Giants Announcers: It's Alll a Show
They are indeed a show, as a bewildering number of announcers come through the booth for Giants games. In the past, the voices best representing the team have been on the radio, as is still true with the A’s team of Bill King and Ken Korach today, but the best known of the Giants announcers are Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper, who are frequently on the telecasts. Indeed, though Kuiper has becomes a very good play-by-play announcer, I think the two work best on TV, where they have more freedom to toss jibes back and forth.
Dave Flemming, an excellent announcer who should have a long, successful career, is the one constant on the radio broadcasts. Jon Miller is gone on the weekends to do ESPN games. Krukow, Kuiper and Greg Papa jump back and forth between radio and TV.
King’s leg injury has kept him off A’s road trips (though he has made the short one to Seattle this week) with Steve Bitker filling in admirably, but for home games, it’s strictly King and Korach doing the play-by-play. Before this season, except for brief vacations for King (usually during the inter-league play, which he hates), it was all King-Korach.
But fans listening to Giants broadcasts can never be sure who’s going to be in the booth for any given game with Flemming.
That lack of continuity is what makes Giants broadcasts seem more geared to entertainment, with Flemming usually the foil for the other broadcaster’s remarks, especially when Miller is in the booth.
The partisan level of the broadcasts has been high, as it has been throughout the Peter Magowan era. During the Giants’ recent bad streak, when they lost 15 of 17, it became embarrassing. It seemed that only the Giants got bad breaks, only the Giants got bad calls. Even Miller, who is the least involved with the team because of his frequent absences, fell into that trap. The postgame wrap, which is usually entertaining and informative, had a funereal air. One time, all the participants voiced variations on the theme: What can you say?
When the A’s went through an equally dismal stretch earlier in the season, King and Korach (and Bitker, when he was there), handled it in a much more business-like fashion. That’s not just a reflection on the announcers but an indication of what team management wants. Giants management clearly wants the more partisan approach, while King and Korach don’t have that kind of pressure.
ANOTHER WAY in which Giants management has its influence on broadcasts is shown in the way announcers spend very little time talking about opposing players. Giants executives are convinced that their fans care only about the Giants – and they’re right.
To some extent, this has always been true. I remember a conversation I had with Hank Greenwald, after he had left the Giants to go to the Yankees. Greenwald noted that Giants fans knew their own players, but Yankee fans knew every player in the league. The same comparison could be made with fans in other Eastern cities, Boston and Philadelphia.
There are reasons for that. One is historical: Major league baseball has been in those cities for more than 100 years, but it only got to the west coast in 1958.
Another may be the way of life. In those cities, many people go to work on public transit, so they read the local newspaper on the ride and may pick up another paper, maybe USA Today, on the way home, so they can catch up on other teams. In the Bay Area, most people get to work by car, which cuts down on the reading.
The parochialism of Giants fans has increased since the opening of PacBell. At Candlestick, except for the Dodgers series, those coming to the games were generally serious baseball fans, because games at the ‘Stick were often unpleasant, cold and windy. At PacBell, the park itself is a great experience. When I go, I often join the throngs walking around the park, looking at the bay views, soaking up the ambience. I did no walking at Candlestick.
The other change at PacBell is the ticket prices, which can discourage casual fans. The crowds have become very “yuppified”; the cliché about cell phone use is accurate. These are not people who are going to go deep into analysis of other teams.
In sum, Giants management knows its audience.
THE GIANTS approach has made stars of Krukow and Kuiper, who are featured on commercials. Miller, of course, is a star because of his ESPN connection. In all three cases, it’s personality more than broadcasting skills which is important, especially in the case of Miller, who does knockout imitations.
In a sense, it’s the old approach versus the new. King made his reputation on announcing; the showmanship aspect of announcing is foreign, even distasteful, to him. Papa is more like King than those surrounding him on Giants broadcasts/telecasts now, an announcer who has been a standout in play-by-play in three sports.
Each approach has its merits. I’ve always found it interesting to track the differences between the way the Giants and A’s put together their teams, and now, we have an equally striking difference between the on-air product: Traditional broadcasting versus the show.
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