Joe Posnanski is a Senior Writer at Sports Illustrated, a longtime columnist for the Kansas City Star, author of three books, and winner of numerous accolades (which you can learn more about here). Posnanski blogs at Joe Blogs, and he’s on Twitter, @JPosnanski.
One thing I think about sometimes is how it must feel to be really good at something you don’t enjoy doing at all. Take Josh Groban. I obviously don’t know Josh Groban but I suspect there’s at least a chance that he does not love the kind of music he records. I suspect this because he’s not 55 years old. Anyway, maybe he does like his music, maybe he doesn’t, but either way he will make many, many, many millions recording these kinds of songs.
Best I could tell, Jeff King did not like playing baseball. I can never remember seeing a player who seemed so miserable on a baseball diamond. King was a near-legendary player at Arkansas, where he twice tied the school record for home runs, and he was the first pick of the 1986 draft. He had a pretty good career in the big leagues. His numbers would have looked better in a lower-scoring era, but even in his era he did hit 24-plus homers three times, he drove in 110 RBIs in back-to-back years, and he was a very good defensive first baseman, as converted third baseman often are. He was nimble enough to have played 11 games at shortstop early in his career.
But I’m not kidding about how much he disliked the game. His manager in Kansas City, Tony Muser, used to tell a story about how he heard King moaning one day about the National Anthem. Muser, a former Marine, was shocked but King explained: “Every time they play this song, I have a bad day.” King hit 30 home runs and 36 doubles in 1996, his best year, and followed with 28 homers, 30 doubles and 89 walks in Kansas City in 1987, but he generally looked like he would rather be anyplace else on earth.
On May 21, 1999 Jeff King suddenly and shockingly retired. He seemed healthy, and he seemed to be having a reasonably successful year — he was on a little six-game hitting streak at the time. It didn’t make a lot of sense … unless you realized how much he despised playing professional baseball. He couldn’t wait to get out. Later someone told me that he had, only the day before he retired, secured enough service time to guarantee his MLB pension. With that, he went off to a ranch in Wyoming or some such place.
One postscript: King’s replacement at first base was a pretty good player named Mike Sweeney who would go on to have several spectacular years for the Royals and make five All-Star teams. He is also one of the great guys ever so he used to check in on King. Once, for fun, he called King and said: “Hi Jeff, this is Joe Posnanski from the Kansas City Star I just wanted to ask you a few baseball questions …”
And Jeff King hung up on him.