Captain's Table: Ken Korach Sits Down with AN (Part One)

Dinner_with_ken_korach_3

The A's legendary broadcaster comes into focus in the first part of this interview conducted by EN and friends, recorded this past St. Patrick's Day at Spring Training.

The first part of our conversation took place in a reserved picnic area at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, where we were initially told that we'd probably have to move somewhere else at some point because there was a big party of people coming for the game. 35 minutes later we were amicably displaced to the A's offices inside the stadium, but this first part is from outside at a picnic table in an enclosed area, with all kinds of pre-game chatter and atmosphere going on all around us. Tremendous tens of trillions of thanks go to Athletica Jesa, who is transcribing this monumental opus piece-by-piece and is doing what I think is the best possible job getting every word into type as it happened. I am leaving this unedited because I like the informality of listening to someone formulate an answer as they would in a real and candid conversation, and I think it lets the readers in on how it really was most effectively. Also, I wouldn't honestly know what to take out. You guys asked absolutely brilliant and well-considered questions and Ken acknowledged that often during the course of our conference.

HUGE thanks obviously go to the A's treasured broadcaster Ken Korach, and also to Nico (NP in the text) and Bryan (BC in the text), who -- as you'll see in the coming installments -- really brought a lot to the energy that made this truly a conversation more than an interview... they interjected stuff that I never would have thought of and I feel this made the whole thing really interesting and insightful.  --EN

Josh_bats_medium
Phoenix, AZ, March 2011

EN:  Well, yeah, all right... okay, we’re here.  Athletics Nation.  Nico P., Bryan C., Joshy J, EN, whatever you want to call me, with the Rickey Henderson (jersey).  With Ken Korach, the Voice of the A’s, since 1996, right?

KK:  That is correct, yeah.

EN:  And you took over the main seat in 2006.

KK:  That’s right.  Bill passed away in the Fall, in October of ‘05.

EN:  I cried for about a week.

KK:  Yeah.  We all did.

EN:   I remember trying to watch the World Series, yeah.  I couldn’t even listen to the games.  It took baseball out for that whole week.

KK:  Yeah, yeah.

EN:  Anyway, the first thing, the first order of business, obviously, all these people have one thing in common, with all their questions, with which are prefaced with the following, which is to pass along a really heartfelt "thank you" to you for the job that you do. And for sitting down with us, obviously, but just for doing what you do, and doing what you do and at the level that you do it at, which is, you know, as good as anyone.

KK:  Well, yes, I deeply appreciate it.  I don’t take it for granted.  And, I don’t, you know, I’ve said this before: I respect anybody who works hard at what they do, and tries to do the best they can, and I’m no different from that, so... but again, I really appreciate the support.

EN:  And we appreciate you.  Everybody to a person on the blog, and the blog is, you know, I don’t know how many people are on it, hundreds, thousands, who knows…for everybody that posts, there is supposed to be seven to ten people that don’t, that just watch, you know. So everybody is, you know, honored, what can you say? Obviously, it’s like listening to a fine artist.

KK:  Well, it’s been a good vehicle for the A’s fans, I think.  AN has given, you know, fans, the A’s fans, a voice, so... and that’s really important.

EN:  It’s true.  All right, well we’re going to start out with dwishinsky’s first question, here, about perfect games.  All right, we’ll start here.  The question, if I had one, is this:  Perfect games are ridiculously infrequent.  Did you start thinking about Braden’s late in the game, like this could be, you know, when you were working on your call,  were you thinking about... I mean, I may have to call this, this is like one of, at the time one of the 19 times that this has ever happened in 130+ years during this game. 

KK:  Right.

EN: This is going to be played over and over again; this is, you know, a huge event.  Did you think that it would be a signature-type call, did you plan it out, or did it just come?  And, do you feel like anything could top that from a broadcasting standpoint?

KK: Well, it’s a great question.  The first part of the answer is that I think you are always aware of where you are in a game.  In other words, even after the first inning, you’re aware that maybe one of the teams doesn’t have any hits, or after two innings, or that the pitcher's retired the first six, or the first nine, so I think, as an announcer, you are always aware of if somebody has a no-hitter or a perfect game.  Now, you don’t take it real seriously, or start to think about it, and so maybe you get into the fifth or sixth inning. And as you know, Vince does the seventh inning, and it was in the seventh inning when I took a little walk for myself around the Coliseum press box and I just tried to gather my thoughts and organize my thoughts, and I actually at that point asked Robert Buan if he could do a little research and pull up a couple of the articles that traced the history of Dallas with his grandmother and his mom.  I knew the story but I also wanted to make sure that I had it right. 

EN:  The relevance to Mother’s Day.

KK:  Exactly.  And so I wanted to make sure that, ‘cause I, the only thing I really planned, was that, while the A’s were hitting in the eighth inning, if Dallas still had the no-hitter, I didn’t want to talk about it while the Rays were hitting. ‘Cause Dallas works so quickly and I didn’t want to detract from what was going on in the game, but I did want to delve into the story of Dallas, and losing his mom, and being raised by his grandmother, and the poignancy of that, and how this was all happening on Mother’s Day.  So, as far as the call was concerned, there was no premeditation at all; in fact, what I tried to do was take all my notes, Media Guides, anything that had been printed out, and I pushed them all aside when the top of the ninth inning began, and I just tried to call the game. 

EN:  Purify the moment.

KK:  Just to call the game.  And he was working very quickly so there wasn’t a lot of time, you know, for a lot of discussion between pitches, either.  So that’s how that evolved.

NP:  Were you aware of the fact that the count was 3-1 (on Gabe Kapler) when Dallas was not?

KK:  Yeah, I think I mentioned, I tried to mention the count before every pitch.  So I think, ‘cause I was really, I was really trying, you know, focusing on the fundamentals of the inning, you know, you’ll... if you hear it back I do set the defense, which was paying homage to Vin Scully.  And the call with Koufax’s (1965) perfect game against the Cubs.  So, yeah, and I wasn’t aware obviously until later when he said he didn’t know the count and that he would have thrown a different pitch if he had known the count, which was just perfect for Dallas.

EN:  I loved when they asked him, what were you going to throw?  And he said, I don’t know, underhand, "Eephus" pitch, behind-the-back, something like that.

KK:  Yeah. So it was a, it was a huge throw.

EN: Fabulous.  Okay, next question is from our friend Alan in Los Angeles, from UCLA, and he’s called cuppingmaster on the blog.  Very simple question, has to do with Bill King.  What’d you learn from him?  And was it technique, style, something else, all three, a combination of several?

KK:  Well that’s, you know, that’s one I’ve been asked a lot.

EN:  Yeah.

KK:  And, it’s a real, it’s a hard one to quantify, to be honest with you, because I think that, and this is tangential to what we’re talking about but... I went with Bob Rose, the A’s PR Director, to see a Blues performer last night down in downtown Phoenix, and then I read a little bit about his biography today and learned a little bit more about him, and I think it’s a similar thing where you’re a product of your influences, but it’s... it’s hard to identify and quantify.  Like this particular individual named Jimmy Thackery, had a chance to almost study under Muddy Waters and then he was talking about how he... how songs just come to him, and melodies and lyrics, and maybe you’re not exactly sure of the influence but you know that it’s there.

EN:  It’s molecular.

KK:  It’s, you know, I was playing in a band with Bill King for ten years; he was lead guitar player and I was the bass player.

EN:  Yeah.

KK:  So, but you know, or I was the drummer, or whatever.

EN:  Yeah.

KK:  And you know that, you know that the influence is there and it’s in your veins, it’s in your blood, but, and it was an unbelievably wonderful experience.  The greatest gift I’ve ever been given in my career.  But I think, honestly, the learning from Bill probably came more from when I was a kid, listening to him, ‘cause that’s when you’re really impressionable.

EN:  Sure.

KK:  And I listened to Bill all the time when I was a teenager and so I think, for instance if you were to listen to my basketball play-by-play, you know, there’s Bill King phrasing in there, and terminology, and things that he... not out of trying to copy him but just because when you’re impressionable and you’re younger, you know, you’re really ripe to be influenced by someone who, you know, was a master and so Bill... Bill was a master and, you know, I mean obviously his passion, his enthusiasm, and his preparation... all those things were a wonderful influence on me and on anybody who aspired to be a broadcaster.

EN:  To anyone listening. I mean, I think that of all the announcers that I’ve ever heard -- and I grew up listening to Bob Murphy, so it’s a high standard -- of everyone I’ve ever heard do it in any sport, he seemed to bring the most... I want to say life experience, extracurricular, outside-of-sports experience. Where you’re talking about a sport, you’re trying to bring someone to visualize the experience of what you’re seeing in a sports game… but he brought the most to bear from outside of this specific, narrow bandwidth of ball meets bat, ball is thrown, catch ball, that it was so much more.

KK:  Yeah.

EN:  Arts, sciences, sociology, you know, like his influences seemed as broad as he seemed to have exercised this really broad influence on people…

KK:  Right.  Well..

EN:  …and that it comes in some part from his completely 360-degree spectrum of his influences as what he could bring to a sports call or sports event, calling a sports game…

KK:  Well, he wasn’t a one-dimensional individual.

EN:  Yeah.

KK:  And, so, he wasn’t just a jock doing a game.

EN:  Yeah.

KK:  And I think I wrote in of the obits after Bill passed away, I don’t know (if) I’m paraphrasing myself, that his life experiences provided a layer, or provided layers to the broadcast.  So…

EN:  Yeah.  Multidimensionality.

KK:  Yeah, absolutely.  So there’s, there’s no question... and you know I tried to draw that out in him, too.  You know, there was a deliberate attempt sometimes on my part...

EN: Oh, man.

KK:  … to get him going.  And I, if I could kind of get him into something humorous, or give him a bad time, or... I wasn’t afraid to do that.  I kind of tried to egg him on a little bit.

EN:  I remember a call in 2003, it was a blowout game, and Bill is shuffling through his papers talking about, I don’t know who they were playing, the A’s, but whoever was up at bat was really on fire, it was really, you know, he was like 17 for his last 19 or something... and Bill was trying to say that but he couldn’t quite get it out, he couldn’t really relate exactly how awesome this guy was doing.  And he finally said "Ken, man, this guy is really smoking."  And without missing a beat, you said, "Oh yeah, Bill?  What’s he smoking?"

KK:  (laughing)

EN:  I laughed for the rest of the week from that.  That’s one of my favorite calls of yours of all time.  Nothing to do with the game but…

KK:  He was great, because he never got defensive too; because you could get on his case…

EN:  Uh-huh.

KK:  …and, you know, Ray was the same way, because he was so secure in who he was as a person, but, you know if you got on him (Bill) about the way he was dressed, or what he was eating, or how disheveled he was on occasion…

EN:  How his car was missing a floorboard.

KK:   Yeah.  He, he... yeah, his car was a mess, and, you know, he took that all in stride, so it was great, yeah.

EN:  It’s a gift.  A real gift.  All right, this one is a kind of multi-dimensional question from a person on the blog who is... whose screen name is pam5981, and you’ll be shocked to know that her name is Pam.  So, she wants to know, okay there’s a lot of different types of baseball fans.  Athletics Nation has a pretty good representation of them but the audience definitely skews more towards a statistics-oriented analysis.  Do you think about that while broadcasting?  Should baseball broadcasters be baseline entertaining and informative, or should they try to reach a more neutral audience?

KK:  That’s a good question.  I mean, these are all good questions.  And they give me pause to think.  I think the main job that we have is to call the game.  So it all starts there and that sounds like a simple answer to a fairly complex question, but our job is to paint the picture for people who aren’t able to watch on TV, or who aren’t at the game.

EN:  Eyes and ears.

KK:  And so... the eyes and ears and to describe what’s happened, and so what I’ve always said is that you start with the fundamentals. Is he a left-handed hitter or right-handed hitter?  Is the outfield toward left?  The score.  The count.  Is the third baseman in on the grass?  And so, if you don’t have a mastery of those basics or fundamentals, it doesn’t matter what else you do, because you’re not informing the audience.  So the first thing you do is try to call the game as accurately and descriptively as you possibly can.  So that’s the main responsibility.  And then I think I’ve always been aware of the fact that there are the ardent fans who care about every minute detail, every bit of minutiae that’s happening with players or the team, but there are also casual fans.  And so I don’t think… so I think you try to bridge the two.  I don’t think you want to talk over the heads of some people who may not understand what UZR means, which I’m barely learning about myself right now.  But that you don’t want to also neglect those people who really do care about things that probably delve a little bit more deeply into the game as statistical analysis, which I’m learning about and probably getting into more and more now because I know how important it is to the A’s and to Bob Geren and Billy Beane and the rest of the front office, and how they try to analyze certain players or predict future outcomes for players…

EN:  They make movies about it.

KK:  They make movies about it.  So I guess you try to bridge all that.

EN:  It’s an umbrella where everyone can be under the umbrella.  No one’s alienated by the complexity or the simplicity, it’s a middle ground.

KK:  Right.  And I don’t think you want to throw statistics out there just gratuitously either.  There has to be a context to what you’re talking about.

EN:  Yeah.  Relevant to that.

KK:  And, I’ve always felt that numbers and stats should support what you’re talking about, but shouldn’t be probably the central theme of a broadcast.  And I still think that going down on the field and talking to players and the anecdotes and the information you get in the clubhouse, and on the field before the game, those are the human elements and those things are very interesting.

EN:  And the rest of her question totally segues into that.

KK:  But the numbers should support that, but I also think that, you know, it was very important to the A’s to try to get people to understand that say Cliff Pennington, for instance, if you just looked at his errors one might think, well, he didn’t have a great year at shortstop, but they think that his range and the way all that is being rated (for) him... because you can quantify everything, there’s a stat for almost everything in the game... that that was a truer barometer of how he was playing shortstop last year. 

EN:  Yeah.

KK:  So, and like everyone, I’m learning.  I’m trying to learn more and more about, kind of the advanced metrics as they apply to the game.

EN:  The A’s are kind of the primary practitioners of that in the last ten years?

KK:  Well, I think everybody else is, most teams have caught up.

EN:  Yeah.

KK:  I think the A’s probably were the, they were the seminal team I guess on that, you know, with Moneyball, but I think a lot of the front offices have gone to... have gotten much more heavily into that kind of analysis.

EN:  Predictive. 

KK:  Yeah.  Like, like a pitcher who doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters and puts a lot of balls put into play, I’m not even sure what the acronym is for that.

EN:  Well, there’s a lot of debate on the blog, you’re saying about Pennington, and this range he shows…

KK:  Right.

EN:  A pitcher like Cahill, who defies a statistic called FIP, Fielding Independent Pitching…

KK:  Right.

EN:  …where everyone... there’s a certain faction on the blog, a certain group of people who believe he’s going to come down to more of a statistical mean in 2011 because he benefited from so much range up the middle.

KK:  And balls put into play.

EN:  Right.  Balls go into play where that, that, he can’t get that kind of middle-of-the-diamond defense.  Again, it’s kind of a rare, you know, instance or whatever…

KK:  And just the sheer percentage of balls put into play for a pitcher ‘cause he’s not a high strikeout pitcher…

EN:  Right.

KK:  …might be a predictor that the year may not be as good.

EN:  Right.

KK:  And I talk to baseball people about that and Billy, I think, has, I’m not sure it’s fair for me to judge how he’s evolved or morphed as a... as a General Manager, or as someone who analyzes players, but my guess is the A’s have valued the strikeout more as they evaluate amateur pitching.  That seems to be something that... and I’ve heard them talk more about that now than they did when I first got to the A’s.

EN:  Follow-up question from Pam kind of speaks to this.  She wants to know, and now this is her caveat: without necessarily sharing information, although we’d all be all ears if you did... what’s it like having private, privileged, confidential information about players, teams, managers, coaches, organizations, that you can’t share and how do you navigate the waters of that?

KK:  Well, you walk a fine line sometimes.

EN:  Yeah.

KK:  Because it’s important to me, even if there may be information that I can’t reveal on the air, to have a certain context and understanding of... of what might be going on, knowing that it’s privileged information and so you do have to filter some of the things you hear.  But by the same token, like I said, I think our job is to inform the audience as best we can... and so, for instance, on the Manager’s show with Bob Geren -- who is by nature pretty circumspect and, you know, cautious -- and to try to gain a certain level of trust that if you, if there’s information that... that you feel that I need to know or that I can learn from you, to trust me that I’m going to, if I choose to use it, that I’m going to use it in the proper perspective and the proper context.  So that’s part of the ongoing trust that you try to gain with people in the game.

NP:  Have you had the experience of sharing something on the air… and then having it backfire with players or coaches?

KK:  Not really.  Not so much.  No, I mean, I think that, you know... there was one instance I remember in the minor leagues where one of the players -- either his wife or his brother -- had heard something that I had said and felt that I was being critical when really I wasn’t and so oft times you hear "I heard something third-hand that you might have said," and... unless you really heard it yourself, you don’t really know what I said. So, you know, I’ve been around long enough now where I feel like I think most of the people that I’ve met have enough confidence in me to know that... that I can filter things that aren’t necessarily meant for public consumption, or that I can use them in a way that is tempered, or that there’s a perspective that I can offer.

EN:  Do you feel like you, being more of a known quantity as time progresses, you’re more able to…

KK:  Absolutely.  I think you have to gain that.  You know, I’ve probably can take a little more license now than I could when I first started with the A’s.  Because you don’t have any credibility. I mean, one thing that I hate are the people that have done nothing in their career and all of a sudden they’re giving you all of their opinions on everything under the sun... and you have to establish credibility, I think, in any line of work.  So, you know, show me that you’ve been around, show me that you’ve done your homework, because there are people in our business that are apt to be critical, like they’ll say, "how come he never or didn’t bring in so-and-so in the eighth inning?"  Well, if you had been on the field before the game and asked, maybe you would know.  So a lot of people that are apt to be very critical, or fly off the handle in our business, are ones that aren’t willing to pay the price, to actually go down to the field and maybe you’ll find out.

EN:  Homework.

KK:  Yeah.

EN:  Do your homework.  Or fieldwork, in this case.

KK:  Yeah.  So, you know, and I’m... I’m probably less (likely) to pass judgment on things that I really don’t know about, but I’m going to go down the next day and I’m going to find out and ask, or Vince is going to go down and find out, you know... we’re going to ask about it.

EN:  It works as a continuum from game to game, and series to series…

KK:  Game to game.

EN:  …where you develop information as series and as homestands progress and as road series progress, where things that happen late in a series or in the third series of a road trip, for instance, have a lot brought to bear on them by what happened in the first two series, where, if they... what you’re talking about, would it had taken place in the first series, different outcome, maybe different personnel choices, different managerial (decisions)…

KK:  Right.

EN:  And it’s a continuum.

KK:  And that’s the fascination of doing what we do, or one of the fascinating things is that there’s so many interesting things that happen during the course of a game, and decisions, and often times even with managers, they... it’s very rare when there is a cut and dried right or wrong decision. People are entitled to their opinions, but what I love is going down and finding out about it the next day, or talking to a player about why a certain thing might have happened.  So that’s part of the ongoing homework.  I think it makes the broadcast interesting.

EN:  Very good answer.

Hunter_medium
Hunter Headley -- your starting 2033 A's catcher -- rocks the socks at Spring Training 2011.

Obviously there's way more to come of this... what you've just read was merely 20 minutes of an 82+ minute interview, so stay tuned for another segment of it next week.  If you are interested, you may find the unedited tape of the whole thing here. See you all later on with the Ozzie and Harriet Game Thread (the role of Harriet will be played by A.J. Pierzynski)  =)

[Link to part two.]

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