He was the last major league pitcher to lose 20 games in a season
and the first one since 1922 to lose that many with a winning
team, and Brian Kingman is strangely proud of that dubious feat.
He has given his blessing to an Internet site devoted to it
(www.20gamelosers.com) and written a poem about it. "It's funny
now," Kingman says of his 1980 debacle, when he went 8-20 for
Billy Martin's Oakland A's. "But the first five years afterward
were painful, a nightmare really. I wouldn't read the sports
page. I even put a blown-up, framed poster of our pitching staff
on the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED out in the garage."
The A's went 83-79 in '80, their first season under Martin, and
Kingman's fellow starters had career seasons: Mike Norris won 22,
Rick Langford 19, Matt Keough 16 and Steve McCatty 14. But
Kingman never recovered from a midseason falling out with Martin
and went 1-9 down the stretch, finishing with the 20 losses
despite a 3.83 ERA.
Over the next two seasons Kingman went 7-18, then pitched eight
innings in the majors in '83 and struggled the following season
in the minors before retiring. A graduate of UC Santa Barbara
with degrees in psychology and sociology, he started selling real
estate to support his family--wife Diane and their two sons,
Matthew, now 19, and Alex, 17. In 1988 he became a manager for
Any Kind Check Cashing. For the past six years he has been the
CEO of Service Annex, a check-cashing firm with 68 employees in
California and Nevada and a revenue of $100 million last year.
Since Kingman's retirement, only 10 pitchers have flirted with
the 20-loss mark, including the Philadelphia Phillies' Omar Daal,
who had a 3-19 record with two starts remaining in 2000. Kingman
flew to see Daal's starts--one win and a no decision--and says he
willed him not to lose. "Right now I'm the answer to a trivia
question," says Kingman. "But whenever anyone loses 19, I'm on
trivia death row."
To preserve Kingman's celebrity status, a colleague created
20gamelosers.com last year as a birthday gift for the
once-embattled righthander. The site contains lists of 20-game
losers, including those who made the Hall of Fame (Cy Young,
Walter Johnson and Steve Carlton, to name a few). "My wife thinks
I'm nuts," says Kingman, who studies 20-game losing lore. "She
thinks I'll get depressed if someone actually loses 20."