Safe at Home
ESPN baseball analyst and Maryland native Tim Kurkjian returned to the Shore for the first time in 20 years to share stories from his distinguished career and thoughts on the state of the game he holds so dear
Interview by Victor Fernandes
“Baseball is the best game” only begins to explain the start of Tim Kurkjian’s bond with the game after 40 years as a reporter and analyst.
It’s the incredible players the Bethesda native has grown to appreciate, unforgettable moments he has witnessed and funny stories he shared during an amusing yet poignant speech at the Delmarva Shorebirds’ Hot Stove Banquet at Wicomico Youth & Civic Center in Salisbury. The second-largest crowd to attend the annual winter event chuckled and applauded often as the longtime ESPN analyst and former Baltimore Orioles beat writer shared a sample of seemingly never-ending stories about Major League Baseball players past and present. “I wanted to be a baseball writer my entire life. I have the greatest job in the whole world, and all I can hope for is that I get to do it for a few years longer.”
Kurkjian, 62, returned to the Eastern Shore for the first time in two decades to share with Shorebirds fans what has been more his life’s work than just a long, stellar career. He addressed many topics, from the controversy surrounding Easton native Harold Baines’ recent election to the Baseball Hall of Fame and the future baseball home for former Orioles star Manny Machado to what he looks forward to seeing as the game continues to grow on the Minor and Major League levels. But mostly he connected with fans by bringing baseball’s unique history to life.
How excited are you to be back in this area?
It’s been way too long. I haven’t been to Ocean City in 20 years. I’m not real good at the beach. I’m not real good on land, either. But it’s about time I went over the Bay Bridge again and came down here. Kids from our neighborhood go to Salisbury [University]. A couple of dear friends of mine from college live in Salisbury. Another one lives in Crisfield. So I met up with those guys earlier in the day, and now we’re going to get to talk baseball on a cold Thursday night in the middle of January. That’s a good day.
When you started 40 years ago, how did you envision your career unfolding, and how different has it been from what you envisioned?
I had no idea I would ever end up on television. When I was 40, I was working at Sports Illustrated, and CNN Sports Illustrated was formed, and the SI guys said, “You guys are on TV now.” So I said, “I don’t want to do that.” They said, “You don’t have a choice. You’re on.” So I said, “Is someone at CNN going to teach me how to do this?” They said, “There’s no time. You’re a writer. You’ll figure it out.” After one year, I went to ESPN and asked the same question. “Are you guys going to teach me how to do this?” They said, “No, there’s no time. Let’s go. You’re on.” So I spent a fortune on clothes. I wear more makeup than my wife does, and I spend a lot of time walking around in a circle talking to myself.
Writing is my number-one love and always will be. But the spontaneity and the immediacy of television is great. Now, instead of waiting until the morning paper to see what I had to write, or waiting a week with Sports Illustrated to see my work, I can weigh in immediately.
Are there any things you took from your time covering the Orioles in the late ’80s with the Baltimore Sun?
The players aren’t always going to like you. [Hall of Famer and former Orioles great] Eddie Murray hated my guts for about two years, but we finally got that cleared up. What the Baltimore Sun and the newspaper business taught me was what a news story is and how to present it. Television is just a different way to present it. You’ve got to understand what a story is and then present it in a slightly different way.
My days in Baltimore were great. My 10 years as a beat writer are the proudest days that I’ve ever spent. The Orioles ran the show every day, so everything that I wrote was on page one of the sports section, which was great pressure and
a great reward at the same time.
What are your thoughts on Harold Baines getting into the Hall of Fame?
I was on the committee that elected him. I heard somebody say the other day that the Hall of Fame isn’t the same because Harold Baines is in. That is preposterous. It is not a worse place because a guy who nearly got 3,000 hits is in the Hall of Fame. He’s one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen. I think it’s great for baseball that somebody who lasted that long and swung the bat and conducted himself as well as he did all those years, is in the Hall. I think the Hall of Fame is a better place that he’s in.
You’ve seen this game change a lot over the last 40 years. How do you see it changing moving forward?
I’m a little discouraged with where we are right now. Trust me, nobody loves baseball more than I do. But we have too many walks, too many strikeouts, too many home runs and not enough in-between. I would like to see the game attempt
to make an adjustment and start to go back to the way that Cal Ripken, George Brett, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount played the game. We’re going to situationally hit. We’re going to put the ball in play more often. And we’re not going to see how far we can hit it and how hard we can throw it every time.
If you were trying to convince somebody to love the game as much as you do, what’s one good thing you would mention?
I would point out all the young players we see every single day, starting with Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. I’ve never seen this many great young players in the game at the same time. They’re all coming at different ages, but they’re getting here sooner than ever.
I tell people all the time: “I hope you understand what we’re watching right now. I hope you understand what we’ve watched the last 10 years, with some of the best players we’ve ever seen.” I’m not sure everyone is recognizing what is right in front of their eyes. Mike Trout might end up being the greatest player, a top-five player of all time, and he’s standing right there. Keep your eyes open. It’s worth it.
AROUND THE HORN:
Hometown: Bethesda, MD
Occupation: ESPN baseball analyst & senior writer, ESPN The Magazine (21 years)
Notable: Began his journalism career in 1978 at the Washington Star…moved to the Dallas Morning News in 1981, where he soon became the Texas Rangers beat writer at the newspaper…covered the Orioles for the Baltimore Sun from 1986-89 before spending eight years as a senior writer at Sports Illustrated……published three books on baseball.