We're baseball-crazy at Steiner Sports and in the spirit of Opening Day, I had the pleasure of connecting with ESPN Baseball Analyst Tim Kurkjian. Tim is a rock-star when it comes to sports journalism and has had an esteemed career covering baseball. In his career, he's worked for the Dallas Morning News, the Baltimore Sun, Sports Illustrated and ESPN. He's currently a reporter for Baseball Tonight and a Senior Writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Brandon Steiner: You’re a guy with a tremendous knowledge of baseball. Nobody knows the history like you and it’s evident that you have a great appreciation for the game. What’s your favorite item you've collected from over the years?
Tim Kurkjian: I am not a collector. But I do have a Stan Musial autographed picture hanging in my basement. I sat next to him at a luncheon many years ago. During lunch, he asked me, “Would you like me to send you an autographed picture?’’ I said, “Sure.’’ Three days later, it arrived. Two years later, I saw Stan The Man again. “Did you get the picture?’’ he said. He remembered. Amazing.
BS: When did you figure out that you wanted to make writing about baseball your career? Where did your passion for the game begin?
TK: Baseball is all that we spoke in my house as far as I can remember, which means, my entire life. My dad was a good player, he loved the game as much as anyone I ever met. My two brothers were really good players, they are inducted in the Hall of Fame at Catholic University. Baseball is just about all we talked about, and thought about, every night at dinner, and at all other times. When I graduated in 1974 from Walter Johnson High School _ named after the greatest pitcher of all time _ I knew I had to make a career out of baseball. I majored in journalism at the University of Maryland. Right out of college, I became a baseball writer, just as I had hoped.
BS: Will Masahiro Tanaka be another Kei Igawa or a Yu Darvish? If he performs well, and with the new posting system, do you think there will be an influx of Japanese players coming to the States?
TK: I don’t believe he will be as good as Yu Darvish, who is tremendous, but he will be much, much better than Kei Igawa. From all those I’ve talked to, Tanaka has what it takes to be a very good pitcher immediately in the big leagues. His stuff _ especially his split-fingered fastball _ is exceptional. His poise is remarkable. And given all the big games he has pitched in Japan, he will not be spooked by the hype of New York. “He likes it,’’ said Yankees GM Brian Cashman.
BS: What’s the next step in the fight against the use of PEDs? Do you see changes in the testing policy coming as a result of the Biogenesis scandal?
TK: We can only hope that we are at the beginning of the end of the PED story. No story since I’ve been covering baseball--from 1979-on--has been more damaging to the sport than steroid use. Hopefully, with the mass suspensions last year of Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and others, players now understand that if they do PEDS, they might get caught, and their careers will be altered forever. So, hopefully, we can begin to put the story behind us. And, hopefully, the Biogenesis scandal will lead to an even tougher testing program, and even harsher penalties for those that get caught. I think, within a year or two, the Players Association will agree to punish the guilty even more than they are now.
BS: Let’s pretend you were the commissioner. What changes would you make? Would you alter Spring Training length? What do you think of the new replay policy?
TK: I would either abolish the DH, or put it in the National League. It seems ridiculous to me that we have a different set of rules for each league. During interleague play, the AL teams that have fulltime DHs are at a disadvantage when they go to NL parks. And NL teams are hurt also because they often don’t have a suitable DH on their rosters. I would shorten spring training from six to four weeks. I would have day games during the World Series: we’ve lost a generation of kids who can’t watch the World Series because it ends too late at night.
BS: What are your thoughts on Derek Jeter’s upcoming retirement?
TK: I am going to miss Derek Jeter. For me, he is one of the five greatest shortstops of all time, maybe one of the top three. For me, he is one of the six greatest Yankees of all time, which is really saying something. He has been the face of baseball for at least the last 15 years. He has been the captain of the Yankees not because he has been such a great player, but because he runs hard to first base on every play, and because of the way he has conducted himself during this entire career. He has been a great teammate, a winner on every level and a guy that has, miraculously, stayed away from controversy despite playing his entire career in New York. We won’t see another player quite like him.
BS: Which teams from the American League and National League are going to surprise people this year? Your predictions for a World Series match-up?
TK: Every year, at least one team comes from nowhere to make the playoffs. Just once, I’d like to be the guy that identifies that mystery team or two. Last year, it was the Pirates and Indians. The year before that, the A’s and Orioles. This year? I don’t see a team doing that, but I’ll say the Royals take the next step, and make the playoffs. That hasn’t happened since 1985.
BS: A Spring Training trend has been happening over the past three years where players impersonate you during interviews. Your favorite so far?
TK: I am not in the business of rating impersonations, but Rangers catcher. J.P. Arencibia, who started all of this in spring training two years ago, remains the original, and the best. At first, I worried about all these impersonations made me look like a cartoon character. But when I saw the reaction of my colleagues, how heartily they laughed with each impersonation, I knew it was OK. After Arencibia, Eliot Johnson of the Indians is very good. So is my colleague at ESPN, Aaron Boone. It’s all very flattering, and also very funny.
BS: Thank you, Tim.