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Remembering when ‘Larry King Live’ came to Tokyo

by Wayne Graczyk

It is sad and somewhat lonely not seeing the “Larry King Live” program on CNN. The 77-year-old suspendered one retired at the end of 2010 after 25 years and thousands of interviews on what was arguably the most well known talk show on TV; a program that enjoyed immense popularity in the U.S. and around the world.

An avid baseball fan, King over the years sat opposite figures from the world of baseball; for example, Jose Canseco talking last year about his tell-all book regarding the issue of performance enhancing substances.

I can also recall when King hosted a five-minute daily radio spot with commentary about sports. It was carried in Japan over the U.S. Armed Forces Radio station and often included criticism of something happening in baseball.

There was one several years ago where he was questioning the inclusion of Al Oliver on the Hall of Fame ballot. Oliver was a pretty good player who batted .303 with 219 home runs and 1,326 RBIs over an 18-year major league career with the Pirates, Rangers, Expos, Giants, Phillies, Dodgers and Blue Jays.

He may have been HOF caliber, as King pointed out but, if he was, there were a slew of others with similar statistics and careers who should also be considered but were not.

In 1991, when the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies were awarded National League expansion franchises, King congratulated the cities of Miami and Denver and voiced his opinion the teams should have been introduced by those city designations.

For sports teams, he said, “I hate state names.” Maybe Minnesota is OK because of the Twin Cities, but the Colorado Rockies is a recycled name of a failed National Hockey League franchise.

And the Florida Marlins?

Are you telling me that team will represent Jacksonville?

In March of 1993, he brought his “Larry King Live” crew to the Far East for what was called “Asia Week,” and they did the show in a different city in this part of the world each night. The stop in Tokyo was aired from the studios of TV Asahi in Roppongi, and the guest list included a Japanese politician (Yuriko Koike), an author (Robert Whiting), an economist (Kenichi Omae) and, since King is a baseball fan and baseball is big in Japan, he wanted an American ballplayer.

King’s staff tried to get Jesse Barfield because he had been an American League home run leader (while with the Toronto Blue Jays) and had played for the New York Yankees. Also, Barfield was about to enter his first and (as it turned out) only season in Tokyo with Japan’s most popular team, the Yomiuri Giants. However, the Giants were playing an out-of-town exhibition game on the day the program was scheduled, and Barfield was unavailable.

Instead, Nippon Ham Fighters slugger Matt Winters was invited to join the show. He chatted with King about Japanese baseball and answered questions from phone callers during a lively segment.

At the end, Winters presented the host with a Fighters team jacket as a souvenir, and King put it on as the program ended.

Back in the States a few weeks later, U.S. President Bill Clinton, inaugurated just two months prior to Winters’ appearance on “Larry King Live,” saw King wearing the jacket and asked where he got it.

The Nippon Ham ballclub heard about this and sent another jacket to the president at the White House through the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. King and Clinton were later photographed together in their Nippon Ham windbreakers with the Fighters logo on the breast and sleeve, and the story provides a nice memory for the ball club, Matt Winters and admirers of Larry King.

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Finally this week, NBC television play-by-play announcer Al Michaels passed along an interesting oddity during his Sunday night NFL telecast on Dec. 28 — only it was a Tuesday.

He was calling the action of the Minnesota Vikings game at the Philadelphia Eagles which had been postponed from Dec. 26 because of a heavy blizzard that dumped more than 50 cm of snow on the U.S. east coast. It was the second postponement of a Vikings game in three weeks, as Minnesota’s scheduled Dec. 11 game in Minneapolis was moved to Dec. 12 and played in Detroit because of snow damage to the roof of the Metrodome.

Michaels said, while the Vikings incredibly had two games postponed in 2010, the baseball Minnesota Twins, despite moving from the indoor Metrodome to their new outdoor stadium at Target Field, had only one game postponed all season. That rainout was at home, and the Twins had no road games put off.

May the sun shine often through blue skies for all of us in 2011.

Happy New Year.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com