On September 5, 2014, former Pittsburgh Pirates reliever and current television analyst Kent Tekulve entered his “bonus round” by receiving a life-saving heart transplant. So, it was only fitting that three years to the day he announced his intentions to retire from providing analysis on the Pirates pre-and-post game shows on AT&T SportsNet at the end of the 2017 season.
It’s something he’s considered for a while, but really came to the forefront when his oldest granddaughter started her freshman year of high school. She, along with her sister who is in junior high and their much younger cousins, are all growing up very fast, he explained, and it occurred to him that he was spending a lot of time he could be enjoying with them behind a desk and in front of the cameras in Pittsburgh.
So, at the age of 70, he decided, it’s time to start spending more of that “bonus round,” a term he happily admitted to stealing from friend and co-worker Steve Blass, with his family, he said.
“It’s time to cut back here, so I can add on there,” he said. “I know I’m going to miss what I’m doing, but I don’t want to miss what I’m not doing.”
Not His First Rodeo
Officially, the man Pirates fans know as “Teke,” has already retired at least three times. He retired from professional baseball in 1989, after a 16-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds. His post-baseball career also includes stints broadcasting Philadelphia Phillies games, executive activities in the Frontier League and advance scouting for the Pirates. He admitted that unlike playing baseball and later, hosting pre-and-post-game shows for a tv audience, it’s not something he’s particularly good at.
“I’m miserable at it,” he laughed.
His previous retirement stints ended at the urging of his wife, he said, who at one point asked him if there was a way he could play more golf. “The first time it lasted almost five years and then finally she came up to me and told me, ‘You’ve got to find something to do because you’re driving me crazy,’” he said. “So, by the time I’m 75, I may get kicked back out of the house and told to go back to work again. But hopefully, I’ve become a little easier to tolerate since then.”
His time broadcasting Pittsburgh Pirates games on AT&T SportsNet (formerly Root Sports Pittsburgh) spans the last ten years. He called it a “nice way to cap off” the last decade of his public baseball life.
“I can’t throw anymore. I can’t run anymore. I have no desire to throw or run anymore, so it’s been nice to be reunited with the [Pirates] fanbase through television. They’ve always been so supportive of me and what I’ve done, so it’s nice to be able to pass on some of what I’ve learned over the course of playing 15 years in the big leagues about the intricacies, the smaller parts, of the game,” he said.
Elroy "Roy" Face
- All-time Pirates saves leader (188)
- 6x All-Star
- 1960 World Series Champion
- 3.48 ERA in 1314.2 IP for Pirates
Kent "Teke" Tekulve
- 2nd on Pirates all-time saves list (158)
- 1x All-Star
- 1979 World Series Champion
- 2.68 ERA in 1017.1 IP with Pirates
Mark "The Shark" Melancon
- 5th on Pirates all-time saves list (130)
- 3x All Star
- 5.74 SO/W ratio with PIttsburgh
- 1.80 ERA in 260.1 IP with Pirates
Tekulve’s success as an analyst comes from his ability to give viewers a peek inside the minds of the men out on the field. The reason he can do that, of course, comes from having played the game at the major league-level.
“I don’t watch the game the same way you do. You watch somebody throw the ball, you watch somebody hit the ball, you watch somebody try to catch the ball,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out what type of pitch the pitcher should throw, what the hitter’s thinking about, what the game situation is.”
What he tries to do is present “little nuggets of his thought process” while watching a game to fans in a straightforward manner.
He’ll level criticism and praise on players and manager Clint Hurdle equally. And while no one would dare call him an armchair quarterback, he has his own system to ensure he’s not making critical comments with the benefits of hindsight.
“If I didn’t think ahead of time, when a guy turns around to bunt, why the hell’s he doing that, and after it doesn’t work, I’m not going to run out and start criticizing it because I didn’t anticipate it,” he said. “That has always been one of my filters.”
He credits former Pittsburgh Pirates play-by-play announcer, and close friend, Lanny Frattare with helping him prepare for what he calls his accidental career in broadcasting.
“When I started doing the games for Philadelphia…I talked to Lanny and I asked him what was important. He says, ‘As a broadcaster, the most valuable tool you’ve got is your credibility. If you keep your credibility intact, then both on the negative side and the positive side you can be fair. But if you start doing the company line, then all of a sudden you’re just going to be one of those guys who’s not believable because you’re not being honest,’” Tekulve said.
It’s an important lesson he’s carried with him.
The Pirates for their part, he said, have never tried to influence what he says or the topics he covers on the broadcasts, he said. “They’ve allowed me to be honest and straightforward with the people I’m talking to at home,” he added.
Tekulve is not shy about proclaiming his love for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Ever since I quit playing, I’ve been a Pirates fan,” he said. As such, some of his favorite moments as a broadcaster over the past 10 years mirror those of many Bucs fans.
One of those, of course, was the 2013 Wild card game. What is surprising, however, is that Teke watched it from home.
“Probably one of my most exciting moments, I wasn’t actually broadcasting – but it was because it was my team, it was our guys, the guys I had talked about all summer long,” he said. The local broadcast team finished up their regular season duties the game before and turned the reigns over to the MLB post-season team. He stayed home, because he wanted to watch it on TV, instead of at PNC Park.
Another stand-out memory was the August 23, 2017, game when LA Dodgers lefty Rich Hill took a perfect game into the eighth inning and a no-hitter into the tenth. The event reminded Tekulve of Pirates pitcher Harvey Haddix’s 12-inning perfect game (that the Pirates lost in the thirteenth-inning) in 1959. Haddix was his pitching coach on the World Series-winning 1979 Pirates team.
More than specific games, or moments within games, Tekulve said he’s enjoyed the opportunity to watch current Pittsburgh Pirates players, like Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, develop into big league players.
“He is so much different than everybody else. He understands the game so much better than everybody else,” he said about McCutchen. “To be able to watch him over the first few years, to watch him grow, those are the things I appreciate as opposed to individual moments and individual games because I can relate to that.”
Tekulve called the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates season an analyst’s nightmare.
“Absolutely nothing that logic tells you is going to happen, has happened,” he said. “It’s been totally illogical all year long. Just when you think you’re going to start pitching good, pitching stops. When you think we got the offense fixed, the offense stops. Then, if you got those two going, you can’t catch the ball. It’s been crazy all year long.”
There are so many question marks about the current team, he predicted that “this is going to be the most difficult off-season Neal Huntington has had since he’s been here.” The team, he said, must “do the best job they’ve ever done” in terms of evaluating the players they have before they can entertain the thought of adding new players to the mix.
“There’s going to have to be some adding and some subtracting, and I can’t tell you, the way this season’s gone and from what I’ve seen, what to add and what to subtract,” he said, slightly exasperated.
He believes that two players are central to all of the team’s off-season moves – and they happen to be those same two guys he’s enjoyed watching develop through the years. McCutchen and Cole. The Pirates have an option on McCutchen’s five-year, $51.5 million contract for 2018. The Pirates reportedly made multiple trade attempts with McCutchen after the 2016 season. Gerrit Cole’s contract runs through the end of this season. He is arbitration-eligible in 2018.
“Those two guys can impact more than anybody else the composition of your team, whether they’re here contributing or they go somewhere else and it’s what you get back to fit into your team,” Tekulve said.
A Fan in the Stands
Prior to every broadcast done from the booth in the right field corner in PNC Park, Tekulve has a ritual. He visits the Crow Bar nearby and grabs some bottled water for himself and his co-host. Next year, he joked, he’ll still hit the Crow Bar for water for Rob King, “But I’m going to get myself one of those 24-ounce cans they have over there. That’ll be the difference.”
When he’s not spending time visiting his kids in California and Colorado, and attending his granddaughters’ softball games, Teke will still be a presence at PNC Park. “I’ll be there sitting in my eat like everybody else, watching the game, thinking about it differently, but still hoping in the same way that good things happen for the Pirates,” he said.
He admitted he won’t likely be a very good conversationalist because unlike the casual baseball fan who might chat about cars or current events, he’ll be focused on the game. But don’t expect him to be sticking it out through a rain delay.
“Two-hour rain delays will no longer exist in my life,” he said adamantly. “The first sign of rain and I’m in the parking garage, in my car and on the way home.”
Since the announcement that he’d received a heart transplant in 2014, Tekulve has grown accustomed to people asking about his health. Which, he said, he appreciates very much. He’s doing well, he said, without one missed step along the way. “It was an amazing voyage.”
He plans to continue his advocacy work on behalf of organ donation, perhaps even expanding what he does to include counseling recipients on what to expect from the procedure. The goal is to help others make the most of their “bonus rounds” as Teke has.
And make the most of things, he has.
“From the day I left Marietta College and started playing professional baseball until now, which is getting close to 50 years, all of the stuff that’s happened to me was not expected. I wasn’t expected to be a minor league player, nevertheless a major league player. I wasn’t that guy that everybody looked at and said, ‘That guy’s a can’t miss prospect.’ So I’ve been fortunate in so many ways and so many different aspects of my life on the field and off the field that every once in a while you just sit back and go, ‘Why me?’ I’ve asked that question a whole bunch of times and I still don’t have the answer,” he said. “I don’t know why it happened, but I hope I’ve at least done a halfway decent job of taking advantage of the opportunities I’ve had.”
Photo credits: Wikidmedia Commons, Daniel Decker, The Aspen Group, Flickr Creative Commons, MLB on Youtube
Tweets from: CBS Radio host Gregg Giannotti, Robert Judge
Special thank you to the Rubber Band Man himself: Kent Tekulve