about the man who helped span the gap from Reggie Jackson to Troy Glaus, even if he didn’t make the Cooperstown cut. Finley’s 58+ career WAR leave his as something like the 80th best starting pitcher of all time, well ahead of Hall of Famers such as Jack Morris (161st), Catfish Hunter (166th), and Bob Lemon (116th).

Who knows? Maybe voters were just confused by that funky fur on Finley’s upper lip and the uncertain gaze that grace his 1987 Topps baseball card. After all, they weren’t likely to induct Gary Lucas or Greg Minton into baseball’s highest chambers, were they?

(Check out our other player card posts here.)

 

 

 

1993 Finest Refractor Chuck Finley #72 PSA 8 NM-MT (PWCC)

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1991 Topps Desert Shield Chuck Finley SGC Graded

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1992 Upper Deck Gold Hologram #244 CHUCK FINLEY ~ Angels

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1987 Topps Chuck Finley #446

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