Bay Area legend receives due credit

Yes, Holy Toledo! What else would we say? What else could we say? Except that those who vote on the Ford Frick Award for broadcasting excellence, a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame, got it right at last.

They’ve chosen the late — to add great, would re redundant — Bill King.

The Bay Area’s Bill King. You couldn’t be much more Bay Area than living on a houseboat in Sausalito and going to the ballet and opera in San Francisco.

The Athletics’ Bill King, because it was with the A’s beginning in 1981 he gained the job he always wanted and in the process made us understand his perception and perspective of the so-called national pastime.

The Warriors’ Bill King, because it was with Golden State his rapid-fire descriptions and personal preferences perhaps first attracted our attention. And oh how could he chastise the officials.

The Raiders’ Bill King because it was with Oakland he had rollicking good times as the voice of a franchise as irreverent and unpredictable as the man himself. Dare we call him the silver-and-black tongued devil?

He also was Cal’s Bill King, because after arriving from the Midwest he worked Golden Bears football, in 1958 at the L.A. Coliseum stripping down to swimming trunks before a game against UCLA. And he also was the 49ers’ Bill King.

Most of all he was our Bill King, unconventional, unequivocal and unequaled, as adept at describing a jump shot by Rick Barry as an aria by Giacomo Puccini.

His trademark phrase, “Holy Toledo,” was the ultimate confirmation something beyond the ordinary had taken place.   

Now, indeed, it has.

King was one of many — what a wonderful group of announcers we’ve had by the Bay: Lon Simmons, Jon Miller, Hank Greenwald, Ken Korach, Tim Roye, Greg Papa and so many others, including Al Michaels.

King was one of a kind, a renaissance man, a Triple Threat whose versatility — basketball, football, baseball — surely worked against his winning the Frick award for the longest time.

King was 78 when he died in October 2005 of a pulmonary embolism. Not that he would appreciate any mention of his age.

Bill didn’t want to be Peter Pan. He didn’t even want to live forever. He just believed we were more concerned about when a person was born than what he or she had accomplished.

“You would always see so-and-so is 57 or 32,” he told me once, “and immediately you’d create in your mind what a 57 or 32-year-old looks like. And so from the time I was about 35, I didn’t want any mention of that number. I just hated it.”

He also hated rock music at ballparks — please, an organist, not Mick Jagger — and all games in Texas, where the weather was humid and the mosquitoes humongous.

King became an announcer almost accidentally when he was stationed in the Pacific at the end of World War II. He had been a catcher at Bloomington  High in downstate Illinois, where teammates included the actor McLean Stevenson and football coach Pete Elliott,  and a few months ago was chosen for that school’s Hall of Fame.

In at least one way Bill was ahead of his time. He grew the Van Dyke beard in the early 1960s. It kept him from appearing on KTVU telecasts of Warrior games — the viewers would be frightened? — and also got him accused of being the devil by an angry lady on a street in Milwaukee. Now virtually everybody has facial hair.

It took a while, but society finally caught up to Bill King. So did the Baseball Hall. Holy Toledo!

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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