Jeff King was hunting pheasant just north of Pittsburgh in
December when the call came. After several hours in the woods
with former Pirates manager Jim Leyland, King returned home and
found his wife, Laura, standing alone in the kitchen.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
"I feel good, thanks. How are you?" he said. "What's going on?"
"Well," she said after a long pause, "the Pirates just traded
you to the Royals."
Cash-strapped Pittsburgh shipped King, a power-hitting first
baseman who earned $2.5 million last season, and his best
friend, shortstop Jay Bell, who made $4.5 million, to Kansas
City for unproven third baseman Joe Randa and three young
King, who loved playing in Pittsburgh so much that he didn't
apply for free agency when he was eligible in 1995 and probably
cost himself several million dollars as a result, thought Laura
might be kidding. After all, the Pirates had selected him with
the No. 1 choice in the '86 amateur draft and had spent a lot of
time and money on him when he struggled at the start of his pro
career. Things got so bad, in fact, that he almost walked away
from the game. "I stunk in '86, '87 and '88," he says. "And to
this day I'm not sure why I didn't quit. Sure glad I didn't,
An Indiana native who owns a 2,200-acre ranch in Montana, King
left the kitchen and checked his answering machine. There were
17 messages. "That's when I knew she wasn't kidding and that I
was going to Kansas City," he says. "When the exodus from
Pittsburgh started, it was like the wheels were coming off. I
know the Royals are also a small-market team, but at least I
feel like they can get players and have a chance to compete."
Kansas City general manager Herk Robinson called the swap
"unbelievable." Randa said it was a great deal--for the Royals.
Says K.C. manager Bob Boone, "I was excited about the trade. It
instantly made us a better club."
The Royals, who finished last in the American League Central in
1996 and who lost 26 of 40 one-run games, had a bad habit of
stranding base runners. Not knowing where his next run was
coming from forced Boone to manage the first inning as if it
were the ninth.
With 30 homers and 111 RBIs last year (both career highs), King
brings power to a team that hasn't had a 30-100 guy since Danny
Tartabull in 1991. The hitter-friendly parks in the American
League and the emphasis King placed on bat speed this spring
under the tutelage of future Hall of Famer and current Royals
vice president George Brett should increase his power numbers
The presence of King also takes some of the pressure off Kansas
City's core of young players, although King prefers to avoid the
spotlight. "I've never enjoyed the attention of being in the big
leagues," he says. "I just want to be treated like an average
guy. I don't dislike people. I'm just a quiet person."
King speaks softly, but the Royals are hoping he carries a big
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER JEFF KING Generating Power for K.C.
2B Jose Offerman
Finished strong in 1996, batting .376 in September
SS Jay Bell
Had career-high 71 RBIs despite .250 average
LF Bip Roberts
Missed 119 games because of injuries the last two years
DH Chili Davis
Hit .395 in day games last season
1B Jeff King
Led the National League with three grand slams in '96
3B Craig Paquette
Began '96 unemployed; ended as Royals' homer leader (22)
RF Michael Tucker
Career average is .222 before All-Star break, .309 after
C Mike Macfarlane
Improved average by 49 points from '95 to '96
CF Johnny Damon
Had seven RBIs in a game against the Angels last season
Ace Kevin Appier
Struck out a career-high 207 batters in '96
Closer Jeff Montgomery
Royals' alltime save leader, with 242
Mike Macfarlane has been hit by 86 pitches in 3,271 plate
appearances, or once every 38 trips to the plate. Among players
with at least 2,000 plate appearances, only Ron Hunt (one every
25) and Don Baylor (one every 35) were hit with greater
frequency. Among players who caught at least 500 games, five
were hit more often than Macfarlane: Carlton Fisk (143), Brian
Downing (129), Sherm Lollar (115), Bill Freehan (114) and Gene