In this instance it was a pitch too low to be a strike but one well within the reach of Kingman's long, powerful arms. "I would have liked the pitch better if it had been farther out over the plate," Simmons said later, "but it was down out of the strike zone where he shouldn't have been able to do much with it. The ball never hung at all. If it had hung he would have hit it over the roof of one of those buildings on Waveland Avenue. He just reached down and golfed it out of the park."
When the ball leaped off Kingman's bat, the 30,224 fans gave voice to hosannahs, a cry that has become the most exciting sound in baseball. Hit too high in the air to threaten the Reyeses', the ball landed in the leftfield stands, where one of Wrigley's bare-chested Bleacher Bums hauled it in. Because Kingman is the Cubs' regular leftfielder, he has become the favorite of this self-consciously motley crew, and the Bums await his projectiles with a particular pride. After all, these are the very seats into which Hack Wilson, Ernie Banks and Ron Santo deposited so many of their homers. There is a tradition to uphold and Kingman is keeping it raised on high.
The secret of Kingman's power is not brute strength, but rather a lightning-quick swing with a natural home-run uppercut that is remarkable for its compactness. "Dave is not a muscle hitter," says Stearns. "His bat is so quick that he doesn't hit to the opposite field the way Reggie Jackson does. He's the only guy in the league who can pull a ball that's off the plate away from him for a home run."
Kingman's psyche has proved to be as brittle as the glass he shatters on Wave-land. His prowess with the bat has brought him precisely the kind of attention he wants to avoid. "Dave has the personality of a tree trunk," says Stearns. "He's not a bad guy, but if you try to talk to him, about all he does is grunt. He's not really the kind of man who wants to be in the public eye, yet here he is the longest hitter in baseball."
Kingman, 30, was a star pitcher and hitter at USC. He spent only two seasons in the minors before joining San Francisco in 1972. After three full years with the Giants, he was traded to the Mets, where he hit 73 homers in two seasons. When he tried to renegotiate his contract, the Met fans sided with management in one of the most amazing displays of misplaced loyalty in the history of free agentry. As his contract dispute became more bitter, the already shy Kingman became extremely introverted and he began to develop bad feeling toward the press.
Early this season the Chicago Sun-Times printed a compendium of Cub "bests" and "worsts," and Kingman's teammates unanimously designated him the "worst dressed." When he heard about it, Kingman angrily explained that he usually came to Wrigley Field in the clothes he wore to go salmon fishing on Lake Michigan. And with that, he declared himself off limits to all interviewers without video cameras or tape recorders. At first the Chicago press corps worked around the ban in the finest Front Page tradition—eavesdropping on Kingman's radio and TV interviews and cribbing quotes from people with cassette decks. Through it all, Kingman seemed to take a churlish pleasure in the discomfort he could cause in the press box simply by letting his bat do all his talking. From time to time he would confer off the record with reporters, but then only to explain why he wouldn't talk on the record.
When Kingman first joined the Cubs, his personality quirks—a certain aloofness, a penchant for canine company in the clubhouse—made him an oddball to some of his new teammates. He has only recently overcome that stigma by emerging as one of the team's foremost practical jokers. When squirt guns were the rage in the Cubs' clubhouse, it was Kingman who provided the weaponry. When cigarettes started exploding unexpectedly in players' faces, the trail of pellets led to Kingman. However, on days when he is not engaging in these antics, he is free to go his own way. "If he comes in and he doesn't feel like communicating that particular day," says Pitcher Lynn McGlothen, "we just back off. No problem."
In this special season Kingman hit his first home run on Opening Day and has kept right on clubbing. At times he has been well-nigh impossible to stop. The Phillies discovered that in late June when Catcher Bob Boone bobbled a routine foul-tipped third strike, then watched Kingman kong the next pitch more than 400 feet into the rightfield bleachers. As of last week, Kingman had missed only 10 games because of illness or injury. Never before has he played more than 135 games in a season.
Besides hitting monster home runs, Kingman has also been playing the outfield smoothly, even hitting cutoff men. As he once said, "I'm paid to hit, not to play defense. If I was paid for my defense I'd go hungry." But that attitude is a thing of the past as he patrols leftfield with new authority.
Kingman's prowess has tended to obscure the fact that the whole Cub team has done surprisingly well. There it was at week's end, only 4� games behind Pittsburgh in the National League East. Everybody knows that the Cubs flower and then wilt. But the el foldo, if there is to be one, is taking its own sweet time coming.