On Sunday afternoon, Felix Hernandez had perhaps his finest outing as a major leaguer. Remember, this is a guy who once threw a perfect game. He gave up four hits, one walk … and struck out 15. His stuff was so good that he had a shot at striking out 20, maybe even 21, but he was pulled after seven innings because he was at 100 pitches.
Well, this is the new normal in baseball. Managers are less likely to risk injury, even when history is on the line, once the pitch count ticks to 100.
They call him King Felix. This got me thinking about the famous kings in sports. It seems like we throw around the title too liberally.
The most famous King is LeBron James. Some people speculate that he gave himself the King nickname. I don’t doubt it. I mean, the guy’s twitter handle is @KingJames. He has THE CHOSEN ONE tattooed on his back. But, if any athlete is deserving of the name, it’s LeBron. He is the best player in the game of basketball, the best since Jordan, and he has transcended the sports world as a national icon.
There was Charlie Keller, who played for the Yankees in the 1940’s and smashed 30+ homers in 1941, 1943, and 1946. His career OPS+ was 152, higher than Honus Wagner and Mike Schmidt and Reggie Jackson, but most people just remember the nickname. They called him King Kong because he was an insanely strong man who hit massive fly balls. Keller never liked the nickname and rarely answered to it.
Fifty years later, the Yankees had another king – Jim Leyritz. Leyritz was a big guy, but he wasn’t nicknamed The King for his stature. Apparently, his Yankee teammates gave him the nickname because of his large ego. He also had a knack for big hits. There was the game-winning home run in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS, one that put the Yankees up 2-0 in a series they would eventually lose. Most people remember him for the game-tying home run in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series, one that changed the momentum of the series. This time, the Yankees came back to win from a 2-0 series deficit.
There was George Steinbrenner, who many called King George. Well, not to his face. Steinbrenner fired anyone that made a fool of him. Except for that one scene in Seinfeld.
George Steinbrenner: “Nice to meet you.”
George Costanza: “Well, I wish I could say the same, but I must say, with all due respect, I find it very hard to see the logic behind some of the moves you have made with this fine organization. In the past 20 years you have caused myself, and the city of New York, a good deal of distress, as we have watched you take our beloved Yankees and reduced them to a laughing stock, all for the glorification of your massive ego.”
Steinbrenner: “Hire this man!”
They called Richard Petty the King. He won the NASCAR Championship seven times and won a record 200 races in his career.
Pelé was known as The King, O Rei Pelé.
Henrik Lundqvist has had a fine career as the Rangers’ goalie. His dominating play during his rookie season resulted in the New York media and Rangers fans giving him the nickname King Henrik. And as I write this, the Rangers are looking for their first Stanley Cup win in 20 years. In order to do it, they’ll have to beat … the LA Kings.
Those are just examples in sports. Pop culture is even worse. There’s Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n Roll. They called Benny Goodman the King of Swing. Michael Jackson was the King of Pop. Everyone called Johnny Carson the King of Late Night. Heck, even the Burger King mascot is simply known as The King.
My favorite king might be King Curtis of Wife Swap, the greatest character in the history of reality television. I think this is the only episode of Wife Swap I ever watched, and boy did I luck out. Among other things, King Curtis gave us the classic lines: Bacon is good for me! and Chicken nuggets is like my family.
And then there are … actual kings! King George III, well, yes, he was a famous one. There was Louis XIV, the Sun King,* who reigned as King of France for 72 years. There was King Tut. King Arthur. King Solomon. King Henry VIII.
*Not to be confused with the Beatles song.
And then, there are the many other figures with the last name of King. Martin Luther King. Billie Jean King. Stephen King. The Kansas City Royals once had an infielder named Jeff King. There’s Larry King and Don King and BB King and John King and Carole King and … jesus, did you ever realize how many Kings there were?
Kings are neat.