Jim King, who was named the International League’s MVP while with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1960, died on February 23 in Fayetteville, Ark., at the age of 82.
On top of his heroics in Hogtown, King also clubbed 117 home runs in parts of 11 major league seasons between 1955 and 1967 with the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Washington Senators, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians.
Born in Elkins, Ark., in 1932, King made his professional baseball debut as a 17-year-old with the independent Vernon Dusters of the Class-D Longhorn League. After hitting .302 and clubbing 12 homers in 144 games with the Dusters, he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals.
The left-handed hitting outfielder spent four seasons in the Cards’ system before he was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft on November 22, 1954. He make his big league debut on April 17, 1955 and proceeded to wallop 11 homers in 113 games for the Cubs that season, while quickly becoming known for his strong throwing arm. The following campaign, he recorded nine assists to lead all National League left fielders.
King was reacquired by the Cardinals on April 20, 1957, but he spent the majority of the season in Triple-A, before being dealt to the San Francisco Giants the following spring. The 6-foot, 185-pound outfielder was part of history on April 15, 1958 when he batted second in front of Hall of Famer Willie Mays in the first major league game played in California. King registered two singles, two walks and scored a run in that contest to help lead the Giants to an 8-0 victory over Don Drysdale and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Giants would sell King to the Toronto Maple Leafs that July, and after suiting up for 47 games with the Leafs in 1958, he’d return the following season to hit .277 and belt a team-leading 20 homers in 137 games. But his finest professional campaign came with the Leafs in 1960 when the Arkansas native hit .287 and topped the club with 24 homers and 86 RBI. The Leafs finished with 100 wins and captured the International League pennant and the Governor’s Cup. For his efforts, King was named league MVP.
His performance with the Leafs didn’t go unnoticed and he was selected by the Washington Senators in the MLB expansion draft on December 14, 1960. King would play parts of seven seasons for the Senators, including the 1963 campaign, when he socked a career-high 24 home runs to break Mickey Vernon’s team record for most round-trippers by a left-handed hitter.
In 1967, he split his final big league season between the Senators, White Sox and Indians. After hanging up his playing spikes, he returned to his native Arkansas and worked in the telecom industry for 24 years.
King is survived by his wife, Rose, daughter Sheree, son David and two grandchildren. You can leave online condolences here.