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Elman Swings
by Peter Elman

Lucky To Have Them In Our Dugout - 9/25/2000

Here in the Bay Area we are spoiled--we have two excellent baseball teams. In spite of the naysayers who constantly remind us that this region cannot support two baseball clubs, there is a healthy rivalry that exists between Giants and A’s fans. Don’t get me wrong--I bleed green and gold, and there has been some serious bloodletting the last eight years. But even an Oakland diehard can appreciate the gold dust that the Sacramento-born Mr. Baker has been sprinkling over his troops this season. To question any of the NL manager of the year’s moves would be folly, especially when he’s got the Giants gunning for what may be San Francisco’s first world championship.

But there is one part of the picture that shines brighter for A’s fans, I believe—the broadcasting crew. For over twenty seasons we’ve been serenaded by the dulcet tones of arguably the greatest multi-sport American radio broadcaster of our time, the indefatigable Bill King. For those of us who heard King do Raiders games during their glory years, (Stabler to Casper) there was simply no one better. As for his work in basketball—King’s passionate depictions of Warriors games were nothing short of Shakespearean. At his peak he could do play-by-play, wax eloquent about the flow of the game and decry the officiating, all without missing a beat. Relentlessly intelligent, humorous and righteously indignant, Bill King is the voice of Oakland pro sports. At this stage of his stellar career he does only baseball, and calling A’s games on the radio showcases his experience, depth and humanity. Baseball is our national pastime, and listening to the game--whether it’s in the car, doing yardwork, (or in my son’s case, homework) sunbathing at the beach, or my favorite, barbecuing in the backyard--is part of the American experience. With his heartland (southern Illinois) roots and his connection to baseball history, Bill King is one of a kind. He has made listening to the taped highlights a part of the game. "Holy Toledo!" has made many of my days.

But don’t stop there. Recent addition Ken Korach, who will hopefully succeed the venerable King someday, is a winner. I don’t know him personally, but he sounds like the kind of person you’d want to have over for dinner. His knowledge of the game and the people in it, acquired in places like Walla Walla, Modesto, Bend and a hundred other God-forsaken minor-league towns, is mind-boggling. He has paid his dues, and brings the enthusiasm of a man who loves his work. When Korach interviews one of the young and often shy A’s players, his interest and sensitivity are apparent. His respect, loyalty and affection for King is genuine. He is obviously thrilled to be working alongside him, and when Bill stumbles—which he has been doing quite a bit lately—Korach corrects him gently. How can one not like this guy?

Ray Fosse may be the nicest man in baseball. Has he ever said a mean thing about anybody? He never boasts about being right—which he usually is—when analyzing a situation on the field. Sure, the former all-star catcher is not the smoothest play-by-play man and he’ll be the first to admit it, but show me a more knowledgeable, observant and likeable color man. He is pleasant and classy, and his love for the team runs deep. Fosse’s comfortable chemistry with fellow Illini King makes for a good broadcast; these two have a history and it shows. His laid-back everyman style is a perfect compliment to King’s erudite and sometimes lofty narrative. I know my layman’s observations are right on if they’re corroborated by Ray Fosse—he played the game and knows it from the inside.

Greg Papa could be the best kept secret in American sportscasting. Following in the footsteps of his mentor King, he works all the major sports and is especially brilliant on A’s telecasts. Some fans may remember that when King stepped down as the voice of the Warriors, the twenty-five year-old Papa stepped in admirably and was not intimidated replacing a legend. Raider fans, who usually can’t view their beloved silver and blacked-out team’s home games on television, are kept at attention by the high-energy Syracuse graduate whose trademark call, "touchdown…Raiders!" puts you right there. His insights on baseball are invaluable and delivered from a precise, well-prepared point-of-view.

On the other side of the Bay there used to be one true broadcasting "Giant", Hank Greenwald, who is currently enjoying a quiet retirement. There remains one voice who is a link to the 49ers past as well as the A’s glory years; Bill King’s old partner Lon Simmons. Simmons can still summon his unique sense of humor (and high drama) occasionally, but he’s semi-retired and rarely on the air. The main mouthpiece is John Miller, an East Bay native who arrived with a lot of hype three years ago direct from a high visibility job with the Orioles. I may be in the minority here, but I think that the pompous pontificating of Miller wears thin after a while. Is it my imagination, or is he the biggest "homer" around? It took my 9-year old son to point out that whenever the Giants fail, he makes excuses for them. He rarely gives credit to their opponent. And if I hear "it’s headed for McCovey Cove!" one more time I’ll gag.

On the positive side, I can’t complain about terminally funny Mike Krukow or solid straight man Duane Kuiper. But please spare me Miller’s sound-alike, syncophant sidekick Ted Robinson, (mercifully packed off to Sydney for the Olympics), whose up and down meanderings bring to mind a seagull drowning in the bay next to Pac Bell Park. And newcomer Dennis Higgins is about as interesting as an intentional walk. I guess Miller’s dry "aren’t we cool in our new park?" tone appeals to the affluent, bandwagoning nouveau fans who are flocking to the new stadium to sing along with that god-awful new anthem, "who let the dogs out?!" Any comparison with the A’s crew would leave the Giants’ microphone-men in the parking lot. I go back to New England every summer, and late at night I can pick up baseball broadcasts from perhaps a dozen cities, and the A’s radio team blows away the competition (especially the tired, politically incorrect Red Sox announcers).

So, I better take a deep breath here and come back to the original premise for this column. At long last, Athletics fans have a youthful, exciting team to follow and root for. And as a bonus we are blessed with talented messengers who bring us the news, everyday, good or bad--honestly, unpretentiously and with warmth and humor. Are we lucky or what?

by Peter Elman