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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Dave Kingman

The Dave Kingman Report: At-Bat #1

I would like to introduce a feature that I plan to revisit periodically here on Cardboard Gods. But first a few words on the feature’s titular player:

Throughout his career, Dave Kingman’s at-bats ended in a strikeout more frequently than anyone who had ever preceded him onto a major league field. (By the time of his retirement, his contemporary Gorman Thomas had edged in front of him for the all-time lead in worst strikeout percentage.) Dave Kingman (unlike Gorman Thomas) was an atrocious fielder, once inspiring Phillies broadcaster Richie Ashburn to remark, during a break in play devoted to the repair of Kingman’s glove, "They should have called a welder." Kingman’s lifetime batting average was .236, and, because he seemed to lack both the ability and the will to draw a walk once in a while, his lifetime on-base percentage was an even more depressing .302, the same mark posted by Fred "Chicken" Stanley and lower than the success rates of, for example, Billy Almon and Shooty Babitt. He also had the reputation of being a detriment to the collective psychological well-being of his teammates, a characteristic most pungently described by one-time fellow Cub Bill Caudill, who said, "Dave Kingman was like a cavity that made your whole mouth sore." Teammates weren’t the only ones subject to his malevolent demeanor: He once gift-wrapped a box with a dead rat inside it and presented it to a female reporter, apparently a Neanderthalic protest to the presence of women in the locker room.

At the time of Dave Kingman’s retirement, however, only four men in baseball history had a higher percentage of home runs per at bat, and their names were Ted Williams, Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, and Babe Ruth.

He hit home runs, struck out, butchered fielding plays, sowed bad vibes. And then he hit some more home runs. Perhaps it’s not surprising that he was well-traveled player. The team for which he was playing probably grew tired of his many shortcomings, while a team he had yet to play for was able by virtue of desparation and distance to narrow their vision to see only the home runs. This card shows Kingman in the rosiest light possible: the "N.L. ALL-STARS" insignia; the photo of the strapping slugger on one of the rare occasions when he’d just made contact with the ball, which probably meant that he had just sent it on a screaming 500-foot journey toward the windshield of a vehicle in the parking lot; and, perhaps most significantly, the bestowal on the back of the card by Topps of the number 500 in the 1977 series (I’m not sure if Topps still does this, but they used to have a hierarchical numbering system that gave stars numbers on the zeroes). But this is also the card that came out the year Dave Kingman became a member of five different teams (Mets, Angels, Padres, Yankees, Cubs) in a span of five months. Not even Bobby Bonds got hot-potatoed (or rotten-potatoed?) like that.

Suffice it to say that, like all the Cardboard Gods, Dave Kingman had his flaws. But this doesn't mean that there's not something about him that I, a Cardboard Goddite, can find to shine some more light on my shadowy life.

With that in mind, I have decided to create an ongoing feature entitled The Dave Kingman Report, which is intended to draw inspiration from the one thing that Dave Kingman did as well as any human who has ever lived, with the possible exception of the lovable Steve Balboni: swing for the goddamn fences.

I have never liked to strike out, not in baseball, not in softball, not in life, and this has at times prevented me from taking chances. The Dave Kingman Report is my attempt to address this shortcoming. I want to emulate Dave Kingman's willingness to go up to the plate and take his cuts. Strikeouts? So what. Keep swinging. At least that's the plan.

It is my hope that this project can encompass many different aspects of this life. Right now, what it most fully applies to for me is my writing "career," such as it is. A couple weeks ago I began a concerted effort to try to get the novel I’ve been working on for a few years published. I have made some efforts before, mostly through tenuous personal contacts that did not end up panning out. Now I’m sending query letters to people who won’t know me at all. I also sent a shorter piece to a couple magazines. I have done this before but always reluctantly, hesitantly. I am trying to do it more often. Get a bat. Get in there. Swing.

Below is the box score including my first at-bat of this new season.

February 26, 2007

Dear Josh,

Thank you for your submission to Writer’s House. After careful consideration, we must inform you that we are unable to offer you representation at this time.

Sincerely,
Kelly Riley
Assistant to Michael Mejias
Writers House, LLC


Oh for one.

14 Comments:

Blogger Greg Weeks said...

Great metaphor. The Kingmans, Thomases, and Luzinskis of baseball were more fun to watch than most other players precisely because they were always swinging for the fences.

12:48 PM  
Anonymous MIL said...

I'm so sorry, I can't get past the dead bird. Probably cause i'm a girl.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

It was a rat, but, whatever.

6:23 PM  
Anonymous mbtn01 said...

Dave Kingman was a bad fielder, but in a versatile way. He played third base, first base, the outfield and even pitched a few times. Though every terrible thing they said about him was probably true, you always stopped what you were doing and watched when Dave Kingman was at the plate.

Kelly Riley can bite my ass.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it makes you feel any better, Michael Mejias and Kelly Riley are functionally illiterate.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I always wondered about his 1977 season when looking at Mr. Kingman's cards. Why did he get traded so much in 1977?

1:18 PM  
Anonymous pete millerman said...

When the towering, glowering, and generally unpleasant Kingman lumbered to the plate it truly was an all-or-nothing proposition.

King Kong at bat was the living embodiment of an odds/even, now-or-never, go-for-it-all gestalt, a moment that usually produced a palpable tension, hush, and alertness in the stands at Shea.

An inhuman moon launch of a Home Run, entering orbit somewheres out by the Whitestone Bridge, or an ugly whiff at a slider four feet outside the strike zone...those were the options. When Kong swung and missed, as he did often and eagerly, you could feel the resulting breeze up in the mezzanine level.

We loved Kingman because he was exciting. Every at-bat held possiblility and promise. Even if the denoument ended in an ignominious trudge back to the dugout, for those moments when Dave Kingman was at the plate, you didn't leave your seat to get a Rheingold.

For a franchise that hadn't had a genuine slugger since Frank Thomas declared war on the short left-field porch at the Polo Grounds, this was, in a way, enough.

When Kingman was summarily purged and excommunicated by Chairman Grant on the same infamous June 1977 day as Tom Seaver, it was a lesser loss, but one that subtly resonated...
Of course no one could ever replace Tom Seaver, our HEART and SOUL and SPIRIT. This shall always be true.

But things were sure as hell alot less exciting around Flushing without that mean-spirited, poor fielding, OBP-challenged lout around to lay it all on the line.

Maybe Josh has it right. Maybe we should swing for the fences. Stop emulating Charlie O'Brien and Doug Flynn. Take our cuts. All or nothing. But it takes a leap of faith... bunting is so much easier.

Kingman actually played in all four major league divisions during that '77 season (...I wonder if he has one-twentieth of a ring from his clipped Yanee tenure.) Till the end he was still clubbing a pre-steroidal 35 dingers a year and racking up the 'Ks' with astonishing aplomb when he packed it in (or, given the patience of most MLB executives was packed) in the '80s...

It puts one in the mindset of Warren Oates' downtrodden character in Sam Peckinpah's classic film "Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia." That sooner or later, it's time to say F- it all on life's merry-go-round, and go for that gold ring. It's a sobering premise.

But what the hell..if you're going to bat .204 in the game of life anyway, why not take a few big swings on the way?

1:44 PM  
Blogger Josh Wilker said...

pete millerman said: "I wonder if he has one-twentieth of a ring from his clipped Yanee tenure."

From baseball-reference.com (http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Dave_Kingman):

"Won a World Series Ring with the New York Yankees in 1977 (he did not play in the 1977 World Series)"

Pretty generous of the Yankees, considering The Sky King only played 8 games for the Yankees. But maybe he helped them win a game or two in a very tight pennant race with the O's and Red Sox. Even if he didn't he certainly packed the whole Dave Kingman experience into his short tenure in pinstripes, minus the dead rat: in 24 at bats he had 13 strikeouts and only 6 hits, but 4 of them were home runs.

2:34 PM  
Anonymous The Navigator said...

Josh,
I salute and admire your determination. Others have probably said this before, but: you should explore making this blog the subject of your first book. I love what you're doing here, and it might just be an easier sell - more obvious hook - than a novel by an unknown, first-time author. I guess you'd have rights issues with Topps, but those could probably be worked out.

4:13 PM  
Blogger El Person said...

Kingman and Thomas are the two best HR hitters ever not to be in the HoF.

7:12 PM  
Blogger Josh Wilker said...

Navigator: Thanks for the encouragement. I've considered both the book idea and the copyright issues, but, true to form, I haven't yet looked into either.

el person: My favorite pure homer guy not in the HOF is Steve Balboni. Bill James, in his entry on Dave Kingman in Historical Abstract, identified Balboni as having the highest percentage of his worth coming from home runs of anyone in history. Kingman's percentage was 77% (I don't know how this was tabulated, but it sounds about right), which was the highest of anyone profiled in James' book, but Balboni's was a staggering 93%!

8:40 AM  
Anonymous mbtn01 said...

It's my understanding you may use baseball cards to illustrate a book without clearance from Topps, provided they are your own baseball cards. That's whyt you see so many sports books illustrated with them.

9:32 AM  
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