New York had Mel Allen and Red Barber. In Los Angeles, it’s Vin
Scully. In St. Louis, Jack Buck was the voice of the Cardinals.
In Oakland, for 25 years, it has been Bill King.
King, who broadcast Oakland Athletics games from 1981 through 2005, died Monday,
leaving a hole the size of Toledo in the Bay Area sports scene. All
baseball broadcasters are invited into our living rooms and their voices
remind us of summer, of victories long past and defeats too painful to
recount, and if ever there was a broadcaster meant for the Bay Area, it
He was, as A’s
president Mike Crowley put it, a Renaissance Man. Not only was he at
the top of his profession in broadcasting three sports–Giants and A’s
baseball, Raiders football, and Warriors basketball–but he was often
more interested in discussing matters wholly unrelated to sports. A’s
broadcasts usually included a side of Shakespeare, Russian literature,
food or wine discourse along with the action of the game. During road
games, King would discuss local restaurants with partner Ken Korach in
between events on the field; batter versus pitcher was followed by
Bryant’s versus Gates. But it’s questionable whether any other
Renaissance man so enjoyed popcorn covered with chili–one of King’s
favorites–or broadcasting ballgames shoeless, as he so often would.
Bay Area fans don’t like a homer. Not “home runs”–this is the town of
Moneyball and Barry Bonds–but the broadcaster who
refers to the team as “we” and openly cheers for the hometown nine. King
was nothing of the sort. He voiced elation at any great play, any
dramatic turn, as if he’d never seen anything like it before. Whether it
was a diving stab in the hole by Miguel Tejada, a
Mark McGwire home run, or a Dave
Stewart strikeout, every game with Bill King meant experiencing
something unique in the history of baseball.
Even more importantly, King was honest with us. Just this year, when
Korach mentioned MLB’s plan to switch the DH rule in interleague play,
King called the idea “Selig
logic,” a phrase, he explained, that is an oxymoron. Even with the
A’s out of the race late in September, he went so far as to call a
slow-responding umpire a “jackass” on air. Larry Krueger would have
gotten himself fired for a remark like that, but King drew applause. He
was notorious for his exasperated disdain for all umpires and he made no
bones about it, pointedly criticizing every missed call to the delight
of his listeners and colleagues.
It’s a tribute to his appetite for self-education that his vocabulary
was large enough to avoid the kind of hackneyed repetition all too
common today. He had but one signature phrase–“Holy Toledo!”–that
was divided between A’s and opponents alike, a result of King’s love of
the game of baseball perfected.
Through it all, King’s one failing may be that he was 10 years too
late. After coming in as the third man in the Giants’ booth in 1958,
King broadcast San Francisco and Golden State Warriors games before
moving on to the Raiders and, in 1981, the Athletics. By the time King
was prominently involved in baseball broadcasts, television was already
the dominant national medium. With the arrival of satellite radio,
baseball on the radio appears to be making a comeback, but King’s
brilliant career bridged the middle decades. While Fox was busy sugar-coating the national pastime in a blizzard of quick shots with a few
microphones on top, King’s classic style reminded all of us why baseball
is the greatest game on earth. He was the narrator of our summers.
Signing off at the end of this season, King said, “We’ll see you
Saturday, March 4th, 2006, at noon.” After 25 years of hearing King call
A’s games, it’s hard to imagine starting a season without him.
Thanks for everything, Bill. We miss you already.
Thank you for reading
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