Hal King was a
paunchy, left-handed hitter who played for the Cincinnati Reds in 1973
and 1974. He was a catcher, but comparing him to Johnny Bench would be
like comparing the sun and the moon. King was a major league player for
parts of seven seasons for one primary reason, and only one primary
reason. Occasionally he could hit a home run.
He hit only 24 in his career
and if he hadn't connected on a hot summer afternoon against the Los
Angeles Dodgers, King probably would never be remembered as having
played for the Reds. But he had one great day in the sun and because of
it, the Reds made a miracle comeback and won the National League's
Western Division title in 1973.
The day was July 1, 1973, and
the Dodgers owned a whopping lO-game lead over Cincinnati. The dreaded
guys from out West already had won the first two games of this important
series and suddenly were starting to count their pennant money. Until,
that is, hero Hal King came to the
plate in the ninth inning of the first game of the Sunday afternoon
Don Sutton, the ace of the
Los Angeles staff and the holder of almost every career Dodgers pitching
record, had kept the Reds off balance all afternoon. Los Angeles took a
3-1 lead to the bottom of the ninth and it looked like the Reds would
fall 11 games behind and virtually out of the pennant race.
The Reds had a man on with
two outs; then Sutton walked Bench. Manager Sparky Anderson sent King to
the plate as a pinch hitter, but it's doubtful anyone in the park
figured the Reds had much of a chance. It was the Dodgers best pitcher
against a guy hitting .180.
Sutton worked the count to
2-2 and seemed to have King set up for a strikeout. All of a sudden the
game and the entire season turned around. Sutton hung a screwball up in
King's eyes and King rifled the pitch over the right-field fence. It was
a three-run homer, the Reds won the game, 4- 3, and the big comeback
The Reds won the second game
that afternoon and beat the Dodgers again the next night. By early
September Cincinnati had caught up, and by the end of the month the Reds
had snatched the division championship out of Los Angeles' hands.
"I was looking for a
fastball, I mean I hadn't seen a pitch all day coming off the bench," King
said after the game. "He tricked me. Didn't throw me one fastball."
Hal King was one of those
swing-from-the-heels hitters and that's exactly what he did when he
faced Sutton. He swung so hard, in fact, that he tore his shoes.
King had a unique year for
the Reds in 1973. He had only eight hits and four of them were home
runs, three coming off the bench. He went to the plate with one thing in
mind: home run.
Hal King's major league
career spanned 1967 through 1974, but only in 1970 with Atlanta did he
bat as many as 200 times in a season. He wasn't a robust hitter, owning
only a .214 lifetime mark.
But for one afternoon he was
more than Hal King. He was Cincinnati King as the city toasted him as
the guy who turned the 1973 baseball season around.