TODAY’S FINAL DAY OF THE WINTER MEETINGS BITTERSWEET
If you’re a died-in-the-wool A’s fan—you know, the kind that Bernie leans at the drop of a hat and waits in line three or four hours to claim their cherished new bobblehead giveaway—you have to be excited about the team’s new acquisitions this month. Time will tell just how successful each trade or free agent signing was. However, if you walked the lobby at the Swan & Dolphin Hotel in Orlando as I did this week, you heard universal praise from GMs, media and even a couple of agents about most of our player moves. And while the two deals we swung earlier today might be wait-and-see propositions, there appears to be big upsides for Colorado left-hander Drew Pomeranz, a former fifth overall draft pick, and mercurial leadoff man Billy Burns, the Nationals’ Minor League Player of the Year this season.
Yet, while we can look forward to an organization getting stronger with some shrewd additions, I can’t help but feel some remorse by two news developments that unfolded today.
A 10 a.m. news conference at the Winter Meetings was held by Brad Horn, the highly-respected PR man for the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He announced that long-time Texas Rangers’ play-by-play man Eric Nadel was this year’s winner of the Ford C. Frick Award. Nadel, a friend and fellow blues enthusiast (we trade CDs and MP3s every time we see each other), is richly deserving of the Hall of Fame honor. He’s been a sports radio fixture in the Lone Star State for 35 years.
However, his selection also meant our beloved Bill King was passed over yet again by the voting committee. As a courtesy, Horn shared the news with me 10 minutes before the press briefing. While I was deeply disappointed—as was A’s Vice President of Broadcasting and Communications Ken Pries and A’s voice Ken Korach who authored the King “Holy Toledo” book—no one could be more disappointed than the thousands of Bay Area fans who cherished every broadcast Bill ever did and mourned his unexpected passing six years ago.
Earlier in October, I had sent a copy of Ken’s wonderfully-written book, along with a letter, to each member of the Ford C. Frick Award committee. There were glowing quotes from dozens of people in the book, including such sports icons as Hall of Famers John Madden, Rick Barry and Tony LaRussa, and a foreword by Jon Miller, whose plaque also resides in Cooperstown. In my letter, I told each voter we understood there were many worthy recipients, but while you may not be able to read Holy Toledo cover to cover before voting, I implored them to at least turn to page 111 and read the transcribed broadcast account of King’s remarkable call of Kirk Gibson’s World Series home run off Dennis Eckersley and the moments leading up to that historic clout. Due to the classic calls of Jack Buck and Vin Scully of the same play, I suspected none or very few of the voters had ever even heard Bill’s version on A’s radio. As usual, King’s description of the Series-turning homer was absolutely masterful. Not only did he capture the moment perfectly, adding his typical flair for the dramatic, he set the scene like no other broadcaster can. Other Hall of Fame broadcasters had to marvel how Bill actually anticipated that Eckersley’s 3-2 pitch to Gibson might be a back-door slider.
Unlike past years that Bill was eligible for selection and he finished in the top three in fan voting on the Hall of Fame website, this past month I received phone calls or notes from a number of committee members, including such legendary broadcast figures as Vin Scully and Bob Costas. They thanked me for sending Ken’s book and said they learned things about Bill they never knew. One member, who will remain nameless, also told me that King’s death may have delayed his chances of being selected, as the voters might not feel the urgency to vote him in when there are living candidates that would also be fine choices. That may be a bitter pill for some of us to swallow, but at the same time, there is validity to his comment. Now, under the new Ford C. Frick Award procedures where a different era of broadcasting is voted upon each year, we must wait until 2017 for the next time Bill’s era is on the ballot. If anything, the longer the wait, the sweeter it will be for A’s fans and King’s family and friends when he finally receives this long overdue honor.
And a second news story hit the Twitter World this afternoon, when it was announced that Jerry Blevins had been shipped to the Washington Nationals for Billy Burns. While we never should get too close to our players, knowing they are only a phone call away from being scratched off our roster, it’s no secret that Blevins was not only a clubhouse and front office favorite, he was also a great fan favorite. And this was a distinction that he plainly earned. Whether it was doing countless community outreach appearances on behalf of the A’s, collaborating with Coco Crisp on introducing the “Bernie Lean” song and dance to his teammates and the Coliseum faithful, or providing veteran leadership to a young and talented bullpen, Blevins demonstrated what a classy and team-oriented role model should be. His cerebral take on things, not to mention his at-times goofy sense of humor, will be sorely missed next season. And thanks to his dedication and work ethic, it was truly a pleasure to watch this string-bean-of-a-man develop into a strikeout artist who developed into one of the better left-handed specialists in the American League. It was that development which eventually made him a valuable commodity that today brought a coveted minor leaguer to Oakland in return.
When the Nationals visit the O.co Coliseum in early May, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a few chants of “Jerry, Jerry!” when the former A’s favorite starts warming up in the bullpen. And if that’s the case, I think we’ll all understand. So long Jerry. You left a mark here in Oakland, and for that, we say thank you and wish you nothing but the best.