PHOENIX -- Even without the handlebar mustache, Rollie Fingers was a Hall of Fame relief pitcher.
But it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun for Fingers sans mustache. Or as marketable, post-career, for that matter.
If you've watched much baseball on television this summer, you've probably seen the Pepsi Max commercials featuring Fingers, who established himself as one of the best relievers in the game in Oakland before moving on to a memorable stint in Milwaukee.
In a take-off of the "Field of Dreams" cornfield site, New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia stumbles upon the make-shift diamond, only to encounter many of the game's greats from the far past and not-so-distant past. In a follow-up spot, Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria makes the same discovery, only to find the Pepsi machine empty.
A deliveryman saves the day with cases of Pepsi Max, prompting a salute by Fingers.
"Great save, kid," says Fingers. "You deserve this."
Fingers then "removes" his trademark mustache and attaches it to the upper lip of the deliveryman, who is stunned with delight.
"What made the commercial was the expression on the guy's face afterwards," said Fingers.
In those commercials, which also feature a couple of the Famous Racing Sausages, Fingers wears a replica Brewers uniform from the early '80s. Why wasn't he wearing an Oakland uniform, considering he went into Cooperstown representing that club?
"Dennis Eckersley was in the commercial and Rickey Henderson was in it," Fingers explained last week, while making an appearance for Pepsi at the All-Star Game. "They both had A's uniforms on. The (production folks) didn't want to overkill the Oakland A's, so they put me in a Brewers uniform.
"I was OK with it. I had some great years in Milwaukee."
Yes, he did. During the strike-interrupted 1981 season, his first with the Brewers, Fingers won the American League Cy Young Award as well as the most valuable player award, a rare 1-2 punch for a relief pitcher. He led the league with 28 saves while posting a 6-3 record and 1.04 ERA in 47 appearances.
Fingers had no idea he'd be pitching for the Brewers that season. After four years in San Diego, he was part of a massive trade with St. Louis on Dec. 8, 1980. Four days later, he was part of another big deal with the Brewers, who set the stage for their playoff run by acquiring Fingers, Pete Vuckovich and Ted Simmons for David Green, Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano and Lary Sorensen.
"We never finished higher than third place in San Diego, so I knew I was coming to a good team in St. Louis," recalled Fingers. "But I also knew they had Bruce Sutter, so I was wondering what was going on.
"A few days later, I was traded to Milwaukee. I was just as happy because I knew they had a good club. And I knew with all those hitters that team would score runs. There were a bunch of veterans on that team that knew how to win. And County Stadium was a good park to pitch in because it was pretty big."
Fingers had another big year in 1982 as the Brewers claimed their first AL pennant and berth in the World Series. An arm injury shelved him late in the season, however, so he watched helplessly as the Brewers lost in seven games to St. Louis, the team that traded him to Milwaukee.
It's debatable whether Fingers would have made a difference in that Series. Commissioner Bud Selig, who owned the Brewers at the time, insists Fingers would have had an impact because of his ability to pitch multiple innings.
Fingers isn't so sure but would have liked the opportunity to find out.
"I get that all the time when I come to Milwaukee," he said. "People say, 'I wish you were healthy for the World Series.' I don't know if we would have won, but I would have liked to have had the chance.
"I think there were a couple of games I could have made a difference. Who knows? I may have messed up. It was tough. The team was in the post season and you want to be pitching and helping the club."
Like most of his teammates, Fingers was stunned by the reception the team got in Milwaukee after returning from St. Louis. They were given a raucous parade through downtown as if they had won the World Series, not lost in heartbreaking fashion.
"We couldn't believe the turnout we had," he said. "Wisconsin Avenue was packed. We weren't expecting that because we didn't win. You would have thought we won the World Series, the way people came out.
"Milwaukee is such a great baseball town. It's still that way today. You put a winner on the field, they're going to come out and watch. That's what it's all about. That's what you play for."
Fingers doesn't envy the Brewers pitchers who must play 81 games a year in comfortable, cozy Miller Park, where the retractable roof guarantees pristine playing conditions and the ball usually carries well. Hitters normally don't prosper when they can't feel their fingers on the bat, which often was the case early in the season -- and late -- at County Stadium.
"In the beginning of the season at County Stadium, it would be freezing," he recalled. "We'd be burning bats in the bullpen to stay warm. We'd put broken bats in a bucket and light them on fire. You had to do it to stay warm.
"Miller Park is kind of small. I'd rather pitch in County Stadium. It was much bigger in the alleys. You better know what you're doing there."
Fingers does envy the modern-day closer, who seldom is asked to work before the ninth inning. He regularly pitched multiple innings to finish games, then was asked to do it again the next night. Set-up men hadn't been invented yet.
Credited with 341 saves in 17 seasons, Fingers isn't sure how much higher that number would be had he been used only in the ninth inning.
"We got some of those kinds of saves but not nearly as much as today," he said. "Guys today will get 45 saves and pitch 60 innings. We were used differently.
"When I was coming up, relievers such as myself, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage, we were going three or four innings some times. Nowadays, you're a one-inning pitcher. Consequently, you're going to get more saves. The statistics are a little bit different from what we did. That's why it's harder for the older guys (to get recognition).
"That's the way the game has evolved. They like getting a fresh arm in there. I don't begrudge them that. That's the way the game is now. If the starter came out in the fifth or sixth inning, I was the next guy. I'd finish the game."
In 1992, Fingers became only the second relief pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame, following Hoyt Wilhelm (1985). Only three others have joined him in Cooperstown since -- Eckersley (2004), Sutter (2006) and Gossage (2008).
Fingers readily admitted that he was unprepared for the impact of becoming a Hall of Famer.
"Once you get in the Hall of Fame, your life changes," he said. "Just being able to write 'HOF' after your name, that makes a big difference because there aren't too many of us walking around.
"I had no idea what it was going to do for you. I didn't think about making the Hall of Fame until about my fourth year out of ball and people started asking, 'Do you think you'll get in the Hall of Fame? I'd say, 'I don't know.' I had nobody to compare myself to."
Thanks to that 'HOF' after his name, Fingers stays busy. He is popular on the autograph and celebrity circuits, makes countless personal appearances throughout the year and basically stays engaged in the business of being Rollie Fingers.
"I stay busy," said Fingers, who lives in Las Vegas. "I do a lot of charity stuff, play some golf tournaments, personal appearances, meet and greets.
"I still see some of the (former Milwaukee) guys like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. I play golf tournaments with Gorman Thomas. I have good memories of playing in Milwaukee.
"It's nice to be recognized. It's been fun."
Which brings us back to the handlebar mustache, a facial signature that makes Fingers immediately recognizable to even the most casual of baseball fans. He still laughs at its origin, recalling spring training of 1972 with Oakland.
"Reggie Jackson showed up with a mustache and refused to shave it off," recalled Fingers. "(Owner) Charlie Finley thought if everybody else grew one, Reggie would shave his off. So, he offered us each $300 if we had a mustache by opening day.
"At the time, there were no mustaches in the big leagues. Even (manager) Dick Williams grew one. Everybody else was doing a regular mustache. I said, 'What the heck. Let's see what a handlebar looks like.' As soon as we started growing mustaches, the media ate it up."
Fingers, now 64 years old, has had the handlebar mustache ever since. He says he came close only once to shaving it off.
"A couple of years later, I lost back-to-back games in the ninth inning and thought about shaving it off to change my luck," he recalled. "I had the razor right there.
"Then, I said, 'I better not. I've had it for so long. I better keep it."'