Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Rick Monday May Not Know The Score, But At Least He's Not Mike Krukow

Giants #2 and #3 announcers Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper were criticized in the San Francisco Comical this week, as TV columnist Tim Goodman questioned why Giants telecasts don't focus on baseball:

When the Giants opened their very first post-Barry Bonds season, the expectations were beyond low. Too many old guys with no pop. Not much of a farm system. Only one big free agent acquisition. A bullpen in question. The only element the team could rely on was in the young arms of the starting rotation. There was no big draw, fueling speculation that the fans would abandon the team no matter how great the ballpark. The team's slogan - "All Out, All Season" - even hinted at the worries, suggesting that even though the Giants weren't going to win many games, they were going to try hard and not give up. [Editors note: in the Giants' slogan, shouldn't there be a "S" after "Out"?]

Into this scenario crept an interesting notion with regard to the television broadcast of the games, that ever-so-valuable part of the equation meant to keep people interested over a 162-game season: The announcing team of Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow would have to be more interesting, more entertaining to hold fans' attention. Once the Barry Bonds Circus left town, there would be no spotlight bright enough to make the team, on its own, worth tuning in to watch over the course of six months.

No doubt this sent a chill up the spines of die-hard fans. The quirky - some might say "acquired taste" - duo is not exactly an "only in San Francisco" institution. Baseball is awash in local broadcasters who add a distinct flavor to the home team, and Kruk and Kuip, as they are known, are no different.

While Kuiper has an enviable mix of thoughtful analysis, laconic play-by-play and peppery humor, it's Krukow who can really put off those new to his shtick. He has always shouldered the burden of spicing up the games with color (though purists would certainly call this mucking up a perfectly fine baseball game).

Whether he's overusing his favorite phrase, "Grab some pine, meat," or layering on the familiar "gamer" tag, he takes the notion of color to the extreme. In fact, Krukow is also known for "eliminating" people in the stands he doesn't like by using the Telestrator. Mostly his targets are Dodger fans or those who have crossed some anti-Giants threshold. If there's anyone more "homer" about the Giants, he or she is heretofore unknown.

Therefore, in a season of diminished expectations for entertainment, Krukow was going to have to ratchet up his antics and, if conceivable, be even more positive in his enthusiasm for the G-Men.

In fairness to Krukow, even though he has no apparent personal dislike of being goofy (old-school player aphorisms and lingo, a willingness to chat about characters in the crowd), he's much better when he keeps the goofiness tamped down. He knows the game. He adds value with his insight. And he handles with aplomb what is expected of most analysts: to repeatedly tell fans what they already know (that someone dropped a bunt in the perfect situation, that a batter stayed balanced through a swing or a runner advanced with a heads-up play). Done in the proper way, this never comes off as being condescending or overly obvious. (John Madden has made a career out of this neat little trick.)

Where things go astray in a Giants telecast is when Kuiper and Krukow lose focus and fall back on the well-worn familiarity of their relationship. Though Giants fans have, through the years, come to adopt this duo as a beloved institution (fans still wear the pair's replica Giants jerseys), their digressions can be both annoying and pedestrian and a stark contrast to the work of Jon Miller, who broadcasts for both the Giants and ESPN.

It's certainly a matter of personal taste, but Kuiper and Krukow seem more relaxed on radio than television - the constant demand to entertain TV viewers with cutaway shots of the crowd, etc., often detracts from what's happening on the field (a stark contrast to radio, where there are more hard-core baseball fans seeking the pure rhythm of the game).

Reading this obviously reminded me of how lucky we are to have Vin Scully, a broadcaster who describes the game with insight and detail while maintaining a comfortable, converstional tone, weaving on-the-field play with off-the-field stories with incredible aplomb. And I've not been too much of a fan of Rick Monday, who when paired with partner Jerry Reuss on east-coast radio shows, too often spins off the rails into conversational topics better fit for a backyard barbecue than a Dodger game. Sometimes, Monday almost sounds like he's disappointed that the action in the game has bothered to interrupt his tales from yesteryear, or his ribbing of Reuss. Tell me why I don't like Mondays, indeed.

But I suppose I should also be more appreciative that Dodger television viewers aren't pummeled with inane morning radio show banter, or yellow circles being drawn over unknowing spectators (Scully's crowd shots--which I recall reading somewhere were expressly stipulated as part of his contract--are always tasteful and usually involve some cute kid up way past his or her bedtime).

And even on the radio, Monday and Reuss may be a little self-obsessed and nostalgic, but they're thankfully not "goofy" or "wacko" (nor is Charley Steiner, by the way, whose performance on which I'm still pretty neutral). If the worst I have to suffer is not knowing the score for a couple of innings, I suppose it could be worse: I could be a Giants fan.

UPDATE 11.51a: Awful Announcing has this clip in which Giants broadcasters are more interested in watching a high school prom cruise than the game at hand. Over two minutes of inanity serves as a perfect example for this post. Ye gods, how hard it must be to be a Giants fan, with such meaningless drivel!