With the Major League Baseball regular season winding down and heading toward postseason play, we thought this month's Hall Pass Newsletter would appropriately have a baseball theme. Our NCSHOF Member of the Month feature focuses on a baseball lifer with a fascinating story about one of his mound opponents. The "Did You Know?" relates to just a portion of the great baseball tradition in our state, and we can also meet the newest NCHSOF inductee from the MLB ranks. We hope you enjoy!
Goldsboro's Clyde King-- NCSHOF Member of the Month
By HELEN ROSS
You may have known that Clyde King played with Pee Wee Reese and Roy Campanella. Or, that he managed the great Willie Mays and the peerless Hank Aaron. He counted the pioneering Jackie Robinson and the Rev. Billy Graham among his closest friends, too.
But did you know that he once pitched against Fidel Castro?
King was reminded of that day when his Rochester Red Wings, the team he was managing, were in Cuba to play an International League game in 1960. Castro, who loved baseball, threw out the first pitch and he asked King if he remembered an exhibition game in Havana some 13 years earlier, when the North Carolinian was playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“Castro said, ‘Do you remember who you pitched against that day?’ King told baseballhappenings.net in 2016. ‘I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Me.’ I asked him if he remembered the score, he said he didn’t. You know what the score was? 15-1.”
That exchange with the man who came to become the hated Cuban dictator was just one of many eclectic stories that marked King’s six decades as a player, coach, manager, scout and executive in the major leagues.
The Goldsboro native was one of seven children in the blended family of Claude and Maggie King. His father was the foreman at a local lumber yard but money was tight – King, in fact, had to make his first baseball glove from the leather of an old sofa, stuffed with cotton and rags.
While still in high school, King pitched for a semi-professional team called Borden Mills. “They were a bunch of grown men (but) I could hold my own with them and do fairly well,” King later wrote in his autobiography.
King attended the University of North Carolina but was signed by Branch Rickey to pitch the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944 when he was just 19. He vividly remembers his first game on June 21st of that year when he relieved Ralph Branca against the Giants.
“In my first game, I came in with the bases loaded and nobody out,” King told The New York Times in 1981. “I got two men out, but then Mel Ott came up and hit a ball off the scoreboard in Ebbets Field. I watched runners keep going around third base until I got tired of it.”
The 6-foot-1 righthander ended up playing three seasons with the Dodgers, with his best coming in 1951-52 when he won 14 games and lost 7. King finished his major league playing career with Cincinnati the following year, although he pitched for three minor league teams before officially retiring in 1953 at the age of 31.
King never pitched in the World Series, although he played for the Dodgers in 1947 and ’52 when Brooklyn won the National League pennant. He appeared in a total of 200 games for his career, pitching 496 innings and posting a 32-25 mark and a 4.14 ERA. He had four complete games in 21 starts and 11 saves.
“I loved coming into games that were on the line,” King wrote in his autobiography. “I liked the pressure.”
After his playing career was over, King spent several years in the minor leagues managing six different clubs. He also was a pitching coach for the Reds and the Pirates, as well as a roving pitching instructor for the St. Louis Cardinals.
King served as the manager for the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees after managing in the minor leagues. His longest association, though, was with the Yankees – he joined the front office in 1976 and remained a part of the team for the rest of his life, serving as a super scout, pitching coach, GM and special advisor to George Steinbrenner during his tumultuous times as owner.
King had the unpleasant task of firing Yogi Berra, just 16 games into the 1985 season. He was just the messenger -- Steinbrenner made the decision – but Berra would not set foot in Yankee Stadium for the next 14 years.
According to the New York Daily News, Steinbrenner once said, “Over the years, Clyde has been my closest confident. When I get upset, I can talk to Clyde. He understands me. He has always stood up and told me when I’m full of it.”
King was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1983. He died in Goldsboro, his lifelong home, in 2010 at the age of 86.
“I was born here and raised here,” King once said. “I know the people here and I love the pace of life. Each year when the baseball season ended, I couldn’t wait to get back here.”
"He was a special guy," George Whitfield, who is also a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, told the Goldsboro News-Argus when King died. "He's certainly one of the finest Christian men I've ever known. In the baseball world, he was a wonderful Christian example to the players and coaches, and the people he was around. That's a rarity today.
"Every time you saw him, he was always the same. His demeanor never changed. He was able to handle losing and winning gracefully. He was a great role model, not only for me, but everyone he's ever been around."