August 24, 2019

Giant Among Giants: Mike Krukow, Alaska Beyond, August 2019

Mike Krukow broadcasts during a Giants game in August 2017. ©2019 S.F. Giants

San Francisco Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow is one of baseball’s best announcers, but for years has been battling a debilitating muscle disease. Yet he never complains, and for Giants fans he remains a treasure of knowledge and irreverant wit. Here’s my profile of him in Alaska Airlines’ magazine, Alaska Beyond:

AlaskaBeyond 08.19_InFocus-Krukow

And here’s the full text of the story:

San Francisco Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow pushes himself to a standing position then gingerly puts one foot in front of the other, slowly moving from the broadcast booth to the suite where we’d talk baseball. “This is warp speed,” he says, joking about the condition that has made it harder for the beloved announcer to climb stairs, play music, and travel.

A former pitcher for San Francisco, Philadelphia, and the Chicago Cubs, Krukow has been a Giants color commentator for nearly 30 years, working alongside former teammate Duane Kuiper, who handles play by play. The two were best friends when they played for the Giants in the 1980s, and that camaraderie is abundantly evident in the booth. Kuiper is Midwest low-key; Krukow is California exuberant, known for expressions like “Grab some pine, meat!” after an opposing player strikes out. Kruk and Kuip (pronounced “Kruke” and “Kipe”) as they’re known, complement one another perfectly. And they’re consummate pros.

“There’s a responsibility to tell the story of the team. You have to make these players come to life to the listening audience,” Krukow says. Baseball is “a volatile, ever-changing story. When somebody’s red-hot, there are two guys who are stone cold. When somebody’s just coming into his prime, there are two guys who are just hanging on by their fingernails.”

Some years ago, Krukow, 67, began to notice his strength declining. Initially he attributed that to aging, but when he had difficulty with stairs and started tripping over curbs, he saw a neurologist. He feared that he had ALS, a fatal disease, so was relieved when he learned he had a rare condition called inclusion-body myositis (IBM), an inflammatory ailment that’s not curable but not fatal. Though Krukow can no longer call every game of the season, a marathon of long days that lasts at least six months, he works almost all home games and goes on some road trips. “I’m not able to do 162 (games a season). I can do 110 now,” he says. “We love our time here and we really take it seriously.”

The most indelible moments of their broadcasting career have been playoff games, Krukow says, especially in 2010, when the underdog Giants won the World Series for the first time since moving to San Francisco in 1958. The team won titles again in 2012 and 2014; at the victory celebrations, Kruk and Kuip were cheered as enthusiastically as the players. “We were able to convey the feeling and the wonderful story that we were watching,” Krukow recalls. “Then we got to watch the players give back the ultimate gift to the listening audience. It really is a privilege. We don’t take one day for granted,” referring to himself and his broadcast partners, “not any of us, especially now.”

As players, Kruk and Kuip did mock broadcasts from the end of the bench, Kuiper says, but he and Krukow have “never, ever had more fun than right now.” Krukow, he says, is like many old ballplayers in the way he approaches life. “They’re stubborn; they don’t like to ask for help; they think they can accomplish anything even though their body is not allowing them to do that. He’s like that, as tough as anybody. He never, ever complains.”

Krukow’s best day as a player was his complete-game victory over St. Louis in the 1987 playoffs. “No question,” Krukow says, “that was the pinnacle right there.” He also had a 20-win season and an All-Star appearance, both in 1986. When Krukow retired before the 1990 season, then-Giants manager Roger Craig asked him to be the team’s pitching coach. But Krukow and his wife had just had their fifth child, and after being away from home so often as a player, Krukow chose to spend more time with his family.

He eased his way into broadcasting by appearing on KNBR’s sports talk shows and then began to work with legendary Giants announcer Hank Greenwald. “Thank god for Hank,” Krukow says. “When I started I was just a wild animal. I was talking so fast. Hank would always tease me: ‘I need to pour a little water on you. Go drink some milk. Calm down.’ ”

Krukow tempered his excitement and is now widely regarded as one of the best in the business. During a Giants game against the San Diego Padres in April, he described infielder Manny Machado’s easy grace by saying: “If he were any more relaxed, he’d be asleep.” In 2018, when a Florida Marlins runner inexplicably left first base after a routine fly ball was caught for the inning’s first out, Krukow said, “I can’t tell you what he could have possibly thought. Based on what he possibly did, it was impossible.”

Former Giants coach Tim Flannery says Krukow is “everyman” and understands how difficult baseball is. He’s “very humble. We love to bring him into our house every night.”

Marty Lurie, who hosts Giants pre- and post-game radio shows, believes baseball mirrors life and says Krukow is emblematic of that. “Life is tough but you never give up, and he’s never going to give up. He’s an inspiration to everyone. He’s meeting the challenge and staying at the top of his game. For me, he’s baseball. Nobody does it better.”

Kuiper says he and Krukow always expect to work together for another ten years. “In five years, if you ask me,” Kuiper said, “I’ll probably tell you we’re going to go another 10 years.”

Asked how long he hopes to continue broadcasting, Krukow says his goal is simple: “Stay on the horse, keep going, keep showing up.” Announcing is “too much fun,” he says. “I need this game now more than I ever did.” Then he looks out at the field where the Giants are taking batting practice and at San Francisco Bay shimmering just beyond the fences. “C’mon,” he says, marveling at his life and the work he loves, “How lucky are we?”

Michael Shapiro’s family has been rooting for the Giants since his father and grandfather attended games at New York’s Polo Grounds in 1930s. He’s the author of the forthcoming book, The Creative Spark.

 

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