Nicknamed "King Kong" for his intimidating 6'6", 210-pound frame, Dave Kingman made a lot of baseball fans go ape during his major league career. But no one was more enthusiastic about the powerful slugger than John Kuczaj.
"In 1978, I was nine-years-old when I started to get into baseball . . . Growing up on the north side of Chicago meant that I was a Cubs fan and Kingman was definitely the most exciting player on the team," recalls Kuczaj.
With 442 homers in 16 seasons, Kingman was one of the most prolific power hitters of his era. It was the outfielder's 48-homerun outburst in 1979 that won him a permanent fan in Kuczaj.
"The media coverage in Chicago after Kingman signed tended to portray him as Paul Bunyan-esque . . . It was in 1979 that Dave nearly lived up to the God-like expectations," he says.
It was also around this time that Kuczaj started collecting memorabilia of his favorite player. His collection has since grown to include baseball cards, newspaper clippings, magazines, and photos.
"My favourite item is a copy of a 1979 Sporting News Baseball Record Book. I brought it to a Boat & RV show in February 1980 where Dave was signing autographs," he recounts. "He signed a page for me that had his picture and mentioned his .613 slugging percentage in 1979."
Part of Kuczaj's collection is displayed at www.davekingman.com, a website he created as a tribute to his childhood hero.
"I had a lot of information on Dave's career, so it was a no-brainer that I would build my little tribute to my favorite baseball player of all-time," he says.
But the site is more than just a showcase of Kuczaj's collection. With sections such as "Collectibles Checklist," "Collecting Tips," and "Trading Post," the site also serves as a valuable resource for other Kingman collectors.
"There are a lot more Kingman fans out there than most would expect, and most are just as passionate about his career as I am," he says.
Kingman's life - from his childhood to the present - is also covered in detail on the site. The information in this section was enhanced when Kingman himself contacted Kuczaj after discovering the site.
"Dave e-mailed me a couple of months after it went online," says Kuczaj. "He even let me rummage through all of the clippings and memorabilia that his parents had kept from early in his career (his mom used to live in the Chicago area)"
Since this initial contact, Kuczaj has talked to his hero several times. The Kingman he has come to know contrasts sharply with the sullen, difficult athlete that the media portrayed him as during his career.
"I've come to realize that the "surly" persona that he was portrayed to have by the baseball press is quite wrong. Dave is a very private person who values and protects his privacy well," says Kuczaj. "He doesn't care much to reminisce about this career, but he is proud to have played ball and very ccommodating to reasonable fan requests. He's a nice guy."
Kaczuj believes this misperception, combined with Kingman's high strikeout totals, has prevented the former slugger from getting the respect he deserves in baseball cirlces.
"Dave Kingman was the type of player that people have a very polarized opinion of they either like him or dislike him," he says.
Kuczaj is quick to point out that Kingman is fifth - not first - on the all-time strike out list behind four Hall of Famers: Reggie Jackson, Willie Stargell, Mike Schmidt, and Tony Perez.
Unlike these players, Kingman constantly gets bashed for striking out too much, Kuczaj writes on his website.
"One thing's for sure," writes Kuczaj, "with Dave in the lineup, no lead was ever safe."