Lionel “Sky” King, a longtime Mission Hill resident, is an easy-going gentle giant who is well-known on the Hill, especially at Dunkin’ Donuts, where he has his coffee and bagel every morning. Few people, however, are cognizant of Sky’s historic past.
On Nov. 21, 1952, Sky, then a 19-year-old pitching phenom from Harlem, N.Y., signed a baseball contract with the New York (now San Francisco) Giants. Sky received a $1,000 bonus, but more significantly, he was the first black pitcher the Giants ever signed. The New York Amsterdam News reported at the time, “The signing of the brilliant Negro pitcher is a significant move on the integration front.”
Sky had caught the eyes of scouts when he pitched a no-hitter his senior year at Samuel Gompers High School in New York.
After signing with the Giants, Sky reported to spring training in Florida and later was assigned to the Giants’ Minor League affiliate in Tucson, Ariz.
Sky had a productive rookie year, but shortly thereafter, he was in Fort Bragg, having been drafted by the U.S. Army. After his military stint, Sky returned to baseball, playing professional in the Mexican League for three years.
When Sky, now 79, talked about the Mexican League in a recent interview, a smile creased his handsome face.
“The Mexicans loved baseball and the crowds were huge,” said Sky.
In Mexico, Sky pitched against several future Major Leaguers, including Curt Flood, the great St. Louis Cardinals outfielder. Sky also boasted about striking out Billy Martin.
Lack of pinpoint control and a shoulder injury prevented Sky from becoming a Major Leaguer. Sky played one more year professionally in Canada before moving to Townsend Street in Roxbury in the late ’50s.
Sky was also a terrific basketball player. Sky was the first guy I ever saw dunk the ball during a live game. That occurred when I was a little kid watching Sky at the Tobin Gym when he was playing for the unbeatable Boston Bruins in the Boston Park League. Little did I know that, 50 years later, Sky would be my next-door neighbor.
Sky is the proud father of four as well as a grandfather and great-grandfather. He supported his family by working for 35 years at Harvard Medical School in Mission Hill. Sky is blessed with good health, having survived prostate cancer some years back.
I make it a point to converse with Sky often, not because of his athletic accomplishments, but because he is a great guy.
Congrats to Mission Hill’s Wayne Selden for being chosen for the McDonald’s High School Basketball All American Team. Wayne, a 6-foot-5-inch senior guard for Tilton School in New Hampshire was among the 24 elite players selected, and he will play in the McDonald’s All Star game April 3 at the United Center in Chicago. The game will be televised on ESPN. Selden has committed to Kansas University next year, having earned a four-year scholarship.
Condolences to the family of Philip Santilli, formerly of Mission Hill, who passed away last month at age 94. Philip was a World War II veteran who served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. The Santillis are an admirable family who love Mission Hill. Phil Santilli Jr. and I were classmates at Mission Grammar School. “Junior” was the proprietor of Mission Hill Flower Shop (currently Lilly’s Gourmet Pasta Express) for many years.
Good luck to Mission Hill resident Jim Keirnan, who retired last month as an assistant clerk of court in South Boston. Jim, a Mission High alumnus, class of ’61, also was an attorney, having graduated from Suffolk Law School. Jim was a great athlete at Mission, excelling at basketball and football. Reminiscing over coffee at Mike’s Donuts last week, Jim recalled some eventful hoop games, many of which I saw when I was a little kid. One memorable game occurred when Mission played St. John’s Prep in Danvers in 1960 and the game erupted in a major brawl. Fiery Mission coach Dick Power, initially a peacemaker, became a combatant in the affray.
Post-football season tidbit: Mission Hill resident Peter Moianou, aka “Billy the Painter,” has successfully predicted the winners fo the last 10 Super Bowls. Billy’s incredible streak started in 2004, when the Patriots defeated Carolina 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Where are they now? Former Mission Hill resident Winnifred “Eggie” McRae was a great basketball player at Mission High School in the late ’80s. Eggie is currently the basketball coach at Cristo Rey Boston High School in Dorchester (formerly North Cambridge Catholic High School).
Kevin O’Neill, a basketball referee, tooted his whistle at one of Eggie’s games last month. Kevin, also an alumnus of Mission High, enjoyed conversing with the classy coach after the game.