A new ballgame: SF Giants, Oakland A’s broadcast teams adjusting to pitch clock
It’s a whole new ballgame in the booth as well as on the field.
Or more accurately, similar to the old ballgame.
“We got our game back,” longtime Giants announcer Mike Krukow said.
The pitch clock era begins in 2023, fostering a “get on with it” tempo that mandates 30 seconds between batters and either 20 or 15 seconds between pitches, with pitchers getting an extra five seconds with runners on base.
Through two weeks of spring training, game times were down to two hours, 36 minutes from three hours, one minute a year ago.
The pitch clock has changed not only changed the pace of play on the field, but how it’s delivered to the consumer on television and radio.
To get an idea of how it’s going so far and what to expect, I talked with Krukow as well as NBC Sports California producer DeAulaire Louwerse and first-year A’s radio announcer Johnny Doskow and included comments from the Giants broadcasters Jon Miller and Duane Kuiper off recent appearances on KNBR, the club’s flagship radio station.
Doskow did play-by-play for the Sacramento River Cats last year with a pitch clock in effect for the minor leagues, as well as other changes, such as a two-throw limit on pickoff attempts and ending the practice of radical shifts.
Adjusting to change
Krukow: “Duane and I have talked about this a lot. We really feel like we’ve got an advantage because of how we were trained. We were trained by Hank Greenwald on radio. These were Hank’s words: ‘You get in, paint your word picture, then get out of the way of a pitch.’ You make your point and get the hell out of Dodge.”
Doskow: “During those first two weeks I felt like I was rushing and had to lay back and think, ‘I can get all this stuff in.’ It’s a rhythm thing, it’s a timing thing. The good thing for big league announcers now is they have spring training and can get rolling once the season starts.”
Lowerse: “I think the biggest thing for me as a producer is how many replays you can get in between pitches. You usually get two looks, right? One that shows where the all was and maybe a super slow-mo. You’re not going to be able to do that.”
Chan: “When we have an in-booth guest, Jon’s a master at doing play-by-play and getting an interview at the same time. One thing we noticed was the questions had to come a little faster and the answers had to come a little faster.”
Kuiper: “You’re going to be praying for foul balls, because that’s when you’re going to get an opportunity to extend your conversation a little bit longer.”
Miller: “I think spring training is critical for all of us. I remember Vin Scully would go in for one weekend from Southern California and a guy asked him, ‘Why are you here at all?’ And he said, ‘for the timing.’ You need to get your timing and make sure you’re up to speed.”
The need for change
Krukow: “You have guys that had the audacity and the ego to get in there and justify 20 checkpoints before they would get in the box and each pitch, and that ruined it. Pitchers were doing the same thing . . . it became acceptable. Kenley Jansen was taking 30 seconds between pitches, and his response this year was ‘How did I ever get that slow?’ He didn’t even know he was doing it.”
Doskow: “The pitch timer is going to reward athleticism. With high-leverage relievers, if you’ve got a guy that’s not in shape it will be a couple of ticks lower on the fastball. It’s going to make a difference. But I haven’t met many people that aren’t big fans of it.”
Chan: “It’s generating so much positive talk. You talk to veteran broadcasters and people who have years and decades in baseball are almost 100 percent across the board positive. You’d think maybe there would be an old-timer who would be a stickler for how it used to be.”
Kuiper: “I know people have condensed the amount of action in a baseball game is like 20 minutes, right? Well, let’s make those 2:30 games more exciting than those 3:20 games . . . I haven’t always been standing and applauding with what major league baseball does but this time I am.”
Lowerse: “I talked to (TV announcers) Glen Kuiper and Dallas Braden and they’re very into it. There was an MLB seminar for broadcasters, a couple of them for production people. They’re pretty well versed on how it’s going to work. They think it’s going to be good for the game.”
Miller: “Walk out of the box, take a little stroll, get your thoughts together. Imagine seeing that in the NFL, a quarterback walking to the line, then taking a stroll. It doesn’t happen in any other sport. You’re on the field, play the game. Circumstances conspired that this was the way to do it. I think it’s best and the games will move at a better pace.”
The clock is ticking . . .
Kuiper: “Jon and I focused on it really hard because it was the first time we’ve ever seen it. You can’t miss it because it’s in the batter’s eyes in Scottsdale. Once we got into the rhythm of the game you don’t really pay attention to it unless the umpire throws his hands up in the air and starts tapping his wrist. Then you’ve got to figure out whether the penalty is on the batter or the hitter.”
Doskow: “You see it, you’re cognizant of it but you’re not really focused on it. You call your game and there will be some pitch-timer violations called and you’ll talk about it then. But if a guy was a slow worker, you’d see it, and then know when a guy is going slowly and has a chance at getting a violation.”
Chan: “Let’s say a pitcher has been issued a ball because of the delay and is out of sorts, maybe that becomes the story if the clock is getting to him. I couldn’t speak to what our guys are going to do but I don’t think it’s going to be a constant ‘3-2-1’ leading up to the pitch.”
Lowerse: “MLB is kind of testing it at this point (having pitch clock visible on screen at all times). I don’t know if it will be like the shot clock in basketball.”
Krukow: “Someone hits a home run — boom — ball out of the ballpark. We’re accustomed to seeing the guy go into the dugout, and out comes the wheelbarrow, or the jacket or the hats or whatever the celebration is. Then there’s a curtain call, the guy comes to the top step. Can’t do that anymore. We’re anxious to see how that’s all going to play out.”
Lowerse: “You can’t cut around as much getting close-ups in the dugout, players on the field. At the Coliseum, there’s so much space, people were diving for foul balls and it was fun. You’re not going to get that extra shot. The Giants have relied on that for the last 20 years, cute kids and all that.”
Chan: “The one thing that stands out is promotional and commercial live reads are going to have to be more concise. We have to nail bullet points more, ad-lib more in the booth to make the copy stand out whereas we use to get five or six lines of information.”
Impact of other rule changes
No more shifts
Chan: “It’s that definitely going to be a little more straightforward in terms of knowing who is where, you don’t have to describe the shortstop moving to right field in an extreme shift. I think it does make it easier to identify certain players in certain positions.”
Krukow: “We had some of the craziest double-play combinations you’ve ever seen. I didn’t like it. What’s going to be interesting is when Brandon Crawford is at shortstop, and he’s right there with his right heel at the edge of the dirt, if he touches the grass it’s supposed to stop play. And it’s a reviewable play. You could lose a double play.”
Only two pickoff throws
Doskow: “They’ll be stealing more. This Diamondbacks team, with (Corbin) Carroll, (Jake) McCarthy and (Alek) Thomas at the top of the lineup, those guys will steal 50 bases each if healthy. It’s going to be fun.”
Kuiper: “Trae Turner may steal 200 bases. OK, 200 is an exaggeration but maybe 125.”