Can a Giants fan and Dodger fan get along? Sports writer Dan Ruthemeyer and I put the question to the test eight years ago when we went to observe San Luis Obispo resident Mike Krukow as he broadcast an evening game. To Dodger fan Dan’s credit he came up with the idea. Getting a chance to see how the big leagues operate behind the scenes made this one of the fun stories to cover.
As the Giants take the field tonight in the World Series I am hoping that there is no Texas rally monkey.
(Not a Giants fan? Joetopia has what you want.)
Published: Sunday, July 28, 2002
SUNDAY PROFILE: MIKE KRUKOW, GIANTS BROADCASTER AND SLO RESIDENT; PITCHMAN BASEBALL AND THE SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS ARE A WAY OF LIFE FOR SAN LUIS OBISPO RESIDENT MIKE KRUKOW, WHO TRANSITIONED FROM A CAREER ON THE MOUND TO A CAREER IN THE BROADCAST BOOTH.
By Dan Ruthemeyer
Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper are sitting side by side talking about San Francisco Giants baseball.
These days they do so from the broadcast booth at Pacific Bell Park, but it wasn’t all that long ago they did so from the dugout.
On cold, windy nights at Candlestick Park during the 1984 season, Krukow, a lanky right-handed pitcher, would sidle up to Duane Kuiper, a skinny back-up infielder, and pretend to broadcast games.
“It was the real broadcast, the one that everyone wanted to hear,” San Luis Obispo’s Krukow said of the R-rated nature. “We were just doing it to get a couple of laughs.”
The Giants needed laughs that season, what with the 96 games they lost.
“But never once did I expect I would be doing it for a living,” said Krukow. “Not in my wildest dreams.”
Being a baseball broadcaster isn’t always an easy life for someone with a wife and five children.
Much like he did during his 14 big league seasons, Krukow spends months apart from his family, living away from the Madbury Court home he had built in San Luis Obispo when he retired as a player in 1990.
Still, the Krukows find a way to be together every chance they get — either in San Luis Obispo, San Francisco or on the road with the Giants.
The family has learned to adjust.
4:30 p.m., July 15, three hours until game time
Krukow and Kuiper have some work ahead of them.
Because Krukow will have a rare three straight days off, he and his broadcast partner must tape four segments of “Kruk and Kuip on Baseball,” for KNBR’s next four pre-game shows.
They make it look easy.
The topics aren’t prearranged. Each segment starts by one of them saying, “I’ve got one (a topic),” and the other jumping in whenever he can.
On this day, the topics range from their dislike of two- and four-game series, to former Giants’ pitcher Mark Gardner, to the difficulty of playing in the heat and humidity of St. Louis, to the latest criticism of baseball commissioner Bud Selig.
On St. Louis, where temperatures get into the 90s with a humidity to match, Krukow says: “You sweat like you’re going to the electric chair.”
Krukow is reminded about Gene Clines, a former teammate in Chicago who put foil on his baseball cleats to reflect the heat of the artificial turf.
“He fell down about eight times going to his position every inning, but he never did get blisters on his feet,” he said.
The four minute-long segments take about 15 minutes to record. Though put together quickly, they are as smooth as can be.
* * *
Krukow had thought that once his playing days ended he would get into the restaurant business in San Luis Obispo County with former Cal Poly teammate Doug Redican. He in fact did own a share of several restaurants, including This Old House in San Luis Obispo, Joshua’s Restaurant and Lounge in Paso Robles and SeaVenture Restaurant in Pismo Beach.
But when the Giants came calling after Krukow retired before the 1990 season, he decided to give broadcasting a go.
After working 15 games in 1990 it was, “Why don’t you do some more?”
The 15 games became 40, then 75, then 162.
“The more I got around the game, the more I realized I missed it,” said Krukow. “I was a fish out of water (with the restaurants he partly owned until 1994). I needed to be in this world.”
Krukow also had the opportunity to be the Giants’ pitching coach. He was offered the job the day he retired.
But with four young children, a pregnant wife, and a home being built in San Luis Obispo, he felt the somewhat more relaxed career of a broadcaster better suited him.
The work schedule was better — no spring training, no early days at the ballpark — and he could work into it slowly.
One thing Krukow knew was that he wouldn’t be happy without baseball in his life.
“I thought I needed to be at home awhile,” he said of having young children in 1990. “The longer I was at home, the more I was away from the game. And the more I was away from the game, the more I had an ugly ache inside me.”
5 p.m., 2 1/2 hours until game time
Krukow is on the field at Pacific Bell Park doing what he calls “floating.”
He chats up nearly everyone he runs across — media, coaches, players.
“It’s just feeling each other out,” he says. “You tell a couple of funny stories, bring up a couple of memories, then it’s, ‘How’s so and so doing?’ There’s always reconnaissance involved in it.”
Krukow wants to know about Arizona’s starting pitcher, Rick Helling, and how his bad ankle is doing. He finds out the ankle is affecting the way Helling pitches.
Krukow chats with former Giants pitcher Mark Gardner behind the batting cage, then talks with the Giants’ J.T. Snow and Arizona’s Curt Schilling and Mark Grace.
He talks longest with Bob Melvin, a former Giants’ teammate who is the Diamondbacks’ bench coach.
“What we find out, we use it in the show. It’s what we do,” said Krukow.
“Doing a game is like scouting. What type of hitter is he? What type of pitcher is he?”
* * *
Krukow came to Cal Poly from San Gabriel High. He played without benefit of a scholarship.
After three seasons with the Mustangs, he left as the eighth-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in the 1973 draft.
Krukow remains one of the best players in Cal Poly history. He holds the school record for earned-run average in a career (1.94), and is one of only four former Mustangs to have had his uniform number (21) retired.
In 1987, Krukow became a charter member of the Cal Poly Hall of Fame.
He played with others who enjoyed future success in baseball — future Mustang coach Steve McFarland, future major league coach Dave Oliver and future Long Beach State coach Dave Snow.
“I still see a ton of them,” Krukow said of his former Cal Poly teammates. “I was very fortunate to be able to play with those guys. It was a very special time.”
Krukow has helped support the athletic department, too. He hosted a golf tournament from 1985-1993 that at its peak raised $30,000.
Since 1994, he’s lent his name to Krukow’s Klubhouse, which sells sponsorships to area businesses, entitling them to preferred seating and food and drinks at Cal Poly home games.
Krukow also contributes items to Cal Poly’s Mustang Madness auction. In June, he secured a Barry Bonds-autographed baseball for the auction.
8 p.m., during the second inning
The FOX broadcast booth is jumping.
People come and go, but Krukow and Kuiper hardly notice. They’ve been at this so long, the sound of a door opening and closing doesn’t rank as a distraction.
Former San Francisco 49ers’ tight end Brent Jones stops by, and Krukow and Kuiper chat with him between innings.
Among the other visitors are Krukow’s wife Jennifer and two of his sons — 14-year-old Chase and 12-year-old Wes.
They take turns sitting between Krukow and Kuiper. The Krukow boys lean on their father as he works, but he doesn’t miss a beat.
When Giants’ catcher Benito Santiago takes a foul ball off his foot, Krukow is quick to jump in.
“I can’t believe there hasn’t been a big league catcher who hasn’t gone out and spray painted a pair of Red Wing steel toe work boots,” he says.
Later, when Arizona third baseman Craig Counsell, a scrappy .278 hitter who already has three hits, gets into the batter’s box: “We just should put a base hit in (the scorebook) and let him go stand on first base. It would save time.
“It’s amazing. This guy is the greatest hitter we’ve ever seen.”
* * *
The Chicago Cubs brought the 24-year-old Krukow up from Wichita, Kan., toward the end of the 1976 season.
He appeared in two games, working 4 1/3 innings.
It wasn’t until the next spring, against the Atlanta Braves, that Krukow won his first Major League game.
That was the first of 124 career wins.
His 14-year big league career took him to three Major League cities — Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
Krukow was at his best in 1986.
At the age of 34, he worked a career-high 245 innings, going 20-9 with a career-low 3.05 ERA. He finished third in the National League Cy Young Award voting behind Houston’s Mike Scott and Los Angeles’ Fernando Valenzuela.
That year came after Krukow managed just eight wins in a injury-shortened season in 1985.
“A lot of people suggested I sold my soul to the devil,” said Krukow.
“But it was just pitching for a better team. In 1985, I got two runs a game. In 1986, I got five.”
That turned out to be the beginning of the end.
The following spring, his arm started hurting. He had surgery at the end of the 1988 season to clean up a frayed rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder.
“The doctors told me (the rotator cuff) was going to blow sometime,” said Krukow. “I said, ‘I owe (the Giants). They’ve paid me a ton of money. I feel I should give them what I can.’”
His final big league game was June 11, 1989, against the Atlanta Braves. In the fifth inning he heard something pop in his shoulder.
When rotator cuff surgery was performed July 7 at Stanford Hospital, Krukow was given a 70 percent chance of pitching again.
The odds sounded good, but Krukow never again got into a big league game. On March 20, 1990, he retired.
Krukow isn’t a Hall of Famer, but in 1995, after five years out of baseball, he earned one vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America for the Hall of Fame.
The vote means a lot to Krukow.
“Ken Holtzman (a former Chicago teammate) used to tell us (the younger players), ‘I hope when I retire I get one vote. If I don’t get one vote, then the guy in the stands selling peanuts got as many as I did.’ We all laughed like hell, but then it started making sense. (The votes) are precious, every one. They’re not just going to give a guy a vote for nothing.”
To this day, Krukow doesn’t know which member of the Baseball Writers Association of America voted for him.
Krukow pitched in 370 games over his career, but only once in the playoffs. He pitched a complete game in the 1987 National League Championship Series, beating the Cardinals 4-2.
By the time the Giants reached the World Series in 1989, Krukow was on the disabled list.
“I would have loved more All-Star Games (just one, in 1986) and I would have loved to have been in the playoffs more,” said Krukow. “But those were really fun games and I was lucky to get those. I’ve got no complaints.”
9 p.m., seventh inning
Krukow spends the time between innings talking to his wife and sons. Kuiper, a family friend for so long that he’s one of the gang, joins in.
What does Krukow do around the house on his rare days off? he quizzes Jennifer.
Nothing during the baseball season, she says.
That isn’t good enough for Kuiper, who can’t resist needling his friends.
“What about the garage? Does he clean the garage?” he asks during one break.
And later, while the pair are preparing for FOX’s postgame show, “What about the oil for the cars? Who does that?”
Jennifer Krukow smiles and shakes her head at Kuiper’s persistence.
* * *
Krukow remains big in the San Francisco community.
Not only for the seven seasons he pitched for the Giants — a stretch that earned him a spot on the Giants’ all-1980s team — but for helping out with everything from charities to ground-breakings.
Two days after taking part in a Giants’ wives fund-raiser, Krukow and Kuiper emceed a pregame ceremony honoring former Giant Gardner, who is actively involved in organ donor programs.
The next morning, about 10 1/2 hours after leaving the stadium, Krukow was with Kuiper at a ground-breaking for China Basin Park, a strip of land across McCovey Cove from Pacific Bell Park.
Krukow is something of a symbol of the Giants.
“People come up to us all the time and feel like they know us,” he said. “They do because we’ve been at their dinner table the last 12 years talking with them about baseball.”
10:20 p.m, end of the game
Krukow is getting ready to go before the FOX camera.
Off comes his Giants’ jacket and on goes his suit jacket. He fastens the top button of his shirt and straightens his tie.
Only then does he find his hand-held microphone doesn’t work.
“Not a problem,” says Kuiper.
Krukow simply shares a microphone with his broadcasting partner. They make it through the short postgame show without a glitch.
“I can control him, which I usually can’t do,” Kuiper said of holding the microphone for Krukow. “I can say, ‘That’s enough,’ and take it way.”
* * *
Broadcasting means Krukow spends a lot of time away from home.
When his five children — 22-year-old Jarek, 18-year-old Baker, 17-year-old Tessa, 14-year-old Chase and 12-year-old Wes — were younger, they jokingly referred to him as “uncle daddy.”
Even now, with his work schedule scaled back to about 130 of the Giants’ 162 games, he went through one stretch when he was away from home for 21 straight days.
Being away from home, said Krukow, is difficult during the school year. But when summer rolls around and the Giants are at home, his wife and his children are constant visitors.
“Once summer begins, it’s ‘Yeehaw, let the fun begin,’” said Krukow.
Krukow has over the years lived during the baseball season at a hotel in Burlingame, a beach house in Moss Beach, and this year at an apartment across the street from Pacific Bell Park.
Krukow’s oldest son, Jarek, was a bat boy for the Giants during his father’s playing days. The four younger kids have been content to hang out in the press box.
With Krukow away from home, the family has gotten by with nannies and au pairs.
“I realized it was what he had to do,” said Krukow’s wife, Jennifer. “It was mutual. It wasn’t like I said he couldn’t and he said he had to. We knew he had to do something in baseball.”
Krukow has been a successful broadcaster. He has won two San Francisco/Northern California Emmy Awards for his FOX television broadcasts, including one for the 2002 Giants’ home opener.
The voices of Krukow and the Giants’ other four broadcasters are heard by legions of fans via 117 games broadcast on Bay Area television this season and all 162 games on radio.
The 16-station radio network reaches into five states — California, Hawaii, Oregon, Nevada and Washington.
10:50 p.m., 40 minutes after the game
Krukow is standing in the middle of KNBR’s crowded broadcast booth, a beer in one hand and a wireless microphone in the other.
Three of the Giants’ other broadcasters are on hand, which can mean only one thing — KNBR’s postgame show that is affectionately dubbed “The Wrap.”
Each of the broadcasters takes his turn at breaking down the game.
Krukow talks about the good hitting throughout the Giants’ lineup, which this day included two home runs and four doubles. Five players contributed extra-base hits.
“That’s what you want going into the dog days of August,” he said. “You want them coming at you from all angles.”
When broadcaster Joe Angel points out that the Dodgers lost to the Cardinals, Krukow, a true Giant, breaks out singing. “Ain’t that a shame,” he croons.