Oakland Athletics Slugger Dave ‘Kong’ Kingman: A 6’6″ Goliath who could make the ball vanish into the bleachers
After the excitement of Billy Ball, and before the Bash Brothers made their name in Oakland, the Oakland Athletics were a cellar-dwelling team with no more than 77 wins in any season. Yet, they were still able to draw 1.7 million fans each year – their best figures in their first 20 years in Oakland.
One of the main reason for the draw of fans to a team that no longer had superstar Rickey Henderson and had no notable pitchers or other All-Star players (until Jose Canseco’s rookie season in 1986) was the play and hitting of designated hitter Dave ‘Kong’ Kingman from 1984 to 1986.
Kingman made his MLB debut in 1971 across the Bay with the Giants, with future Hall of Fame teammates Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal. Kingman was a 6’ 6” outfielder/first baseman who later became well-traveled, playing for seven teams in 13 seasons, even while leading his league in home runs twice – 48 in 1979 and 37 in 1982 – and being a three-time All-Star in 1976, 1979 and 1980.
But like many power hitters of the era, when Kingman wasn’t hitting balls out of the ballpark, he was swinging and missing – becoming susceptible to striking out. He was in the top five in strikeouts in nine of those 13 seasons – ranking first or second in six seasons.
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In 1984, Dave Kingman was a free agent just released by the Mets that January. He was signed by the Athletics just days before the start of the season. Despite not attending Spring Training that year, he was able to go out and hit 35 home runs – some massive shots, ranking second in the American League. He also knocked in a career high 118 RBIs, third best in the league. During a nine-game road trip that year, he hit eight homers and drove in 19 runs with 20 hits in 33 at-bats, a .606 spree. After the 1984 season, Kingman was named the American League’s Comeback Player of the Year.
While an Athletic, Kingman experienced a power renaissance, belting 100 homers over his three seasons as the Athletics’ new designated hitter and part-time first baseman. He also averaged over 100 RBIs per season for the A’s, becoming a fan favorite. Kingman has said the Athletics were one of the best clubs he played for in his career, living in Alameda at the time.
Despite being polarizing at the plate – hitting home runs or going down with a ‘K’ – Kingman was also polarizing with the press, especially after seven different seasons dealing with the vicious New York media when he was a Yankee or Met. Despite being accepted by teammates and fans alike in Oakland, the press would still quote him about his unhappiness with the coaching staff or front office.
He did not like reporters, to whom he often reacted by giving the silent treatment. One time while with the Cubs, Kingman poured a bucket of ice water on the head of a Chicago sportswriter in the midst of an interview with a teammate. During his final year with the A’s in 1986, Kingman sent a live rat in a box to a female sportswriter for The Sacramento Bee. The rat had a tag attached to it that read, “My name is Sue.” Kingman had been vocal about not liking women in the A’s clubhouse. Kingman claimed the act was intended as a harmless practical joke, but the A’s fined Kingman $3,500 and warned that he would be released if a similar incident occurred again.
The next season, with an impressionable Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire on the roster as well as bringing back Reggie Jackson for the 1987 season, Kingman was without a team – this time for good. Despite 16 seasons with 442 home runs and 1210 RBIs, the BBWA spitefully snubbed Kingman in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility in 1992, with only 0.7 percent of the vote, making him the first player with over 400 home runs not to be inducted.
Dave Kingman might never be considered an all-time great, but when he was with the Oakland Athletics during repetitive sub-.500 seasons, no one brought fans to the Coliseum or made them stay in their seats more than he did.