Former St. Ignatius baseball coach Thomas King. (Courtesy / King family)

SF Preps Baseball: Thomas King passes away at 85

A City baseball institution, Thomas King coached at every level of amateur baseball in the Bay

Thomas Joseph King was a baseball institution in the city of San Francisco. Over five decades of coaching, King taught baseball at every amateur level in the city, but on Thursday, he passed away at the age of 85 from a heart condition.

Born on July 1, 1933 in San Francisco, Thomas Joseph King was known throughout the San Francisco Bay Area as “Coach King.” King coached at all levels of amateur baseball in the City, including St. Ignatius High School, where he coached for 18 years, and at the University of San Francisco.

On Thursday the Galileo High School Sports Hall of Famer passed away from a heart condition at the age of 85.

“Mr. King was critically influential in my life,” said Chris Toohey, who King coached from 10-years old until his sophmore season at Cañada. “He taught me so much … confidence, humble swagger, how to win, good sportsmanship, class, leadership by example, the value of hard work, always bring your best, never give up, use your brain, encourage others to be their best and self-respect. These lessons have remained with me throughout my life.”

King grew up in the North Beach neighborhood and graduated from Galileo, where he played baseball and basketball.

By the time he retired in 2007, his coaching career had spanned five decades. He started off coaching baseball and basketball at the youth level for the CYO League (St. Andrews, Mission Dolores, St. Cecilia, Holy Name), PONY Baseball Leagues (SF Flame, Clayton Valley), high school baseball as pitching coach at St. Ignatius, the Joe DiMaggio Baseball League (Flying Goose, Sapunar Realty) and college baseball at Cañada Junior College in Redwood City and with the Dons.

I coached the Varsity Baseball Team for sixteen seasons, and Tom was with me as pitching coach and assistant coach for nearly all of those years.

“He was considerably older than me, and when people found out I asked him to join the SI baseball staff, many were surprised, expressing doubt that I could work with such a salty baseball man,” said former Wildcats head coach Jim Dekker, the head varsity coach at St. Ignatius for 16 seasons. “Tom’s reputation preceded him: he knew his baseball, especially pitching, but he had an unflinching personality. Our unlikely partnership worked from the start … The players were clearly the beneficiaries, but so was I because Tom made each of them better.”

In 2014, King was inducted into the CYO Hall of Fame, and in 2016, he was honored by the Joe DiMaggio Baseball League as the manager of the 50th Anniversary All-Tournament Team, which included Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. As a manager in the Joe DiMaggio Baseball League from 1972 to 2000, his teams appeared in 17 tournaments and won six.

“After every game we coached, the inevitable evening phone call would come and we would rehash the game in detail,” said Dekker, who was the head coach in the spring, while King coached the team through summer ball. “Without fail my wife Lorraine would hand me the phone asking, ‘”Didn’t you just see him?’”

Tom’s sister, Pat, introduced to him to his future wife Loretta, and the two wed in 1958. They had two children, Karen and Michael, and lived in Daly City, before eventually moving to Concord. Tom loved traveling with Loretta and enjoyed eating at Bay Area staples like the House of Prime Rib, Joe’s of Westlake and Scott’s Seafood in Walnut Creek. On Sept. 7, 2018, Tom and Loretta celebrated their 60th wedding Anniversary.

A loving grandfather to five, King enjoyed having a catch with his grandchildren, and he would always remind them to “keep the elbow up,” when they would toss the ball back to him. The co-owner of Flying Goose Sporting Goods on 27th and Taraval, King was an integral part of youth sports in the city in the 1970s and 1980s.

“You most likely bought your first baseball glove, your first pair of basketball shoes, your first pair of football cleats, your first pair of baseball spikes or your high school letterman’s jacket at Flying Goose,” said son Michael. “[He] loved baseball and loved coaching and mentoring young boys who were just starting off in sports, or in high school, or at the college level.”

“He was one of the most generous people I have ever known,” Dekker said. “He gave of his time, he gave of his expertise, he gave of his resources, never expecting a dime in return. If one of his players needed a glove or spikes or a bat, Tom gave it to them. Often pulling the item straight from the Flying Goose inventory, a habit I’m sure the co-owners of Flying Goose didn’t much care for. Whenever the coaches went out to dinner or lunch, Tom wouldn’t let anyone pick up the tab but him. He was that kind of man.”

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