A Rat Named Sue


He was a painfully shy player in a very public arena.


Tall and powerfully built, he hit prodigious home runs.  442 of them, which is 34th all time.  One of them, which was hit in Wrigley Field on April 14, 1976, went over 600 feet, which is the longest ever recorded HR hit there.


He also struck out quite a lot.  1,816 times, which is 10th all time.


His fielding was atrocious.  Whether he played 3B, 1B, or the outfield, he had a great deal of difficulty catching and throwing the ball.  I seem to remember that he wore a batting helmet while playing in the field, which was probably done for safety reasons.  He was a tailor made DH, but unfortunately spent 13 of the 16 years of his career in the National League.


Dave Kingman was an enigma.  He only hit .236, he struck out quite a lot, but when he connected, the ball went a long, long way.  This was probably why he hung on in the big leagues for so long.  Signed out of college by the Giants, he also had stints with the Mets, Padres, Angels, Yankees, Cubs, Mets (again), and Athletics.


Everyone saw his massive potential, but no one could harness it.


Of all the major league ballplayers, he probably had the worst time of anyone with the press. Nicknamed King Kong, columnist Mike Royko of the Chicago Sun-Times derisively called him “Ding Dong”.  Columnist David Israel staged a sit-in in protest over having to deal with him.  One of his teammates on the Mets said “he had the personality of a tree stump.”


During his three year tenure with the Chicago Cubs, the press finally relented and decided to let him write his own column so that they didn’t have to talk to him.  His columns were a literary disaster, so this particular experiment didn’t last very long.  In 1979, still with the Cubs, he had his best season, hitting .288 with 48HRs and 115RBI.


Primarily due to the holes in his game, his longest tenure with any one club was three years.  Two years after his career best effort with the Cubs, they traded him to the Mets.


Extremely thin skinned and unwilling to accept any type of criticism, his second stint in New York was also short lived, again lasting only three years.


He finally reached the AL in 1984 with the Oakland A’s, and became a full-time DH, which was the perfect position for him.  He had three very productive seasons, averaging 33HR’s and 101RBI.  However, the ending was not to be a happy one.  He had a particular problem with Sue Fornoff, who covered the A’s for the Sacramento Bee.  They had a very rocky relationship, and Kingman objected to anything negative that Ms. Fornoff wrote.  It is a matter of conjecture whether the coverage was negative, but that’s the way King Kong perceived it.



He finally decided to get even.  One game Ms. Fornoff was sitting in the press box at Oakland Alameda stadium, and while covering the game, she received a box.  She opened it, and much to her horror and chagrin, she found a LIVE RAT.


The rat had a tag which said “My name is Sue”.


Unfortunately for Kingman, this practical joke backfired.  The 1986 MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement did not cover sending live rodents to sportswriters.


Kingman was released shortly thereafter, and never played MLB again.


He now lives in relative obscurity.


Because of King Kong, I’m always very judicious in my criticism of thin skinned ballplayers.


I thought I’d share this bit of baseball history to young, aspiring sportswriters.


Be careful with any gift wrapped packages from ballplayers, at anytime.


Enough said.



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