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Walk-off King

Someone mentioned autographs in the comments section regarding the Neil Allen posts, and how Allen was the first autograph he ever got.

My first baseball autograph was Dave Kingman. If I remember right, the circumstances were such that they used to hold baseball card shows at Shea Stadium. This was sometime during the spring/summer of 1982/83 and to that point, my collection of baseball cards consisted primarily of packs that my dad used to bring home from his candy store. But apparently the decision was made that we would take up card collecting as a more serious hobby.

At this Shea show, each attendee had the chance to get a ticket to get an autograph of a current Met. Ours happened to be for Dave Kingman.

Kingman had two stints as a Met and both were rather unpleasant. Yes, he was a giant, who could hit the ball higher and farther than anyone else in the majors, but the price paid for that was an embarassingly low batting average and a lot of strikeouts. Kingman played parts of six seasons with the Mets and though in 1976 he was on pace to challenge Hack Wilson's NL home record before getting hurt, the best batting average he posted in a Mets uniform was .238.

Kingman had 118 home runs with the Mets, including three walk-off shots. The last one was timed just prior to the trade for Keith Hernandez, against the Expos on June 10, 1983.

This turned into a marathon of a game, after the Expos tied it at two with a run in the top of the ninth. What was originally a pitchers duel between Craig Swan and Ray Burris turned into a battle of the bullpens. Montreal left the bases loaded in the top of the ninth but Jesse Orosco wiggled out of trouble by retiring Andre Dawson. The Mets did likewise in the 10th, stranding three when Jeff Reardon got Bob Bailor out.

A week into his stint as interim manager, Frank Howard turned the game over to rookie Rick Ownbey when this one got to the 14th. Apparently determined to get his first big league win Ownbey pitched four pretty gritty innings, following three shutout frames from Allen.

In the last of the 17th, the Mets finally put this game to bed. Hubie Brooks led off with a single and Ownbey sacrificed him to second. Mark Bradley whiffed, but Kingman followed, ending the game with a long blast to left field.

There was speculation that day, reported by the New York Times that the Mets were close to trading Allen to the Yankees for Rick Cerone, who would have replaced the injured John Stears, and would have prolonged Kingman's presence in the starting lineup. Mets fans are glad that Frank Cashen was smart enough to hold out for the Hernandez deal, and Ownbey's pitching performance certainly didn't hurt his status as a throw in (and the answer to the trivia question "Who else did the Mets give up in the Hernandez trade?")

I'm going to guess it was about a year before that home run that Kingman signed an 8 x 10 team-supplied photo for me. The moment didn't leave an impression on me. I'm guessing he didn't even look up. Something much more significant happened at a Shea Stadium card show, whether it was that one or another, as the memories may have blended together. My dad plunked down $100 to card dealers Jack and Eddie Farscht (hope I got the name right) and we walked home with a 1975 Topps set, one that included rookie cards of George Brett and Robin Yount. That was the start of our serious interest in sports memorabilia.

As for Kingman, there's a website out there, dubbed his official one, with photos, newspaper clippings and stories, from someone who found him to be a lot nicer than I did (Google and you'll find it). Kingman had a reputation as being surly and was not well-liked by the media. One time, while with Oakland, he sent a female reporter a box with a gift inside, a live rat. That story makes me a little glad that I don't know where my Kingman autograph is (probably buried inside one of the many binders of sports memorabilia my dad now owns), and I don't really feel the need to try to find it.

True Metkings know...Chris Jones, Dave Kingman, Mike Piazza and Darryl Strawberry have the most walk-off two-run home runs in Mets history, with two apiece.

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