The first time we saw Brian Kingman in uniform, he was wearing the green and gold of the Oakland A's.
In the late Seventies, Kingman had a blistering fastball, a baffling curve and the worst luck in baseball: Kingman stands in the record books as the last major league pitcher to lose 20 games in a single season.
The bad luck followed him into retirement. Kingman's new uniform is baby blue, the kind they wear in the Maricopa County Jail, because in October, he was tagged with a 60-day sentence for pitching a stolen but bogus Picasso painting at an undercover FBI agent ("Brian Kingman's Blue Period," July 7, 1994).
"I still think it was the silliest case I'd ever heard of," he says. "I think I'm here to save face for all the people who are concerned--the FBI, mostly. They've spent all this money."
The case of the purloined Picasso began in 1983, when thieves burrowed through the wall of a New York apartment belonging to a Spanish count. The only thing the culprits snatched was a blue-and-brown portrait of a woman rendered in cubist style and bearing Picasso's signature.
When New York detectives contacted the painting's owner in Spain, however, they discovered that the painting was not an original, but a copy that had been commissioned by the count's father because he couldn't afford to insure the original; the original, the count claimed, was safe in a Swiss bank vault. And since the count was not interested in recovering the copy, the police dropped their investigation.
Late in 1992, Brian Kingman got a phone call from an acquaintance in Las Vegas who wanted to get in touch with an art dealer Kingman knew. The Vegas acquaintance introduced Kingman over the phone to Alfred and Stephen Mauriello, a father-son team that had in its possession a Picasso painting that might have been stolen--but the statute of limitations had expired on the theft, don't you know--and the Mauriellos wanted to have it appraised.
Kingman called his art-dealer friend, who put him in touch with a supposed Picasso expert. The Mauriellos flew in from Vegas, Kingman picked them up at the airport and they drove into an FBI sting operation. All three were arrested and charged with theft and trafficking in stolen property.
It took the FBI ten months to discover that the painting was a fake; it might have taken ten minutes if the investigators had read the New York City police report. The feds dropped the charges and passed the case down to the Maricopa County attorney, and despite Kingman's participation in the affair as a pinch runner, he found himself caught in a legal pickle.
Kingman's preference in sports metaphors, however, runs not to baseball but to professional wrestling. "They go in the back and say, 'You slam me, I'm going to do a half nelson, you act like it hurts.' You know I'm going to win. The crowd goes nuts. In the court, they've been in the back room, then the judge says, 'Brian Kingman and the State of Arizona, blah, blah, blah.' The prosecutor rants and reels, the defense attorneys go through their stuff, the judge looks like he's listening, but he's got hundreds of these a week."
It didn't help matters that Kingman was already on probation for real felonies he'd committed. In 1992, Kingman and an accomplice were caught passing more than $100,000 worth of bad checks through the check-cashing company they worked for.
Because of his prior convictions, Kingman could have done 12 years for the art-theft charge. Though he still insists he was innocent, in August 1994, he pleaded guilty to a single count of misdemeanor theft and was sentenced to 60 days in the county's Madison Street Jail.
The Mauriellos go to trial in January.
Kingman spent the first weeks of his incarceration in Tent City, which he likens to "bad summer camp: The counselors aren't friendly, there's no entertainment and the food sucks."
Now he'll sit in the Madison Street Jail until mid-December, nursing an attitude.
"I'm here to learn a lesson, right?" he says. "I've been here weeks and I still don't feel any different. I guess right on the 60th day, bing!, I'll be enlightened, and I'll see what I did wrong."
"He never learns, does he?" his wife, Dianne, remarks.
Apparently not. And even if he's retired from baseball, he's still throwing curves. During his jail interview with New Times, Kingman neglected to mention that he's facing new charges of criminal damage.
In September, according to police reports, a man resembling Kingman was videotaped putting Super glue in the front-door lock of one of the stores in the check-cashing chain for which he used to work.
He'll be back in court in January, with no reason to believe he'll walk.