Bill King gets another shot at Frick Award
(September 9, 2010) What would the Bay Area be without Bill King?
A figure so transcendent in the region's sports history has been shut out of Cooperstown thus far, but is up for the Ford C. Frick Award -- which recognizes excellence in sports broadcasting -- once again this year.
Truth be told, if he were alive, King probably wouldn't care much.
"He would be the first to tell you," said A's Spanish broadcaster Amaury Pi-Gonzalez, who worked alongside King for 25 years. "He was a very unassuming guy. If he was here, may he rest in peace, he would say, 'Ah, come on. What do you think about the Mariners?' He would try to change the conversation."
Part scholar, part sailor, part bohemian, part fine arts aficionado, King was anything but ordinary. About the only time he got dressed up was to go to the ballet or the opera, which he did quite often. Otherwise, he'd rather be barefoot in a T-shirt and shorts.
"To be honest, I don't know what kind of shoes he wore or if he even owned socks," said long-time A's employee Debbie Gallas.
On special occasions, like in Spring Training, King even stripped down to a speedo to catch some rays with a game.
By land, King was renowned for his versatility in the broadcast booth. With his unkempt hair, trademark handlebar mustache and unique tone, King's vivid imagery was always matched by his unwavering objectivity.
By sea, King was free. With his beloved vessel Varuna, King sailed to Hawaii, across the Black Sea and discovered heaven on earth with waterfalls of the Princess Louisa Inlet in British Columbia.
He spent many of his years living on a house boat in the avant-garde San Francisco suburb of Sausalito. Because he wouldn't spend more than a few hundred dollars on a car, he became notorious for his cache of run-down vehicles, all of which he drove into the ground.
He taught himself Russian, was well-versed in world affairs, loved Monet and painted impressionist pieces himself. While he was also a wine connoisseur, tales of King's gastronomy deserve Hall of Fame recognition in themselves.
Raw onions for breakfast. Peanut butter and tortillas. Fine dining at America's top restaurants. King's tongue knew no bounds. Something made all the more impressive given his small, skinny stature.
"His eating habits are notorious," said A's clubhouse manager Steve Vucinich. "His body should have been given to medical science to study how he survived so long."
The essence of a renaissance man, King was at his best behind the microphone.
"Bill loved broadcasting," said long-time partner Ken Korach. "He told me that there was nothing in his life that could ever replace the feeling of being on the air, doing a game."
King got his first crack at broadcasting with the Armed Forces Network at the end of World War II, but was introduced to the Bay Area in 1958. Together with Lon Simmons and Russ Hodges, King formed the San Francisco Giants' first broadcast team. Talk about an All-Star cast.
King signed on to be the play-by-play man for the NBA's San Francisco Warriors in 1962, a position he would hold for 21 seasons. In 1966, the Warriors moved to the East Bay, where King would write his legend. He also started broadcasting for the Oakland Raiders in '66, staying with the organization until 1992.
Among the most memorable moments in King's career include the Warriors' 1974-75 season, when they won the NBA championship, and his infamous Holy Roller call with the Raiders in 1978. Not to mention the time he was whistled for a technical foul during a Warriors game after voicing his displeasure to a referee.
But it wasn't until 1981 when King would call games for the A's. Together with Simmons and manager Billy Martin, King gave a face to a franchise in desperate need of one.
When it came to his craft, there was none more dedicated than King.
"It kind of bothered him when he got older that he needed like six hours of sleep a night," Korach said. "In his earlier days he could get by with four hours of sleep. That way he could live more."
About the only time King would take it easy during the season was with the advent of Interleague Play. A baseball purist, King could be stubborn and hold firm to traditions. Whenever the A's would make their annual Interleague road trip, King and his signature "Holy Toledo!" phrase would stay put in the Bay Area.
"He thought it was a sideshow," Korach said.
During his 25 seasons with the green and gold, King saw Billy Ball, the Bash Brothers dynasty and Billy Beane's Moneyball.
Unfortunately, King's inimitable and vigorous life was cut short in 2005 due to complications from hip surgery. King called his final game on Oct. 2, 2005 in Seattle, an 8-3 A's victory, just 16 days before his death.
He wasn't about the money and he most certainly wasn't about the fame, King simply loved the game.
"I envision a shadowy image out there sitting next to the radio. I'm his eyes," King told Sports Illustrated in 1975. "If I can choose the right words to move and excite him, to tie his stomach in a knot, I've done my job and there is a beautiful satisfaction."
Read more at Oakland A's where this story was originally published.
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