By now most Dodger fans are quite familiar with the name Josh Suchon, as well they should be. In addition to being a former co-host of KABC-AM 790′s popular DodgerTalk radio show from 2008 to 2011, Suchon is also the author of the recently released book “Miracle Men: Hershiser, Gibson, and the Improbable 1988 Dodgers”, which has become a must-read book for every Dodger fan and for any fan of baseball, for that matter. As its name implies, the book details the exciting 1988 Dodger season which was capped by the epic Kirk Gibson ‘impossible’ home run and Orel Hershiser’s remarkable (and most likely unbreakable) 59 consecutive scoreless innings record.
But what many folks may not realize is that the multi-talented 39-year-old Suchon is also in his first full season as the voice of the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes as their play-by-play radio announcer on Albuquerque’s KNML-AM 610 Radio, which also broadcasts every Isotopes game free on the internet.
Suchon, a San Diego State University grad and former sportswriter for the Oakland Tribune, returned to Dodger Stadium this past week for a book signing of Miracle Men, during which I had an opportunity to interview him about his new job with the Isotopes.
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RC: It’s been a little over a month since you started as the new Albuquerque Isotopes play-by-play man. What’s it been like?
JS: Lots of fun but exhausting. I have an all new appreciation for Vin Scully doing all nine innings solo every game. I always knew it was impressive and now I have even more appreciation for what he does.
I’m having a blast, it’s so much fun. I really enjoy doing the pre-game and post-game, but the game game is so much more fun, it’s so much more exhilarating. It’s a bigger challenge and it’s something that I want to keep doing and keep getting better at. I have a few things that I still need to iron out, but I know I’m having lots of fun.
RC: What about the city of Albuquerque itself?
JS: Honestly? I haven’t seen a whole lot of the city outside of the ballpark, my apartment and a few restaurants. The people have been super nice, the food is really good, they have some really good restaurants, but I honestly haven’t seen a whole lot. When every game ends all I want to do is drink a bottle of water and go to bed and go do it again the next day… I’m so tired.
RC: You mentioned broadcasting solo which reminded me of something that Vin Scully said years ago: He preferred broadcasting solo because he felt that he was talking directly to the fans, whereas when two (or more) guys are in the booth, they end up talking more to each other than to the fans. Have you noticed this?
JS: I had done both for a variety of sports. I had done solo for baseball, football and basketball, and had done all three sports with an analyst too. There are different things that I like about each one. I’m glad that I’m doing it solo right now because it’s better practice.
It’s really easy to work with an analyst, but when you’re working with an analyst and you go back to being solo, that’s a really difficult transition; so I’d rather do it this way now because it’s easy to work with an analyst.
No one is ever going to be able to do it solo again (on the MLB level) after Vin but it’s still a skill that I want to be able to develop because it forces me to do more research and it forces me to prepare more.
RC: You mentioned that there are different things that you like about working solo and working with an analyst, what are some of those differences?
JS: There’s pros and cons to both. I would say the pro of doing it solo is just like Vin says – it’s more of an intimate one-on-one thing, you can have a better rapport with someone, you feel like you’re talking to one person as opposed to you’re talking to an analyst and people are eavesdropping on the conversation with the analyst; so I think that (working solo) creates more of an intimacy thing.
The con is that when the game is boring and the game is out of hand, it’s hard to fill that time solo and sometimes you get mentally exhausted, which again, I have so much respect for Vin for being able to do it that way for so long. Your voice gets dry, your voice gets tired from doing nine innings solo plus the pre-game which is 30 minutes and the post game which is 30 minutes.
The pro of working with an analyst is that even though I like to think that I have a reasonable knowledge of baseball, that analyst still knows way more than me and that analyst can still see things that I’m never going to see.
From a mechanical standpoint, when a pitching change is made and you’re trying to update your scorebook and you’re looking down and you’re looking up and you’re trying to find your card to read “There’s a Cricket Wireless call to the bullpen,” it’s hard to do that solo, whereas if the analyst starts talking then you can quickly catch up while the analyst is talking.
RC: These are things that nobody ever thinks about when listening to a game on the radio or the internet from a fan’s standpoint.
JS: Sometimes that’s the most challenging aspect actually, keeping your scorebook up to date, especially if there’s change after change after change, if there’s a double switch or when you don’t see who the new pitcher is. You’ve got the binoculars on and you’re trying to see who the new pitcher is and he doesn’t have a number on the front and only has the number on the back. You’re waiting for him to turn and he’s not turning, so you still don’t know who he is. And now the commercial has ended and it’s time to start talking and you say “There’s a Cricket Wireless call to the bullpen” but you don’t know who the new pitcher is yet, and then you’re looking for his name on the roster… that’s probably the hardest part.
RC: You said something a moment ago that I have felt for many years – that when Vin Scully finally retires, there will never again be a solo broadcaster. Why is that?
JS: It will never happen again on TV. There’s a handful of teams on radio that have two play-by-play announcers and usually one guy does most of the talking and the other guy would chime in a little bit, but for the most part one guy will do it; but still, there’s a second guy in the booth so that guy isn’t doing nine innings solo.
Why? We want to hear from analysts, we want to hear the experts tell us things we don’t know. I love it when I’m listening to Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN and Orel Hershiser tells me something about pitching; when Eric Karros breaks down a guy’s swing; when Steve Lyons tells me something about an outfielder or infielder and a play that he’s making. Those are things that I don’t know and I’ll never know the way that they know.
When Steve Lyons describes how you protect yourself at second base when you’re trying to turn a double play, things that I would never even have a clue about but Steve can tell me that and he can tell the audience that… plus we like stars and former players are stars, play-by-play announcers are not stars (except for Vin Scully, of course).
RC: Where do you see yourself going from here? You’re new there in Albuquerque and hopefully that will work out well for you, but where do you aspire to go from there?
JS: My goal is to be a major league baseball play-by-play announcer but I realize that there are only so many of those jobs and those jobs are very difficult (to get), and if I spend the next twenty years of my life in Albuquerque I’m fine with that because it’s a great city, great people, associated with a great organization. When I moved there I realized that this could be the last stop or it could be the stop before something else.
It’s hard not to think about that when you see players sitting on the bus next to you who get called up to the major leagues and you see them fulfill their dreams, it’s hard not to think about that; but I’m just focused on trying to get better every day.
There’s some things I like that I’m doing and there’s some stupid mistakes that I make every night that drive me nuts, and that’s what motivates me to do it every night and get better, so that when I do go up I don’t make a fool of myself.
Trust me, Josh, you will go up and you won’t make a fool of yourself.