By Larry Clinton
In tribute to Sausalito’s own Bill King, revered sportscaster who was named the winner of the 2017 Ford C. Frick Award last week, we’re proud to offer the following tribute which first appeared in MarinScope in 2013, updated from news reports of King’s posthumous honor:
Legendary sportscaster Bill King spent the last 40-plus years of his life in Sausalito. King was the longtime radio voice of the East Bay's pro teams for almost a half-century, mainly behind the microphones of the A's, Raiders and Warriors.
King had an encyclopedic knowledge of sports, and also enjoyed the cultural and recreational diversions of the Bay Area. At the time of King’s death in 2005, Greg Papa, who broadcasts Raiders and Giants games and previously worked for the Warriors and A's, told the Marin IJ that King belongs in a class by himself: "In a lot of ways, he was the perfect broadcaster for the Bay Area because he was a man of diversity, a man of extreme intellect. His interests were wide. I think that's what the Bay Area is."
Beyond sports, King was an accomplished self-taught painter, and enjoyed theater, ballet, opera and the symphony. He knew wines and loved to cook. Sausalito residents and fellow sailors often saw the bearded King padding around in his bare feet or in sandals while working on his wooden-hulled ketch, "Varuna."
In a recent retrospective in the San Jose Mercury News, King told broadcast journalist Bruce Magowan "I got the sailing bug when I was in the service in Guam, just after the war while working on the Armed Forces Radio Network." Twelve years later King left his Midwest broadcasting roots to try and make it in California. He first thought was San Francisco because, "It seemed like the perfect place for me to get in plenty of sailing."
When he took his boat out on the water, King was usually joined by his wife Nancy, a cat named Hank, and an eclectic group of friends. Longtime Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli, who served as one of Bill's bosses for 21 years, occasionally joined in. One of King's best friends, Tom Meschery, a Warriors forward, also accompanied the Kings. Meschery was born in Manchuria after his father escaped Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. King became fascinated with Russia and the two spent hours talking about Russian poetry, history and literature.
But for a man who was so busy broadcasting sports and traveling about 80,000 miles a year, it was sailing that gave King time to decompress and refresh. His favorite moments came when he, Nancy and his pals boldly ventured up or down the Pacific Coast for several weeks.
In the 1980s, King also took up painting. From time to time he would bring a folder to the ballpark and proudly display some of the watercolors and oils he had painted of landscapes near his digs in Sausalito.
King's passion for the written word also got him briefly into teaching, as he substituted several times as an instructor for a course in Russian literature at the College of Marin.
No doubt King was considered an elite talent because he was so well-rounded, with a rich life that extended far beyond sports and broadcasting.
Ken Korach, a colleague who published a biography entitled “Holy Toledo: Lessons from Bill King, Renaissance Man of the Mic,” championed King’s candidacy for the award. “It’s so heartwarming,” he said after the announcement. “I’ve heard from broadcasters, writers. It’s really emotional. This is going to be such a wonderful celebration … and that’s the definition of a Hall of Famer — someone who had that kind of impact on so many people. Bill King was a one-in-a-million person.”
Another colleague, longtime A’s director of team travel Mickey Morabito, was King’s friend and regular dining partner. As an example of King’s eclectic tastes, he recalled, “He’d go to the opera in black tie one night, the next day he’s at the pool in a Speedo and with a bandanna on his head. That night, he’s at a five-star restaurant and knows all the wines on the list. The next, he’s at a dive bar eating tacos.
“He could go from classy to the lowest common denominator in an instant, blend with anyone. He was just amazing.”
King remained the A’s radio play-by-play man until his death at 78 from a post-surgery pulmonary embolism. His Frick Award will be presented July 29 in Cooperstown, N.Y., during Hall of Fame weekend.