There are very few people in the sports business that have the type of motor that Michael Kay has. Most of you may know him as the Yankees play-by-play announcer on the YES Network. He's become a staple in the broadcast booth during Yankees games after transitioning over to YES in 2002 following a decade doing radio color commentary for the Yankees with John Sterling. He is also the host of Centerstage on YES, AND he's the host of The Michael Kay Show on ESPN Radio with a YES simulcast. He got his start as a beat writer for the Yankees, which is not always common for a sports broadcaster. The guy is a workhorse and one of the more interesting minds in sports. Recently I spoke with him about his life as the TV Voice of the Yankees and more.
Brandon Steiner: You’ve been involved with baseball for almost 30 years and of course have a sports talk radio show. Are you a collector? What’s your favorite item you’ve collected over the years?
Michael Kay: I don't collect all that much but my favorite thing that I have is a signed ball by every member of the 1998 Yankees team. Of course a lot of people have that ball but I got it on the charter flight back and I'm sure that I have one of the few team balls from a team that is considered the best ever, to also be signed by the owner, George Steinbrenner. Everyone was getting a team signed ball but no one had the guts to ask the Boss. I did, he gave me a hard time, but still signed it. It's a pretty cool keepsake from a very special season.
BS: Notably, you grew up in the Bronx and were a Yankee fan growing up. When did you know you wanted to be the announcer for the New York Yankees?
MK: I was nine years old and proclaimed to my parents that I wanted to be the Yankee announcer. I think it had something to do with the fact that I was a rational kid and knew I couldn't hit so I would never be a Yankee player. Next best thing, was my thinking, was to be the Yankee announcer.
BS: A lot of announcers are former players that make a transition from the field to the studio to the booth. You came from another side of the business as a beat writer. How did that influence the way you went about your broadcasting duties?
MK: In the early days I approached announcing as a reporter, I tried to get the inside story and break news. As I matured I tried to polish my skills as a broadcaster but inside I will always feel that I am a newspaper writer and I bring that sensibility to the booth.
BS: Many people thought massive contracts wouldn’t happen anymore, yet Miguel Cabrera just became the latest player to sign a big long-term deal that will take him well into his 40’s.
These large contracts push many teams over the luxury tax threshold. Does baseball’s revenue share model work? Could you ever see baseball becoming a salary-capped sport?
MK: I think the sport is making a lot of money so I don't believe they are spending money they do bit have. I do find it amazing that baseball is the only sport without some kind of cap. The union has always been too strong to give in to such a request and I think the sport is so flush with cash that I can't see it shutting down for a season, which is the minimum it would take to force the players to accept a cap.
BS: Bud Selig is retiring at the end of the season after a long stint as the commissioner of baseball. If you were going to be the next commissioner, what changes would you make?
MK: The game must be sped up. The pace of the game is turning off the youngsters. We can't have that. I would have a clock installed that a pitch must be thrown within 15 seconds with no one on base. There’s too much stepping off the mound and stepping out of the box to adjust batting gloves. It turns the pace glacial. We can't have that. Also, visits to the mound must be curtailed. A catcher must not be allowed to make countless trips to the mound. There has to be a limit to visits over the course of a game.
I like replay but I hate the stall tactics by managers to wait for their staff to see the replay. You must challenge just off what you see, not what is seen on a replay. If you stay with the challenge system, then let's make it interesting. If your players think the call is wrong, challenge immediately, or let it go.
BS: What’s your favorite sports story outside of baseball?
MK: I really enjoyed the NY Giants first SB victory over the then undefeated New England Patriots. The game was scintillating and history making. I was there and felt I had witnessed something big that would be part of forever,
BS: What has the transition been like as the Michael Kay Show has added a YES Network simulcast?
MK: It's been great. We do the same show only the camera get to eavesdrop and lets people see the camaraderie between me and Don La Greca. I think it's helped the show because people can see the interaction and how much fun we have.
BS: Beyond the impact that Jeter has had on the field, what’s your favorite off-field story from a personal experience with him?
MK: When he was drafted he came up to the booth to be interviewed on the radio by me and John Sterling. I recall him being very soft spoken, almost shy, and very, very thin. Didn't get much out of the interview (which would become a theme as Derek became expert at not saying that much while answers your questions). The next day I went down to Buck Showalter and asked him what he thought of the new kid. I will always remember his answer. Showalter said, "don't know what kind of player he will be but the scouts say he is going to be good, but I will tell you he will never embarrass himself or his family or the Yankees. He will never do the wrong thing because his parents are special. You can just tell he was raised the right way."
Boy, Buck was right.
BS: BONUS QUESTION: Who has been your favorite partner in the booth and who needed the most help starting out?
MK: I really like working with all of them. Not a cop out, but the truth. They all bring something different and unique to the booth. The most unpredictable would probably be Al Leiter and Paul O'Neill. I liken working with them to flying a kite in an electrical storm. I have to always be ready to pull them back to shore.
As for needing help, that's beyond my pay grade, if someone needs help, including me, that would be the job of our boss, John Filippelli.
BS: Thank you, Michael.