Here is my Wednesday column on Duane Kuiper.
SAN FRANCISCO – You know Duane Kuiper. He’s the play-by-play announcer for the Giants, one of the best play-by-play announcers in baseball.
If you’re younger than 30, you may not know he used to play in the majors, too. He was a second baseman for the Indians and Giants in the 1970s and ’80s. He was a pretty good player, but he’s a great announcer.
And he’s one of the only ex-baseball-players to become a play-by-play announcer. Pat Summerall and Frank Gifford did it in football, and former pitcher Jeff Brantley is trying it for the Reds this season.
Kuiper’s a broadcasting prodigy. He was discovered when he was 26, his third year on the Indians, by a man named Ray Koeppen. Koeppen had done shows with Cleveland Browns players, and he wanted to do a baseball show. One day he was listening to the Indians’ pregame show with play-by-play announcer Joe Tait, and Kuiper was Tait’s guest.
“Koeppen thought I had something that was workable,” Krukow said in the Giants’ dugout at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, three hours before the first pitch. “Maybe it was my personality. Maybe it was the sound of my voice. I guess that’s why he chose me over somebody else.”
Kuiper has a deep voice, deeper than legendary Giants play-by-play announcer Lon Simmons. Kuiper sounds like a jazz D.J. the way he keeps his voice slow and low.
And he has a distinct personality. He was never an All-Star, so he doesn’t have a superstar ego like, say, Joe Morgan. Kuiper can relate to the audience. He’s your neighbor. You trust him. You’d go to him to borrow a rake or to ask advice, and you’d always invite him over to watch the game.
Koeppen gave Kuiper a five-minute show Monday through Friday, year-round. Kuiper wrote the shows by himself, then went to the studio on Monday and taped all five shows.
“The station was so small, the only way you could hear the show was if you were driving by the station in your car,” Kuiper said as he sat against the back wall of the dugout. “I was pretty confident that I could be bad and not be afraid of the microphone because no one would hear me.”
Kuiper did that show until the Giants traded for him in 1982. Joe Morgan was on the team and he had pregame show on KNBR, but he got traded after the ’82 season and Kuiper took over Morgan’s show. Three years later, Kuiper retired from baseball, and Bob Brenly took over the show.
Kuiper’s first year out of baseball, his old friend Joe Tait called him and said, “I know you want to become an announcer, so let’s do a game in the studio, and then you’ll have a tape.”
“So, we went to the studio,” Kuiper said in the dugout, waving his arms, setting the scene, “and we do this game. I remember Jose Canseco was playing in the game, and I remember saying on the tape, ‘Well, I don’t know that much about Jose Canseco, but it sure looks like he’s got a good arm.’ And when we were all done, Joe said to me: ‘You’re the expert. You have to know, or just lie, but you cannot say, ‘I don’t know that much about Jose Canseco.’”
Kuiper improved and got hired toward the end of the 1986 season as the replay analyst for Giants Vision, starring Joe Morgan and Phil Stone. Kuiper did 30 games in ’86, and at the end of the season the boss at Giants Vision, Cory Bush, informed Kuiper he’d be doing play-by-play in ’87.
“I don’t want to do play-by-play,” Kuip told Bush. “I’m really happy just doing replays.”
And Bush said, “No, you’ll be doing play-by-play.”
And Kuiper’s been doing play-by-play ever since –’87 to ’92 with the Giants, one year with the Rockies in ’93 and then back to the Giants in the strike year, ’94. That’s when Kuiper first paired up with color commentator and former Giants pitcher Mike Krukow.
“It’s a perfect team,” Kuiper said in the dugout, “because what he might miss on some infield play, I won’t. What I might miss pitching-wise, he doesn’t. And then, we know what entertains each other. I know what makes him laugh. He knows what makes me laugh. When it all comes together, the audience knows we’re having fun, and in turn they’re having fun. The whole point to this, it has to be more than just a game. If you don’t have fun, if you don’t show the guy who missed the popup in the stands, then you’re selling our audience short.”
Kuiper keeps it light and humorous, but a few Giants have gotten angry at him for things he’s said on the air.
“Atlee Hammaker was one of the few guys,” Kuiper said. Hammaker was a pitcher for the Giants from ’82 to ’90. “Atlee said, ‘I’ve heard you’ve been saying I’m not a very good hitter.’ And I said, ‘Atlee, look, we were teammates.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, but I just don’t want you saying that on the air.’ And I said, ‘Well, are you a good hitter?’ He goes, ‘Well, no, I’m not very good.’ So that was it. I said: ‘Atlee, look. How about this? How about when you come up to hit I don’t say anything.’ And that was the deal we cut. Rather than say something bad or good, I would just say, ‘And stepping up to the plate, Atlee Hammacker.’ And that was it.”
Kuiper’s biggest on-air blunder came in 1992. “I had Willie McGee making the greatest catch in the world, robbing Jeff Conine of a home run,” Kuiper said, shaking his head. “And as I was going on and on about this great catch – I was writing it down on my scorecard – and the ball had actually gone over the fence. It was a home run. So, I’m going on, ‘A great play by Willie McGee!’ And Hank Greenwald is doing sommersaults trying to get my attention. So, now I’ve got to put the bullet back in the gun, and that never works. I look up, and Conine’s rounding third. Hank goes, ‘Well, Kuip, it must have been the glare.’”
As you might imagine, Kuiper is proud of two calls he’s made the past three years. “When you are 0-for-52 in World Championships, and you get to call the last out to win a World Series, that has to be your favorite.”
What’s the most fun part of announcing the Giants, considering Kuiper played for the Giants?
“The fun is that I walk through the same doors that McCovey and Mays walked through, and Cepeda and Clark, both Clarks (Will and Jack). It is a family. We all were in the same clubhouse with Mike Murphy. So when the Giants win a World Series, you’d better be damned sure it means more to me than somebody who would come from another town to do these games.
“I got the jackpot twice. I got to play, and I got to do this. I’ve got no complaints.”
By the way, today is Kuiper’s birthday. Happy birthday, Kuip.
Grant Cohn writes two sports columns per week for the Press Democrat’s website. He also writes the “Inside the 49ers” blog. Follow him on Twitter @grantcohn.