Dec 16, 2015

Dave Kingman: Part One- The First Mets Years (1975-1977)

David Arthur Kingman was born December 21, 1948, in Pendleton, Oregon. The big six foot six right handed power hitter became known as Kong for his size, strength & long HRs. Kingman went to high school in Illinois & was drafted twice in the late sixties.

The first time as a first round pick in 1968 by the Baltimore Orioles but he did not sign. He then attended the University of Southern California where he became a star college player. He was converted to an outfielder there by legendary coach Rod Dedeaux, leading the Trojans to the College World Series championship in 1980. Kingman was next drafted in the first round, as the number one pick overall by the San Francisco Giants in 1970.

He made his debut in 1971 after a brief spell in the minors where he slugged over .550%. In his first MLB game he appeared as a pinch runner for Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. In his second MLB game he hit his first career HR, it was a grand slam off Dave Guisti against that years World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. The next day he hit two more HRs in the second game of a double header against the Pirates.

Kingman had a sweeping swing and with his strength began to get a quick reputation as a slugger. He was one of those players that when he came to bat, everyone stopped whatever they were doing to watch him. He played third base for the 1972 Giants, and had a strong arm, but made 14 errors in just 59 games, eventually becoming a first baseman. In 135 games he hit 29 HRs (6th in the NL) with 17 doubles & 83 RBIs but only batted .225 and struck out 140 times.

Kingman would hit many HRs, but always hit for low averages striking out quite often. He would strike out over 120 times six straight seasons from 1972-1977.

In 1973 he played in 112 games, hit 24 HRs with 10 doubles & 55 RBIs batting just .203. He drew 41 walks which improved his on base % to .300. That year he pitched in two games for the Giants as well, one against the Cincinnati Reds & the other against the L.A. Dodgers in May. Over four innings he walked six batters, allowing four runs on three hits.

In 1974 Kingman led all first baseman in errors (13) posting a .983 fielding %. He also struck out 125 times (4th in th NL) while hitting 18 HRs with 55 RBIs batting .220. In the off season the New York Mets in need of some power, purchased him from the Giants for $150,000.

When he came to the Mets in Spring Training 1975, Mets manager Yogi Berra said "What I saw of him at third, I didn't like. But he gives us a pretty good guy on the bench and he's insurance in the outfield if Cleon Jones can't do the job.”

Kingman started out as a fourth outfielder but ended up playing in 132 games with over 500 at bats, taking over Cleon Jones position in left field. The lack of playing time for Jones led to his eventual release after a public feud with manager Yogi Berra.

Kingman debuted on Opening Day in right field batting 5th, he showed New York his power right away with a 4th inning HR off Philadelphia's Steve Carlton. That day the other newly acquired Met, Joe Torre had a game winning RBI single in the 9th to give Tom Seaver his first win of his third Cy Young season. In his third & fourth games he hit back to back HRs in Pittsburgh against the Pirates, making his presence known.

On JUne 3rd he hit a three run HR off Houstons Ken Forsch leading to a Mets 4-3 win over the Astros at Shea. In July he won the NL Player of the Month Award & had a massive month, with 13 HRs & 31 RBIs earning the nick names “Kong” & “Sky King” in New York. Although Sky King had more to do with his long fly balls.

On the Fourth of July in Philadelphia he hit a 9th inning HR off Tug McGraw leading up to two run Jerry Grote HR giving the Mets a 4-3 win. Later that week he hit HRs in back to back games in Atlanta, with a three run shot off Carl Morton on July 8th leading Jerry Koosman to a 4-3 win.

On July 20th at the Houston Astrodome he hit two HRs, had three hits and drove in six runs in the Mets 10-9 win over the Astros. He hit two more HRs at the end of the month in a game against Pittsburgh and won Player of the Week honors as well.

In the final five days of July, spanning nine games (two double headers) Kingman hit five HRs with 12 RBIs as the Mets went 6-3. On August 24th at Candlestick Park in San Francisco he hit a grand slam HR off the Giants Jim Barr, leading the Mets to a 9-5 win over the Giants. He hit eight more HRs in the month of September, including two in a September 10th game against the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium. On September 18th, KIngman hit a walk off game winner against the Chicago Cubs pitcher Darold Knowles.

For the 1975 season Kingman led the team with 36 HRs (second in the N.L.) setting a Mets single season record. He also led the club in slugging % (.464%) strikeouts (153 which were also second most in the league) & believe it or not stolen bases (7). He hit 22 doubles and drove in 88 runs second to only Rusty Staub, while batting only .231 with a poor .284 on base %. He played 111 games in the outfield & 58 games at first base.

Quotes: "Everybody's always talking about my strikeouts. If I played every day, I could strike out maybe 400 times. I have no idea how many home runs I could hit if I played every day. I've never played every day." - Dave Kingman, 1975.

In 1976 he hit four HRs in the first week of the season, including two at Wrigley Field on April 15th, leading New York to a 10-8 with his five RBIs. He hit three more in a two day span in Pittsburgh the next week. Kingman started out April with nine HRs, and averaged eight in each of the next three months. On May 7th he hit two HRs and drove in five runs to beat the San Diego Padres at Shea Stadium, helping Jerry Koosman to a victory.

On May 12th he had another multi HR game hitting a pair driving three Mets runs in a 6-3 win at Atlanta. On June 4th at Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium, Kingman blasted three HRs, two off knuckleball pitcher Burt Hooton & another off veteran Al Downing. He drove in a club record eight runs that day, helping Tom Seaver to an easy 11-0 shutout for his fifth win of the year.

On June 17th in New York he hit a walk off HR against Charlie Hough to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers once again, this time 1-0.

He hit three HRs in the week leading up to the All Star game in Philadelphia in which he played along with team mates Tom Seaver & Jon Matlack. Kingman went 0-2 in the National Leagues 7-1 win in that Mid Summer Classic. He returned for the second half & hit a HR right after the break, helping the Mets to a 3-1 win in Houston. Kingman then missed a month of action while going on the DL.

He finished the year with 37 HRs coming in second once again in the National league to Mike Schmidt. This was not a category any other Met before Kong was usually seen on any of the the leader boards. He led the team in RBIs (86) runs scored (70) slugging (.506%) & strike outs (135) hitting only 14 doubles with a .238 average.

As a Met that season Kingman possibly hit the longest HR ever at Wrigley Field, blasting it out of the park, past Waveland Avenue onto Kenmore Ave. four houses down. It fell 15 feet short of the window of a woman watching the game on TV. Mets announcer Ralph Kiner once said “Kingman can hit them out of any park, including Yellowstone”.

But soon drama began to surround the HR hitter. Kong didn’t want to be in the lime light and didn’t like the media. He wanted to be left alone, and found New York a difficult place to play.

He was very anti social and was known as a difficult team mate. One Mets teammate stated publicly that Kingman had "the personality of a tree stump.

By 1977 he wasn’t happy with the team that was in shambles. He hit a three run HR at Wrigley Field in the second game of the season, leading the team to a 8-6 win. He hit six in the month of April with 18 RBIs, batting .294 all in just 17 games. He drove in seven runs in four straight games in the middle of the month & had another huge day in Dan Diego on the 29th.

Kingman blasted two HRs while driving in six runs, leading New York to a 9-2 win in front of 43,000 at Jack Murphy Stadium. He cooled off from there & He wanted out as well as some of the others in the Mets club house. He hit his last HR for the Mets that season on June 5th in the second game of a double header at Philadelphia. He drove in all three runs in the Mets 3-2 win . After 58 games he was batting a low .209 with 9 HRs and 29 RBIs.

On the June 15th 1977 trade deadline, the same day Tom Seaver was traded on what is now known as the Midnight Massacre, Kingman was also dealt away. Kong was sent to the San Diego Padres for Bobby Valentine & Paul Siebert.

His stay was short in San Diego & as the journey man would play for four different teams in 1977. In the last three-months of the season he was traded, waived, and had his contract sold, becoming the first player to play in four divisions in one year. Kingman was also the only player to hit HRs in all four divisions in the same month.

After 54 games with 11 HRs in San Diego he was put on waivers then picked up by the California Angels. Then his contract was sold to the A.L New York club where he hit four HRs in eight games.

In 1978 he signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs, & in the Friendly confines of Wrigley Field he hit 28 HRs with 79 RBIs while batting .266 in 119 games, missing some action due to injury. He had his biggest year in 1979, hitting a career best .288 while leading the N.L. in HRs (48) Slugging percentage (.613%) and strikeouts (131). He drove in 115 runs which was second most in the league, had 72 extra base hits (3rd in the NL) scored 97 runs and made his second All Star team.

In June he homered in four straight games, five of six games, while driving in runs in seven straight games. At the end of July he tied an MLB record hitting five HRs in two consecutive games against his old Mets team mates. He set another record by hitting three or more HRs in a game twice in one season.

He made ten errors in the outfield & former 1962 Met Ritchie Ashburn said if Kingman needed to repair his glove he’d have to get a welder. Soon Kingman wore out his welcome in Chicago too, after playing only 81 games in 1980 he was traded back to the New York Mets for Steve Henderson in February of 1981.

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