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Excerpt from baseball essay

Tuesday 4/11/23

Some of these players themselves play the villain. We are familiar with that player about whom is said, “You hate when your team plays against him, but you love to have him on your side,” but part of the reason for the latter is that despite what our social media, partisan age suggests, hate is exhausting and now one is free to dispense with at least one iteration of it. Of course, you’re always free not to hate, but rare is the sports fan who seems to recognize this, with that hate extending to officials and broadcasters. Then again, maybe that’s why sports fans are not also typically, say, Thoreau fans.

Kingman debuted in 1971 with the San Francisco Giants, and had many stops over the course of his career until his retirement after the 1986 season, more of which will be said soon. But for now it’s safe to say that if baseball had a bad penny over the bulk of those two decades, the word “Kingman” would have been stamped on both sides.

The man who early acquired the nickname of Kong—which had an insult built into it, as if here was a caveman-type—was no villain on account of his on-field personality. He wasn’t a super-sized “hot dog,” like Reggie Jackson, who was also paid a ton and both let you know it and carried himself in that manner. He didn’t showboat like Rickey Henderson (or talk about himself in the third person, as Henderson did), and wasn’t the apparent social deviant of a player that was a Lenny Dykstra, who went on to a career of criminality after his baseball days were done, which wasn’t exactly incongruous if you had seen him on the ball field or could read lips on the TV.

You weren’t watching a future youth minister in the dirt dog who helped lead the Mets to a World Series championship in 1986 and spearheaded the Phillies' run to the 1993 pennant. Damn strong winner, though, so long as the law wasn’t involved, which, as Bobby Fuller correctly pointed out, wins more often than not.

But if you were the kid in your neighborhood who had to have every Lenny Dykstra baseball card because he was your guy, you were either highly suspect morally and may or may not have been ripping butts aged-twelve, or trying to convince your buddies what a rebel you were.

And yet, had you said that Dave Kingman was your favorite player—or near to the mark—it would have been akin to that face melting scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, with one of your fellows apt to say, “Shut the bleep up” in the fashion of someone both legitimately awed and legitimately repulsed.

It’s worse with adults when it comes to the professing of an admiration for Kingman, especially if they think of themselves as a baseball expert and historian, as any adult who is serious about baseball almost always does, even if they’ve never managed to spell Jimmie Foxx’s name (or one off them) correctly.

To them, the Kingman supporter is a natural born offender, a black sheep that awakes each morning, reaches for a can of spray paint, and paints itself black some more, just in case it rains.

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