2017 Ford C. Frick Award Winner Bill King

Part of the FORD C. FRICK AWARD series
Written by: Bill Francis

It’s been more than a decade since Bay Area legend Bill King passed away. But when it was announced on Dec. 7 that King had been named the 2017 Ford C. Frick Award winner, his former colleagues recalled King’s wit and wisdom as if he was in the booth yesterday.

King broadcast Oakland A’s games for 25 years from 1981 to 2005 before passing away in October 2005, and also simultaneously called games for the NBA’s Warriors and the NFL’s Raiders.

King became the 41st winner of the Frick Award, which is presented annually to a broadcaster for "major contributions to baseball." The award, named after the late broadcaster, National League President, Commissioner, and Hall of Famer, has been presented annually since 1978.

King was recognized during the Hall of Fame Awards Presentation on Saturday, July 29, as part of Hall of Fame Weekend 2017.

Two current A’s broadcasters, Ken Korach and Ray Fosse, spent many seasons in the booth with King, both learning from one of the great voices in baseball history.

“It has been a very emotional morning,” said Korach during a telephone interview a few hours after the announcement of King’s honor. “I’m just so gratified that the members of the committee chose to honor Bill.

“To be honest with you, I started crying. I just thought about what he meant to me. And it’s validation of what he meant to his fans and his family. So this celebration of Bill is going to be an opportunity maybe to enlighten people on what made Bill so great. Hopefully, it will be instructive to some people.”

After launching his sportscasting career broadcasting minor league baseball, King spent five decades describing many of the most historical moments in Bay Area sports with his work with the San Francisco/Golden State Warriors, the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders and the A’s.

“I’ve heard from so many people and it just speaks to Bill and the impact that he made,” said Korach, who authored Holy Toledo: Lessons from Bill King, Renaissance Man of the Mic in 2015. “This is a man who just meant so much to A’s fans and to fans of the Bay Area in general when you think about the Raiders and the Warriors, too. If you want to define a Frick Award recipient, I think you have to start with how that person impacted the fan base – and the fans of the A’s had so much love and admiration for Bill.

The 2017 season will be Ken Korach’s 22nd season broadcasting A’s baseball, 10 of which, from 1996 to 2005, were spent working alongside Bill King. (Jean Fruth / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

“There was an authenticity to Bill that I think really was something that was a quality that endeared him to people in the Bay Area. He was a very unique guy. He was his own man. He danced to his own drummer and that’s one of the reasons he was so great on the air because a lot of what Bill said came from this great passion that he had for being on the air and broadcasting. What you got from Bill was the real thing.”

Fosse, a big league catcher for 12 seasons, two of which were spent winning World Series championships with Oakland in 1973 and ’74, was also moved when he heard King had captured the Frick Award. Fosse has been in the A’s broadcast booth for the past three decades.

“I was excited and I was ecstatic when I heard the news because so many years have passed since he died and his name has been on the ballot a few times over that time,” said Fosse. “Here’s a guy doing football, basketball and baseball all at the same time, which is incredible. And he was just an incredible individual when it came to preparation. I learned so much from him in what I do today.

“That he passed away in 2005 and he finally gets in, I want to thank the committee members that voted for him because there were other good names on the ballot. Just the fact that they thought enough of Bill, even though he’s not here to enjoy it, to have him being honored with the Frick Award is very special.”

Fosse’s broadcasting career started in 1986, and for his first five years worked with both King and fellow Frick Award winner Lon Simmons.

“In radio broadcasting they say you have to paint a picture and Bill could paint a picture that was unbelievable,” Fosse remembered. “I was so intimidated early in working with him that I wouldn’t say a word for the first inning. He would be setting the stage and I would just sit there and listen.

“I’ve been fortunate to work for the A’s for 31 years and what I am right now is the result of being in that booth with Bill. I played baseball but as a broadcaster I was nothing and to be able to learn from Bill the art of broadcasting, having had no training, I was fortunate. To have been in the broadcast booth with one of the greatest, I feel so honored.”

Ray Fosse has been in the A’s broadcast booth for the past three decades, working with Bill King during his first years on the air. (Jean Fruth / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Meanwhile, the 2017 season will be Korach’s 22nd season broadcasting A’s baseball, 10 of which, from 1996 to 2005, were spent working alongside King.

“I had grown up listening to him so he was an idol of mine from the time that I first heard him when I was a kid,” Korach said. “He had such a profound influence on me and my love of broadcasting. He was really gracious with me.

“His career is instructive from the standpoint that he was a man who took his craft very seriously. There was a sense of responsibility that he had, and credibility, and making sure that he got things right, and doing his homework. He was unbelievably diligent.”

When asked what they thought King’s reaction to the Frick Award news would have been, both Korach and Fosse gave similar answers.

There was an authenticity to Bill that I think really was something that was a quality that endeared him to people in the Bay Area. He was a very unique guy. He was his own man. What you got from Bill was the real thing.

Oakland A's broadcaster Ken Korach, on Bill King

“I think he would have been deeply humbled, very thrilled, honored and extremely proud,” Korach said. “It would have meant the world to him. And Bill didn’t live for the adulation, he didn’t live for recognition. He did it because it was what he loved to do. But the Hall of Fame is the pinnacle.”

According to Fosse, King didn’t want any attention for his success.

“He did not want anybody to think anything other than he was a broadcaster and he did his job. I don’t know if he’d really enjoy the accolades,” Fosse said. “Though it has been 11 years since he passed away, everybody will be saying, ‘Thank God he’s in,’ because he deserved to be there. Though it’s unfortunate he can’t be here to enjoy it, knowing Bill he probably would have said he didn’t deserve it. But I think deep down he believed he deserved it.

“He’d show up in Spring Training and say, ‘Man, I don’t know if I can do this.’ I’d say, ‘Bill, as brilliant as you are, if there’s ever such a thing as riding a bicycle in broadcasting, you’re riding a bicycle when you step in that booth.’ And the first game of Spring Training would be just like game 162 at the end of the regular season. That’s how prepared he was going into the season. I’m just thankful having worked with Bill King that I can say he’s now going to be in Cooperstown because he’s the best broadcaster I’ve ever seen.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the FORD C. FRICK AWARD series