When I was a teen, my favorite baseball player was Dave Kingman. (It was Bill Mazeroski before that.)
Kingman hit long home runs. He hit a pop-up that never came down and was awarded a double. (See video below.)
Kingman struck out a lot, too. Kingman was largely an all-or-nothing player. He was 6-foot-6, gangly and had a quirky manner.
Kingman had a few memorable seasons, most notably 1979 with the Chicago Cubs: He led the National League in home runs (48) and OPS (.956). He drove in 115 runs and hit an uncharacteristic .288. He whiffed a very characteristic 131 times, the most in the NL.
Kingman finished his career with 442 home runs, but is nowhere near the Hall of Fame – and shouldn’t be. His lifetime average was .236.
At 37, Kingman hit 35 home runs with Oakland in 1986, and it turned out to be his last big-league season. Nobody wanted him after that.
Kingman was widely known as a jerk. I didn’t know that then, and wouldn’t have cared.
But by the time Kingman came to Three Rivers Stadium years later for an old-timers game, I had heard he was a jerk. But I decided to find out for myself.
I was doing a story on that event for the Post-Gazette, and took a baseball for Kingman to hopefully sign. (Yeah, I know – very unprofessional.) I approached Kingman in the dugout. He was wearing a No. 26 Cubs jersey.
I introduced myself and said, “You were my favorite player when I was a kid. Would you mind signing this ball?”
Kingman (icy stare): “That’s bull***t. I wasn’t anybody’s favorite player.”
Me: “Well, you were mine. I know everything about your career. For example, that jersey you’re wearing is wrong.”
Me: “You wore No. 26 with almost everybody else, but No. 10 with Chicago. No. 26 was Billy Williams’ number with the Cubs before you got there, and it got retired. That jersey is wrong.”
Kingman, after a considerable pause: “Give me the ***king ball.”
He signed it, then returned it. I detected a hint of a smile. I still have the ball.
Thumbnail Courtesy of Getty Images