Bill King/Lon Simmons/Mike Krukow; Pac-10 Hoops
by Glenn Dickey
Jan 28, 2009

ONE OF the most outrageous comments I’ve ever read was Bob Fitzgerald’s quote in an excellent piece on Bay Area sports announcers by Tom Fitzgerald (no relation) in the Sunday Chronicle.

“If Bill King were broadcasting today, he would be considered one of the biggest homers in the history of broadcasting,” said Bob Fitzgerald, the current TV voice of the Warriors.

Makes me wonder if he ever heard King broadcast. King was absolutely the best Bay Area announcer I’ve heard in more than a half century, and he was very level-handed in his approach. Yes, he would attack referees calls against the Warriors when he was doing their games, but that wasn’t homerism but simply the perfectionist in him. He did a ton of preparation for games and never seemed to miss anything, and he expected, unreasonably, of course, perfection in NBA officials..

In my opinion, King was best at football. He painted such a vivid picture that you hardly needed television. He knew exactly who every player was on the field and, for instance, when a pass was completed, he’d tell you instantly who the receiver was and the defender, the distance of the play and whether it was a first down (or touchdown).

As part of his preparation, he would look through the play-by-play sheets for opponents, even of exhibition games. One example: In a Raiders game against Denver, as the Broncos lined up in punt formation, he reminded listeners that the Broncos had run a fake punt in this situation in an exhibition game. The words were barely out of his mouth before the Broncos faked a punt and tried, unsuccessfully, to run for a first down.

Many listeners thought King was at his peak doing Warriors games, and I won’t dispute that because he was terrific, able to follow every player on the court and tell listeners not only who had the ball but who was breaking into position to take a pass – all in his trademark, staccato-paced delivery. “He talks faster than I can listen,” Giants broadcaster Russ Hodges once complained to me.

Baseball was the least of his sports – though the A’s are pushing for his inclusion in the baseball Hall of Fame while neither the Warriors or Raiders are making any push for him for the basketball or football halls – but he was still very adept at telling listeners everything that was happening.

And, he passed the real test for an announcer: His voice was as excited when he was describing a great play by the opposing team as he was for a great play by the A’s. He often told the story of an A’s player complaining that he sounded as enthusiastic about opponents’ plays as those for the A’s. “You don’t realize it,” King told the player, “but you’ve just paid me the best possible compliment.”

Over the years, when I’ve tuned in to baseball broadcasts, I’ve usually been able to tell from the announcer’s voice whether the local team was winning or losing. Not with King – and not with the A’s current lead broadcaster, Ken Korach, who worked with King for 11 seasons before taking over the No. 1 slot after King’s death in October, 2005.

With his totally inaccurate description of King’s style Bob Fitzgerald was probably trying to divert criticism of his own style, because he is the most blatant homer in the Bay Area. Not surprisingly, he’s from Chicago, whose announcers have always been terrible homers.

Fitzgerald is also the worst announcer in the area. He has a retentive memory – don’t ever get into a sports trivia contest with him – but little ability to analyze, perhaps because he’s too busy rooting. Fortunately, he gets help from his sidekick, Jim Barnett, a former player who knows the game well.

Aside from Fitzgerald, the Bay Area lacks the homers that dominate sports broadcasting in other areas, especially the midwest, because that style isn’t popular here. Harry Caray was a bust in his one year in Oakland. Monte Moore lasted throughout the Charlie Finley era because Finley liked him. (A’s players thought Moore was also acting as a spy for Finley but if that were true, he wasn’t very effective in the role because players never said anything in his presence they didn’t want repeated.) But Moore’s style was seldom appreciated by fans. The first thing Roy Eisenhardt and Wally Haas did after the Haas family bought the A’s was to bring in King and Lon Simmons, the two superstars in Bay Area broadcasting.

Some A’s fans think that Mike Krukow is a terrible homer for the Giants, but that’s because they hate everything about the Giants. Krukow never tries to hide his bias for the Giants but he is an excellent analyst. I thoroughly enjoy Krukow and Duane Kuiper when they’re working together because they’re so obiously comfortable in their relationship. And, I often seek out Krukow off-air for his analysis of players, particularly pitchers.

But, Bill King still stands above everybody in Bay Area broadcasting in my experience, though Simmons was superior in baseball and very good in football. That’s why I was so upset by Bob Fitzgerald’s claim – a pygmy trying to bring down a giant.

PAC-10 HOOPS: Last basketball season was a great one for the Pac-10. This year, not so much.

Six conference schools got into the NCAA tournament, but there may be only four this year: Washington, UCLA, Arizona State and Cal. USC is in and out. Stanford was 10-0 with its marshmallow nonconference schedule, but the Cardinal is 3-4 in Pac-10 play and what seemed to be a significant win, over Cal, was probably due to the Bears’ overconfidence.

Oregon State is an intriguing long shot, after beating both Cal and Stanford in a Bay Area sweep last week, but the Beavers are only 3-5 in conference play and 8-10 overall, so they’ve probably already dug themselves too big a hole to climb out of.

THREE-POINT SHOT: The adoption of the three-point shot was supposed to open up the middle. Instead, it’s inserted an almost farcical element into the game, both pro and college. In the NBA, they hardly try to work anything, just popping away from outside. (The Warriors are the extreme example, of course.)

Even in the college game, three-pointers have become dominant. The last three minutes of the Cal-Oregon game last Saturday were all too typical. Trailing from the opening buzzer, the Ducks just abandoned any semblance of an all-court game at the end, just turning the ball over to Tujan Porter, who kept firing up three-pointers as everybody else stood around. (Porter scored 14 of the Ducks' last 16 points.) Usually, he’d hit his shot and then the Ducks would foul as soon as Cal inbounded the ball, sending the Bears to the free throw line. It seemed the game would never end.

Ultimately, the strategy failed as Cal won the game. Porter is an amazing shooter, but that simply was not basketball. I’d like to see the rulesmakers for both the NBA and NCAA admit that the three-point shot is a mistake. Go back to playing basketball, not a shoot-out.

YOUTH BASEBALL: For the fourth year, an Oakland group headed by Steven Douglas and Jeff Humphrey is collecting used baseball equipment for use by inner city youths in Oakland, Richmond and East Palo Alto. Donations have helped more than 600 youths play Little League baseball in the last three years. Donations can be dropped off at participating Douglas Parking locations in Oakland: 17th and Broadway, 20th and Webster, 420 – 13th Street garage; 15th and Jefferson; 111 98th Avenue (Airport parking).

National Little League rules have changed this year, requiring leagues to purchase new bats. Those who would like to make a donation for the new bat fund should contact Jeff Humphrey at JHumphrey@DevonSelfStorage.com.

GYMNASTICS: Top national gymnasts will be competing in the sixth annual Spirit of the Flame meet, Feb. 27-March 1, at the Parkside Mall in the San Jose Convention Center. For information on tickets, call Molly McCarthy, Valley Public Relations, at (408) 205-8472 (cell) or (408) 978-1168 (office).

E-MAIL: As regular readers know, I answer my e-mail but sometimes I’m frustrated because it gets bounced back. Lately, there’s been one consistent problem with Steve Coleman. So, I’m issuing a plea: Steve, please check your system and see if I’m blocked for some reason because everything I’ve sent to you comes back to me as undeliverable.


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