French-born American historian Jacques Barzun once observed that, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game—and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams.” Baseball has long been called our “National Pastime” and despite the damage we as both participants and fans inflict upon it the game itself remains beautiful and nearly perfect.
On Monday, July 13, at 7 p.m. the Iredell County Public Library will feature a special panel discussion and lecture on “Baseball’s History in Iredell County” The program will feature lectures, displays, photographs, and panel discussions on the history of baseball and its development in Iredell County. Panelists and speakers will include William “Bill” Moose, O.C. Stonestreet, and Steve Hill. This program on the eve of the Major League All-Star game is part of the “Iredell Reads” series of programs built around the themes of the novel, “This Dark Road to Mercy” by Wiley Cash. Iredell Reads is being sponsored by the Iredell Friends of the Library. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own photographs, articles, and stories to share.
Baseball is an athletic competition, but is really all about numbers and stories. Numbers are everywhere and everything in baseball. Scores, innings, strikes, ERA, batting average, distance to right field, even the players have numbers. If you watch or listen to a game or even read about one most of the information you get comes by way of numbers. You can tell what happened in a game simply by looking at the box score. Curiously, we are often more interested in talking about past games and player stories than the one we are watching.
Dave Kingman was a home run hitter in the 70’s and 80’s. Kingman was a big man. He was 6 ft. 6 inches tall and weighed 210, but unlike today’s weight room muscle sluggers Kingman was just big. He was broad at the shoulders and narrow at the hip and his arms looked almost skinny compared to the steroid bulging biceps of some of today’s players. Kingman was known for his power and few hitters then or today could hit the ball as far or as hard as the man sometimes called “Sky King” or “Gonk.”
Stories about Kingman abound. He once hit a pitch and bounced it off the roof of the Houston Astrodome. On April 11, 1984 he knocked a line drive so hard it hit a speaker hanging from the roof of the Kingdome. It fell back to the field where it was caught for an out. On May 4, 1984, at the Metronome in Minneapolis he hit a pop-up so high that it went into a hole in the roof. The fielders just stood looking up with their gloves raised for a ball that never came down. He was given a ground rule double. Kingman had five games during his career in which he hit three home runs. The home run blasts he hit at Chicago’s Wrigley Field have reached folklore status. In the 1970s Kingman hit what is believed to be both his and Wrigley’s longest home run. It not only cleared the ivy and the wall, this rocket went clean out of the stadium landing on the roof of the third house down on the east side of Kenmore Avenue. It was estimated the ball went around 550 feet though some swear it was over 600.
Despite his monster home runs Kingman spent most of his career bouncing between different teams and being only mildly popular. The big knock was his batting average and strikeouts. Though he led the National League in home runs in 1982 with 37 he also posted the lowest batting average ever for a home run camp at .204. That same year he tied a major league record by striking out 5 times in a 9 inning game. He never really played long enough in one city to ever have a home team associated with him. In 1977 he played on four different teams hitting a home run for each of them. His reputation for strikeouts was probably overstated as most power hitters strike out a lot. Kingman’s strikeout label got to the point though that a broadcaster reported Kingman had gone 0 for 5 and raised his batting average. Dave finished his 16-year career with a .236 batting average and 442 home runs and now lives the happy life of an outdoorsman and proud father on Lake Tahoe.
Here is another baseball legend about Kingman. Jerry Pritikin recalled visiting his father at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois. His father was a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan and had been in a 30-day coma. Jerry noticed his father open his eyes and try to speak. Leaning over his father’s face he heard his last words, “We Gotta Get Rid of Kingman!”
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article was published in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Baseball in Iredell the focus of event tonight at library” on November 3, 2015