James Finney, my friend

What are the above photos all about, and who is James Finney? What does this man have to do with baseball? Well, let me explain. When I was traded from the San Francisco Giants to the New York Yankees in July of 1968, James Finney became a very important person in my life, and perhaps more than any person, made my life enjoyable playing for the Yankees. The first photo was taken in 1970 next to the Hackensack river in Hackensack, New Jersey. This photo shows Mary Louise, wife of James, their youngest son Paul and James. They are about to be taken in a flight over the New York City area by a friend of mine, John Trimble , who was at that time a flight engineer for Eastern Airlines. They will be flying in a single engine sea plane and took off on the same river used by Charles Lindbergh in May of 1927 when he flew across the Atlantic ocean to France. As a side note, when I was four years old, my dad started calling me “Lindy” after that famous flyer. His plane was called “the Spirit of St. Louis” and ironically, St. Louis is where I spent seven years of my baseball career. Getting back to my story, that same day I was taken up by John Trimble and saw many great views of New York City, which are shown in the above photos, including one of Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium being the last two photos, the last showing the inside of the stadium.

Word came to me on Friday, July 8, 2011, that James Finney had died. He had just celebrated his 95th birthday a few days before on the 4th of July. He was a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ for 77 years, both in Africa and in America. When I came to the Yankees, he was preaching in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, and lived in the preacher’s house right next to the church building.

Over the years, the home of James and Mary Louise Finney was open to one and all. In addition to their own four boys, they kept about 18 different college age boys during the summer months, who worked for Nabisco in order to help pay their way through college. Some church members would drive from Long Island and spend Saturday night with the Finney’s so that they could attend services the next morning. James would take me on personal tours of New York city in his Volkswagen Bug, and introduced me to gobs of the local people in the city of Fair Lawn. He kept that Volkswagen spotless and put about 215 thousand miles on it. He taught me the value of a car. He later bought a Pontiac Station-Wagon and put almost 400 thousand miles on it. With four boys I think he needed that extra room. Mary Louise worked part time in the fabric and decorating department at Bamberger, a large department store. They could make money stretch a long way.

When I joined the New York Yankees, they had three boys still at home, and I would leave them tickets for the Yankee games, as well as other boys which stayed in the Finney’s home. That is, when they were able to attend. James spoke perfect English in the pulpit and all of his lessons were very well prepared. It was always a highlight for me to attend services there and I met so many friendly people who put God first in their lives. He introduced me to the James MacKnight Commentaries and I still have these in my library. I also purchased a copy of the “Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible” at his suggestion. As stated at his funeral, he was a walking library of knowledge.

I lived with Mary Louise and James in the spring before my family was able to join me. James set up a large desk in the office area at the church building so I could work on Pitching For The Master and other projects. This man was beloved in the congregation, and I would often go with him to visit members as well as do some evangelism. Mary Louise would cook a meal for me at 3:00 in the afternoon so that I could arrive at Yankee Stadium by 4:30. I gave Mary Louise rent money and I think that she spent it all on food, for which the whole family was grateful. She was a very good cook, but she went out of her way for me. Listen, she would also have to prepare meals for the others at regular times, so she did double duty just to please me. After many a game, I would meet James at the Forum, a restaurant in New Jersey, where several major highways come together, and have a bit to eat and we would discuss the game or whatever else was on our minds. As I said, he made my stay in New York very pleasant.

After learning of James death, I made arrangements to fly from Love Field in Dallas to Denver, and at the airport met a dear friend, Alan Geer, who had made arrangements to fly from Tampa, Florida and arrived at the airport the same time, and together we rented a car and drove to Colorado Springs, where James had done local preaching and had lived for many years. Alan was one of the many boys who had stayed in the Finney’s home and worked at Nabisco when they lived in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. James died a peaceful death resting in his favorite chair in his office. We went to the funeral services and spent three days with the family. Mary Louise had previously died from an auto accident on January 18, 1993.

Three of the boys (Tim, Paul, and Mark) spoke at the service. Also a letter was read from Joe, the oldest son who could not attend. The church building was full of people and it was a very moving and emotional experience, with different speakers and congregational singing. The main address was delivered by Melvin Curry, an old friend of James who had accompanied James on many trips to Africa and other missionary work. Melvin for years was head of the Bible Department at Florida College. Melvin compared James to the great patriarchs of the Bible, and made a very strong case. After the service there was a luncheon at the local civic center equipped with a live mike where people took turns speaking about how James had touched their lives. Although there is sadness in the death of a loved one, this day also took on the spirit of the celebration of a great life. James was the type of person who always lifted up everyone around him. But he could be tough too – just ask the children. We spent the afternoon exchanging story after story.
How can you capture or recount 95 years of living in just one afternoon? As Alan and I headed back to the air port two days later, we knew that our decision to come was well founded.

Thus, it is fitting that I dedicate this issue of Pitching For The Master to James Finney, an extraordinary preacher, father, husband, grandfather, friend, etc. who had left behind a great legacy for future generations. It is not possible to put into one short article the value of his life, and so I will not attempt to do so.

And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” Rev. 14:13

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Articles are published monthly in the blog “Pitching For The Master”. In order to go to this blog simply go to lindymcdaniel.com and from there hit the button that leads you to the blog. You can contact me my going to my E-mail address at lindymcdaniel41@yahoo.com or write to me at 1095 Meadow Hill Drive, Lavon, Texas 75166. Thanks. Lindy McDaniel

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