#69 on our list is the moustached masher, Jeff King.
As Samson's power came from his hair, Jeff King's power came from his moustache.
Jeff was a power hitting first baseman who spent just two seasons at the end of his career with the Royals after a solid career in Pittsburgh. Jeff graduated from Rampart High School in Colorado Springs and was drafted by the Cubs, but turned them down to play ball at the University of Arkansas. By his sophomore season he was a star, making the All-American team and setting the school record for home runs in a season. His junior year he was named College Player of the Year by The Sporting News, and was taken as the first overall pick in the 1986 Amateur Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In his first full professional season in 1987, he hit twenty-six home runs in just ninety games with Salem of the Carolina League. He struggled a bit the next year in AA, hitting just .255/.325/.414 with fourteen home runs, with an arm injury moving him from third base to first base. In 1989, he began the year in AAA, but was called up to replace the injured Sid Bream. He filled in all over the infield for the Pirates, but hit just .195 in seventy-five games.
King began 1990 back at third base competing for a starting spot with veteran Wally Backman. King would win most of the playing time, and would hit .245 with fourteen home runs. The Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in a decade, although King would go just 1-10 and would suffer criticism from teammate Barry Bonds for failing to play Game Five of the NLCS because of a back injury.
King continued to suffer back injuries in 1991 and appeared in just thirty-three games for the Pirates, who again won the NL East. He returned healthy in 1992, but was bumped for Steve Buechele, who had been acquired to fill-in for King. King filled in a utility role, and managed to appear in 130 games, although he hit just .231.
By 1993, sluggers Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds had both left Pittsburgh, leaving a void in the lineup. King did his best to step up with a .295 average and 98 RBI. He still was not providing the power potential he showed in college, hitting just nine home runs.
King would not show his first good power season until 1995 when he smacked eighteen home runs for the last place Pirates. In 1996 he signed a below market value contract to stay in Pittsburgh, and also requested the team stop playing him all over the field and stick him at first base. He flourished that year, hitting .271 with a career high thirty home runs and a career high thirty-six doubles.
Despite the below market deal, the Pirates felt they had to deal their slugger. In December, the Royals outbid the Padres, Marlins and Indians and acquired King along with shortstop Jay Bell in a six player deal for Joe Randa and some forgettable Royals minor leaguers.
"Hey, I like Joe Randa. But, uh, come on. Not to pat myself on the back, but this trade is unbelievable."
-Royals General Manager Herk Robinson
The 1997 Royals had reason to have hope for the season. Robinson had acquired Bell and King as well as former Angels slugger Chili Davis to add run production to the worst offense in the league. He also added a young slugger named Jermaine Dye and had some promising outfielders like Tom Goodwin and Johnny Damon. The team had veterans like Kevin Appier and Tim Belcher in the rotation, and some solid young lefties like Jose Rosado and Glendon Rusch to fill out the rotation.
The team got off to a promising start. By mid-May they were 20-17 and in first place, ahead of the mighty Cleveland Indians. Even in late June, they were 36-38, just three games out. Then they lost twelve in a row, costing manager Bob Boone his job. He was replaced by Tony Muser and he followed up that streak with a four game losing streak. The Royals ended up finishing dead last, nineteen games back. They lost ninety-four games, the most they had lost since 1970.
King hit just .238, but smacked twenty-eight home runs, second on the team to Chili Davis. He also has 112 RBI, the ninth most in the league and a career high. His sixteen steals were also a career high.
"It's been a funny year - it really has....I feel like I've really struggled from the All-Star break, or even before, but how do I end up with 100 RBIs? It just doesn't make any sense."
Lowest OPS+ by a Royals Hitter with 100 RBI
1. Joe Randa 2000
94 OPS+ 106 RBI
Had Beltran, Sweeney and Dye hitting in front of him. Slugged just .438.
2. Carlos Beltran 1999
99 OPS+ 108 RBI
The amazing thing is he hit leadoff almost half of the season.
3. Jeff King 1997
104 OPS+ 112 RBI
Second in AL with twelve sac flies.
4. Carlos Beltran 2002
114 OPS+ 105 RBI
Another amazing performance as he had Chuck Knoblauch and Neifi Perez hitting in front of him.
5. Dean Palmer 1998
115 OPS+ 119 RBI
His one season in KC he slugged .510, but had an OBA of just .333
The Royals lost Davis and Bell in 1998, but added veterans like Dean Palmer, Jeff Conine, Terry Pendleton and Hal Morris to give King some protection in the lineup. Other than Palmer, the group were responsible for a punchless lineup that finished second to last in runs scored. King hit .263 with twenty-four home runs but just seventeen doubles. Aside from Palmer, King, and Johnny Damon, no other Royals hitter had more than eight home runs.
Before the 1999 season, the Royals looked to pare their payroll and offered veterans Kevin Appier and Jeff King to other teams. Appier drew much interest, but the Royals found fewer takers for King. The Braves had mild interest to platoon King with young Ryan Klesko, but a deal was never made. King began the year as the Royals first baseman, but by mid-April he was sidelined with a back injury, a recurring problem.
On May 23, 1999, Jeff King stunned Royals management and fans when he announced his retirement.
This game demands a lot; it expects a lot and rightfully so. I've got a lot of respect for this game, and you've got to pour your heart and soul into it. And I've done that, but it just ain't there anymore.
Saying that, it's not right for me to go out there when I'm having these kind of feelings and continue to be paid for it. Playing the game for money is not the right reason. It's as simple as that....
By the grace of God, I was able to play a long time and persevere. I gave it all I had.