Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The King

Putting together a litle something on my initial impressions of the play at Full Tilt, where I've been hanging out lately for a change of pace. I figure if I give Poker Stars a bit of the ol' "hard to get," they might eventually welcome me back with a starting hand better than 99. I finished 15th in an MTT last night on FT for a minor award, playing well for the most part. I found myself playing the players a lot more and there are truly some strange "moves" that seem de riguer on that site, such as minimum bets into big pots. It's a far less aggressive group than at the other sites, at least so far, which leads to a lot of orphan pots, prime stealing opportunities and the all-important continuation bet.

I'll delve into further detail as time allows.

But now, a personal tribute.


It's pretty much standard Norman Rockwell fare: A kid sitting alone in his bedroom, ears tuned to the AM radio, listening to a baseball game on a breezeless summer evening. I was that kid, hanging on every description of every pitch, maybe tossing a ball in the air and catching it in an excessively oiled glove while reclined on my bed. I recall occasionally keping score on scoresheets pilfered from a baseball dice game (boxcars meant a Home Run) I acquired at some point.

It doesn't take much to transport me back to those times. Bill King's voice usually did it.

You may have heard Bill King and not known it. Though he was largely a regional presence, working in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, his classic calls--most notably of Raider football--have been repeated over and over. He called Dave Casper's "Holy Roller" touchdown against the Chargers. His radio call of the Raiders' 1976 Super Bowl victory is routinely featured on NFL Films ("...Old Man Willie!"), his gutteral "Touchdown, Raiders!" is still invoked by Silver and Black fans the world over and then there's his signature phrase: Holy Toledo!

I first heard his distinctive tone listening to the Golden State Warrior games in the days of Clifford Ray, Sonny Parker and Joey "Sonar" Hassett. He didn't begin doing the A's games until 1981, but that perfectly coincided with my fandom being cemented by the euphoria of Billy Ball and the "Amazing Aces."

He'd lost some of his considerable skill in the past couple years. The mind remained sharp, the vocabulary still deeper than any ex-jock in the booth, but his eye-sight seemed to be failing him. He mis-identified players, mis-judged fly balls and sometimes lagged behind the action. He'd become increasingly curmudgeonly--though, in truth, he was never one to back away from an unpopular opinion, even with his superiors--railing against interleague play, scheduling of games in Arlington, TX in August and which stadiums had the worst food spreads for the media. Yet, when he got it, when the excitement infused his voice and the moment took over, you could still glimpse his characteristic and peculiar genius.

Out of his gourd!"

He wore a handlebar moustache and Van Dyke beard whether they were in or (almost always) out of style. He dressed in plaid suits and cut a dimunutive, if Machiavellian, figure. I learned all those things later, of course, after his lingual concerts became a regular part of my summer nights. Long before a 500 channel television menu, before far-flung games nightly beamed by satellite or via the internet, before blustery hyperbole and bald-faced homerism became the announcing norm, Bill King was my link to something I truly loved. If you can believe it, he made me love it more.

Sports fans develop an attachment to their hometown announcers, but King's straddling of three major Bay Area sports teams may have put him in a different class. A survey by a San Francisco paper once listed the 50 most influential area sports figures and King checked in at #37, ahead of such well-regarded, well-known stars as Juan Marichal, Steve Young and Ken Stabler.

At age 78, he was still contracted to do A's games through 2007. He was once asked when he'd know it's time to end his broadcasting career. He replied, "It will either come to me or some circumstance will dictate it when the time comes and that will be it. I can't think of not being on the air, really, but I know that someday that will come to pass."

It has come to pass. Not in a way anyone would have wanted. Bill King died Monday of complications from hip replacement surgery. He will be sorely missed.


At 9:56 AM, Blogger Daddy said...

Great tribute.
Great read.

Per usual.

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Drizztdj said...

I listen to Herb Carneal the same way.


Great tribute man.


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