In my kitchen in San Francisco I had a little red radio that I would listen to when I was cooking. It always had Pet Sounds in the CD tray and was tuned to KFRC, AM 610. KFRC was not only the best oldies station I’d ever listened to, it was also home to Oakland A’s baseball, and the voice of Bill King. Now that I live in New York City, one of the things I miss most about the Bay Area (and I can go on and on about the weather, cheap burritos, and left-minded politics) is hearing the A's games called by King.
The radio announcer for the Athletics since 1981, King’s voice must bring back memories of their youth for many Bay Area sports fans. For me, it was a relief from the awful announcers for the Seattle Mariners (I’m originally from Tacoma and grew up a Mariners fan). My family and I would shake our heads and sometimes turn off the volume of the TV while watching the game. Thus far, my experience in New York with those who call games (especially the Yankees) has been equally frustrating.
The Bay Area is blessed with great announcers. Anyone who has heard Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper (known as Kruk and Kuip) call a Giants game has laughed about “elephant ears,” the phrase “meat” referring to fans and players alike and the free usage of the telestrator. And everyone would have preferred Giants broadcaster Jon Miller to call the World Series games instead of the dull voices of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. But my team is the Oakland A’s, and the gravelly-voiced King, the creator of “Holy Toledo,” my preferred delivery man of baseball.
When I wasn’t in my kitchen, in front of a television (where Ray Fosse and the now dismissed Greg Papa aren’t too shabby themselves), or actually at the Coliseum, I always had my walkman to catch the game. Luckily enough, I worked in a photo lab darkroom where I didn’t have to talk to anyone, unless they wanted to know the score. I was walking up Pierce toward Oak Street when one of my favorite King stories happened. It was April, and the A’s were playing the Angels. King had been commenting on the immense size of the Molina brothers, in particular the size of their uniforms, when the equally enormous Angel Shawn Wooten strolled to the plate. “Do you think Wooten could get into Molina's pants?” King asked. Followed by some chuckles, and a “Wait...that didn’t come out right.”
King is never shy to express his opinions, especially about inter-league play, which is when he takes a vacation every year. It’s fitting that someone who has such a classic voice would cringe at a new baseball format. And, after an A’s defeat, King seems just as disappointed as you do during the post-game wrap-up.
There’s also something to like about a guy who has the seniority to do television but prefers to do radio. I heard King once say that he didn’t like to go on television because he’d have to worry about how he looked, and that when he was the Golden State Warriors play-by-play guy, they had someone else introduce the game on screen so that King didn't have to. Not to mention the fact that King had and has a moustache and beard, uncommon for the day (he described himself as looking like a “Bolshevik” to some people). But baseball is one of those sports that while nice to see, is just as great to hear. And King's voice has become part of A’s baseball for me.
I wish that I had one of those Bill King bobblehead dolls that were made after the A’s 20 game winning streak. It’s a talking bobblehead with some of King's calls, including the one after Scott Hatteburg’s game winner. Then, when I’m forced to listen to Yankees’ announcers when they match up with the A’s, I can imagine more easily the voice that I’m missing. They may have knishes at games in New York, but they don’t have veggie dogs (section 123), The Big Three or Bill King.