Tim Kurkjian ’78
By Nathan Bubes
When Tim Kurkjian was at Merrill College he hoped to one day own a TV. Now, 35 years after graduating, he is known as a TV personality first.
A Washington, DC area native, he came to Maryland to study journalism.
Kurkjian grew up a Senators fan and his hero was the home run hitting Frank Howard. However, his favorite baseball memory does not involve the Senators or being at a ballpark, it comes from a classroom.
“I’ll never, ever, ever forget,” Kurkjian said, “that my sixth-grade teacher basically stopped class at 1:30 in the afternoon during 1967 World Series so we could watch the Red Sox against the Cardinals. That was another sign for me that baseball was actually important in the country, when my teacher cancelled the last hour and half of school and told us to put our pencils down and let’s watch the World Series. That was a quite a moment, deeply profound moment for me, as a future baseball writer.”
His love for writing came after he graduated from Walter Johnson and realized that his 5-foot-2 frame meant his baseball and basketball careers were over. At WJ he was part of the school newspaper and throughout his college career he covered the area’s high school scene for the Montgomery Journal.
He graduated in 1978 from Merrill College and became the baseball beat reporter for various newspapers, eventually landing at Sports Illustrated in the early 90s. At SI he continued writing about baseball, but it wasn’t until 1997 that television entered Kurkjian’s life. CNN was adding a sports department and were combining the writers at SI with CNN’s TV people.
“They said you don’t have a choice, you’re doing it,” Kurkjian said. “I said, well are you guys going to teach us how to TV? And they essentially said, well there is no time for that, you’re on.”
After a year, ESPN called and offered him a spot across its many platforms. He accepted and has been with ESPN ever since.
His weekly commitments include the Sunday Baseball Tonight show and his dugout reporting responsibilities on Monday Night Baseball. In addition, his weeks can be filled with a few more Baseball Tonight shows, radio show appearances, articles for the magazine or ESPN.com, and SportsCenter hits at anytime, day or night.
It is easy for Kurkjian to stay busy but much of that can be attributed to his innate curiosity that accompanies his work. Kurkjian explained that to be successful you need to have a natural curiosity.
“You have to ask yourself, when’s that last time that happened,” Kurkjian said. “When you see an unusual play. Or if you have something that looks odd to you, you have to ask the manager why did you bunt in that situation, that is very very important, it’s just, be curious enough to wonder why something is happening or has happened.”
He recently wrote a piece for ESPN magazine titled Baseball’s Symphony of Sounds. It was a piece that captured the unique sounds of baseball with tidbits from players across the majors. He wrote the story during spring training where he visited with 29 out of 30 teams.
“So when I was doing ESPN bus tour, I would make sure I would stop in while I was there and talk to a few guys. So, as always, I was a TV guy and a writer all at the same time,” Kurkjian said. “Every week is a little different, it all depends how much is going on, how much they need me. I can accurately say I work every day of the baseball season one day or another.”
As illustrated in his article, he attempts to make the information interesting and occasionally fun. He says it is his obligation to the audience, whether viewers or readers, to inform them and even entertain them to some extent.
“The way I do things, at least this is the way I like to do them, I just try to find the funniest, most entertaining, most quotable guys that I know and I just make an effort to make sure I find those guys when I am there,” he said. “The goal always is to just tell them something that they don’t know and for me at least, I enjoy the thought that maybe somebody watches or read and says, ‘wow, I didn’t know that, that’s kind of what I am going after here in whatever I am doing.”’
Before relaying the information to the audience, Kurkjian says his first responsibility is to ensure that the work is accurate and fair. He is concerned that with today’s fast moving media culture, young journalist might be losing an adherence to the most important part of journalism.
“We are in an era now with social media, with texting and tweeting, and just running with stuff, I worry sometimes that we’re, people in our business are more interested in being first about this than being right and I strongly suggest to anyone still in college, let’s get it right first.”
Kurkjian’s name is now intertwined with TV. That is not how he started his career and that is not how he views it either. He is a journalist first.
“I have never found anyone in our business, whether it is writing, of course, or in TV, who can’t write. It is the most important thing,” Kurkjian said. “Everything that I can do now on TV and on the radio is because the newspaper business taught me how to write and it taught me about deadlines, taught me about accuracy, it taught me everything I need to know in any sort of other line of work here in the media.”