PW: What's a busy man like you doing taking time out to write a book about baseball [Why I Love Baseball]?
Larry King: Baseball is my number one topic of conversation. Every morning I meet with my friends at Nat 'n Al's [delicatessen in Beverly Hills], and baseball always plays a part, winter or summer. It never leaves our thoughts.
PW: So it runs in your blood. But why? In the book you state a lot of reasons why you love baseball—the box scores, the brown dirt against the green grass. Can you sum up why it's taken hold of your heart?
LK: I think it's a perfect game. Every time I watch, I see something I never saw before. There are so many intricacies. For example, today someone said, "Isn't it incredible that Greg Maddux is the only pitcher in baseball history to have 15 wins in 15 straight seasons?" Now, how did Cy Young not do that? And no sport's off-season can be as interesting as its season, except baseball. This year proves it. A-Rod is the biggest story in sports. We're coming up to the March Madness, the NBA playoffs, the Stanley Cup—and we read about A-Rod. I think another reason might be that of all the sports, it's the one that every kid played—tether ball, kids swing a bat at a ball when they're two.
PW: A lot of kids now, especially in the cities, it's not baseball that they play.
LK: It's basketball and football.
PW: Baseball seems to be losing its grip on the American populace.
LK: And I wonder why. Football is obvious. Football is a perfect sport for television. You can encompass the field easily. It's hard to televise baseball well. Also, football is once a week. And it's a major betting sport. Baseball is always bet [on], but it's hard to bet baseball. So much depends on pitching and laying [down] runs. Anything can happen in one baseball game. And basketball is an easier game for the kids to play in the inner city. You just throw up the hoops.
PW: A lot of people would agree that baseball is a perfect game. They'd also say that there are serious problems now, including the big payroll disparity among the teams, as shown by the Yankees' acquisition of A-Rod.
LK: The flaws are always off the field. The game itself—four balls three strikes, 60 feet six inches, 90 feet one inch—will always be fascinating. People who think baseball is slow just aren't baseball fans. But off the field, sure, baseball has had immense problems. There's no salary cap; there's only a penalty. And the Steinbrenners are willing to pay that penalty. In theory it should work. So I go back and forth on the Rodriguez debate. Does it help the sport get attention? Immensely. Does it unbalance it? Yes.
PW: Back to the joys of baseball. You've watched a lot of baseball games. What's your most memorable baseball moment?
LK: Elston Howard's ground ball to Pee Wee Reese, who throws to Gil Hodges, and the Dodgers win 2-0 in the 1955 World Series.
PW: Who's the greatest all-around player you ever saw?
LK: The best all-around player I ever saw was [Willie] Mays. No one was his equivalent. The most exciting player I ever saw was Jackie Robinson. He changed the game. And he would do something that even the great base runners of today don't do. He'd hit a line drive single to right field, he'd turn around first base and actually go a third of the way down to second, face the right fielder, stick his arms out, and challenge the right fielder: does he throw behind him or in front?
PW: When Larry King goes to heaven and St. Peter says, "Larry, you can play any position you want on the celestial team," what position do you pick?
LK: Second base. That's all I ever wanted to play. If I could've been Bobby Doerr, I'd have chucked my whole career. Bobby Doerr, .290, .288, lifetime batting average. Consistently good ballplayer. The Red Sox didn't win with him, but he played with some great players—I don't want any more than that. That's heaven.
PW: Are you doing any promo for the book?
LK: I'm going on ESPN. There's going to be a signing at Cooperstown. The Dodgers and Yankees and Mets are going to sell it at concession stands. I don't know how widely baseball books sell. I'm going to give my royalties to my own cardiac foundation. It's nice to not need them, and it's a joy to help other people who can't afford heart treatments. So I'll promote it a lot.