Dave Kingman, one of the emptier heads in pro sports, is in the news again, this time for sending a live rat to Susan Fornoff of the Sacramento Bee. What a zany guy Kingman is. It's hard to believe he doesn't have his own network show. This rat thing was such a hoot, almost as funny as when Kingman dumped a bucket of ice on Don Friske of the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago paper, a few seasons ago.
"If you know me," Kingman said, "you know I'm a practical jokester."
This year, in addition to his rat showstopper, Mr. Yuk's joke file includes slingshotting water balloons haphazardly through the clubhouse, and setting off stink bombs. Hoo boy, are my sides sore from laughing.
Guess you had to be there.
Then again, Fornoff was there.
"It's sick," she said.
Fornoff, 28, has covered the Oakland A's for two seasons now, during which time Kingman has been aggressively obnoxious toward her. Kingman thinks women reporters should be barred from the clubhouse, and has articulated his position in his usual scholarly manner: either with public innuendoes about Fornoff's sexual habits or by smashing his baseball bat on a table she is leaning against.
This subtle approach culminated Monday in Kansas City with Kingman buying a rat, taping the introductory "My name is Sue" to its leg, wrapping it in tissue paper inside a pink box, then having the box delivered to Fornoff on press row. Handwritten on the boxtop by Kingman were the words: Sue Fornoff Sac Bee.
"I guess he couldn't spell 'Sacramento,' " Fornoff said.
While not exactly smelling a rat, Fornoff was suspicious about the present, having no family or friends in Kansas City. Glancing at her fellow scribes, she asked playfully, "What are you guys up to?" When she got no response, she slowly opened what looked to her like a corsage box.
"I moved the tissue paper," she said. "I saw this thing, and it moved."
She closed the box.
"I said, 'It's alive.' I didn't scream. I didn't cry."
She did not know what to do with the rat, and asked a press box guard if he could help. He said he knew a little boy who might want it, and took it to him.
Kingman's postgame monologue was typically hilarious. He started shouting, "Rat Patrol!" when the reporters -- including Fornoff -- came in. He followed that by tossing tissues in Fornoff's direction and loudly asking, "Does anybody want to cry?" His closer was to lob the tissue box near her, demanding, "Tears! Tears!" An eyewitness said Kingman looked like Norman Bates.
"It was just another mean thing to intimidate me and scare me off the job," said Fornoff, who vowed to "outlast him" in Oakland.
Bully for her.
And bully for the Oakland team, which apologized to Fornoff, fined Kingman $3,500 and threatened to suspend him if he did anything similarly demented.
Kingman, who has too long made an A's of himself, has yet to apologize, and was last heard offering $75 for the return of the rat, perhaps in the hopes the two of them can tour for the USO.
I appreciate why Fornoff isn't laughing at the rat. But at least she escaped with her limbs intact. Sportswriters have fared worse over the years:
Earl Lawson, who covered the Reds for the Cincinnati Post, was, on separate occasions, punched by Johnny Temple and Vada Pinson, thus giving new meaning to the term "beat writer." Steve Serby, who covers the Jets for The New York Post, was thrown into a locker by Richard Todd, Todd's only completion of the year.
Hank Aaron poured a quart of strawberries on the head of Atlanta Braves beat man Frank Hyland. Billy Kilmer threw a football at The Washington Post's Leonard Shapiro. (Yes, it wobbled.) Lyle Alzado threw a chair at Alan Greenberg, then with the Los Angeles Times. John Denny stands accused of roughing up Cincinnati Post reporter Bruce Schoenfeld. Orioles reliever Dyar Miller, offended by a report that he hadn't showered after being knocked out of the previous night's game, got the author in a headlock, marched him into the showers and, fully clothed, showered with him.
These say nothing of the vicious threats athletes bellow at reporters. Bill Sudakis, a brigand who once played for the Yankees, expressed a desire to mangle my head and arms with a lawnmower, as if it was my fault he was hitting .130. Jim Rice once warned The Post's Thomas Boswell, "Ask me that question one more time and I'll put you in that trash can." To which Boswell replied, "No, thanks, I can get in it myself."
Kingman, at least, thought creatively. As did the reader who sent a bag of "pure Bluegrass horse manure" and a particular column to Dave Kindred when Kindred wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal, advising, "I know you'll want to eat this column. Here's something to season it." Creative can be crazy, too, as Bob Padecky of Fornoff's Sacramento Bee learned. Somebody planted cocaine in Padecky's rented car, and it has since been assumed that friends of Ken Stabler did the work.
Occasionally, a sportswriter will strike back. In 1979, Raymond Clayborn, a New England defensive back, was perturbed at something Will McDonough wrote in The Boston Globe. Clayborn called McDonough a nasty name and shook a finger in the scribe's face.
So McDonough decked him.
Two rights. Bang, zoom.