Dave Kingman was one of the most fascinating players in Mets’ history. Because he played in one of the Mets’ major down periods – the mid ‘70’s to early ‘80’s, you don’t hear his name mentioned much in Mets’ retrospectives, but for a while, he was clearly the Mets’ biggest star and one of their very few drawing cards, at least at home. If remembered at all, it’s as a low-average power hitter, but Kingman deserves to be remembered for so much more.
Kingman was an outstanding pitcher in High School up through his sophomore year at USC, but coach Rod Dedaux thought he could help the team more as a regular player. Kingman reportedly wanted to stay a pitcher and it seemed at times throughout his career he was angry about something. That might have been it.
Kingman was drafted by the Giants out of USC and rose to the big leagues quickly, mostly because of his prodigious power. At 6’6 with a long sweeping swing, Kingman certainly looked the part. His long legs also gave him above average speed on the bases, but his defense was mediocre at best. Dave always seemed to give the impression that fielding was a part of the game he wasn’t very interested in. It was ironic that Kingman who was made for the role of designated hitter spent the first 10 years of his major league career in the National League where he was forced to play the field.
Since the Giants always seemed well stocked in the outfield and at first base, Kingman’s last shot at staying with the team as a regular was at third base, but found wanting there, he was sold to the Mets before the 1975 season. For a cash deal, this proved to be a great pickup for the Mets as “Kong” (a nickname he hated) went on to set a club record for homeruns with 36 in 1975 and broke it the following year. Although it’s hard to say he was one of the Mets’ most popular players since reporters characterized him as surly and uncooperative, he was certainly one of the few players Mets’ fans came out to see on an otherwise dull and uncompetitive team.
Kingman hit some of the longest home runs in history while a Met, but like the greatest Met of all, Tom Seaver, Kingman let it be known that he considered himself underpaid and dissatisfied with the direction of the team and that led to a ticket out of town, being traded to San Diego on June 15, 1977, the same day Seaver was traded to the Reds. Kingman brought back the underwhelming package of mediocre pitcher Paul Siebert and future Mets’ manager, then fading utility player, Bobby Valentine. Toward the end of the 1977 season, San Diego let him go and Kingman appeared for both the Angels and Yankees, helping the Yankees win the division.
Following the season, he signed a free agent deal with the Cubs, but eventually wound up back with the Mets during the early years of the Wilpon/Cashen regime in a trade for Steve Henderson. Although Kingman continued to hit some long home runs, once the Mets dealt for Keith Hernandez and seriously began to build a winner , Kingman’s value to the team declined and he was released at the end of the season.
Today, Kingman is remembered more for his sour disposition than his long homeruns, although as a Met he was relatively well-behaved. It was as a Cub that Kingman dumped ice water on a reporter’s head, and as an Oakland A, following his second stint with the Mets that he sent a female reporter a live rat. Despite hitting over 400 homeruns, no one (least of all, reporters who vote) considered Kingman a candidate for the Hall of Fame. But Mets fans like me will never forget the anticipation every time Kingman came to the plate, unmatched in Mets’ history.