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July 29, 2009

Kubek no longer defined by baseball

By Courtney A. Erickson

COOPERSTOWN _ Ford C. Frick Award winner Tony Kubek categorized his life into three segments Sunday.

There is his nine-year playing career with the New York Yankees, where Kubek was the 1957 American League Rookie of the Year with three All-Star appearances and three world championships in 1958, 1961 and 1962.

Then there was the 24-year career spent as an analyst for NBC Sports, where he brought national viewers into clubhouses and dugouts on a weekly basis as part of NBC Sports' Game of the Week Saturday broadcast after his retirement from the sport in 1965.

And now, Kubek is in the post-baseball chapter of his life.

Since his retirement from baseball broadcasting in 1994, Kubek said he has not watched a single pitch.

"I don't miss it at all," said Kubek, who walked away from broadcasting after working for Madison Square Garden Network from 1990-94. "I've heard people write and even say that I quit because I hate baseball. I've heard people write and say that I quit because (I feel) the players are making too much money. Neither one of those is true. I spent 40 years traveling as a player, as a broadcaster. I thought it was fulfilling, I enjoyed every minute of it. It was time to go home, that's what it was and spend more time with my wife and now my grandkids.

"I still love the game, but I don't watch it," he continued. "I've got a new life. That was my first love (and) now I've got another love, aside from my wife (Margaret). Now that is doing stuff in the community, being home working with the grandkids and just getting on with my life and as long as we're healthy we're going to continue to do that."

Kubek, 72, spent late Sunday afternoon at a reception in his honor at the Hartwick Room of the Best Western Hotel, about three miles south of Cooperstown. It came after Kubek spoke in front of an estimated 21,000 fans during the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Clark Sports Center.

"It's a hectic, long weekend and pretty much highly programmed," Kubek said of the conclusion of Hall of Fame Induction Weekend. "When you make the speech, I sat down after I did this talk and I had very few notes and they were more extemporaneous. I sat next to (Hall of Famer) Don Sutton, I poked him and I said, What did I say?' Stuff just started to come out.' I hope the people appreciated it, enjoyed it. There's a lot of angst there going in. It's over with now and if and when I come back, I'll enjoy it even more the next time."

A group of about 20 former NBC Sports colleagues, their families, Kubek's four children and five grandchildren, and former Yankee teammate Bill "Moose' Skowron came to pay tribute to the Appleton, Wisc., resident for his contributions to sports broadcasting.

Kubek was a pioneer as an analyst in the sport, according to former NBC Sports colleague and current MLB Network contributor, NBC Sports and former HBO Sports broadcaster Bob Costas.

"First and foremost, I'm just happy for Tony as a longtime friend," said Costas, who worked with Kubek on the Game of the Week telecasts from 1983-1989. "I think he's a historically significant broadcaster because he was the first true analyst on national television, which is not to say that Dizzy Dean and Joe Garagiola and others weren't really important because they were, but they did a somewhat different thing whereas Tony was more of a pure technical analyst, and I think it's good that that's been recognized."

Kubek said as an analyst he had to learn the art of knowing when to divulge information.

"I'm a little more impulsive than most people," Kubek said. "(If) something pops in my head, you say it. The hardest thing for a broadcaster, an analyst perhaps is when I went into the dugouts or clubhouses or got information, to have to censor it out. Sometimes, there were things that were said and done that were told to me in private because I was a friend. I was a former colleague and you had to filter it. If that makes me objective, I don't think I am because I was not an investigative reporter. I enjoyed doing what I was doing (and) I wanted to make the game enjoyable for the fans."

Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann and NBC's Football Night in America, said Kubek was not afraid to alienate people within the game.

"There's a reason that he was in fact the first analyst elected (as the Ford C. Frick recipient)," said Olbermann, who previously worked as a SportsCenter anchor for ESPN. "Prior to that, it was essentially, Oh, that was a hard play out there' or, He's struggling' _ just things you already knew.

"The analyst was essentially there as a name just to identify this as a ballgame," he continued. "Leo Durocher was probably the most prominent analyst when the thing (sports television) first started. The play-by-play guy was Lindsey Nelson on the Game of the Week and Leo Durocher was his sidekick and you could promote, Oh, it's Leo Durocher, he'll say something controversial.' He (Durocher) really never said anything at all because he didn't want to jeopardize his next job as a manager somewhere. From the viewpoint of a learning baseball fan, which I was when he started the Game of the Week, it was clear that (Kubek's) commitment was to that broadcast and that was it. There was no laying the groundwork for some other job. It was My job is to talk to that viewer and tell him what is going on.' He did a superb job of that. The number of analysts who have been any good since Tony stopped working has been really small and most of them have clearly heard his work."

Skowron, who roomed with Kubek during his rookie season of 1957, said he was proud of Kubek.

"He did a heck of a job being an analyst," said Skowron, who now works in community relations for the Chicago White Sox. "I didn't realize he was a broadcaster for NBC for 25 years."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said before Sunday's Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony that he was in Cooperstown to celebrate Kubek's award, and the induction of former Yankees Rickey Henderson and the late Joe Gordon.

"I know what he did as a shortstop and the type of person he is and how great a broadcaster he was," Cashman said. "So obviously, I am here for Tony, too (as well as Henderson and Gordon)."

Ken Fouts worked with Kubek as a director at NBC Sports and said he enjoyed getting the chance to work with a former player he idolized growing up.

"The thing about Tony that sets him apart from all the other broadcasters is he is the most principled, honest, kind person I have ever met in my life," he said. "I remember one time the umpires were threatening a strike (in April, 1979) and we were in Boston, getting ready to do a Saturday afternoon game in Boston with the Red Sox and Tony was principled enough about what they were striking over (that) he said, If the umpires walk, I will not cross the (picket) line, I will not do the broadcast.' He was just that sort of a principled individual (and) just a tremendous person."