Tim Kurkjian

Baseball Analyst Tim Kurkjian Named to Baseball Hall of Fame

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By Stephen Kurkjian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

WASHINGTON — Longtime baseball writer and ESPN’s TV analyst Tim Kurkjian said his first thoughts were of his father when he learned in December that he was headed to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame as this year’s winner of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Career Excellence Award.

“Baseball was the only language we spoke in the house, and it was because of our Dad [Badrig “Jeff” Kurkjian],” Tim said in a telephone interview. “He was a terrific player at Watertown High School, and he passed on his love of the game to me and my two brothers, Andy and Matt.”

While chosen by a different system than the one that decided this week that David Ortiz and other players in the past are elected to the Hall of Fame, Tim’s ascension to baseball’s highest honor makes him the first Armenian to gain the recognition.

Although he says he regrets he doesn’t know more about his heritage, he said he delights in bringing special pride to Armenians as he so often is approached by total strangers while he is our covering baseball and told that they too are Armenian.

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“I am proud I am Armenian, proud of how loyal and sturdy we are as a people,” Tim said. “Wherever I go, someone will come up to me and say, hello, I am Armenian like you.”

For sure, there have been Armenians who have played in the major leagues and a few who have had standout performances or careers. For example, there is Chuck Essegian, one of only two players to play in the Rose Bowl and World Series, hit two pinch hit home runs as a member of the LA Dodgers in 1959 World Series; and Steve Bedrosian, who won 76 games during his 14 years as a pitcher and won the National League’s Cy Young Award in 1987. His son, Cam Bedrosian, although currently unsigned, has pitched in the major leagues since 2014; and James Sarkis Essian, who after his career as a catcher for several teams in the 1970s and 1980s, became the first Armenian to manage a major league team when he took over the Chicago Cubs for one year in 1991.

Only 333 of the nearly 20,000 players who have played in in baseball’s major leagues have had such standout careers to be elected to the Hall of Fame, and none of them appear to have an Armenian parent; nor have any of the 119 who precede Tim because of their outstanding reporting in newspapers or as broadcasters.

The Baseball Writers Association Award which elevated Tim to the Hall of Fame referenced his excellence in covering baseball in various media forms — newspaper, magazine, broadcast and on-line — saying he had “hit for the cycle,” a baseball term that means getting a single, double, triple and home run in a single game, during his career.

Anyone who has read his articles or listened to him knows the depth of knowledge and heart that his work contains. His coverage captures the game through rich statistical analysis as well as the human element, the up-close observation of the world’s greatest players competing at their peak, all the while conveying the personal joy that comes with playing a game that our fathers played and taught their sons and daughters to play.

For a sport that calls itself “America’s pastime,” you can imagine that this year’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y. will be rich in history. Tim says he has covered the induction ceremonies many times and is hopeful that this year he will be surrounded by his family at the event. That includes including his wife, Kathy, a lawyer; children, Jeffrey, a radio broadcaster in Las Vegas; and daughter, Kelly, a creative director for a marketing firm, with her husband and baby son Carson, who, Tim notes, is showing all signs of being right-handed.

Tim is also hopeful that his cousin, Robert Shvodian, who lives in Bethesda near Tim’s home, will also be there. Now 90, Shvodian grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium but had a fierce loyalty to the Red Sox and slugger Ted Williams. His depth of knowledge of baseball history and trivia is so complete that Tim will often call him to check a fact or a statistic before printing it.

But Tim says he knows he will be mostly thinking of his father, who passed away at in 2003 at age 84, and his mother, Joyce “Joy,” born in England, who passed away in 2020. His mother may never have shared the passion that Tim and the other men in the family showed towards baseball but she was a gifted writer and Tim remembers helped him improve his writing skills after a gym teacher told him the article that Tim had written for his high school newspaper was “the worst” he’d ever read.

From left, the late Joy Kurkjian, with Tim Kurkjian, her son, and Barbara Tellalian, at the Armenian Mirror-Spectator’s 78th anniversary program in 2011

Early Passion for Baseball

From his earliest days, Tim recalls having a passion towards baseball. He was an inveterate collector of baseball cards, played a tabletop baseball game whenever he was inside his house and lulled himself to sleep during baseball seasons listening to Washington Senators game on his transistor radio.

When his older brother expressed concern to their father that Tim, then a junior at the University of Maryland, might have trouble finding a career since he seemed to know and care only about baseball, the elder Kurkjian responded: “Don’t worry, Tim will figure it out.”

Now, decades later, Tim believes that it was a matter of destiny that he would become a baseball writer. How else to explain that he graduated from Walter Johnson High School, named after perhaps the greatest pitcher in major league history, and that he was born on December 10, 1956, a decade after the day that Johnson died.

Or that he counts among his fondest memories the Sunday breakfasts that his father would take him and his two brothers at the Washington hotel so all could prowl for autographs from the major league players who were there during the baseball season to play against the hometown Senators. (But typical of Tim’s delightful way of telling a story, the autograph he remembers most was the one he didn’t get. Although he and his brothers were convinced that the young, good-looking man they had approached at the hotel was Oakland Athletics’ star Bert Campaneris, they realized they were wrong when they looked at the signature he gave all of them – Harry Belafonte.)

Sixty years later, Tim has become a familiar face at major league ballparks all over America, on the field and in clubhouses. He said if he had to choose, he would select as his favorite assignment covering the final two weeks of Cal Ripken’s drive in 1995 to break Lou Gehrig’s record of playing in 2,131 consecutive ballgames.

“He (Ripken) let me into places that no one else had access to,” Tim recalled. “I had covered him when he broke in and he just trusted that I would cover this achievement the right way.” Tim’s article on the event, which fans later voted as the most memorable moment in the history of the game, ran 12 pages in Sports Illustrated.

While he may have become a familiar figure around major league ballparks, Tim remembers best the few times that his Armenian heritage has been recognized. Toronto Blue Jays manager Jimy Williams, noting that Tim was Armenian, said he had learned while managing in Fresno and having an Armenian as a roommate, that you can’t use the same pot to make a second helping of pilaf; and Ed Pinckney, a standout basketball player for the Boston Celtics and others, introduced himself to Tim at ESPN by saying “eench besus,” explaining that his wife was Armenian, and both loved to make pilaf.

Roots in Watertown

The little Armenian that Tim understands he learned too through his father. Every summer, the family vacation consisted of driving from their home in suburban DC to his grandmother’s home in east Watertown where the neighborhood was as dense with Armenian families as anywhere in the country.

The elders in the families all seemed to have had the same life experience as his grandmother, Perousz Vosgerchian, who, because of increased hostility against Armenians from the Ottoman rulers, had emigrated to America in the early 1900s from her village in eastern Turkey. Within a few years, she married a neighbor from the village, Balthazar Kurkjian, who wrote poetry while operating a neighborhood grocery store.

Together, the couple raised four children, including Badrig, the oldest, who excelled in mathematics and baseball at Watertown High School. While Badrig was a standout at the plate and at second base, his teammate Oscar Khederian, regarded as one of the best hitters to have graduated from the high school, earned most of the headlines and even gained him a minor league contract.

His math skills earned Badrig acceptance at MIT where he majored in the subject both as an undergraduate and its doctoral program. Badrig spent his career as a statistician and became the chief mathematician for the US Army’s Material Command and was a fellow with the American Statistical Association. Born in 1956, Tim inherited his father’s love of baseball and his ability to pore over statistics to find answers — or at least predictability — to the vagaries of the game.

Throughout his career, he has pored through newspaper box scores that capture the previous day’s games and determine how a team that he may be covering is performing. “If I am flying to San Diego to cover the Padres, the notebook I bring with me is full of the Padres’ box scores from the week or month before, plus the notes I’ve made about the performance of individual players,” Tim said.

“Reporting is a very competitive business, and even though I may see a team one or two times a year, I need to be up-to-date on how they’re doing,” Kurkjian said. “That’s where my curiosity comes from, I had it as a little kid, and I still have it today.”

From left: Steve Kurkjian, Dan Shaughnessy, and Tim Kurkjian, at the Armenian Mirror-Spectator’s 78th anniversary gala at the Taj. Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe.

He is also looking for some very oblique tallies as he pores over the box scores — like what he calls the “reverse triple double,” when a player makes two errors, strikes out twice and hits into two double plays. “It’s only happened once from what I can find in baseball history, when Kurt Bevacqua was playing for the Rangers in 1978,” he recalled.

Kurkjian began his professional journalism career, as the backup reporter covering the Baltimore Orioles for the Washington Star. The lead Orioles reporter at the time was Dan Shaughnessy, who was named as a baseball writer to MLB’s Hall of Fame in 2016. After the Star closed, Tim moved to the Dallas Morning News where he covered the Texas Rangers.

Four years later, Kurkjian returned to Maryland and worked for four years for the Baltimore Sun, covering the Orioles. He then spent seven years as a senior baseball writer for Sports Illustrated. In 1998, he joined ESPN where he has worked as a columnist for its website and a reporter/analyst/host for “Baseball Tonight,” the latter assignment earning him an Emmy Award in 2002. He won as second Emmy for contributions to “SportsCenter” in 2003-2004.

While baseball fans have come to appreciate Tim’s articles for their command of statistics and baseball history, the three books he has written — America’s Game (2000); Is This a Great Game, or What (2007) and I’m Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies (2007) — are rich with personal anecdotes gained from 40 years of covering sports.

In our interview, the stories flow out of him like boyhood memories, capturing the poignancy that all boys have of being good enough to play professional baseball, no less make it to the major leagues.

“I remember, Opening Day for the Rangers in 1982, and the centerfielder George Wright was a rookie, and he got three hits at four times at the plate that day. I asked him in the clubhouse if he had had a good time, and he said ‘Yeah, I’ve never been to a major league game before.’ So here’s the first time he’s been to a major league game, and he gets three hits. That why this game is so beautiful, so special.”

Stephen Kurkjian, who is Tim Kurkjian’s second cousin, is a retired reporter for The Boston Globe. Along with the three Pulitzer Prizes he won as a member of The Globe’s Spotlight team, Kurkjian prides himself in being the first 10-year-old to make the Dorchester Little League’s All- Star team.

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