Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Holy Toledo! Bill King, 1927-2005

Bill King, one of the greatest radio sportscasters of all time, passed away yesterday. He was 78. King's career included announcing Golden State Warriors basketball (1962-83), Oakland Raiders football ('66-'92) and Oakland A's baseball (1981-2005).

Bill King was a part of the soundtrack of my life. I think I stopped following football when King ended his Raiders' tenure and when his colleague and great friend Lon Simmons ended his run with the cross-Bay 49ers. I'm a huge baseball fan, so I know I've been listening to Bill King on the radio since he was the third man in the SF Giants' booth (behind Hall-of-Famers Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons) in 1962.

As some of you may know, I worked in the sales department of KJOY-AM (Stockton CA) from '78-'88. We carried University of Pacific football and basketball games. When they were nationally ranked, we even carried some UOP Women's Volleyball! Anyway, a number of very talented sportscasters came through KJOY to do UOP games.

Jon Miller, now the voice of the San Francisco Giants and ESPN's lead TV baseball announcer, was once the voice of the UOP Tigers. So was Joe Angel, former Giants' announcer now with the Baltimore Orioles. Wayne Hagin of the St Louis Cardinals, too. But the one who did the most UOP games while I was there was a good guy named Will Watson. Will worked with me in the sales department when he wasn't off doing play-by-play.

Late in Bill King's run as the Warriors' play-by-play man, he contracted a mean case of laryngitis. The search for a fill-in came to Will Watson who worked next to a near-voiceless King during one of the most exciting basketball games ever. The Warriors were down some 10 or 12 points with less than two minutes to go---and then the team went on an incredible run to win the game at the buzzer. Will called it all with the dean of basketball announcers at his side, with King unable to get in more than a croak or two during the broadcast. Not one "Holy Toledo!". Not one jump down a ref's throat.

I remember talking with Will upon his return to Stockton after that amazing game. Bill King told him he did a great job. Now I don't recall if Will ever did more NBA broadcasting, but to get a compliment from the best basketball announcer of all time was no doubt the highlight of Will's broadcasting career. Vicariously, it was also one of mine.

In the mid-'80s, I got press box passes for a late season Oakland A's game. My dad was a die-hard A's fan, so I was thrilled to get him into the press box for his first and only time. Right next to the press box, through a window, was the radio broadcast booth with Bill King and Lon Simmons.

Now the press box was where the writers did a lot of things then---they smoked, they ate, they wrote---but they didn't talk a lot. And they sure as heck didn't root---at least out loud, anyway. So Dad, usually a very vocal and sometimes boisterous fan, kept quiet. The A's got down early to the Texas Rangers and by the 7th inning the score was something like 6-0. The A's looked just terrible that night. In the bottom of the 7th, the A's finally managed to squeak in a run. In a fit of sarcasm, Dad, in the relative silence of the press box, clapped loudly twice, stood up and then exclaimed "It's about damn time!"

Several sportswriters started laughing. One even said "It's nice to have a fan in here." Next door, in the broadcast booth, Bill King watched Dad's antics, smiled and gave him the "thumbs-up" sign.

That's as close as I ever got to meeting Bill King. But I listened to him for so many hours over so many years, starting when I was a child and Dad would have the games on in the car or on the transistor at home, that I felt I did know him, at least a little.
Dad passed away in '98, but whenever I listened to Bill King do the A's, I still felt like Dad was there listening with me.

The best will always be missed.

In comics, artist Jack "King" Kirby will always be missed---and will always be the creative genius others can only aspire to be. Bill King is to sports broadcasting what Kirby is to comics. One of a kind, brilliant and creative--- and very, very memorable.

Bill King will always be a part of the soundtrack of my life. I hope he's finding out just how holy Toledo really is right about now.

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