Thursday, December 11, 2008

Silver King's Obit

One of the few remaining hurling aces of the 80's passed away on May 19, when Charles F. (Silver King) Koenig died in St. Louis, following an operation for gallstones and appendicitis. He retired from the game before the turn of the present century and had been a brick contractor for years. Koenig was a native of St. Louis, born January 11, 1868, and had lived in the Mound City all of his life.

The son of a German couple, fittingly enough named Koenig, which is King in English, he later became a king on the mound and because of a blond thatch that resembled burnished silver, the appelation "Silver" was tacked on to the nickname by a St. Joseph, Mo., writer and eventually he became Silver King, few knowing him by any other name. He wrote his deeds high in the pitching records of his day, becoming famed as an iron man in a period when hurlers were expected to show enough stamina to pitch many days in succession, if necessary, and he won more games during his first four years in the big show than many others pitch during a like period. Yet his top salary at the zenith of his career was only $5,000 and frequently much lower.

King worked on the mound under varying conditions. When he broke in the pitching distance was 50 feet and the box consisted of two slabs, set about six feet apart. The pitcher was allowed to place one foot on the hindmost slab and take a hop, step and jump before delivering the ball. While this may have helped to get more speed, it also added to the strain attached to pitching. There was no foul strike rule and a foul was not in favor of the pitcher. Juggling of the pitching rules allowed the batter four strikes and seven balls, five balls and four strike and also six balls and three strikes, all of which made it neccessary for a hurler to make many pitches. Seldom were more than 12 players carried on a team and when a pitcher was knocked out, or not working on the mound, he was expected to play some other position.

Possessing wide shoulders, a barrel chest, long, brawny arms, hands so big that they could completely surround and hide the ball and iron nerves and muscles, Silver King brought an ideal physical make-up to the game. When he was 17 years old, King became a pitcher on a semi-pro team at Jacksonville, Ill., where his batterymate was Jack O'Connor, who also won fame as a catcher. O'Connor went with King to St. Joseph in the Western League the following year, in 1886, and later also played with St. Louis.

Kansas City, then in the National League, sought the services of King and he finished the 1886 season with that club, but had a tough time collecting the $200 he was promised for joining. Returning to St. Louis that winter, the big right-hander was approached by George Munson, a sports writer and aide to Chris von der Ahe, owner of the St. Louis Browns of the American Association, with a view to joining the Browns, under the managership of Charles A. Comiskey. Signing, he immediately made good, winning 30 and losing 12 contests and participating in 43 games, all except one being complete. The Browns won their third straight championship that season and played 15 games with the Detroit National League club for the world's title but won only five of them, King pitching in seven. This series saw the two-umpire system used for the first time.

The next season, 1888, King pitched 707 innings, 594 in the regular season, and 113 in exhibition games, and four games in the World's Series that fall with New York. In the 65 regular games in which he hurled, King yielded only 434 hits to 2,208 batters; in only one contest did the opposition score a double number in runs; he issued only 80 walks; only six home runs were made off him and he won 44 out of the 65, striking out 245, getting 13, 14, 13 and seven strike-outs in four successive games.

King continued his brilliant work in 1889, winning 30 games and losing 15 for the Browns. In 1890, with others of the team, he jumped to Chicago in the Brotherhood League, called an outlaw organization, where he won 30 and lost 18. Then began his decline, for with the weak Pittsburgh National League club in 1891, he won only 14 and lost 29. He bettered that mark in 1892 with New York, winning 22 and losing 24, but dropped back in 1893, when, with New York and Cincinnati, he won only six and lost nine.

Disgusted with the weak support given him by those teams, King quit the game and remained out in 1894 and 1895, but hearkened to the call of Scrappy Bill Joyce, manager of the Washington Nationals, and returned to action in 1896, winning ten and losing five. The following year, he gained seven verdicts against five defeats and then decided to quit the game because he felt it didn't pay. The highest salary he ever received was $5,000, with Pittsburgh. Chris von der Ahe never paid him more than $3,200 and the limit for the brightest luminary in 1897 was $2,400. So he returned to St. Louis and entered the contracting business, in which he continued until 1925.

While speed was King's chief asset, he is credited with having been the first to use the crossfire. He mixed curves and a change of pace with his speed, throwing them all with the same motion and with remarkable control, without a windup.
-The Sporting News, May 26, 1938

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