Ron King saw hundreds of top prospects in his time, some of them from
the Sacramento Region. Plus, he watched (and worked with) some of the greatest players
in baseball history. Here are some of his observations, beginning with the local
players (for more on some of the players listed below, see Mark
McDermott's stories in
Bob Oliver/Highlands High-ARC: May have been the first local player signed
by King (1963) to reach the majors. In 1965, the Pirates promoted Oliver for a late season call up.
In 1969, the Kansas City Royals selected him in the expansion draft, and in the club's inaugural
season Oliver became the first Royal player to get 6 hits in a 9-inning game and the first to club
a grand slam. "He had above average arm, power and hands," King remarks Over eight big league
seasons, he played on five teams, batted .256 with 94 home runs and 419 RBI. Son Darrin
Oliver, a left-handed journeyman, has pitched 17 seasons for eight different teams and in
2010 is on his third tour with the Texas Rangers.
Larry Bowa/Sacramento City College: King had Larry Bowa on a Julius winter
league team and suggested he learn to switch hit (Ironically, before turning pro, King played for
Paul Bowa, Larry's father in a Sacramento league). Mule-headed, Bowa didn't learn to switch hit
until he reached the majors. The Phillies signed him, taught him to switch hit, and MBL the
shortstop enjoyed a long, record-setting career.
For that Julius team King selected mostly high school
players: pitchers Ken
Forsch and Jim Nelson ("good arms, and
fairly good command as kids"), Jim and Don
Graf, Greg Sims,
Mike Furtado and major leaguer, Bob Oliver. "Five guys got drafted off that team."
He purposefully took high school players so he could work them out twice a week at Land Park.
The other teams were stocked with pro players who had full-time jobs and usually didn't
practice as a team. Julius went undefeated until losing the last three games of the season: a
make-up game, the second half title match, and the
High: King and the Pirates drafted Nelson in the 31st round of the resurrected amateur draft. King was already familiar
with him from that Julius winter league team. "Good looking right-handed pitcher with a great
palm ball." In 1970, Nelson reached the Pirate team and pitched in 32 games, compiling a 6-4 3.06
ERA record over two years. His one claim to fame: he pitched and won the final home game ever
played at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field.
High: "Great power. Average runner with a fair arm." King remembers the day at
McClatchy High when Lee took a Pat Fall fast ball and blasted it more than 440 feet, a one-bouncer
over a neighbor's fence. The next week at Grant, Lee repeated it with another titanic homer, this
time with even more scouts in the stands. Lee, uncle to Cubs' star Derrek Lee, enjoyed an
eight-year major league career, and then transferred to the Japanese League where he was a
full-fledged superstar for a decade.
Gary Kelley/McClatchy High: King drafted and signed the
All-City player in 1970. King says Kelley is an example of how a scout can draft someone with
god-given ability and misjudge the player's mental makeup. The 1970 McClatchy team won
the Capital Valley Invitational championship (preceding the
Sac-Joaquin playoffs), and Kelley's teammate Rowland Office was another superstar player. In two
seasons with the Pirates' rookie league and Class "A" teams, Kelley underwhelmed. One of the
Pirate minor league coaches told King, "Kelley has great tools on paper. But with his mental
makeup—I've got to flunk him." The Pirates released the 19-year-old.
Office, meanwhile, went on to moderate success. Drafted in the 4th Round by Atlanta, he played 11 major league seasons (7 of those
with the Braves) and batted .259 in 2661 plate appearances. Comparing the two former high school
teammates, King said when things got tough, Office challenged himself to improve, while Kelley
often gave up in frustration.
Joel Bishop/McClatchy High: King was impressed with his
speed. "Bishop would run against anyone I was working out, and he always won the 60 yard dash. In
Bishop's senior year, McClatchy went undefeated (finally losing in the playoffs), and King thought
Joel was the best clutch hitter in that group, which also featured Jerry Manuel and Mike Ondina (Cordova). All
three were all drafted in the first round. When King filed his report on Bishop, he wrote "They'll
have to tear the uniform off of him (implying the Lion would play a long time)." But after two
minor league seasons, Bishop gave up professional baseball, to King's great
Jerry Manuel/Cordova High: Could play defensively and
run well, but was not a power threat at the plate. King wanted to draft Manuel with Pittsburgh's #1
pick in the '72 draft (Detroit got him first), but King would also would have taught
Manuel to switch hit. "I ran him in the 60 three times and he timed at 6.2 each time. I never
ran anyone faster." Manuel, King remembers, hadn't hit a home run until he went north for a
tournament, where he hit two home runs in a game. The Detroit scout, who was there watching Ondina,
put Manuel high on his list (Detroit's scout was fooled by the one-game power surge, King
Max Venable/Cordova High: All-City in
football and baseball, Venable was drafted by the Dodgers in the rd Round in 1976. "As a leadoff hitter at Lodi (California League), he drove in 100
runs," King noted. He was drafted from the Dodgers' Albuquerque club by the Giants, where he made
his major league debut in 1979. In 1984 the Giants traded him along with
Fred Breining to the Montreal Expos for
Al Oliver (son of Bob Oliver). Breining, King remembers, had three good pitches
and would right after hitters. In three full seasons he was 27-20 with a 3.35 ERA for the
Giants and Expos. In 12 major league seasons, Venable batted .241 for four different clubs.
He is the father of Will Venable, a Princeton grad, who now plays for San
Mike Howard/Sacramento High: A 6th Round
draft pick by the Dodgers in 1976. "Above average arm and runner who played like Pete Rose." Howard
had the right field job for the Mets before Darryl Strawberry and made the big leagues three
R.J. Reynolds/CRC-SCC: Reynolds may have been King's
highest draft selection, as the Dodgers took him in the 2nd Round in the 1980 draft.
"Had all the tools," Ronnie remembers. "Speed,
quickness, arm, hands and a fine first step in the field." An outfielder, Reynolds played eight seasons in the majors, first for the
Dodgers and then for the Pirates, batting .267 while swiping 109 bases. After his major league days
he played in Japan and Mexico. Interestingly, King saw Reynolds play as an underclassman at
Kennedy High, then didn't see him on the ballfield again until Reynolds had gone on to his second
junior college. In between, he starred in basketball at Kennedy and Cosumnes River
College. Then, he resumed his baseball career at Sac City College.
Other Major Leaguers King Played with or
Joe Marty/Christian Brothers High: As a youth, King
was fortunate to watch Marty with the Sacramento Solons. "Marty was some kind of baseball player.
He played centerfield on those Seals' teams (1934-'35) while Joe DiMaggio played right field." In
1935, Marty batted .287 to DiMaggio's .398 and the native San Franciscan was on his way to New
York. Marty wasn't far behind, joining the Cubs in 1936.
Marty played against DiMaggio in the 1938
World Series and hit a home run in
Marty finished his career playing for the hometown Solons from 1946 to 1952, batting .309 over 10
PCL seasons. Marty told King that he opted to stay out west and play in the PCL to save money. "'If
I'm married with a kid here in Sacramento, then I have buy a home (in the east) for the family.
This way, I just need one home. It's better money all around. Why go (east to the big
King recalls that Marty was a "great guy; he'd do anything
for you." After he had retired from baseball, Marty took over the "El Chico Bar and
Restaurant," the famous hangout on Broadway. King loved to go to the El Chico early in the mornings
to talk baseball. One time, he came in and asked Marty for a loan of $200. Marty told him to beat
it. When King explained his wife required immediate surgery, and both sets of parents were out of
town, Marty drew three one-hundred dollar bills from the till. King offered to sign a note, but
Marty chastised him, "go (dump) in your hat."
Herb Score/Cleveland Indians: King caught Score in
Reading in 1953 and remembers he had one of the best curve balls of any pitcher. While the lefty
had great stuff, his control was erratic. Indians' minor league pitching coach Ted Wilkes detected an
unusual mechanical defect. Score inadvertently closed his lead (or right) eye while delivering the
ball to the plate. The coach placed a pirate patch over the left eye, which effectively blinded the
pitcher during his delivery. Score corrected the defect, and won 22 games in Triple-A, and quickly
became one of the top left handers in the American League. Score went 16-5 for the Indians in 1955,
earning Rookie of the Year and All-Star honors, then won 20 games in 1956.
"He would have been the Koufax of the
American League, that's how good his stuff was," King recalls. (He then corrects himself,
knowing that Score came before Koufax). U
nfortunately, Score's career was cut short by a Gil McDougald drive
that struck him in the face. He returned to the mound in 1958, but never regained his All-Star
/Oakland A's: There's a lot of hot dog in him, but he knew how to play the game the right way. He
was an all-around player that could do everything so well.
/Pittsburgh Pirates: In the winter of 1968, the Pirates dispatched King to weigh Stargell, who
lived in the East Bay, every other week. In his prime,
Stargell hit several balls in the upper deck of the tri-level Three Rivers stadium, amazing
the Pirate scout. He also saw him go deep in
Los Angeles, driving the ball over a palm tree in right field, completely out of the yard. While
working together for the Pirates in the 1990s he once kidded Stargell by asking, "If you played
today, how many home runs do you think you would hit?" Stargell played along by saying, "Probably
one hundred. The ball is really juiced now."
"Willie was a real first class man."
/(Several Teams): "He never got the credit; he was never talked about. He had great ability."
Chuck Tanner, who managed Allen on the White Sox in 1972-74, told King he never saw Allen hit a
foul ball "in the ring" (between the foul lines). Astounding.
Dodger manager Walt Alston, who managed Allen
in 1971, told King that Allen "could do everything" and remembered he was one of the clutch hitters
at driving in runners in the late innings.
/Giants: "The best player I ever
/Cleveland Indians: In addition to his fast ball, "he had a great
curve. It had great spin. When you fool the catcher (who already knows the curve is coming), that's
/Stanford: Many forget that John Elway was a
in both football and baseball at Stanford. King featured him as the
number one pick in the country before the Yankees snagged the future NFL Hall of Fame
quarterback. "Elway had power to all fields and could drive the ball, not only out of Sunken
Diamond, but clear out of Stanford's facilities. He had good speed and a Clemente-type arm. I
figured he would be a great right fielder, like Clemente or Roger
/Houston: King said he might have been one of the all-time greats, if
not for the unfortunate stroke that struck him down at a young age. He was very dominant, reaching
100 on the "Ray" gun King was holding at a game in Houston (while scouting for Los
/(Dodger catcher and minor league instructor): King worked with John Roseboro the
Dodgers' catcher from the 1960s in the Instructional league. He asked John who was the toughest
pitcher he ever caught, thinking Stan Williams or Don Drysdale. Instead, Roseboro surprised him.
"Koufax—I couldn't pick up the ball coming out of his hand." Roseboro said Koufax' motion, with his
left hand tucking the ball behind his head, and then masked by the glove in the delivery,
effectively hid the ball. The catcher admitted he had to pick up the ball in flight, which
explained why the batters had so hard a time in recognizing the pitch (fast ball versus
King was sitting in the stands with his wife
and two friends that afternoon in San Francisco when Marichal struck Roseboro over the head with
his bat. King missed the blow, as he was turned toward his wife, telling her what a great catcher
Roseboro was. Later, Marichal and Roseboro became great friends, and the Roseboros visited Juan's
family in the Dominican Republic.
More on Murtaugh:
When Danny Murtaugh ran the player
development program at Pittsburgh, he made his players use bats that came "an ounce to an inch."
That is, if a player wanted a 34 ounce bat, it automatically came 34 inches in length. Murtaugh
believed bats with those proportions produced the sweet, hard lumber that wouldn't break easily
and saved the organization money in the long run.
On pitchers' with great
King names Sandy Koufax, Sam Jones, Bob
Feller, Herb Score and Nolan Ryan as having great curve balls. "The one
thing these guys had in common was that they were known for their number one pitch, the fast ball,
but people forget how good their curve ball was. Their tight curve ball produced a spin you could
hear," King marvels.
u u u
Talk about spin...King can real off stories with the best of