Here is a link ot my Friday column. The full text runs below:
August colds are the worst. I got this one flying home from Philly and promptly gave it to my wife. So, I’m stuck in the house, too tired to read. When all else fails, I watch baseball.
That is the one virtue of an August cold — watching baseball day after day.
I watch the Giants and not the A’s because the Giants are in it and the A’s are not. And when I watch the Giants, I hear Mike Krukow talk ball with Duane Kuiper. Listening to them is special, as you know, but it’s special to me for a special reason.
First some background. I grew up in New York listening to all-time great baseball announcers: Red Barber, Mel Allen and Vin Scully. Yes, Scully did Brooklyn Dodgers games. These men were great — Scully still is — because of their voices, their ability to tell stories, to set the scene, to wring the drama out of the defining moment, to keep us interested between pitches.
Other brilliant announcers continue this tradition. You know who they are. No need to name them. But Krukow and Kuiper are different. I’m mostly talking about Krukow. You’ll understand in a moment.
Krukow brings us into the mind of the pitcher. Brings us there on every pitch. Before every pitch and after every pitch. Because of Krukow, you and I “think” the game along with Madison Bumgarner or Jake Peavy or Zack Greinke. This is a wonderful place to be — in the pitcher’s head.
Krukow does this because he was an excellent big-league pitcher. He thinks like the guy on the mound. He used to be the guy on the mound. He is also smart, articulate and generous.
Red Barber did some things Krukow does not do. Barber painted verbal pictures like nobody else and he used down-home expressions like “in the catbird seat” or “there’s a rhubarb at home plate” or “they’re tearin’ up the pea patch.” He had a down-home country tone that made us feel we were connected to the beginnings of baseball, whether or not that was true.
Krukow doesn’t do any of that, although when he and Kuiper talk about a batter having “ownage” on a pitcher, that’s one great expression everyone understands.
Krukow brings me — us — into the mind of a pitcher better than anyone I ever heard. The A’s Ray Fosse, a former catcher, contends with Krukow in this area. But I am not watching or listening to the A’s these days. I admire Fosse and learn from him.
Why is it important to be in the mind of the pitcher?
Because the interaction between pitcher, batter, catcher and home-plate umpire is the crux of the issue. The essence of baseball. The heart of the matter. Where the game lives. Everything else — everything — flows from that interaction. Home runs. Double plays. Stolen bases. Caught stealing. Sac flies. Great catches on the warning track. Everything.
To be in the mind of the pitcher is to be deep inside the game. Red Barber never took us there. Current announcers, some who do exceptional work, never take us there.
Those announcers — I call them scene-setters — talk about the mood of the crowd or give stats about how the batter does against lefties or tell amusing or touching stories from way back when. They provide necessary context and they provide tone. They do this beautifully, but in a sense, they are peripheral to the real action which takes place at the plate on every pitch. As good as the scene-setters are, they sometimes take us away from the issue at hand.
The issue at hand involves the pitcher and the batter, and Krukow brings us closer and closer. Deeper and deeper. It’s like when I was in college. Sometimes, we would do a close reading of a Shakespeare text, line by line, as opposed to learning mere historical background of the play. We would spend hours analyzing, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day.”
Krukow gives us a close reading of pitcher-batter just like he’s analyzing Macbeth in his agony.
Time to be specific.
Whenever a pitcher comes into the game, Krukow gives his own personal scouting report. He lets us know what pitches the pitcher favors — four-seam fastball, slider, change-up. He tells which part of the strike zone the pitcher favors. What gets the pitcher in trouble.
And when the pitcher gets in trouble — and goes into the stretch — Krukow says what the pitcher wants to do, needs to do. Krukow is right there on the mound with the pitcher. So are we. He explains where the catcher is placing the target. And if the pitcher makes a mistake, Krukow gives shrewd textual analysis. Like when Santiago Casilla gave up a ninth-inning home run to A.J. Pierzynzski last Monday, Krukow explained Casilla got the ball low — right into Pierzynzski’s happy zone. See you later.
Krukow has a book on each umpire, tells us about the ump’s strike zone. If the zone is high or low or wide or narrow or consistent or inconsistent. Whether the ump is touchy or easygoing. It’s the stuff batting coaches know and tell players.
Krukow tells us when pitchers are not getting the calls they want, and if that’s fair or not. And he tells how pitchers must compensate if, say, their fastball is not working that game. He sets up the big play before it happens. He brings us into the game in real time. Before real time even starts.
When I listen to him, like now when I have a fever and need to hear a kind voice, I understand baseball better than I understand it on my own, understand it because of him.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn.pressdemocrat.com.