Jack Of All Trades: Dave Kingman

Last month in this space, we detailed the career of Rusty Staub, beloved by many, but a frequently-traded commodity nonetheless. Dave Kingman, it is safe to say, did not share that beloved label in many of the places he played. Still, for a player who hit 442 home runs in his career – a remarkable total given the parks and era he played in – Kingman knew how to pack a suitcase, especially in 1977.

After signing with the Giants as a top draft pick in 1970, Kingman rocketed through the minor leagues, getting to San Francisco by 1971 after hitting 41 home runs in 602 minor league at bats. Despite the power, Kingman did not hit for any kind of average or draw walks, and his batting line reflected that in four seasons with the Giants. He hit .224/.304/.469, which was still good for an OPS+ of 112.

But between the low batting average and poor fielding, the Giants decided to cut their losses just before his age-26 season, selling him to the New York Mets for $150K. This turned out reasonably well for New York.

The Mets got 36 home runs from Kingman in 1975 and 37 home runs in 1976 (including 30 by the All Star break). Even with his absurd 28 walks and 135 strikeouts in 510 plate appearances, Kingman still posted a .238/.286/.506 and an OPS+ of 128 in 1976.

Then came Kingman's odyssey year: 1977. He began with the Mets, but struggled mightily, hitting just .209/.263/.370. On June 15, the Mets traded him to the Padres for Paul Siebert and Bobby Valentine, neither of whom turned into much for New York. 

He was decidedly Kingman-esque for San Diego, hitting .238/.292/.488 for the Padres, with an OPS+ that matched his career mark of 115. Nevertheless, San Diego put him on waivers, and the California Angels selected him on September 6. One hopes he didn't buy a place in Anaheim because, the Angels traded him to the Yankees for Randy Stein and cash nine days later. Kingman then had the odd experience of playing for the Yankees in September without the chance of making the postseason roster. He was ineligible for the playoffs, since he joined the team after August 31.

After Kingman's busy 1977, his salad days quickly arrived and he signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Cubs. His OPS+ went from 131 to 146 to 128 in 1978-1980, and 1979 was by far his best season. Kingman hit .288/.343/.613 with an astounding 48 home runs. But while his OPS+ was strong in 1980, his health limited him to just 280 plate appearances. As a result, Kingman was traded again.

This time, it was back to the Mets for a second tour in Queens. New York acquired him on February 28, 1981 for Steve Henderson and cash. Kingman's batting average dipped lower and lower with the Mets, falling from .221 to .204 to .198 in three seasons. He did lead the National League with 37 home runs in 1982, but his OPS+ of 99 was actually below average. Overall, his OPS+ with the Mets over three seasons was just 102.

After the Mets released Kingman, the A's picked him up and enjoyed the last great Kingman season. In 1984, the slugger hit .268/.321/.505 with 35 home runs before adding 30 home runs in 1985 and 35 more in 1986. Despite those totals, he was unable to find a job in 1987, which is more understandable when you examine his 1986 season line: .210/.255/.431.

Overall, Kingman probably stands as the least expensive source of home runs ever made available on the trade market. For the teams that took advantage – and there were quite a few – the results were often exactly what they should have expected. And only the Cubs, who got him via free agency, can be said to have truly prospered from the collaboration.

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