In my opinion, the A's have the best radio broadcasting team around. We've got a legend in Bill King leading the team with Ken Korach right behind him. It's like when the Niners had Montana and Young.
During my spring training trip, I had a chance to sit down with Ken Korach and discuss everything from his opinion on this current team to whether or not TV is in his future. I apologize that it's taken me so long to transcribe it.
It's quite a lengthy interview, but I think it's good stuff.
Enjoy and thanks to Ken for taking out so much time to just talk A's baseball with me.
Blez: Let's dive right in. Do you have a favorite call that you've made?
Ken Korach: You could probably predict it. I would say probably the whole stretch of games during that (20-game) winning streak. That was just a magical time. It may never happen again in baseball.
Blez: You called 19, right?
Korach: I called 17, 18 and 19. It was one of those unusual things where Bill had planned to take that weekend off, as he liked to do, to plan some time off around Labor Day. That was Labor Day weekend. So the dramatic endings were in games 18 and 19. Tejada hit the home run to win game 18. He hit the line drive base hit to center field against Kansas City in the bottom of the ninth for the 19th game. When we got home off the road trip and they had swept the road trip, there was a possibility of a work stoppage. Literally on that Friday before the 16th game of the winning streak. We didn't know if there would be a game that night. So when the ballclub came out to play that night, there was a great sense of electricity in the crowd because we still had baseball and they still had the winning streak intact and now they were going to go on with the business of playing ball.
Blez: I take full credit for the winning streak because I had my second of two knee surgeries the day before it started. I figured they wanted to pick up my spirits.
Korach: Really? (Laughing) It was an amazing thing. Then of course, Bill came back and he had the great call on Hatteberg's home run on the 20th. That was an unbelievable thing. But, and I don't want to wander off here, even though they were all ultimately disappointing, but as a broadcaster, to be a part of four consecutive deciding games in the playoffs. You can't ask for much more drama than we've had during this time.
Blez: What was your favorite moment from last season?
Korach: Boy, that's a tough one. I'd probably have to go back and really research it. The games tend to blend together. I have a terrible memory for things like that.
Blez: Well, last year was such a tough year with the bullpen meltdowns and then the starting pitching kind of collapsing.
Korach: Yeah, it was. You know, Bill (King) is going to hate me for saying this because I'm not an advocate for interleague play, but on a personal level to be able to go do a game at Wrigley Field. That was a lot of fun even though the A's lost two out of three there. It was a good year. It's easy to write the season off, but they were in first place and they took it down to the last weekend.
Blez: Throughout the A's playoff years, they had become a team well known for its second half surges. It finally came to an end last year. Do you think part of the factor was them finally getting a little older and wearing down a bit? And do you think we'll see them surge again in the second half because they're younger again?
Korach: I never felt that way. Macha talked about Hatteberg wearing down a little bit and his numbers went down.
Blez: (Damian) Miller too.
Korach: Miller also went down. But let's face it, in all due respect to Mark because he had a wonderful run for us, Mulder just had a really tough time. You don't want to point the finger at one guy, but his numbers were so far off what you'd expect from him. That was the most glaring thing that stands out in terms of what happened down the stretch.
Blez: Yeah, he said it himself that had he won just two of the games down the stretch, they would've made the playoffs.
Korach: Yes and to think those last two starts, Blanton was up in the first inning each time warming up. It was frustrating.
Blez: It was shocking.
Korach: It was shocking and frustrating. I have so much respect for Mark as a pitcher and was fond of him personally. It was just tough to watch. You almost knew going in that he had lost so much confidence. You'd wonder going in whether he was going to be effective when he went out there.
Blez: Especially because we'd gotten so used to seeing him kind of "don the cape."
Korach: Right. But in retrospect, it was a ballclub that was not a complete ballclub. They clearly had issues with the bullpen. And as we already mentioned, some of the guys fell off down the stretch. It was still a good year. As a broadcaster, when you're in the race there is nothing like that.
Blez: Do you consider yourself a fan?
Korach: I can answer that with a yes and a no. I love the game and I love the fact that I'm lucky enough to make a living in baseball. And I think you probably have to have a little fan in yourself to do the game. But I do think that on the air, our responsibility is to do a credible, responsible broadcast. So, fans tend to act a little more emotional and maybe a little more impetuous than we can be on the air. I think fans like the emotion when things go well. But I also think it's important to try and be objective. It has to mean something when something really good happens out there. So that's why I think it's important to have that credibility.
Blez: Did you have anyone that you looked up to and emulated when you started in this career>
Korach: There were probably a half dozen people. I grew up in LA, so Vin Scully was a huge influence. Dick Enberg. Chick Hearn. I was also able to listen to the Warrior games at night as a kid. As a kid, literally, I would listen to Bill King do the Warriors.
Blez: I imagine it must be a dream to be working with him now then.
Korach: I probably listened to Bill do the Warriors as many times as Chick Hearn do the Lakers. Then as I moved my way up the coast, as I went to college Santa Barbara and then moved to the Bay Area in `79, I was very influenced by Bill and the Raiders and Warriors. Then when he and Lon began working together in `81, I developed a real appreciation for Lon. I would say those guys on the local level. There were some on the national level, but those are the ones on the local level.
Blez: You got to the Bay Area in `79 and you started working for the A's when?
Blez: How has the team evolved from the Sandy (Alderson) years to the Billy (Beane) years?
Korach: When I first joined the ballclub, it was a time of transition for the A's. It was probably one of the low points because you had the strike of `94, the team wasn't very good in `95 and then you had the ownership change. You had the changing of the Coliseum, which I think you probably know that I just hate. Yet in `96, we had a veteran team and it was kind of an uplifting season even though they finished under .500. They still had (Mark) McGwire, (Terry) Steinbach, (Mike) Bordick, (Scott) Brosius, Giambi was just emerging. But then there were a couple of really down years. `97 and `98. The thing about Sandy and Billy is that they're both extremely competitive and I think they're both very, very intense. They both talk about not being able to watch the games in person and driving around in their cars and walking on the beach during games. When I joined the club, Sandy was the GM and became the president of the team and then moved onto the commissioner's office. Billy has really been the architect of this current run, obviously. I'm sure he was very influenced by Sandy.
Blez: At least philosophy-wise.
Korach: Yes, very much so.
Blez: You mentioned the previous owner change, which is a natural segue into my next question about the upcoming ownership change (note: this interview was before the ownership transferred). Have you met Lew Wolff?
Korach: I have not.
Blez: What's your feeling as to how the ownership change will affect the team on the field?
Korach: I'm not the best person to ask because I've never met him. But my understanding is that he's very pleased with the front office. Some people come in with a new regime and they want their own people and they want to clean house. My sense is, well he worked for the club in the capacity of stadium development so he comes into it with more knowledge of who's involved in the front office. I think he's going to keep most of the people in the same positions. My guess is, Tyler, that it's going to be a seamless transition. I don't think the fans will notice anything that's really different about how the A's go about their business.
Blez: What do you think about the stadium issue?
Korach: I think the A's need a new stadium. I don't think a new stadium is automatically a panacea in certain cities. It didn't help the Brewers any. It didn't help Pittsburgh any. But I think clearly in the case of the A's that the integrity of the Coliseum as a baseball park was compromised when the Raiders came back. I think for a lot of reasons, but I think the revenue is the main driving force.
Blez: Then maybe we can keep a few more of these players.
Korach: Yeah, and I never would've said that if the Raiders hadn't have come back. I really enjoyed the Coliseum. I think even with the foul territory, the sight lines are pretty good. The weather is good. The access from the freeway is good.
Blez: So, then from the sounds of it, you think the parking lot idea might not be a bad idea.
Korach: I don't have a problem with it, no. I don't think it's the perfect place for it. But if they can't go down by the waterfront or go downtown, I wouldn't be opposed to them going in the parking lot. I would love to see the team stay there (in Oakland). And whatever it takes to make that happen. If that means them going in the parking lot as the most viable option then I'd be in favor of that, yeah.
Blez: When do you start prepping for the season and what kinds of things do you do to prep for the season?
Korach: I don't think the preparation ever ends.
Blez: So you don't disconnect from it in the offseason?
Korach: I disconnect from the standpoint of being on the air, but not in terms of reading. I like to read about baseball in the offseason. I have a bunch of books at home about historical things. I try to catch up on the history of the game in the offseason. So I'm always reading about baseball. Specifically, about a month or so before spring training, I start to get my files together. I've got a file on the American League East, West and Central. I've got a file on the National League teams that the A's are going to play that season. I compile all the articles and newspaper clippings and things I print off the Internet. I put them in those files. That's an ongoing process that starts around the first of February.
What do you think of this particular team's chances?
Korach: I don't know. I think they have a chance.
Blez: They happen to be stuck in a tough division.
Korach: They are stuck in a tough division. I tend to not place a lot of stock in what happens during spring training. We've seen a lot of guys who hit .400 during spring training and then when the season starts, they go one for 25. I really believe in the old thing about never falling in love in March. People ask me, "How do they look?" But what matters to me is they are healthy. And they get all their work in in terms of the fundamentals. But clearly there is a lot of good young talent. So I think they have a chance, they really do. When the A's had the Big Three, I think fans always felt that it didn't matter who they had out on the field, but those three always gave them a shot. Now, it's a little bit more of an unknown going in, so there are gray areas going in. But I think to be an A's fan right now is exciting if you're a real ardent fan of the club and likes to follow who's in the minors and in Double-A and Triple-A. Just being around this camp for the last month or so, clearly, there is a lot of good young talent in this organization.
Blez: What would you say is the hardest part of your job?
Korach: I would say the hardest part of the job is going on the air when I don't feel well. That's probably the toughest thing. The days when you just have to grind through.
Blez: Are you talking in terms of illness?
Korach: Fatigue more than anything.
Blez: It must be really hard to be on the road as much as you are.
Korach: The road is OK. I did all 162 last year. So those days when you're just not sharp and you know you are not sharp. There are days when your brain is just mush. So I'm just grinding trying to get through it. Just figure out a way to keep my energy up and keep enthusiastic and do a good job.
Blez: Well, you've hid it very well because I've never noticed that.
Korach: There are a lot of days when you might have got in at 3 or 4 in the morning and you've got a cold or a flu or whatever. It's like anybody else going to work. I don't think what we do is any different that anyone else going to work. There are days when anybody goes to work and you just don't feel your best. That's the toughest time to me.
Blez: What's the key to a good broadcast?
Korach: Probably a good game.
Blez: But what I mean by that is, there must be times when you must walk away and go, "Wow, that was really good."
Korach: There are times when I feel really good about it and there are times when I beat myself up about it. There were times in my career earlier when I was neurotic about it. Where I was much too analytical, in terms of trying to fulfill whatever potential I feel that I have. I think I've hopefully come around to the fact that all I can do is be myself and do the best that I can do. I think when I first started working in major markets 20 years ago, I had this ideal of what I thought a major market announcer was supposed to sound like and so I was grasping for all these different types of styles and sounds.
Blez: Well, I was going to ask if you came up with the call, "Ring `em up, outside corner strike three called." To me that's one of your signature calls.
Korach: I don't know where that came from. Because I don't have a "Holy Toledo!" And I don't have a home run call. I wish I did, but I don't. And I'm not going to come up with something that's contrived. I'm not going to do some phony home run call just to have a home run call.
Blez: Sort of like the commercial with Joe Buck making up a home run call.
Korach: Yeah, I've seen that. I love the fact that Bill has a Holy Toledo. To him, it's an exclamation point, like when you need something extra. Well, if I had something like that, I would use it. I'm not going to have something that's contrived and phony just to say that I have something.
Blez: Did you get your own Bill King bobblehead?
Korach: I think every member of my family has one, but I don't have one.
Blez: You've gotta hook me up with one.
Korach: Those things are hard to get. I do have the bottle opener.
Blez: I have the bottle opener too. I got pretty insulted when my wife put it away in the drawer before Bill finishes the call. I tell her, "You've got to respect Bill King and let him finish that call before you put it in the drawer."
Korach: (Laughing) We have a case that's filled with all of our equipment and included in that is the Bill King bobblehead. We put the bobblehead out on the desk in every ballpark we go to in the American League. We have the Bill King bobblehead out there with us. Especially when we are on the road for interleague because he's not there. So we have to have him there as a memory.
Blez: Is he personally or morally opposed to interleague play? You guys talk a lot about it on the air.
Korach: Our feelings about it are fairly similar. He's just a legend and he can say whatever he wants. (Laughing) I think the difference is that I would prefer not to have interleague play, I really would. I'd like to focus on the American League. I love the fact that I've spent 14 seasons, cause I spent four seasons with the White Sox, 14 season in the American League. I've gotten to know this league the best I possibly can. And then because of the schedule, you got to Toronto for the first time in September. You wind up playing certain American League teams only six times during the year. I think you start to lose touch with the American League because of the schedule. Since I'm going to do the games, I don't deny myself the enjoyment of going to different places. So, I enjoy going to Wrigley Field. And as a kid growing up in LA, when I got to do my first game at Dodger Stadium, that was one of the biggest thrills I've ever had in my life.
Blez: What year was that? Was it `98?
Korach: I believe that was `97. There was home and home with the interleague early, but I believe it was `97. You'll have to look it up.
Blez: Do you have a favorite stadium? I would assume stadium and city are probably separate. So, favorite city too?
Korach: I could probably give you the ones I don't like.
Blez: I could probably guess. Texas?
Korach: I don't like Texas. The only thing good about Texas is there are a couple of nice golf courses around. But it's just sweltering down there. It's sweltering, it's windy and it's a lousy place to do a game.
Blez: In terms of the broadcast location?
Korach: See everything I say is shaded by where the broadcast location is. It's a very selfish perspective. Texas you're very far away, you're high up, it's windy and blows everything around in the booth and you feel like you've gone 15 rounds with somebody after the game. Invariably, it's always going to wind up 10-9 or 14-11. I love Kansas City. I love the whole setup. Where the ballclub stays, the hotel. I love Kauffman Stadium because I think it's very much like Dodger Stadium in that it's stood the test of time. The new ballparks are all starting to look kind of similar to me. There's nothing like the energy of doing a game at Yankee Stadium. That's one of the most thrilling aspects of first getting a big league job is getting to do a game at Yankee Stadium. The experience there is because of the energy. The most poignant moment of time was to go into Yankee Stadium after 9/11. The A's opened the playoffs in Yankee Stadium in 2001 and it was like a month after 9/11. To go in there and to feel the emotion of those first two games, which the A's won. That was really an amazing time and hard to put into words.
Blez: Are there any calls that King got that you wish you got?
Korach: No, not really because I got the four games leading up to number 20 in the streak. I hope this comes out the right way. When you're a number two man, that's a confining role. It's really tough to ever feel like you can reach your potential when you're only going the 3rd, 4th and 7th. But once Bill was generous enough and the A's made the move I guess it was three years ago and I now do three, four, seven and eight, that's great. Basically, we're splitting the play-by-play. And when you're working with Bill King, he's got the right to do all nine if he wanted to. I'm working with the greatest sportscaster who ever lived, in my opinion. For me to say, I wish I had this call or that call, the fact that I get to do four innings is wonderful. That doesn't mean I don't want to be a number one man one day and have the ninth inning because that inning is a great inning to be able to call. But I have no complaints.
Blez: How much have you learned from him?
Korach: Great question, Tyler. I don't know that I can quantify that. I just owe him so much. I owe him for welcoming me into the booth. That meant everything to me. I came in in `96 and I replaced Lon Simmons who is an icon in the Bay Area and was one of my heroes. Bill is a guy who is very set in his ways, unyielding in many respects and somewhat rigid at times. Bill is Bill. The fact that he was very willing to have me come in and endorse my hiring, that's meant so much. I would hope that his passion rubs off. Bill has earned the right to mail it in, but he never will cause he's still dedicated and still does his homework after all these years.
Blez: What do you envision for your career down the road? Did you have any TV aspirations?
Korach: I always approached TV as someone who was a radio announcer who occasionally did television. And that's the way I approach it. I've done a lot of TV. I've filled in for Greg and worked at UNLV.
Blez: Do you like it?
Korach: I'm not sure it likes me. I don't feel I'm at my best on television. I have nothing against the medium. I have great respect for people who are good on TV. I love working with the producers and directors when I did the A's games when Greg was gone. And one of the most memorable games I've done in my life was a TV game. The game in New York that ended at 1:20 in which Bonds hit his 600th home run. Fox was switching back and forth between New York and the Giants game. I wouldn't close the book on it, but I think where I belong right now is on radio. I hope Bill works forever. I think the broadcast will suffer when he decides to hang it up whenever that time comes. Hopefully when and if the time comes, I would love to be the lead guy one day.
Do you have anything else you'd like to say to AN?
Korach: I'd just like to say thank you for all the support I've gotten from the fans over the years. I know that broadcasting is a very subjective thing. I believe that judging a broadcast is very subjective. I'm sure there are people that would think that I'm not very good at all. The fact that I got a big league job in the Bay Area has meant so much to me. My wife is from there, our daughter was born there, we have so many friends there. I've basically lived there on and off now for 26 years. So to have it happen there has been very special.
Blez: Well, I want to thank you so much for your time, Ken. AN really appreciates it.
Korach: No problem, I think it's great.