It happens a few times a month, sometimes more, either through social media, email or casual conversation.
The messages have been occasionally mocking in tone, sometimes matter-of-fact and even sympathetic in nature.
Poor guy. You covered the Raiders for four winning seasons in 25 years and now you’re contributing to Athletics baseball coverage as they head towards more than 100 losses in a mostly empty stadium.
I thought of that sentiment with regard to those on-air voices covering the A’s on a game-by-game basis and wondered how they were holding up as the defeats seemed as relentless as waves against the coast.
NBC Sports California play-by-play announcer Glen Kuiper updated viewers on the grim reality before the All-Star break. For the record, the Athletics are 32-61 overall, 11-31 record at home, 21-31 on the road and 11-25 vs. the American League West after winning two of three from the Houston Astros before the break.
“I wish I could give you better numbers,” Kuiper said. “I really, honestly do.”
But Kuiper gave them anyway because it’s his job. And the job of covering a poor team on a daily basis while working for that team isn’t easy. There’s a line to be straddled by giving the facts without being overwhelmingly negative or sounding bitter. And while there has long been a focus on the Giants’ broadcast team which includes Jon Miller, Glen’s brother Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow and Dave Flemming, the quality of the A’s broadcasts is on par in terms of delivery, accuracy and credibility.
The Bay Area is as good as it gets in terms of broadcast talent and always has been. Legends such as Bill King and Lon Simmons set the bar very high, and for the most part, that standard has been upheld.
The A’s team, whether it be Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo on the radio (960-AM), Kuiper and analyst Dallas Braden on NBCCA or Chris Townsend on the streaming A’s Cast, have been matter-of-fact without drifting into sarcasm or pity. Same goes for their studio show, hosted by Brodie Brazil and with analysts that have included the always-direct Dave Stewart as well as Shooty Babbit and Bip Roberts.
Nor have they turned their platforms into running infomercials for the Howard Terminal stadium project or delivering coded messages from the organization defending the roster teardown. The payroll slash was regrettable, but management is to be commended for staying out of the way in terms of broadcasters doing their jobs. Which according to Townsend, who worked at both KNBR-680 and 95.7 The Game, is unusual in terms of lack of interference.
“The A’s have given us the freedom to have some honesty,” Townsend said. “There was always trust in what we do. I’ve never had anything like this. It’s rare.”
Korach said he was never promised winning season after winning season and has been fortunate enough to call multiple pennant races as well as a perfect game (by Braden) and a 20-game win streak. At 70, he still gets to the park early, prepares meticulously and wonders how he got so lucky. And like Townsend, as well as Cotroneo and Braden, he’s never heard a peep about what he should and shouldn’t say on the air.
“They’ve never said one thing to me in 27 years about the broadcast as in, ‘Why did you say that?’ ” Korach said.
The voices of the A’s understand their audience.
“We know it’s been a tough year,” Korach said. “I think everybody knows what their record is. I don’t think we have to hammer away at that.”
Yet there’s a limit to the tint on the rose-colored glasses.
“If you always say everything is great for your club, then it doesn’t mean anything when something really great happens,” Korach said.
While it might seem like a downer from afar, announcers are essentially baseball nerds who couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Their job is to detail how a game or season unfolds on a gradual basis rather than wax pathetic about the bad times.
“It’s still baseball. It’s still pitch and catch and hit and throw, and you still don’t know what’s going to happen every day,” said Cotroneo, who has been with the A’s since 2006. “That’s the beauty of it, regardless of what kind of team is out there compared to what you had in the past.”
Braden takes his enthusiasm a step further. After an initial reaction that included a comical and profane social media post following the trade of Matt Olson, he said he actually learned to like the idea of all the new, unproven faces. Not because Braden wanted to see Olson, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea heading out the door. Rather, he related to those would try and pick up the slack.
The A’s have used 49 players this season, including 22 rookies, 11 of whom made their major league debuts. With a 26-36 career record and 4.16 ERA, Braden knows what it’s like to live his professional life wondering where he’ll be the next day. Maybe there are some Olsons and Chapmans among the group. Maybe not. Either way, it’s a life of uncertainty.
“I have been on a roster that has been forgotten. At times, those players need a voice,” Braden said. “They need someone that understands what it’s like processing a call-up, or being sent down. A lot of these guys spend time looking over their shoulder, doing everything they can to survive. And when you have a roster where there are more guys in that spot that aren’t, that’s a hell of a place to be.”
But there’s also an element of humor and ways to use the sport as a whole to kill time during a particularly gruesome game.
During a one-sided loss in late May, Kuiper and Braden broke out a box of baseball cards and quizzed each other during the broadcast on the identity of the card they picked.
“It’s knowing how to keep things light in a moment when there’s still baseball and a product, but it’s our job now to enhance this 10-0 baseball game,” Braden said. “And that’s how we’re going to do it. We’re going to have fun. We’re still talking baseball.”
Good or bad. Win or lose. It’s a pretty good way to make a living either way.