Baseball loses icon Clyde King

Staff WriterNovember 4, 2010 

A few years ago, Clyde King was asked to recount his fondest baseball memory.

"I can't really single out just one," he said. "Baseball is a game of memories. You make a new one almost every day."

King, who died at age 86 in Goldsboro on Tuesday, had enough memories for an entire team. Make that a league.

As a 23-year-old pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, King was among the first players on the team to befriend Jackie Robinson.

On Oct. 3, 1951, King was on the Dodgers' bench at the New York Giants' Polo Grounds when Bobby Thomson homered to win the National League pennant for the Giants.

A right-hander with good stuff, King went 14-7 for the Dodgers that season.

Later, as a manager for the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees, King led teams that included Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Dave Winfield.

As much as anything, though, King will probably be remembered for founding the Major League chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and for successfully surviving a long association with the Yankees. During a period in which George Steinbrenner developed a reputation as one of the most demanding and unpredictable owners in professional sports history, King was the last of three managers to lead the Yankees in 1982.

The club struggled nonstop with growing pains and roster juggling that year, and Steinbrenner fired Bob Lemon and then Gene Michael before turning to King to manage.

"There weren't many dull days with George," King once said. "But his bark was always worse than his bite, and there's probably never been an owner who cared more about his club and wanted to win [more] for his team's fans."

A year after the Yanks reached the World Series but lost to the Dodgers, Steinbrenner spent most of the '82 summer seething as a team stocked with Winfield, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph and pitchers Tommy John and Rich Gossage struggled to reach .500, much less return to the playoffs.

At the end of the season, Steinbrenner turned back to Billy Martin to manage the team.

But Steinbrenner, who died in July, kept King close. King served as the Yankees' general manager from 1984 to 1986 before joining the coaching staff again in 1988. Working as a scout, instructor and general troubleshooter, King stayed with the franchise until the mid-1990s.

Steinbrenner once referred to King as "a great baseball man as well as a great baseball mind."

For all of his time in New York and other big cities, King never lost track of his roots. He was devoted to the Goldsboro area and to baseball throughout the state, particularly at the University of North Carolina, where he played after high school.

He once said baseball had given him everything, but Clyde King gave just as much to his sport.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver .com or 919-829-8946

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