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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15 Comments on "Jack Of All Trades: Dave Kingman"

5 years 1 month ago

I think the biggest reason for Kingman not finding a job was collusion, which became even easier due to his reputation (sending a rat to a reporter)

the Daily News did a story on him last year – doesn’t seem as bad as the stories told during his playing days


5 years 1 month ago

One of my favorite all time players. This guy could have played at Wrigley longer than 3 years, or any other power friendly stadium for RH hitters during his career (plus stay healthy) and he could have easily hit 600HR.Huge, slow and a brutal fielder. He was the Dunn, Canseco of his day.Think he actually had his dog as “bat boy” in ST games one season??

He came up as a SP with SF, threw mid 90’s in minors as recall, but -0- control and think his ML experience with pitching was short before they figured out his bat was what would get him to the majors.

5 years 1 month ago

exactly like Canseco minus 115 SB, .050 OPB and about .100 in OPS, etc. Kingman was one of my favorite players growing up, but he wasn’t near the player that Canseco was.

5 years 1 month ago

Oh yeah. No doubt Kong was a slug on the basepaths. mentioned that above. WWas mostly comparing the all or nothing swings and atrocious defense of both, though Kong never had a ball bounce off of his head and go over the fence for a HR like Canseco..

Wasn’t it Kingman and Schmidt that did the twist a bat in half before an AS game back in late 70’s/early 80’s one time? One gripped the batt by the handle, other by the barrel.

5 years 1 month ago

Kingman’s teenage daughter babysat my best friend’s kid in the Pacific NW recently..

5 years 1 month ago

Amazing player. His power was just in a different league.

The other thing that stood out was seeing an OPS of 773 for a corner outfielder as being 12% than league average. I don’t know what it is today but I would guess it’s a full 50 points higher now.

5 years 1 month ago

Ah, the glory days of watching King Kong on WGN during the late 70’s.

I recall when McGwire first came up, there were Kingman comparisons all over the place – both slugger/pitchers at USC who stuck with the bat, both larger than life (at least height-wise) and with prodigious power, and then McGwire essentially taking Kingman’s spot on the ’87 A’s.

I still have an autographed ball and picture from Kingman that is one of my most treasured collectibles.

5 years 25 days ago

…and in ’87 McGwire was skinny like Kingman too.

5 years 1 month ago

NO ONE AND I MEAN NO ONE HIT LONGER HOM RUNS! He hit a HR off Catfish Hunter in a spring training game that went out of the field next door. He hit one out of Olympic Stadium, I MEAN OVER THE ROOF AND OUT OF STADIUM! There was no line to see so the umps called it foul. They put a line on the roof because of him. He regularly hit the ball on the roof of the building across the street at Wrigley Field. And he broke the window of the team bus in the parking lot at Shea. He hit the speaker in the Kingdome. He hit the roof of the Metrodome and the ball got stuck and never came down. And he did it without taking steroids.

5 years 1 month ago

I saw Kong many times at Wrigley and with Jack and Lou (‘The Good Kid’) calling games on WGN. The days when seats were plentiful and kids, or adults for that matter, moved up to better seating and the ushers did not care. When Kingman came up to bat, we moved up closer. A big, lumbering swing. When connected, some of the most towering moonshots…monster shots…whatever you want to call those home runs, you could imagine. Seriously, his HRs were right there in distance as any Cub or opposing player. In fact, Dave Kingman, Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Sammy Sosa and Glen Allen Hill are the names off the top of my head that I can think of that hit the longest distance homeruns at Wrigley.

David X
5 years 1 month ago

And he sent a dead rat to sportswriter Susan Fornoff in Oakland at the tail end of his career. Something like that is not going to endear you to anyone, including front office types. … edit: just saw nybaseballdigest mentioned this, sorry.

5 years 1 month ago

I actually know Susan Fornoff, she got out of sportswriting and into food&wine writing. No one deserves that to happen. She paved the way for Susan Slusser, who is widely regarded as the A’s best beat writer and is treated with respect. The Yankees announcer, Suzyn Waldman, had bad things happen too when she got the beat for the Daily News.

5 years 1 month ago

a kingman home run was worth the price of admission. i watched him in oakland where he hit towering, majestic home runs. they went as high or higher than they went in length. he retired to lake tahoe where he played occasionally for the local nine. the stadium there features a center field wall at over 500 feet due to the altitude. there are ponderosa pine trees behind that fence and i have seen kingman clear the trees. simply amazing moonshots like no other player since.

5 years 1 month ago

Hit the best homer I’ve seen hit in person at Fenway, top of light tower in left center field.

5 years 11 days ago

He is the answer to a great trivia question. What relief pitcher led his team in home runs? Of course, Kong. In his early years with SF, he would be the guy they thru out there during blowouts. Saw a couple of those games, unfortunately.