April 12, 2002
A Royal Night With A King … a Baseball Socrates
Times are good for BobLee. My cat likes me, my family tolerates me, and I have a really cool truck. Other than that eternal BS called “getting older” these are fine times for moi. But, I had occasion recently to recall another pretty neat era in “The Life & Times of BobLee” … the late 70s.
What triggered my memory is the strong early season start by the Kansas City Royals. The last time the Royals were any good was the late 70s, early 80s … George Brett and Company. And, wouldn’t you know it … BobLee was right in the middle of it.
I was Sales Executive for The Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City … the hotel with the waterfall. One of my specialty markets was professional sports teams. I had all the MLB, NFL, and NBA teams that came to KC staying with us. It was commonplace to walk through our lobby and see Kenny Stabler, Reggie Jackson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, et al. Of course we also had scads of groupies and “Baseball Annies” lounging about … but that’s another story for a different audience.
BLSays readers with excellent baseball trivia memories might recall Billy Martin calling George Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson “a convicted liar” and “a born liar” … I was standing about 15’ from Billy when he said that on the hotel mezzanine … it was a wild scene! I go to get on the elevator and off steps Howard Cosell!
My running buddies were the staff of the various local clubs. The Royals’ promotions guy, the Kings’ PR guy, and the Chiefs’ Asst PR guy and I used to hang out. Having a Trader Vic’s in the hotel made me a popular fella. Lots of different stories but one in particular for now. Actually the Royals guy introduced he and Blondie.
Because we took care of the Yankees we also handled any personnel they ever had come through town. I get a call one day from Bill “Killer” Kane, the Yankees Traveling Secretary. “BobLee I need a room for one of our scouts coming to town can he get the team rate?”
“Sure Killer, what’s the name?”
“Clyde King, he’ll check in on Wednesday and out on Sunday.”
Well, of course, being a fount of irrelevant knowledge, I knew Clyde King was from Goldsboro and had been a student at UNC in the late 40s prior to signing with the Dodgers and going on to a long successful career in baseball … few if any have served the game longer and more faithfully. I moved immediately to properly welcome my fellow downeaster. I got a messa barbecue ribs from KC’s fabled Arthur Bryant’s and had’em waiting for Mr. King upon arrival.
Being maybe the most gracious gentleman God ever created, he called to thank me and we met in the coffee shop for a coca cola. That began a 30+ year friendship I cherish as much as any I have. He was in town as advance scout for the Yankees as they were playing the Royals the next week. His job was to get uptodate on injuries, who was swinging a hot bat, which pitchers were in the groove, etc. He would give that info to “the Boss” to aid the club in preparation. Clyde invited me and my Kings’ buddy, Bobby Cohen, to go with him that night to the game. It was a night I’ll never forget.
Going to big league games was no biggie; but this WAS. We sat right behind home plate about 12 rows up. Clyde had a small transistor radio plugged into his ear and a small spiral notebook on his knee. As the three of us chatted away about the usual “three guys at a ballgame” stuff; he would make scribbled notes and interrupt the conversation with such comments as “Willie Wilson is going to steal 2nd on the next pitch” … “this pitch will be a slider” … “they should throw Fred Patek breaking balls, he’s favoring his knee” … “Splittorff is having trouble with his change-up”. He was watching a game about 20 levels beyond what Bob and I were seeing. It was incredible.
For those not in the know, Clyde King managed Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Reggie Jackson with the Braves, Giants and Yankees. Even cooler trivia … everyone knows Ralph Branca threw the pitch that Bobby Thomson hit to win the pennant for the Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers … maybe the most fabled home run in baseball. Guess who was scheduled to pitch that day but came up with arm soreness … Clyde King! For the past 30 years he has been Special Assistant to George Steinbrenner. He has more “rings” than MJ, Shaq, and Bill Russell. All of his grandchildren have World Champions rings!
Back to “that night”. He was seeing the most intricate aspects of a baseball game, noting it for his records, and yacking away to us two yahoos without skipping a beat. He would point out the subtle clues that only a career baseball man sees … how Willie Wilson positions his hands as he leads off … the way a pitcher rotates his arm as he grips the ball in his glove … if a player is back on his heels or up on his toes – it matters.
Royal Stadium in June in 1978 was a great place to spend a summer evening anyway; but literally at the knee of a Baseball Socrates made it a night this baseball Peter Pan will never forget.
Then there was the time Handsome Bobby had me serve as a judge for the Kings’ Glitter Girl tryouts … and the breakfast with George Brett and Mike Haynes talking about why Magic Johnson was so committed to be a great ballplayer. Lots of cool stuff we can get into.
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