On a connecting plane returning to the Bay Area from back east in 1975, the paths of two now-legendary sports announcers crossed for the first time, when they were at vastly different stages of their storied careers.
San Francisco Giants broadcaster Jon Miller was just a 23-year-old kid, returning from announcing a little-watched North American Soccer League match in Toronto.
Bill King, at age 48, was a veteran Bay Area announcer coming back from calling the Golden State Warriors’ first NBA championship win, against the Washington Bullets.
Both teams’ flight plans — they flew commercial in those days — converged in Chicago, where the plane filled up to fly to San Francisco.
Miller spotted King in the back of the plane with NBA legend Rick Barry and got up the nerve to introduce himself to the man he’d grown up listening to.
“Bill’s got champagne, he’s barefoot, he’s with Rick Barry. He says to Rick, ‘Give him some champagne,’” Miller said this week.
“He said he heard me do a soccer game and he was amazed. He’s asking me how I call a soccer game,” he said, incredulous. “I said, ‘I do it like you taught me how to do a basketball game.’ It was totally surreal and exciting.”
Miller recalled the legendary three-sport announcer as King was being honored this weekend with the Ford C. Frick Award at the baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York.
“The Warriors just had the greatest day in the history of the franchise and here’s Bill celebrating with these guys, and he’s grilling me about how to do soccer games,” Miller mused. “He had this great in-the-moment quality.”
King, who died in 2005, is the 41st winner of the Frick Award for major contributions to baseball broadcasting, joining the likes of Vin Scully, Jack Buck and other masters of the booth. Miller won the honor in 2010.
“Bill King’s enthusiasm for every game he called carried through the airwaves and into the hearts of fans throughout Northern California for 25 incredible years with the Oakland Athletics,” said Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, in a statement announcing King’s selection.
“From his distinctive word choices in describing the action to his unabashed love of Oakland and the Bay Area, King crafted a career that became synonymous with the action at the Oakland Coliseum and throughout the sports world.”
King spent a quarter-century as the radio voice of the A’s, from 1981 until his death in 2005, calling some of the team’s most memorable moments, often with his “holy Toledo!” catchphrase.
But his career spanned decades longer and covered every major sport and then some — which is why some believe his Cooperstown honor was late in coming. He was a finalist six times before his selection.
Born in 1927 in Bloomington, Illinois, King was stationed on the island of Guam toward the end of World War II, where he began his broadcasting career. He took the newswire printout of games and converted them to sort of live play-by-play accounts.
He called his first minor league baseball game in 1948 in Peoria, Illinois. Later, he called college basketball and football games.