APRIL 27, 1981
He was the last major league pitcher to lose 20 games in a season and the first one since 1922 to lose that many with a winning team, and Brian Kingman is strangely proud of that dubious feat. He has given his blessing to an Internet site devoted to it (www.20gamelosers.com) and written a poem about it. "It's funny now," Kingman says of his 1980 debacle, when he went 8-20 for Billy Martin's Oakland A's. "But the first five years afterward were painful, a nightmare really. I wouldn't read the sports page. I even put a blown-up, framed poster of our pitching staff on the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED out in the garage."
The A's went 83-79 in '80, their first season under Martin, and Kingman's fellow starters had career seasons: Mike Norris won 22, Rick Langford 19, Matt Keough 16 and Steve McCatty 14. But Kingman never recovered from a midseason falling out with Martin and went 1-9 down the stretch, finishing with the 20 losses despite a 3.83 ERA.
Over the next two seasons Kingman went 7-18, then pitched eight innings in the majors in '83 and struggled the following season in the minors before retiring. A graduate of UC Santa Barbara with degrees in psychology and sociology, he started selling real estate to support his family—wife Diane and their two sons, Matthew, now 19, and Alex, 17. In 1988 he became a manager for Any Kind Check Cashing. For the past six years he has been the CEO of Service Annex, a check-cashing firm with 68 employees in California and Nevada and a revenue of $100 million last year.
Since Kingman's retirement, only 10 pitchers have flirted with the 20-loss mark, including the Philadelphia Phillies' Omar Daal, who had a 3-19 record with two starts remaining in 2000. Kingman flew to see Daal's starts—one win and a no decision—and says he willed him not to lose. "Right now I'm the answer to a trivia question," says Kingman. "But whenever anyone loses 19, I'm on trivia death row."
To preserve Kingman's celebrity status, a colleague created 20gamelosers.com last year as a birthday gift for the once-embattled righthander. The site contains lists of 20-game losers, including those who made the Hall of Fame ( Cy Young, Walter Johnson and Steve Carlton, to name a few). "My wife thinks I'm nuts," says Kingman, who studies 20-game losing lore. "She thinks I'll get depressed if someone actually loses 20."