Dogged preparation trademark of King's career
'Holy Toledo' gives fans up-close view of longtime baseball announcer
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that baseball fans tend to favor the broadcasters they hear regularly. The radio announcer, especially, becomes a season-long guest. Almost part of the family.
There's little doubt that the late Bill King became that sort of fixture in the Bay Area while calling Athletics games for a quarter of a century. Ken Korach makes a convincing case in "Holy Toledo" that King's ability and influence transcended geography even though he wasn't well known outside the Oakland and San Francisco markets.
Korach was King's partner in the booth for 10 years and makes no pretense of objectivity. Korach clearly admired his subject, and that's all right, because he manages to celebrate the subject and humanize him all at the same time.
The title refers to King's catchphrase when something out of the ordinary happened. But the most telling clue to this book is the subtitle. "Lessons from Bill King: Renaissance Man of the Mic." This was one unique individual.
Start with King's appearance, the devilish goatee and the mustache that, on at least one occasion, convinced a passerby that she had come face to face with Lucifer himself.
King had a passion for Russian literature and the opera and the North Beach jazz clubs. King was an expert wine collector who enjoyed fine dining, but he also craved the most outrageous concoctions. Onion and peanut butter tortillas? Pats of butter? King traveled the world and loved to sail. He read widely. He was well-to-do and dapper but favored shorts and flip-flops whenever possible. He hated to drive, but when he had to, his old clunker had a hole in the floorboard.
Late in life, King took up painting and became so proficient that some of his works were shown in a gallery. One, a view of the San Francisco skyline from Sausalito across the Bay, graces the back cover of the book.
King also was a master of three sports. Before being hired by the Athletics, he was an acclaimed voice of the NBA's Warriors and the AFL/NFL Raiders. In basketball, King is well-remembered for hollering an obscenity at the referees into an open microphone. In football, part of his famous Holy Roller call was inferring that the officials had told coach John Madden to "get your big butt off the field."
Still, baseball was King's first love. And his quirks didn't overshadow his talent, which was, in part, the result of dogged preparation. No matter how long King had done it, no matter how many honors he received, he never slacked off. And he made a smooth transition from keeping voluminous hand-written notes to the computer age with the help of Jay Alves, who worked for the Athletics at the time.
"Bill King was the most prepared, most organized broadcaster I've ever been around. He was amazing," said Alves, who is now communications vice president for the Colorado Rockies.
Korach documents some of King's best calls and carefully explains what made them so good.
King also had a generosity of spirit that can be rare in a profession that easily inflates egos. King didn't throw his weight around even though he was clearly the star.
Before their first Spring Training together, King and Korach had dinner together. For most of the evening, it was a convivial affair. Then, toward the end, King turned serious and announced there were some things that his new partner could never do. Korach braced for the "worst."
No. 1. "Don't ever thank me when I throw it to you for your innings." King felt this little ritual was trite and sounded phony. "If they don't know who we are, well then there's not much we can do about that," King said.
No. 2. Never say "grand slam home run." It was redundant -- a grand slam is a home run -- and a major King pet peeve. When King heard another announcer say it, it was like the sound of fingernails dragging down a chalkboard.
No 3. Never use the term "early on." This also drove King nuts, since he felt the "on" was "superfluous."
Korach exhaled in relief.
That willingness to share, the disinclination to big foot those he worked with, is a recurring theme here. Korach informs us that the ninth inning is a "trophy" for baseball broadcasters. While it's not unheard of for the lead announcer to demand the microphone at significant moments, King never did. One example came in 2002, when the Athletics were on their way to history with a 20-game winning streak. King declined to cancel previous plans to take the Labor Day weekend off. As a result, Korach's calls in the games leading up to the record-breaker were a prominent part of the movie "Moneyball."
In the final chapters, the author turns advocate. Korach argues that King should have long ago won the Ford C. Frick Award given annually to a broadcaster who makes "major contributions to baseball." Korach assembles an impressive array of endorsements. After reading this book, it would be difficult not to conclude that he's made a compelling case.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.