11/03/10 — Baseball icon King passes away

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Baseball icon King passes away

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 3, 2010 1:47 PM

Clyde King, a gentleman who graciously shared his passion for baseball and life with those young and old, died peacefully Tuesday evening at Wayne Memorial Hospital with his family at his bedside.

He was 86.

King is survived by his wife, Norma; three daughters, Norma King Blackman of Fremont, Princie King Evans of Wilson and Janet King Peacock of Goldsboro; three son-in-laws; eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Visitation is from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday at Seymour Funeral Home. The service is 2 p.m. Friday at Madison Avenue Baptist Church, where King and his wife are charter members.

"He was a special guy," said long-time friend George Whitfield. "He's certainly one of the finest Christian men I've ever known. In the baseball world, he was a wonderful Christian example to the players and coaches, and the people he was around. That's a rarity today.

"Every time you saw him, he was always the same. His demeanor never changed. He was able to handle losing and winning gracefully. He was a great role model, not only for me, but everyone he's ever been around."

King played baseball and basketball at the University of North Carolina and was a 20-year-old free agent when he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944. In his Major League debut, King relieved Ralph Branca and threw 12 pitches in the Dodgers' losing effort against the New York Giants.

A Goldsboro native, King was selected off waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies from the Dodgers on June 9, 1948 and then selected off waivers by the Dodgers from Philadelphia in a five-day stretch. Four years later, he was traded by Brooklyn to the Cincinnati Reds for Dixie Howell and an undisclosed amount of cash. He played his final game in 1953 and managed numerous minor league clubs from the mid-1950s to early 1970s.

King had coaching stints with the Atlanta Crackers (Southern Association), Hollywood Stars (Pacific Coast League), Columbus Jets (International League), Rochester Red Wings (International League), Phoenix Giants (Pacific Coast) and Richmond Braves (International). He compiled a 749-711 record with those clubs.

During managerial stints with the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees, King logged a record of 234-229. He joined the Yankees in 1975 and became a troubleshooter for the late George Steinbrenner. He became the team's pitching coach on June 11, 1982 and managed the Yankees from August 1982 through the end of the season. King was the club's third manager of the season.

"Clyde was managing the Braves when I signed with New York in 1974, but he came over to the Yankees a year later," said former Cincinnati Reds manager Jerry Narron. "We rode to spring training together that year which was a great way for me to soak up a lot of his knowledge.

"One thing I appreciate was last year when Clyde took time with a young man from Goldsboro High School who was working on a school project about diversity in sports. I think a lot of times we get caught up in what we do and we let that define who we are, but Clyde never did that. He was himself as a Christian first, and a baseball man second."

King handled front-office special assignments for the Yankees during the offseason and expressed an interest in coaching the team in 1983. In late September, the Yankees received permission to speak with Billy Martin of the Oakland A's and Steinbrenner eventually hired Martin in January 1983.

King returned to the front office as a scout and advisor to Steinbrenner -- he was general manager from 1984 to 1986 -- and he continued as a special advisor with the Yankees through 1995.

"He was an encourager," said Whitfield. "He built people up and tried to make them feel good, and they did feel good just by being around him."

In 1999, King co-authored his biography "A King's Legacy: The Clyde King Story" with Burton Rocks. King is listed among Goldsboro High's most notable alumni along with Karl Eikenberry (Lt. Gen. and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan), Carl Kassell (newscaster for NPR), Jerry Narron (hitting coach for Texas Rangers), Dave Odom (former men's basketball coach at Wake Forest, East Carolina and South Carolina); and Dan Williamson (American radio personality known as "Beej Murphy).

King is a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, the North Carolina Baseball Hall of Fame, the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame, and the Goldsboro High School Sports Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina's highest state award.

Before his passing, King was popular speaker, and enraptured crowds with his stories about his faith and his baseball travels. He always wore his World Series rings -- he owns seven -- and graciously signed baseballs and baseball cards.

"I will never forget the United Way clinic two years ago. The kids listened but they were a very, very young group," said Mount Olive head baseball coach Carl Lancaster. "It was the parents who were in awe of him. The parents had never experienced a man like he was and they were glued in."

King's health began failing in the last few months. He returned to the hospital two weeks ago with several health issues including a heart disorder.