BRIAN KINGMAN'S BLUE PERIOD

THE FORMER OAKLAND A'S PITCHER GOT ENTANGLED IN THE THEFT OF A MILLION-DOLLAR PICASSO. EXCEPT IT WASN'T A PICASSO.

"Freeze, FBI!"
Brian Kingman thought he was being robbed. He'd just left a private jet on the tarmac at Scottsdale Municipal Airport with two gentlemen who had in their possession a rolled Picasso painting of a cubist Mona Lisa that was thought to be worth millions of dollars.

Two men in blue FBI tee shirts pointed automatic weapons at the windshield of his Toyota Land Cruiser; six more agents surrounded the vehicle. And because Kingman froze a bit too well, so stung with disbelief that he didn't hear the order to get out of the truck, he had a pistol stuck in his ear through the open driver's side window.

It was December 17, 1992, and Kingman, 41, was arrested for trafficking in stolen art. The art in question was a painting called "La Mujer (Woman)," that had been stolen in New York nine years earlier. Ironically, it was not even a real Picasso, but a copy of a painting that art experts think was a fake in the first place.

The men who were arrested with Kingman, Alfred Vincent Mauriello, 66, and his son Stephen Vincent Mauriello, 41, were Las Vegas bookies who had been given the painting as payment for a gambling debt. They'd spent years trying to find someone to tell them it was worth something.

The Mauriellos were referred to Kingman by a mutual acquaintance who remembered that Kingman was friends with an art broker who had once sold a Picasso painting.

But none of them knew a damned thing about art. Nor did the FBI, which knew where the painting came from, but didn't bother to do enough legwork to find out it was a fake. Instead, they staged a sting operation too hokey for a TV movie of the week. Kingman and the Mauriellos walked into it, anyway.

Kingman knew the painting could have been stolen, but he thought he was helping to legally return it to an insurance company. The insurance company examiners he'd arranged to meet that day, however, were undercover FBI agents.

"When I was arrested, the FBI said they weren't sure if I was a victim or a suspect," Kingman says.

After the Feds realized that the painting was a fake, they dropped the charges against Kingman. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office gladly picked them up, charging Kingman with theft and possession of stolen property. The painting, after all, was stolen and it was in Kingman's truck. And regardless of his intentions and the circumstances of his involvement, the law's the law.

Kingman is no stranger to bad luck. He'd started out, 20 years ago, as a promising fastball pitcher for the Oakland A's, until he threw for a record-breaking losing streak that didn't end when his baseball career did. Kingman then blew a job, his reputation and all his money when he committed a no-brainer felony. The only job he could get after that was as manager of a Circle K store, which he lost last week when they found out about his continuing legal problems. Now he's looking at a possible 12 years in jail.

@rule:
@body:Brian Kingman is a lanky six-footer with a receding red hairline, but he still looks like an athlete because he still runs five or six miles a day to clear his head. He's got a standard athlete's mustache and a standard pro baseball drawl. But there's a "who cares" tone to his voice, as if he's resigned himself to thinking up a joke about whatever trouble is bearing down on him next.

"I just don't get embarrassed anymore," he says, and the only thing he seems to be afraid of is the wrath of his wife, Dianne. He wonders how much more of his trouble she'll put up with.

Kingman grew up in Los Angeles, and, in 1975, just before he graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara, he was drafted as a free agent by the Oakland A's. After five years in the minor leagues, he came up to the show in 1979, dazzling sportswriters with his "stuff," as they referred to it, his baffling overhand curveball and his blistering fastball.

But he always seemed to be on the losing side of the game, and in 1980, he set a yet-unbroken record that was significant enough to immortalize him on a Trivial Pursuit card.

Kingman is the last big-league pitcher to lose 20 games in one season. Never mind that he had a lower earned run average than three-quarters of the pitchers in the majors, and that the pitcher with the next-lowest ERA was a 20-game winner. Through bad luck and poor offense, he was a regular loser.

"You have to be pretty good to lose 20 games," Kingman says, deadpan. Indeed, a bad pitcher wouldn't be given that many chances. And even though he redeemed himself the next season by pitching a shutout in his first complete game, even though he made the cover of Sports Illustrated, he is remembered only for his losing stats.

Kingman had a quarrelsome relationship with A's manager Billy Martin, who never won the Nobel Prize for Human Relations, either. And so as sportswriters scratched their heads and wondered how someone so good could do so badly, Oakland traded Kingman to the Boston Red Sox in 1983, and immediately after spring training, the Red Sox traded him to the San Francisco Giants. He started the season with the Triple-A Phoenix Giants, since renamed the Firebirds, got called up to the majors for three games, and then was sent back to Phoenix. The next year he hurt his back. And since he'd had his fill of losing--something no athlete has much stomach for--he retired.

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