UNC Star Recalls Glory Days, Jackie Robinson
Posted June 9, 1998 7:00 a.m. EDT
GOLDSBORO — The music of the ballpark-- for Clyde King, it first began to play in 1944. The music provides a nostalgic backdrop for a visit to King's personal clubhouse.
"Almost 55 years of baseball, Bob," King points out. "Here's something you've never seen, one ump calling the runner safe, and one calling him out. Isn't that something?"
The pictures on the wall tell another story of a two sport star at Carolina signed right out of college by Branch Rickey. King thinks back to his Dodger days when he sees his picture of Ebbets Field.
"I remember the time when I walked in that front entrance right there," King reminisces. "I was 19. I had left Chapel Hill, got in a cab and went with Mr. Rickey right here (pointing to the picture). Everytime I see a picture of Ebbets Field, that's the thing that comes back to me."
And so do memories of playing at Ebbets Field with the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson.
"He was really an American hero," says King. "He can never be replaced. We can only imitate him."
Robinson was embraced by his teammates and Dodger fans. However, road trips for the man who broke baseball's color barrier brought hostility and pain.
"We went to Philadelphia, and when Jackie walked onto the field, they threw 13 black cats on the field and started yelling at him," recalls King. "We immediately, as his teammates, wanted him to get five for five that night. He couldn't even stay at the same hotel with us which was, of course, terrible."
On the field, Robinson was magic.
"He would go up the line and stop, go up the line and stop, and everyone in the stadium, the ushers and the vendors and the guys in the bullpen warming up, all the players would watch him, and boom, on his way to home and steal it," King remembers.
Clyde King's clubhouse is filled with baseballs signed by players from teams he coached or managed when his playing days ended. One is special.
"There's a mystic about the Yankees that's different," King says. "When Bucky Dent hit the home run against the Red Sox at Fenway, and this is me here, and I tell everybody that only me and Reggie and Ron Guidry were smart because the first thing I did was take my cap off. Fans come up and grab your cap and they're gone."
The Yankees of the late 70's and early 80's were dominated by Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner, and their revolving door relationship.
"George had reason to fire Billy a lot of times," King recalls. "Then he'd hire him back."
Clyde King has served the Yankees for 25 years. He relishes the championships and his World Series rings.
"You know when we have a bad year, Bob, that N-Y, I say that stands for next year."
We feel a certain awe hearing about Clyde King's brush with legends in Yankee Stadium, seeing his old glove with a picture of his good friend, Ralph Branca. King's clubhouse is a carousel of peanuts and Cracker Jack and the game's rich past.