Big League Life: Five Questions with… Oakland Athletics Broadcaster Ken Korach

Ken Korach in the broadcast booth at the Oakland Coliseum. Photo courtesy of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

This is the fourth piece in a series of posts centered on life inside professional baseball. March 30 marks the eve of Opening Day in Major League Baseball as well as the release of my third book, a novel titled Big League Life. While a work of fiction, this story is the result of years of research about and interview with the men and women who make the “big league life” their life. Many people contributed to the realism of the characters woven into this story and one of those individuals is the subject of today’s “Five Questions with…” post, longtime Oakland Athletics broadcaster Ken Korach.

The drama of a Major League Baseball game centers on the performances of athletes competing on the playing field. However, you can’t unstitch the greatest moments in baseball history from the broadcasters that are connected forever with those moments. Is the “shot heard ‘round the world” remembered as clearly today without Russ Hodges’ iconic narration? Does Sandy Koufax’s Perfect Game in 1965 resonate the same way without Vin Scully’s masterful call? Scan through baseball’s archives and you will, undoubtedly, find coupled with every moment a call made by the game’s best broadcasters. Not always beautiful, not always perfect. Each, however, honest, emotional, and timeless in its own way. Red Barber. Dave Neihaus. Ernie Harwell. Harry Kalas. The list goes on and on and it continues to grow today as history unfolds before our very eyes.

My attachment to baseball on the radio is a product of my own experiences. As a lifelong Phillies fan growing up in Central N.J., the legendary tandem of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn provided voice over for the summers of my youth. And now, living a stone’s throw from the Oakland Coliseum, I’m fortunate enough to hear the game unfold through the melodic sound of Ken Korach behind the mic for the Oakland Athletics.

Korach got his start in the broadcast booth more than 40 years ago, handling various assignments across the high school and college ranks. In 1992, he got his first shot in Major League Baseball, calling games for the Chicago White Sox briefly before transitioning to Oakland to work alongside the incomparable Bill King. It’s hard to share a broadcast booth with an all-time great and not pick up a few tricks of the trade; if King was the eccentric teacher, then Korach served dutifully as his diligent student. Many years later, Korach remains a fixture in the A’s broadcast booth, painting a portrait of the action for the team’s sprawling fan base across the Bay Area and beyond. In due course, and if the right people are paying attention, I’d like to think that Korach will find a spot alongside his mentor in the Hall of Fame. He fought hard to raise awareness of Bill King’s greatness — if you haven’t read his excellent book, Holy Toledo: Lessons from Bill King, Renaissance Man of the Mic, I highly recommend doing so — and I’m hopeful there are people in the game doing the same for him.

As I introduced broadcasters and live gameplay into the story of Big League Life, it was important to me that the game narrations and the broadcaster experience etched into the book were authentic and honest. Ken Korach was kind enough to share his take on life in the game from a broadcaster’s perspective and his impact can be felt each time the story shifts to the playing field. I’m pleased to share with you this brief snapshot below from a conversation I had with a man who learned from the very best and now, in this writer’s humble opinion, is the very best at his craft.

You’ve been on the mic for some of the most historic moments in the recent history of the Oakland Athletics. Any highlights come to mind?

I’ve been very fortunate. The A’s have been in the postseason 11 times in the last 21 seasons. I suppose the most emotional game — especially when it reached the ninth inning — was Dallas Braden’s perfect game [on Mother’s Day]. Hard to script that kind of a story. I was holding back tears when he was hugging his grandmother after the last out. The 20-game winning streak and the other two no-hitters (pitched by Sean Manaea and Mike Fiers, respectively) come to mind as well. I’ve said for years that the best postseason game I’ve called was game two of the 2013 ALDS, a 1–0 A’s win over the Tigers that culminated in Stephen Vogt’s walk-off single.

You have remarkable chemistry with the many peers that have shared the booth with you through the years — from Ray Fosse to the many rotating guests that have come through in recent times. In the early days with a new booth partner, how do you foster that connection? What do you do to bring out the best in each other?

We’ve had consistency in the booth. In my 26 seasons it’s been Bill King and then Vince Cotroneo for almost every game, and then [color commentator Ray] Fosse when he moves over from TV. There’s a bit of “you either have it or you don’t” when it comes to chemistry, but one thing that stands out is that all my broadcast partners have been incredibly thorough when it comes to preparation. There’s no shortage of things to talk about.

Getting to your question about the early days in the booth — I think that you learn your partner’s rhythm and tendencies. Having a feel for their approach to calling a game or doing analysis. The hope is that you don’t think about it. It’s a little like playing in a band. It’s a feel thing, when it flows well, and you have a sense of where the other person is going without thinking about it. Those are the best times.

Turning to the game, can you walk me through your typical pre-game routine? How do you prepare for each day’s call?

That’s changed a bit over the years, and it’s totally different now with the COVID protocols. We do all our interviews over Zoom, for instance. There’s no contact with the players and staff. If it’s a night game, I usually spend about 90 minutes to two hours in the morning preparing. Let’s say it’s a 7 p.m. game — I try to arrive at the park around 3. But, again, it’s different now and much of my schedule revolves around the Zoom calls. There were days last year when they [Zoom calls] started at noon and lasted until 4 or 5 p.m.

As podcasts and streaming services continue to take off, do you see the role of the broadcaster evolving in years to come? To me, there is something special about listening to a baseball broadcast on the old AM/FM dial and I hope we never lose that.

I hope not! I think podcasting and streaming can co-exist with baseball play-by-play. I’m biased, of course, but I think people still enjoy baseball on the radio. It’s part of the soundtrack of summer and I don’t think it’s going away. This past season was particularly gratifying because I heard from so many people who felt that baseball on the radio served as a diversion and provided a sense of normalcy and something familiar during difficult times.

As up-and-coming broadcasters are learning the tricks of the trade from you, I’m sure you learned much from your former broadcast partner, Bill King. Was there one lesson that stands out to you?

Bill and I spent 10 great years together as you know, but I also grew up listening to him and he had a profound influence when I was a kid, and he was [broadcasting for] the Warriors and Raiders. I think the biggest takeaway from when we worked together was his passion. Even in his mid-70s, he was energized for every broadcast. Even a noon game after a night game. He used to tell me, “No matter if it’s a lopsided game; you have to keep your energy up.” As revered as he was, he would have had the license to coast a little on occasion, but he never did. He set very high standards.

Author, Diehards: Why Fans Care So Much About Sports - buy it here: http://amzn.to/1WOIT1F. Athletics / Phillies fan. @SABR member. Views are my own.