Kingman off to big start with A's; Rose, Lasorda exchange favors

Every major league team that has employed Dave (King Kong) Kingman, and there have been seven if you count the New York Mets twice, has never quite known what to do with him in the field. The problem has always stemmed from the difference between his silver bat and his rhinestone glove, plus an attitude that once prompted him to pour a bucket of ice over a sports writer's head.

Kingman's ability to mash a baseball into outer space has never been questioned, of course, and so far this spring he's been even more explosive than usual. Furthermore, now that he is playing in the American League with its designated hitter rule, Dave can finally do his thing at the plate without any worries about the iron glove that has made life miserable for a handful of managers over the years.

Gainfully employed as Oakland's DH (although the Mets reportedly are paying all but $40,000 of his $675,000 yearly salary), Kingman presently leads the majors in home runs with 10 and in runs batted in with 26.

''Dave is so strong that he can hit half the baseball, as long it's the bottom half, and it will still go flying out of the park,'' explained A's Manager Steve Boros. ''We decided after looking at Kingman in spring training that if we gave him 400 at-bats this year, we could probably expect anywhere from 20 to 25 homers and 75 to 90 RBIs. But the way he has been going lately, we are beginning to think that maybe those numbers are too conservative.''

Kingman, who has been used mostly in the outfield during his 14-year big league career, has also played first and third base and in 1972 actually pitched briefly in a relief role with the San Francisco Giants. His most productive year to date was 1979, when he batted .288, hit 48 homers, and drove in 115 runs with the Chicago Cubs.

''The A's don't care about my batting average or my strikeouts,'' Kingman recently told reporters. ''They just want me to drive in runs any way I can. Of course after all those years in the National League, I'm still unfamiliar with most American League pitchers. But by not having to play in the field, I find I'm a lot fresher in the late innings when a lot of pitchers are beginning to tire or struggle with their control.''

Oakland, by ignoring Kingman's Edsel image, may have gotten itself a Cadillac at pre-1970 Volkswagen prices. Lasorda prods young Rose

Pete Rose says that his son Petey Jr. is a Los Angeles Dodgers fan and that he is real close with manager Tommy Lasorda. ''One time when Petey came home with a lousy report card, I called Lasorda on the phone and asked him if he'd get in touch with my kid and blast him a little on his schoolwork,'' Rose said. ''Of course I didn't tell Petey that Tommy was going to call. Well, I don't know what Lasorda said, but it did the trick.''

Asked if he didn't feel he now owed Lasorda a favor, Pete replied: ''No way. During Steve Sax's rookie year with L.A., Tommy called me and asked if I'd take Sax to dinner with me some night and try to relax him a little. Not that the kid wasn't doing alright, but it helps sometimes to get advice and a pat on the back from someone with another team. In fact, Steve and I had dinner twice that season.'' For the record, that was 1982, the season Sax was voted National League Rookie of the Year! Elsewhere around the majors

* The Kansas City Royals think they have the best group of rookie pitchers this year in the American League. That would be right-handers Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza (pronounced Goo-buh-zah), plus left-hander Danny Jackson. Saberhagen, who was originally drafted as a shortstop by the Royals, was the first pitcher to beat the Detroit Tigers this season.

* From left-hander Frank Tanana of the Texas Rangers, who has become a junkball pitcher after several years of being one of the hardest throwers in either league: ''Once you lose your fastball, you either learn how to pitch or get into another profession. Well, I've learned how to keep the hitters off balance by changing speeds on them. Actually it isn't how hard you throw the ball but where you throw it. Between my control and doing the unexpected, I've become a winner again.''

* The rebuilt Cleveland Indians, who are stressing speed this season, have five players who led their teams in stolen bases last year. They are Julio Franco (Indians); Otis Nixon (Columbus); Tony Bernazard (Seattle); Brett Butler (Atlanta), and Kevin Rhomberg (Charleston).

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