Earlier this week, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced the 10 finalists for its Ford C. Frick Award, awarded each year to a notable broadcaster. And fans of our Bay Area teams all have someone to root for.
The late Bill King, the voice of the Oakland Athletics from 1981 through 2005, is a finalist for the seventh time. Duane Kuiper, part of the San Francisco Giants broadcast team since 1987, is a first-time finalist. (Kuiper spent one year, 1993, calling Colorado Rockies games.)
I’ll say, as a perfectly objective Giants non-fan, that I like listening to Kuiper and the rest of the team’s broadcasters: Jon Miller, Dave Fleming and Mike Krukow. No one’s better at creating a picture of the game than Miller, who won the Frick Award in 2010. Fleming is a promising up-and-comer.
The special perspective that Kuiper and Krukow give is that of well-traveled major leaguers (Kuiper played in the ’70s and ’80s for the Cleveland Indians and the Giants, mostly at second base; Krukow was a starting pitcher in the same era for the Chicago Cubs and Giants). “Kruk and Kuip” – yeah, they’re a unit – have a way of communicating how a player thinks about a game but do it like they’ve spent years sitting in the bleachers with the rest of the fans. Kuiper’s also known for a trademark home-run call — “Outta here!” (representative sample below). Ironically he’s also the owner of a sort of record for lack of power at the plate: He made 3,754 plate appearances in his career with only one (1) home run. There’s no one else who’s even close in the pantheon of light-hitting big leaguers.
Now, on to Bill King, and the more subjective portion of this post.
King was a unique talent, one of the best broadcasters in three different major league sports (he broadcast Golden State Warriors and Oakland Raiders games before taking the A’s job at the dawn of the “Billy Ball” era in 1981). I think it’s fair to say that most Oakland fans were heartbroken when the 78-year-old King died during hip replacement surgery immediately after the 2005 season. (On opening day the following year, the A’s held a pregame ceremony that featured King’s broadcast chair on the Oakland Coliseum pitcher’s mound.) His radio presence was a central part of the A’s experience and there’s been an organized effort the past several seasons to get the Baseball Hall of Fame to consider him for the Frick Award.
Beyond his virtues as a broadcaster – he was capable of creating amazing on-the-fly descriptions of the fastest-moving, most-unexpected developments in a game, no matter what the sport – he was also a fascinating, creative and generous human being with endless curiosity and appetite for life. Those qualities shine through in the recently published “Holy Toledo: Lessons from Bill King, Renaissance Man of the Mic,” by Ken Korach (Wellstone Books).
Korach, King’s last broadcast partner with the A’s, describes King’s career and his many loves – including Russian literature, high and low cuisine, and painting – and concludes with an argument for King’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame.
I know how great Bill King was and I don’t require even an institution as august as the Hall of Fame to confirm it for me – he’s the greatest ever, period, end of story. … But I also know how much the Frick Award would mean to Bill’s family and so many of his friends. And more than anything, I know how much the award would mean to the fans, Bill’s listeners, who still hear the great calls ringing out in their memories and who cherish all he gave them. Bill deserves the honor, and so do they.
Korach acknowledges that in a way, the deck is stacked against King. He isn’t associated with just one team or one sport, the way Ernie Harwell was with the Detroit Tigers or Jack Brickhouse was with the Cubs. The Hall of Fame asks the 20-member panel of voters to weigh the broadcaster’s presence on high-profile national events like the World Series and All-Star Game. King never got that kind of exposure, so that’s another strike against him. Finally, longevity counts, too, and even at 25 years with the A’s, King isn’t among the longest-serving broadcasters on this year’s list.
On the other hand, here’s King’s most famous Oakland A’s call: The crazy end to the 2002 game in which the Athletics beat the Kansas City Royals for the American League-record 20th consecutive win. I was sitting in the right-field bleachers for that game, and listening to King describe it, I can only say “Wow!” — for about the 1,000th time.
For more on Bill King, reporter Mina Kim spoke with KQED’s Dan Brekke.