In Appreciation: Hal King
Seasons with Cincinnati: 1973-1974
Why IA? Pinch-hit game-winning HR turned Reds’ 1973 season around (NL West winner)
45 years ago, his home run turned a season around
Catcher Hal King hit only .214 for his eight-season MLB career, and only once did he accumulate as many as 200 at-bats (in 1970 for the Atlanta Braves).
And for the Reds, he had only 60 at-bats during the 1973 and 1974 seasons. In 1973, he had only eight hits; but four of them were home runs, and three were as a pinch-hitter.
But he will be forever remembered for one swing of the bat July 1, 1973 that turned the Reds’ season around and sparked a rally that led them to the Western Division Championship.
The Dodgers led the Reds by 10 games that day, and had ace Don Sutton on the mound in the first game of a doubleheader. The Reds trailed 3-1 with two on and two out in the ninth inning when manager Sparky Anderson sent the .180-hitting King to the plate as a pinch-hitter.
The count went to 2-2.
“I was looking for a fastball,” King said. “He tricked me. Didn’t throw me one fastball.”
Instead, Sutton hung a screwball, and King swung so hard he ripped one of his cleats as he hit a deep drive to right field. The ball hit the foul screen for a three-run home run.
Reds 4, Dodgers 3.
“I knew right then we were going to win the West,” said Anderson. “It was just one of those things that when it happens you immediately think: This is gonna turn us around.”
Instead of being 11 games behind, the margin was now 9 games. The inspired Reds won the second game of the doubleheader that day, and defeated the Dodgers again the next evening. By September they had caught and passed the Dodgers, going 60-26 during that period and winning the National League West.
King’s 1973 heroics were not enough to win him a job opening the 1974 season, however. He was one of the final roster cuts.
“I couldn’t quite understand it with King [being cut],” said Pete Rose in Charlie Hustle, and Joe Morgan agreed.
“He was only the guy who won the pennant for us,” Morgan said. “A good guy, quiet, never did anything to hurt anyone. Just did his job, hit his home runs, and shut up. It’s rotten.”
King was eventually recalled from AAA Indianapolis, hitting .176 in 17 at-bats before being sent back down July 4 when the Reds called up pitcher Tom Carroll. It was his final big-league season.
He spent the 1975-1979 seasons in the Mexican League.
But for one day, he truly was the “king” of the Queen City.