FanPost

Holy Toledo, the King has left the building

Hi All, I've just posted this at my blog, The Entroporium (entroporium.com) and as a frequent reader (though not poster) on this site, I thought it would be appropriate to share. Thanks, and good night!

BTW my user name is a reference to an Elvis Costello song, not to our departed friend.

Cheers,

bill-king_portrait.jpg

Up on the playa, someone asked me to tell her something about me that might surprise her. After thinking for a moment, I came up with the most shocking thing I could think of in that place at that time: I am a diehard, dyed-green Oakland A's fan. (The shock is the baseball fan bit, not the team affiliation, thanks.) It's something that I spend enough time and psychic energy on that I find it a bit embarrassing. But I have to admit that there is something uniquely satisfying and orderly about a well-pitched game, a situation you've never seen before (and there always seems to be one), the fun of second-guessing where the infield should play, whether the starter should be left in, how will they fill the left-handed set-up man role... so many things that make my brain go Ahhhhhhh. It's been this way as long as I can remember and it's always been just this side of obsessive, though I try to mostly keep it to myself and share it with only my family and closest friends.

Normally I try to stay a bit dispassionate about baseball, mainly because it will break your heart if you let it. (Don't get me started, but let's just say that the A's have a checkered playoff record this decade.) Today, though, some news hit that killed. Bill King, the A's lead play-by-play man since 1981, suffered an embolism on the operating table and passed from this world.

There's a big part of me that knows that baseball is stupid; it's an opiate of the masses; it's just a game; it's a bunch of big dumb jocks running around a field (and more often just standing around); it's full of meaningless statistics that ooze over your brain matter and slowly take over, pushing out more meaningful memories. But my "user satisfaction level" tells me otherwise and there are other little signals along the way that make me question my doubt (if that isn't too abstract).

Bill King plays a huge role in my acceptance of my lot as a baseball fan. This was a guy who was incredibly articulate, had much to say about the cultural world outside of baseball (though he rarely did) and brought an air of erudition and excitement to every game he broadcast. He tacitly made it OK to be an egghead and love baseball.

In the last few years when I listened to him, I often found myself wondering as he made his way through the eighth inning of a crummy game in the middle of the country, knowing that he was stuck in a hotel room with a really unpleasant travel schedule: What does he see? How can he be so passionate about this? I knew - even though he never talked of such things -- that he'd had tragedy in his personal life (the passing of his wife during the 2004 season) and that his health was shaky (he'd ceased to join the team on road trips off the West Coast). But still he came to the games and he told stories, incisively dissected strategy, threw out countless off-the-cuff witticisms, spoke truths about the team, its competitors, and its rules-makers (sometimes kind, sometimes not), and always inspired you to feel like a better smarter person even though you were doing something as stupid as listening to a dumb ol' sporting event on an antique transistor radio.

How could he care so much? Somehow he did, and we cared too, and it was OK.

Another great thing about Bill King was his unique ability to question authority, no small thing to a person with such deep roots in the politically isolated Bay Area. Unlike any other sports broadcaster I've ever heard (Daniel Schorr being the closest parallel in 'real broadcasting'), Bill King had no fear of challenging authority, be it an umpire's call, interleague play or some bad decision by team management. My first memories of him are his absolutely livid play-calls he would make for the Warriors in the '70s, where he held absolutely nothing back on the officials (to the apparent delight and approval of my Dad, who always seemed pleasantly astonished by what he was hearing; what a change that must have been from the stodgy New York sportscasters of his youth!). And of course that made him the perfect complement for the many memorable teams he covered: among them, the Rick Barry-era Warriors, the Ken Stabler Raiders, the Billy Ball A's and the Moneyball A's. Each of these teams were rebels in their own way, they each made me proud (and quietly relieved) to be their fans, and the voice of Bill King was a huge part of each of those team's characters.

It's ironic that here in the age of unbridled self-expression and self-absorption - y'know, people writing blogs and stuff - that I can't produce an MP3 for you of any of Bill King's great calls or style. Major League Baseball appears to have done what none of the record companies have been capable of doing: keeping its product from being shared all over the Internet. No, all I have left of Bill King is my Oakland A's bottle opener, which blares King's call of the Hatteberg homer that brought the 2003 A's winning streak to a record 20 games. It's nice, but it's not even one of his best calls, though it does have the mandatory "Holy Toledo!"

A bottle opener seems like a really sad, tiny souvenir from someone who made such a mark on my life, whose voice took up so many pleasurable hours, but I guess that's a life lesson, right? So now I'm going to go to the kitchen and use it to pop open a beer.

Thank you, Bill.

[Soundtrack]

Hopefully some A's clips will show up in the next couple of days - if I dare put myself in front of the wrath of Major League Baseball! -- but here is a classic from Bill King's days with the Raiders:

Bill King calls the Holy Roller -- Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers, September 10, 1978 (courtesy of the Bay Area Radio Museum)

Bill King: The Bay Area Radio Digest Interview, 1990

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