On the Giants and A's Announcers
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 16, 2006

ANNOUNCERS ARE the face of a baseball team, and that’s why it was a good move for the Giants to sign Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow to contract extensions last week.

As Giants executive Larry Baer noted, Kuiper and Krukow are better known to fans than many of the players. The Giants have a bewildering number of announcers floating in and out of their radio and TV booths, and Jon Miller has more of a national reputation because of his work with ESPN, but when Giants fans think of their announcers, it’s Kuiper and Krukow – or Kuip and Kruk. They even do commercials together.

Both of them also played for the Giants, though Kuiper’s best years by far were with Cleveland, before he blew out a knee. Krukow’s one 20-win season came with the Giants and, perhaps for that reason, he is much more blatantly partisan than Kuiper.

Kuiper has come a long way as an announcer. When he started, he was so laid-back, he was nearly invisible. After a time, though, he learned how to put the excitement into his broadcasts, without straining. What’s comforting about baseball broadcasts is that they can be used almost as background noise, while you’re gardening, cooking, driving a car. When the exciting moments come, a good announcer will ratchet up his delivery, so you know to pay attention. Kuiper didn’t do that when he started, but he does now.

Krukow was more of a natural from the start. He unabashedly bleeds orange and black which infuriates non-Giants fans but delights the team’s followers – which, after all, is the audience the team is trying to reach. Last season was a tough one for Krukow because he got too defensive about the Giants’ poor play, but even with that, I enjoyed him, and I’m a much tougher audience than the Giants fans.

In partisanship, the A’s announcing team has its counterpart in Ray Fosse, who also played for the team he is covering, but I think Krukow is much better. It’s taken Fosse longer to learn how to relax with the microphone and to give listeners the advantage of his baseball knowledge. He’s still stiff in his delivery, whereas with Krukow, it’s as if he’s sitting on the next bar stool, just talking about the game with you.

Krukow’s evaluation of the game and its players is good, too, though I could use a little less of the “grab some pine” references with which he sprinkles his commentary. I talk to him occasionally to get his insights into pitching and pitchers. As a pitcher, he made the move successfully from a power pitcher to one who depended more on finesse; his 20-win season came after he’d lost his best fast ball. Because of that development, he came to know the craft of pitching very well, so he can explain, on or off the air, what a pitcher needs to do to be more effective.

WHEN THE Haas family bought the A’s before the 1981 season, new club president Roy Eisenhardt decided the most important move he could make was with the team’s announcers. He hired the two biggest names in Bay Area broadcasting, Bill King and Lon Simmons. After a time, Simmons moved on, back to the Giants and then to retirement in Maui, but King remained for 25 seasons until his untimely and still unexplained death last fall.

With King’s death, Ken Korach moved up to No. 1 in the booth, with Vince Cotroneo as the new No. 2 man. I have never head Cotroneo, but he has a solid reputation and has been a friend of Korach’s since they both worked for Pacific Coast League teams in the late ‘80s. Glen Kuiper, brother of Duane, works the telecasts and does a good job. The Hank Greenwald experiment is, thankfully, over. I loved Hank on the radio but he was never comfortable on TV and it’s obvious he’s lost his passion for broadcasting.

Korach was always overshadowed by King, but I’ve long felt he’s an excellent announcer, with a subtle sense of humor. And, he pays attention to what I think should be the first rule of broadcasting: Tell the listeners the score frequently. Red Barber, the first of the great baseball announcers, used to have an hourglass in the booth. When the sand ran out of the top, in about three minutes, he’d tell the score. Korach isn’t that systematic but he repeats the score often – which King didn’t – so you don’t have to wait until the end of the inning if you tune in late.

Ken and I often joke about his use of the old-time nicknames, like “Pale Hose” for the White Sox, “Halos” for the Angels. I grew up at a time when The Sporting News was exclusively baseball and loaded with all the cliches of the day, and I tell Korach that he sounds like an old Sporting News headline.

Most of all, though, he has a great sense of where he’s going with the broadcast, keeping on top of the action while supplying relevant statistics and information along the way. There’s a very delicate balance to observe in baseball broadcasting because it’s very easy to just overload listeners with statistics, but Korach has a good sense of what to use and when to use it.

UNFORTUNATELY for Korach and the rest of the A’s crew, the radio coverage of the A’s games will be limited by the broadcast outlets. Korach made a reference at the Fox baseball luncheon about standing atop Mount Davis with a megaphone, but the actual situation isn’t much better. The A’s will be on KYCY (1550 AM) but because the signal is weak, they’ll be supplemented by KVON (1440 AM) in Napa and KNTS (1220 AM) in San Jose.

The A’s have had a radio problem for years, moving from station to station. Last year, they were on KFRC, but except for the time the games were on, that station carried religious broadcasting.

The problem is that there are really only five AM stations with strong signals in the Bay Area, and four of them have weekday programming that they don’t want to interrupt for baseball game broadcasts. The fifth is KNBR, which is committed to the Giants.

It goes beyond the broadcasts, too, because KNBR gives the Giants so much attention on their regular programming, and the co-host on the evening commute time program, Ralph Barbieri, has been a Giants fan since childhood.

Fans can argue the merits of the broadcasting teams. I think they’re both good, for different reasons, but the difference in the radio outlets remains the chief reason the A’s are the second team in the market.

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