As John Shea wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Enough of the constant tease. He's on the ballot for the eighth time. Either elect him or stop putting Bay Area fans through the pain of having the greatest broadcaster in the region's history get ignored. If the Hall of Fame is for fans, and fans would argue no one from the Bay Area should get the award before King, then the 17 voters [including 13 living Frick winners] should do the right thing and elect the former voice of the A's -- and Raiders and Warriors."
One of the issues when it comes to Bill and the Frick Award is that he was so brilliant in baseball, basketball and football that perhaps the perception of his work in baseball has become diluted over time. I'll admit, there is no doubt about his all-around virtuosity. I was thrilled to learn that my good friend Pat Hughes, the voice of the Cubs, is also a finalist. Here is what Pat told me for my book about Bill: "He is the best all-around play-by-play man in the history of our country. And, to tell you the truth, I don't think there is anyone who is even close."
His all-around greatness should not obscure two very important facts. No. 1, Bill's first love was baseball, No. 2, it was by far his favorite sport to broadcast.
He had a long and rich history with baseball. Bill was a good player in his day -- a semi-pro catcher. He called his first game in the Minors in 1950, and his last came for the A's in 2005. Such was his love and passion for baseball broadcasting that he underwent hip surgery right after that season with an eye on working a full schedule the next year. He was still at the top of his game at 77. Sadly, he never left the hospital and passed away on Oct. 18.
The Bay Area was in a state of shock, and the grieving reached emotional levels one would expect for a family member. There is no doubting the impact Bill made with A's fans. That defines a Hall of Famer to me. Impact is the most important criteria.
At the end of the Charlie Finley era, the A's were a moribund franchise, relegated to irrelevance in the Bay Area. Attendance slipped to a season total of 306,000 in 1979. The Haas family took over ownership in 1981, and nine years later the A's drew almost 3 million fans, finishing second in the American League in attendance. Future Hall of Famers like Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley and Tony La Russa helped lead the renaissance.
There was one acquisition that stood about all the rest, though. The A's leadership was unanimous in saying Bill was the most important person in the organization in terms of establishing credibility in the market.
The attachment Bill had with his audience was visceral, and it came because of his passion. I've never known anyone with such a wealth of baseball knowledge, and he had such a thirst for information that his preparation has inspired many MLB announcers today. Marlins broadcaster Rich Waltz recently sent me a two-page, typed letter from Bill when Rich was in college asking for broadcasting advice. Reading that letter, I felt like I was studying in a master class on broadcasting.
The attention to detail, the emphasis on the accuracy of the calls, the importance of preparing, being believable, knowing when to punch up the drama and when to take a step back -- it's all in that letter.
He took great care in crafting questions for something as seemingly routine as the daily manager's show. This led former manager Ken Macha to say, "It was amazing. Your knowledge of what you want out of the person you are interviewing. Bill had a unique way of doing that. I got an education and I didn't have to pay for it."
Bill's calls are legendary. The one that's received the most attention is Scott Hatteberg's home run to win the 20th game of the A's winning streak in 2002. The call served as punctuation for the movie "Moneyball."
"This year, Hatteberg in pinch-hitting roles is 1-for-5. Two-sixty-nine average. He's gone deep a dozen times. Now the pitch. Swung on, there's a deep drive, hit way back, right-center field. That one is gone and it's 20 consecutive victories for the Oakland Athletics on an unbelievable night when they lost an 11-0 lead and now they win it! The crowd comes back to insane life. Crazy, just plain crazy! How do you explain it? Hatteberg is mobbed at home plate. In 103 years of American League baseball, the Athletics have accomplished what no one has before. They have won 20 consecutive games!"
How did Hatteberg react to hearing the call?
"All of a sudden, fireworks! It happened, we win, and to have the wits about you to grasp the situation so well and put it into words," Hatteberg said. "To just absorb yourself in it and let it come out and to do it so profoundly, I don't know. It's pretty cool. Masterful."
I replaced the great Lon Simmons for the 1996 season. That, itself, could have been daunting. But as the Raiders' voice Greg Papa said, "The most difficult job in sports broadcasting would have been to be Bill's partner." He explained that the intimidation would have come not from anything about Bill's personality, but because of his brilliance.
I admit I felt a certain pressure early on with Bill. I felt like I had to be at the top of my game every night because Bill demanded nothing less. You had to bring it every game, but this wasn't something Bill and I ever discussed. Nothing needed to be said.
There was no ego, no protecting of turf, no seeking the spotlight or self-promotion. He rarely called me "Ken." It was usually "partner." Bill's endorsement of me in that first year has been the single most important thing anyone has ever done for me in my career. I've said this many times: I had the feeling that A's fans were thinking, "If Bill King thinks this guy is OK, well then he must be OK." How do you repay someone for that?
Whoever receives the Frick Award will be a deserving choice. But for Bill's legion of fans and for his friends, colleagues and family, it would mean so much. It would be the ultimate honor for someone who has been deserving for so long, and whose career was the definition of exemplary on and off the air.