This week's segment touches on Ernie Harwell, the grind of the long season, and the events of the A's legendary 20-game win streak in 2002.
Greetings and welcome to Monday, and more of our interview (Part I is here and Part II can be found right here) with the radio play-by-play voice of your Oakland Athletics, Ken Korach. The final installment runs right here next week!
EN: Here’s a question from BigJ7489: he wants to know, this is a good question, does the season ever get long for you? And what’s the secret to making a boring August game... relatively boring, ‘cause nothing... when you call a game, like Bryan was saying, you could have the phone book in front of you and everybody would be hanging on every word. But when it’s a game where, you know, the A’s are 20 games out of first, (and) hopefully (in) the coming year it would be 20 games ahead in August…
KK: Yeah. Well…
EN: …as my grandma used to say, "From your mouth to God’s ears," right? When, you know, it’s a relatively boring game how do you keep it exciting for the listener?
KK: Well there’s an old baseball saying that you do the good games for free and you get paid for the bad games.
KK: And that’s really, I think, I’ve always had... my theory on that is that the worse the team plays, the harder I’m going to work.
KK: Because you need more information during a... during the dog days when your team’s out of contention. So that’s when you really have to work harder to try to find interesting things to talk about. And again, to go back to Ernie Harwell, who is a Sage, you know... may he rest in peace. You know, he was a Sage for a lot of us. He always used to, he... ‘cause I asked him one time, you know, what’s the secret to broadcasting for a team that may lose a hundred games? He said, "Every game is its own chapter." So you may have a great game, and if you’re down over how the team is playing or the way the season is going, then you’re not going to be ready if there is a great game. Or maybe somebody might throw a perfect game. So you try not to get too high or too low over what goes on. In other words, I have no control over how the team plays, but I can control my own. I can control the... the broadcast, and my ability to try to be enthusiastic every day. So that’s my job. My job is to try to entertain people every day. Some days I’m better at it than others. I get tired during the year, absolutely. It’s... it can be, it’s a long, long ride. You know, it’s six months almost every day, and most of the days that we have off, we travel.
KK: Now I’ll preface that by saying that we’re very fortunate to... we fly in charter jets, we stay in nice hotels. Anybody who complains about our travel, you know, ought to have their head examined. But...and I’m very fortunate to do what I do, I think you guys know that... but there are times when I’m dead tired during the season. You might play 20 games in a row. I’ve always said this, that I could probably do 30 games in a row if I’m feeling good, but if I’m not feeling well, if I’m sick, if I have the flu or a cold or allergies, those games are really a chore and they become very difficult. But, you know, I’ve learned over the years that, one thing Bill always used to say was that no matter what’s going on or how you’re feeling, or how the game might be going, is to try to remember to keep your energy up. So, there’s an ongoing battle sometimes to try to just maintain that energy. And there are days when maybe I don’t have a whole lot, my brain isn’t working as well as I would like it to and then, you know, maybe you might do more stuff from the Media Guide, for instance, or things ‘cause I’m not feeling really creative. So there are kind of tricks of the trade…
EN: It goes back to what you were talking about, about when you learn to do it as you’re growing as a broadcaster, you identify what your best self is, and then you try to bring that best self to work every day.
EN: Let that best self flow through the microphone no matter what the circumstances of the game, high, low, indifferent…
KK: When Dick Enberg started with the Angels, they had a General Manager... when the Angels first started, by the name of Fred Haney, (who) was kind of a legendary figure in the game. And Fred Haney told Enberg before the first game: just remember, no matter what you might be thinking that you want to do -- and I’m paraphrasing -- the most important thing is to broadcast the ball. So on the days when maybe I don’t feel real creative or my brain may not be working as well as I’d like, you can always broadcast the ball, ‘cause that’s your job. Our job, really, is to broadcast the ball.
EN: What’s happening with the ball.
KK: Exactly. I mean, you think about that. Broadcast the ball.
KK: You know, nothing happens unless the ball is involved.
EN: Unless you’re at a White Sox game and Ozzie Guillen is screaming…
EN: …or something like that.
KK: Yeah. Yeah. But you’re right about, you know... you want to, when I first started, and if I wander into these tangents, stop me…
EN: No, it’s fine.
KK: When I first started, and I used to talk to... I had a broadcast partner here in Phoenix named Kent Derdivanis, who also worked in the Major Leagues... when you’re a product of the announcers that we had in California: Scully, Enberg, Bill King, Lon Simmons, I mean the list goes on and on... these, really, icons of the game. It can be very intimidating. Because you feel like you have to be perfect all the time. And the... if you try to be perfect, you tie yourself up in knots…
EN: The harder you try, the worse it gets.
KK: …and so that’s part of, just kind of being... trying to be yourself. Because when I first started at KCBS, it was intimidating working in the Bay Area for me because... look at these guys I’m trying to work in the same market, with Bill King and Lon Simmons and Hank Greenwald? I mean, are you kidding me? You know... and so you feel like you have to match that level that they’ve attained and you realize that, ultimately, when it is all said and done, like Red Barber told Vin Scully... you know, don’t water your wine. The only unique thing you have is yourself.
NP: Do you think Vince feels that he replaced Bill King?
KK: I think it was harder. It was hard for Vince. I think it was... you know, I replaced Lon in ‘96 and I moved over a chair when, after Bill passed away... but so, I think it would be difficult for anyone. Seattle lost Dave Niehaus, who was another broadcaster I had tremendous respect for…
EN: Totally unique...
KK: …personally and professionally. The Mariners didn’t replace him. They have a revolving group of announcers, former players and broadcasters who used to work for them, and I talked to their Executive Producer the other day when we were in Peoria and he said, "We wouldn’t dare bring anyone in in this first year after Dave, ‘cause it wouldn’t be fair…"
EN: Impossible shoes to fill.
KK: Impossible to bring someone in. That’s how strongly they felt about that, how difficult it might be for someone to come in…
KK: …after an icon had passed away like that.
EN: No one wants to follow (Jimi) Hendrix on stage. Especially if they’ve passed away or whatever.
KK: No. No, you don’t, so... luckily when I started working with Bill, I’d been around, you know, a while and I’d learned some lessons and I didn’t try to be Lon.
KK: Although I love Lon. It was ironic…
EN: Lon is another one where no one could be him.
KK: Yeah. It was ironic for me to replace him because I... he had such an influence on me. I mean, Lon had a profound influence on me and my career. (in Lon’s voice) And I don’t do a bad Lon impression.
KK: (in Lon’s voice) You know…Tell it goodbye.
EN: It’s good. That’s really good, man.
KK: I haven’t broken that out for public consumption.
EN: (laughing) I’m going to have to post an MP3 of this on the blog so…
EN: …just that, it’s going to be…
EN: …Ken Korach does Lon Simmons.
EN: I’m going to put a question in of my own. ‘Cause…
EN: When you said, you could be... you could broadcast, you might have to broadcast 20 games in a row, it made me think of this question. Every year someone’s going to win the World Series. Every year. It’s going to be inevitable.
KK: Unless there’s a strike.
EN: Unless there’s a strike. But strikes, you know, this isn’t the NFL so right now we have... there’s no lockout.
EN: We don’t have a... for the foreseeable future, we’re going to have games.
EN: And seasons. And then World Series. And someone’s going to win one every year.
EN: But a lot of us on the blog, myself included, obviously, don’t think anyone’s ever going to win 20 in a row again.
EN: When you were watching that unfold, what were the signposts along the way, where you knew something not only unprecedented was happening, but something that’s, you know... is rare and unique and is unusual, even as the perfect game was or as, you know, the most unusual instances in all of sports, not just in baseball? What were the signposts along the way…
EN: …where it... you felt it building this momentum to where they could get into a realm of that kind of achievement?
KK: First of all, we were joking about a strike. You’ll recall that in 2002, as the A’s had won 15 consecutive games and returned from that road trip…
KK: …there was the possibility that there was going to be a work stoppage.
KK: I was actually at an outing with Art Howe the morning of the... I may not get the chronology exactly right, and I apologize for that. I believe it was the morning of the 16th consecutive game, which was on a Friday night against the Minnesota Twins, that the... that the work stoppage was…
KK: …averted and we got word... I think Billy called Art and said -- or someone called Art and said -- "Hey, we’re playing ball tonight." I don’t think it was a day off. I’d have to go back and check it. But anyway, it was a…
KK: …the dawn of the 16th consecutive game, so one of the things that was a sidebar story to this... this incredible streak unfolding, was that there was a chance that it would just be a footnote to history.
KK: Because we really thought this could happen. There might be a work stoppage. So, when that was averted then we can kind of get back down to the business of playing. And so, there was a huge walk-up, I remember that; it was a Friday night, which ordinarily are not great draws for the A’s for whatever reason. And once word was spread that there would be no…
KK: …no work stoppage, the crowd really swelled that night. And then the other thing about that, on a personal note, which speaks to... you know, my fondness for Bill and Bill’s class as a person and his integrity, was that Bill was on vacation that weekend. People really don’t remember that. I was the #2 guy; I never did the 9th inning.
EN: Yeah. And the 18th game I remember you did the…
KK: Well, I did the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th.
EN: …Tejada, Tejada walk off.
KK: Steve Bitker worked with me for those games.
KK: And Bill had planned to take vacation as he did... as you know, Bill took time off at various times during the season. He had planned to take the Labor Day weekend off; that was the Labor Day weekend show. You know, and so I... and I remember Bill telling me that friends of his said, "Bill, this is a historic event, you have to come back and do the 9th inning so your voice will be the voice of record, so you’ll be the lead guy for those games." And I’m sure there would... would have been other people in our business, because of the egos in our business, that would have come back.
EN: Flown back…
KK: Flown right back, said, "Oh, I’m the number one guy; I’m not going to miss out on being on the air when... if something incredible happens." And Bill said, "I planned on taking those days off, it wouldn’t be fair to Ken, it wouldn’t be fair to Steve because Steve had planned, contracted by the A’s to (be there)..."
KK: …as a fill in." And that was remarkable, because I wouldn’t have blamed Bill if he had come back. To be honest with you, Bill was the man. And if he had come back I would have said, "Bill, here, be my... you know, you... you certainly have every right to do so." And so, you know, the... I remember Chavez got a broken bat hit, was the big hit in the Friday night game and then as it fast-forwarded to the 18th game, you know…
EN: Yeah, your call of the 18th game…
EN: …the 18th game, it was like a 1958 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.
KK: Well I... I go back and forth on it. I feel like it’s over the top; I’m a little embarrassed by it…
EN: Well, because you’re usually not that over the top, it kind of stands out.
KK: Well, I’ll tell you an interesting story about that.
KK: Because that’s interesting that you would say that. Because Hank Greenwald, who I’ve great respect for, and is a good friend, was at the game. I don’t remember, honestly Josh, if it was the 18th or 19th game, ‘cause the 19th was on a Monday against Kansas City and Tony Peña was managing Kansas City and they went to a five-man infield…
KK: …in the bottom of the 9th and eventually Tejada hit the base hit to center…
KK: …that drove in the, you know…
EN: He walked off the 18th and the 19th (games).
KK: He did, yeah. Home run off (Eddie) Guardado and then a single off Jason Grimsley. And I remember Hank coming in the booth and hearing the call of either Tejada’s homerun or the single to center, I don’t remember which. Which I thought at the time was... you know, I’m going crazy…
KK: Right. It was genuine. It was how I felt at the time.
EN: Place was packed…
KK: Yeah. There was nothing about it that was contrived.
KK: I mean, I didn’t premeditate any of it. It was how I felt at the time.
KK: And Hank came in and he said to me, and I’ll never forget this ‘cause it was one of the kindest things that anybody who is in our business, who I have great respect for... someone who is older than me said. He said, "The reason that call worked was because you don’t get excited over every little thing that happens."
KK: So, that meant a lot to me.
KK: That it was…yeah, you know. Of all the things that people have said, that was something that I’ve never forgotten. That he was kind enough to say that to me.
EN: Yeah. Very true.
BC: What did you think about that 20th game?
KK: I wasn’t at the game.
BC: Oh, you weren’t there?
KK: No. I was in... at home in Las Vegas watching it on TV.
KK: Because I had planned on taking that day off. If you’ll recall, the A’s... there was the 19th straight, the 19th game was on a Monday, it was a weird two-game series with Kansas... with Minnesota... no, it was Kansas City, Kansas City. Because the A’s played on Labor Day, there was a day off on Tuesday, and the 20th game was on a Wednesday…
BC: Dollar Wednesday.
KK: And there was a day off on Thursday.
EN: So on either side there was a day off.
KK: So there were three days with only one game and I had planned every year around that time…
KK: …to take a day off so I could be home…
KK: …for my daughter’s first day of school.
KK: Which is what I had always kind of planned on, and the A’s were nice enough to allow me to take a day or two off. Our anniversary is August 27th so somewhere around that time…
KK: And I had planned on taking that Wednesday off. I think it was the only day I took off all year.
EN: Of all days.
KK: And I decided... I talked to my wife on the phone and I decided, you know, that Bill was going to do the game with Ray ‘cause the game wasn’t on local TV.
KK: If you’ll remember.
KK: And I said that it wouldn’t be fair for me…
KK: …to say, I have to be working… Bill and Ray did the game together…
KK: …and I said..
EN: Reciprocating Bill’s grace towards, you know…
KK: I had these great moments that I’ll never be able to duplicate in my life or career, and now I’ll go home and I’ll watch it on TV.
KK: So I did.
EN: That’s a good story.
NP: Was it surreal like it was for the rest of us watching?
KK: Well, when it was 11-0 I probably fell asleep on the couch.
KK: You know, I... I saw part of the comeback, you know, ‘cause it’s... it’s, "Oh, this thing is over," you know…
BC: Yeah. I lived in Fresno at the time and we drove up to the game, the 20th game, and I will never forget... like, coming across the BART ramp and the... the walk-up line to buy tickets was all the way back to the BART station. There were 60,000 people there.
KK: And you know, Bill’s call was unbelievable. It was so great when…
EN: One of the greatest run-on sentences in sports history.
KK: You know, there are so many elements to that call where you just... at one point he runs out of things to say.
KK: He just says, "How do you explain it?"
KK: "Crazy. Just plain crazy." And it was, it was wonderful.
KK: I’m glad that Bill had the 20th.
KK: You know, it was very important that he…
EN: Cherry on top.
KK: …he should have had the 20th.
KK: Which was great.
I'll return at 7 with your Monday night, season-series-opening throwdown with Jered Weaver and those Slegville Seraphim of San Bernadino, and we'll see if Gio G. can't match him zero-for-zero until we score a run on a balk caused by the sudden on-field intrusion of the Mystery Bitey Parrot. Scioscia wanna cracker?
3 game series vs Angels @ Angel Stadium of Anaheim
|Tue 04/26||7:05 PM PDT|
|Wed 04/27||4:05 PM PDT|