Tim Kurkjian is a Hall of Famer! Here’s what makes him so great.Tim set the record for most consecutive games with at least one home run while playing in Major League Baseball. He also became an ESPN broadcaster and authored his own book: “The Yankee Years,” which chronicles his time as a player, but was mostly based on conversations he had with Yankees legends Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
Tim Kurkjian, an ESPN baseball commentator, is on his way to the Hall of Fame, and we couldn’t be happier.
We also couldn’t pass up the chance to tell him how much he meant to us here.
As Cooperstown prepares to welcome our colleague, we’d want to share a few of our fondest recollections of working with a legend.
MLB reporter Buster Olney: Tim (whose listed height in your game program is 5-foot-5) vs. fellow Padres beat writer John Schlegel (a legit 6-7) vs. me (5-7 3/4, allegedly) about 30 years ago in Yuma, Arizona, in the most unlikely game of 21 — Tim (whose listed height in your game program is 5-foot-5) vs. fellow Padres beat writer John Schlegel (a legit 6-7) vs. me (5-7 3/4, allegedly). We’ve spent hours together in studios, on ballfields, in clubhouses, in debates about whether Mariano Rivera should be on the Yankees’ Mount Rushmore (I say yes; Tim disagrees), in taxis to and from airports, and on planes throughout that time. I may address all the legends of my buddy and colleague, Tim Kurkjian, who just changed his first name to Hall of Famer.
When it comes to his anger on the basketball floor, he says: Have you seen the Incredible Hulk? When Bruce Banner’s eyes become green and he changes into a monster, what happens? This is what can happen to Hall of Famer Tim, who may go from being the nicest person you’ve ever met to Mr. Hyde due to poor pickup game etiquette. At your danger, hit him with a cheap foul call or a filthy undercut. And, sure, he’s fantastic. He was the only journalist invited to Cal Ripken’s full-court games, as far as we know. The Iron Man is unfazed by idiots or basketball ineptitude.
Concerning the Hall of Famer’s struggle to keep warm: In July, the guy was photographed wearing a wool overcoat, which is strange. His enormous heart must suck heat from the rest of his body, which is the only explanation.
Regarding his fear of missing his flight: You know how your Uncle Joe and Aunt Betty go to the airport four hours before their flight? He’d be at the airport two hours before they arrived, so he’d be there. He was previously slated to be part of an early-season 1 p.m. broadcast from Yankee Stadium, and he arrived to the parking garage at 4 a.m. — and performed a podcast tape at 6 a.m. — due to concerns about probable snow and a large crowd. The game was eventually rescheduled.
Concerning his stage fright, he says it’s a recurring problem. Tim may be seen walking about the neighborhood of whatever broadcast booth or stage he is scheduled to be a part of around 15 minutes before every performance, chatting to himself, going over lines, rehearsing ideas, getting relaxed in his head, sometimes with surrounding players asking if he was OK. “He’s simply practicing,” I’ve informed a few people, noting that Tony Gwynn, Jose Altuve, and other greats also put in a lot of practice time.
On his humility, he says: Tim, a Hall of Famer, has phoned many times with a simple question: “What am I missing about this situation?” He’s constantly conscious that there’s a lot he doesn’t understand.
Anecdotes from his oral history: It’s ludicrous, and it’s a little scary. You can take practically any semi-prominent player in baseball history, like a single card from a 10-deck deck of cards, and he’ll have a narrative, well-paced, detailed, and punctuated with a line that will make you grin at the very least, or laugh out loud at the very most.
Rick Sutcliffe is his Lex Luthor, and no one comes close to him. I’ve never seen a mature guy emotionally pursue another man the way Sut does Timmy, largely over his height, and I assure you no one in our industry was happier for Timmy’s election today than Rick Sutcliffe.
Regarding his humanity: What sets Tim apart in our industry is a simple attribute he shares with Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark, two of our former ESPN colleagues: Tim is a person who seeks for the good in others. He understands the difficulties of baseball and those who play it, but he seeks for the positive, the optimism and wonder in every game, every day, and in every person.
When it comes to how well-liked he is in the business, this is all true. Baseball may have been suspended, but the news about Tim is a bright spot in our industry.
MLB journalist Jeff Passan: It’s 2019, and I’m ready to make my debut appearance on Baseball Night in America. Tonight, a program I’ve been watching since I was eight years old. Nervous is an understatement when it comes to how I felt. My words were going to be jumbled. Make a dumb remark. Make a blunder with a fact. The studio lights were bright, and I was sure this was going to be a catastrophe until… a hand suddenly touched my left shoulder.
“It’s going to be fantastic,” Tim Kurkjian said.
Perhaps you’ve heard that Tim is a fantastic person. That is really a slight underestimation of his abilities. Someone as accomplished as Tim could easily keep to himself at that time — or at any time — and no one would blame him. Tim, on the other hand, is known for being giving with his time, expertise, and words of wisdom. It felt like a muscle relaxant when his hand touched my shoulder. “Just follow Ravy,” he urged, motioning to Karl Ravech, our tireless anchor who led us precisely where we needed to go, just as Tim had said.
I’m sure I made a few mistakes that day, but I can’t recall how. All I remember about Tim Kurkjian is his unwavering optimism: excellent teammate, terrific friend, and, eventually, most worthy Hall of Famer.
MLB reporter Jesse Rogers: Tim has always been a pleasant and helpful coworker at ESPN in every aspect. He may also be the most well-known and well-liked baseball figure in the nation. He was enjoying dinner in Houston during the World Series this year, close to the legendary Reggie Jackson’s table. The tables were close together, but Reggie and Tim were separated by two chairs — someone was sitting between them. Reggie requested to trade seats with the gentleman next to Kurkjian while Tim went about his business of ordering his dinner. He wanted to speak with Tim. And so the dialogue began. All from the past through the present World Series and everything in between. It was amazing to see. But it’s Mr. October’s request to exchange seats with Tim, not the other way around, that I’ll remember. That’s a player that has a great presence in our game.
MLB journalist David Schoenfield: Tim’s passion for baseball is well-known. His second book, “Is This a Great Game, or What?” was chock-full of Tim’s amazing anecdotes from his first 25 years as a baseball reporter. But it wasn’t until I was a baseball writer for ESPN.com more than two decades ago that I realized how passionate Tim was about the game. Because so many ESPN employees worked the night shift, we organized a softball league for them and held games in the late morning. Tim had to be in town for a baseball game. I encouraged him to come out and play softball with us tonight after hearing tales about his basketball ability. We might need a decent ringer, I reasoned. Tim refused to participate, but he did attend the game to observe. I’m sure he’d make a self-deprecating remark about how terrible it was that he had nothing better to do if he recalled this tale. Maybe, but I view it as a guy who couldn’t pass up the chance to witness a game, any game, even if it was a really uninteresting game of softball.
MLB analyst Eduardo Perez: Tim Kurkjian is his name. From the beginning, he was the ideal teammate. Always willing to provide a helping hand to make us all better. Always giving honest advise and a flair for getting to the heart of the matter without taking shortcuts. Tim arrives to the stadium at 1 p.m., even if we have to be there at 3 p.m., since he feels that’s when you can get the finest tales from the players. Even when there is a “lockout,” Tim demonstrates that he has a means of obtaining the news.
MLB writer Joon Lee: I had a lot of worries when I first began at ESPN about whether I deserved to be on a team with so many writers I grew up reading. Tim came up to me at Red Sox spring training and welcomed me with the warmest of greetings before the epidemic ruined our world. He told me anecdotes about his career as we strolled about the building, about how he moved from newspaper writing to television and how he was able to keep his enthusiasm for his profession over such a distinguished career.
At the 2022 American League Wild-Card Game, my favorite Tim Kurkjian tale occurred. Bucky Dent was at Fenway Park being interviewed by ESPN programs about his home run in the AL East division tiebreaker game in 1978, which handed the Yankees the lead. Tim spoke to Dent about his stint with the Texas Rangers in 1982 and 1983, while everyone else was asking about his most memorable professional event. As I stood next to the set, Tim approached me and began recounting every detail of his talk with Bucky about the ups and downs of those Rangers teams with the zeal of a child who had just recently found their passion and love for baseball.
It was exciting to see someone as talented as Tim still be so enthused about poor teams from the 1980s. Tim’s passion of storytelling had not faded over time, despite his years of watching how the sausage was formed in the baseball business.
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When Scott Van Pelt speaks with Tim Kurkjian, who can’t stop laughing, he employs his famed Baltimore accent.
MLB commentator Doug Glanville: You forget that Tim is a decent athlete (despite his claims) who really enjoys all sports. Working with him has been a pleasure throughout the years. He’s the finest storyteller you’ll ever meet. He reminds us of our tremendous affection for sports, not just now but throughout history. This is the narrative of our lives. This accolade is well-deserved, since he is a national treasure.
MLB editor Matt Marrone: I despise public speaking, but it’s something I’ve had to do a few times at ESPN over the years. Prior to the outbreak, I was scheduled to speak to a room full of baseball writers and commentators as part of an annual MLB conference. I’ll go to any length to avoid hearing my own voice — I’ve even thrown wax packs of baseball cards across the room at people’s heads simply to make them laugh (and ducking). But the best option is to hand the reins over to Tim Kurkjian. Tim has taken my themes and had the crowd fascinated and cackling with little to no notice or preparation time. He not only hits the ground running, but has the perfect anecdote to fit whatever ridiculous backdrop I’ve projected onto the screen behind him, no matter how ridiculous my setup is — I’ve created PowerPoint games of Family Feud for the group to play — he not only hits the ground running, but has the perfect anecdote to fit whatever ridiculous backdrop I’ve projected onto the screen behind him. Of course, given Tim’s now Hall of Fame career, this pales in comparison to his other achievements. However, it’s possible that it will shed some insight on his Cooperstown-caliber intangibles.
Former MLB editor Peter Lawrence-Riddell: It would take far too long and take up far too much room to list all of my favorite things Tim has done for us over the years. However, one project stands out because of its magnitude, longevity, and impact, as well as how effectively it highlighted what makes Tim great.
It’s the “Baseball Fix” series, which included a daily tale from Tim for 100 days throughout the epidemic.
When the virus initially broke out and MLB (and the rest of the sports world) came to a halt, none of us knew what would happen next or how long it would take for sports to resume. Tim plunged into something that perhaps only he could have done, telling daily baseball tales for 100 days straight from March 27, 2022, to July 3, 2022, with a lot of help from editor Nick Pietruszkiewicz. Tim delivered tales beginning with “How do you spell Rob Zastryzny?” on Zastryzny’s birthday and ended with “100 reasons why it’s still OK to enjoy baseball” from what would have been opening day to the 4th of July.
Tim’s passion for the game, its history, its characters, and its storylines was evident every day for almost three months. And it made me grin every day, even when there wasn’t much to smile about — and I believe it made other baseball fans happy as well. And that’s the thing about Tim and his baseball passion: it’s contagious. When you read his tales, you’re reading them in his voice, and his love and admiration for the game is evident.
See what happens when minor-leaguers enter the broadcast booth and compete against Tim Kurkjian.
Former MLB editor Nick Pietruszkiewicz: The phone rings every now and then before 7 a.m. This has been going on for more than a decade. I grin as I glance at the caller ID, knowing what I’m going to hear — that voice. Tim Kurkjian’s voice on the other end of the phone is one of the few things that makes me grin or feel better in the morning.
On some days, the call is about a tale idea he’s been spinning around in his brain, and you just know it’ll be memorable the moment you hear it, because, let’s be honest, no one tells a story like or better than Tim, on any platform. Because he cares so much about the job, about getting it perfect, it’s sometimes just an idea — what if we did this, or I’d want to rewrite that previous draft. The demands for technical assistance, on the other hand, are my favorites. “Now, Nick, I believe I screwed something on Twitter.” Of course, he’s never done it, but that doesn’t stop him from being concerned.
We came up with a concept together during the gloomy days of the epidemic, when no sports were being practiced. “Story time with Uncle Timmy,” as it was marketed to others, was the pitch. Tim Kurkjian’s “Baseball Fix” was born. The tales, like every one he’s recounted throughout a career that has earned him a place in the Hall of Fame, are riveting. He told me, “Nick, I believe people need to smile right now.” “I’d want to tell them tales that make them laugh.”
In my profession, I have just one hero: Tim Kurkjian. There isn’t a greater storyteller, but there isn’t a better person, either. He cares about people, both those he’s known for decades and others he encounters on the street, in restaurants, or on the golf course who recognize his voice and want to say hello.
“Gods do not answer letters,” said John Updike of Ted Williams. My hero uses it to share a tale, inquire about me and my family, and seek assistance in figuring out how to operate a godforsaken mobile phone.