King of the Angel fans
The Angels lost their biggest booster on Monday. Rabbi Bernie King died at age 72 of cancer.
This remarkable man of the cloth, who promoted warmth and spirituality everywhere he went in the community and the world, loved God, his family/friends and his congregation.
But the Angels came in a close fourth. He adopted them as soon as he moved here after growing up in San Francisco following the old Pacific Coast League Seals. It was a team that set him up perfectly for all those early years of disappointments with the Angels.
“To a Seals fan,” he used to tell me, “it was a good year if they somehow could end up in seventh place.”
It wasn’t just the teams that appealed to Bernie, though. It was baseball itself. He loved everything about it. He wore baseball ties, had a yarmulke painted like a baseball and had a memorabilia collection — including balls signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig — that would make Cooperstown proud.
A perfect vacation for Bernie and his loving wife, Barbara, was driving up the coast, taking in 18 minor league games in 21 days.
“What could be better?” Bernie would say. Well, the Angels winning the World Series could be better. When it finally happened, in 2002, no one was happier than Bernie and his family, all of whom stayed long after Game 7 in Angel Stadium, hugging, laughing and crying with all the other delirious fans.
“It doesn’t matter how many more times they win, they’ll never have another moment like that one,” Bernie would say.
He was there for most of the Angels’ great moments. He saw Rod Carew’s 3,000th hit and Reggie Jackson’s 500th home run and watched Don Sutton win his 300th game.
I’m proud to say I was his friend, and after he retired, our families often traveled together to Arizona for spring training. I was usually there to work. Bernie was there to watch the games, savor the atmosphere and go out later for a thick, juicy steak.
“I think I could very easily get used to this,” he’d say, with a smile that would stretch from one dugout to the next.
His devotion to the Angels spread throughout his wonderful, loving family. His sons David, Neil and Stephen are all devoted fans of the team, and his daughter Adeena, who went to her first game when she was two weeks old, still worships at the alter of Tim Salmon, even though she is grown up now and married.
Although his health had waned the past year or two, Bernie’s best times were still soft summer nights when he, Barbara and the kids would use their season tickets to watch the Angels win.
Once, as a surprise in the offseason, I took him to a prearranged breakfast with Mike Scioscia. When the Angels manager walked in and sat down with us in one of his favorite spots on Balboa Island, it was one of the few times I remember Bernie being speechless.
It automatically made Scisocia one of his favorite people, although Bernie was not beyond criticizing some of his late inning moves here and there.
I’m trying my best to write this today through the pain and sadness my wife, Marsha, and I and everyone who ever knew Bernie are feeling. He touched so many lives along the way.
For some reason I keep thinking about the Angels’ 2011 season, their 50th anniversary season, and how I won’t be talking to him all the time, listening to his analysis and opinions. On one of his last days, he looked up at me from his hospital bed and whispered: “Well, have they signed any free agents yet?”
I smiled and said, “No, not yet.” And later my mind wandered to the upcoming spring and summer. Life and the Angels season will go on. I know that.
But somehow, it just won’t feel the same without him.
— STEVE BISHEFF