If you've been an A's fan for a while, Bill King needs no introduction. He was the team's play-by-play broadcaster for 25 seasons, through 2005, and died during surgery immediately after his final year at the radio microphone.
King was a Renaissance man in the sports broadcasting world -- he once did Oakland Raiders and Golden State Warriors games -- and in life in general. He delighted in gustatory adventures -- a fancy way of saying he loved great food and drink -- was a serious opera enthusiast, a student of Russian literature and among other things was a self-taught painter.
King's fans and friends have long campaigned to get him Major League Baseball's ultimate recognition for its greatest broadcasters: the Ford C. Frick Award. That guy who just retired from the Los Angeles Dodgers' broadcast booth, Vin What's-His-Name, he's a past winner. So is Jon Miller, the unfailingly entertaining and insightful voice anchoring San Francisco Giants radiocasts. There are lots of other guys -- yes, all guys so far -- on that list, even some who might not be universally venerated by true fans of the game.
But, until now, no Bill King. Before this year, he had appeared on the Frick ballot five times since 2004 and was denied each time.
But Wednesday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced that he's the 2017 winner of the Frick Award. In his statement on the award, Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said:
“Bill King’s enthusiasm for every game he called carried through the airwaves and into the hearts of fans throughout Northern California for 25 incredible years with the Oakland Athletics. From his distinctive word choices in describing the action to his unabashed love of Oakland and the Bay Area, King crafted a career that became synonymous with the action at the Oakland Coliseum and throughout the sports world.”
Among those who worked hardest for King's recognition was Ken Korach, his former broadcast partner. Korach, who published a book on King before his last Frick ballot appearance in 2013, told the Mercury News after the news broke Wednesday:
“I was crying for the first hour [after the news was announced]. It was so cool to share with people. I’ve gotten close to 100 calls, emails, texts from other broadcasters, from fans, from friends and from other winners who were so thrilled that Bill had won. It was heartwarming to hear from so many people who are all sharing in this. I even got three calls from minor league broadcasters telling me how much the learned from Bill.”
Other reaction from those who knew or worked with King:
Sandy Alderson, former A's general manager (now with the New York Mets), told the Associated Press: "Outstanding! He was so fantastic. What I loved about him was he was so unlike most baseball announcers. He was very erudite, loved language, had great command of it, but infused that language with tremendous energy and enthusiasm and passion. He felt strongly about certain topics, both in the game and out of the game. He loved German food. He loved the opera. He always drove a car that was at least 20 years old and was just an incredible personality, an eccentric in a positive way that stood out even in the Bay Area, which is full of eccentrics."
Dennis Eckersley, retired A's reliever and Hall of Famer, told the San Francisco Chronicle: “I grew up with Bill and I loved him on the Warriors and Raiders, so when I got to the A’s, it was great — we both loved to sit in the sun and we spent a lot of time by the pool together. I really got to know him, and he had the best stories. What I remember is him wearing flip-flops everywhere, and that was the least of it. He was a character. ... When I went into the Hall with (King’s broadcast partner) Lon Simmons, I thought Bill would be there before long, but I was starting to think that he would be forgotten. Ken Korach really pushed this, so a lot of credit to him.”
And here's an immortal King moment: His call of the extra-inning denouement of the Athletics' 20-game winning streak in 2002: