Winning baseball and Johnny Doskow seem to go hand-in-hand. The veteran broadcaster has been on the mic for six league championships during his 20-year career announcing minor league baseball. Four of those league championships have come with the River Cats. Doskow and the A’s Triple-A affiliate have had quite a run of winning baseball since he joined the organization in 2001. During that time, they have made the playoffs in all but two seasons and have been one of the most popular box office successes in minor league baseball.
The Southern California native has been a visible and popular figure with the River Cats. He spoke this week to Chris Biderman about his tenure in the Capitol City, his career before the River Cats, his thoughts on some of the A’s current position battles and more…
Chris Biderman: When did you know you wanted to be a broadcaster and who did you idolize when you first knew?
Johnny Doskow: I would turn down the sound on the TV when I was six or seven years old and I would broadcast into the TV set. I would also go around interviewing all my family members with a pencil. I was into it very, very early and knew it was something I wanted to do.
I listened to Vin Scully and Chick Hearn of the Dodgers and Lakers respectively – two of my idols growing up. Those were two of the best. I was very fortunate there. Of course with Bob Miller with hockey, so growing up in Los Angeles I got to hear three of the best in their respective sports. I’d go to sleep every night – whatever season it was – listening to Vinny, Chick or Bob Miller and I knew it was something I wanted to do at a very early. Those were pretty much my idols.
When I went to the Midwest – I was in Iowa from the ages of 24 to 29 to take a job for a group of small radio stations out there – I was fortunate enough to listen to Herb Carneal of the Twins. He was very, very good. Then I landed the job in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1993 with the Angels’ club, that’s where I started my professional career. This will be my 20th year coming up. Those were pretty much my idols growing up. Like most of these guys, I knew I wanted to do it at a very early age.
CB: What has it been like broadcasting for a team that has won four league titles and two Triple-A titles in your 11 seasons?
JD: It’s been amazing. My office in the offseason is actually my radio booth. As I’m talking to you right now, I can see all the banners out there. I can see the Southern Division Championships and I see 10-out-of-12. There have been 12 years, and 10 of those have been Southern Division championships, four PCL Titles, two Triple-A Championships. The only years the team didn’t make the playoffs were 2002 and 2006 and 2002 was the only year which the team finished under-.500. So, every year there is success.
The other radio guys in the league joke, calling it the “River Cat Invitational,” meaning the playoffs, because every single year the River Cats compete for a title. It’s fun. We’re very fortunate. Not only with Billy Beane, David Forst and those guys in their great scouting department getting us great players, but there’s a lot of support here in Sacramento as well, with all the success we get here at the gate. So that helps too. And I think guys want to play here. When you have nine or 10 thousand people a night, sometimes 14,000 on the weekend for some sellouts, it lends itself to Triple-A guys wanting to play here. It’s a very good atmosphere and conducive to winning.
CB: What are some of your favorite personalities, players or coaches, who have been a part of the River Cats in your tenure?
JD: One of my favorites was 2003, a guy who helped us win it that year, a guy named Jeremy Fikac. He was quite a character. I remember him very well. Through the years we’ve had so many characters. Eric Byrnes was so popular here. You could have put Byrnsey on the phonebook here - he was the man. I still remember him. Fans still send me e-mails about him. Nick Swisher was very popular here as well in 2004. Bobby Crosby had a lot of popularity in 2003. Even going back to 2000, when I wasn’t even here, going back to Barry Zito and Mark Mulder. That team with Frankie Menechino, they had A.J. Hinch, Adam Piatt, Chad Harville, just a bunch of guys.
There have been so many guys through the years. And now there’s history here. I was talking to some people the other day that were 24- or 25-years-old, and they remember watching these guys play when they were in ninth grade. Now it’s kind of passed along generation-to-generation as far as people watching the River Cats. Kids who were seven-years-old who are now 20. That’s what kind of neat about the memories. The great thing about Triple-A, too, is the fans feel like they have access to the players a little bit more than the big-league level. They get to see the players and follow the players. Then, when they get to see them go to Oakland, they feel a sense of pride that they got to see the players at Triple-A.
CB: With all of the players coming and going between levels, is that something you relish or does it make your job as a broadcaster more difficult?
JD: That’s what makes what the River Cats have done through the years even that much more impressive. The job our managers have done, from Tony DeFrancesco to Todd Steverson to Darren Bush. With all the turnover, and it’s true with every Triple-A team, guys going from Triple-A to the big leagues. Every year you go to the playoffs and then you lose guys to the big club and they are forced to rely on the depth of the minor league system. With all of the turnover, that’s what makes what the River Cats have done that much more impressive.
It’s one of those things where you love to see them go and you hate to see them go, right? If they go to the big leagues, you’re happy for them. Does it hurt your team a little bit? It can. But at the same time, it’s all about winning at the big-league level. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about winning at the next level. And I think winning is a huge part of development. That’s how I feel about it. Some organizations don’t feel that way. I think it’s important that they breed winning. Billy Beane cares a lot about the minor leagues and they care about the success these guys have at the minor-league level. So it’s interesting to see.
CB: Speaking of Beane, what did you think of the film “Moneyball?”
JD: I thought “Moneyball” was tremendous. Anyone who’s been around Billy for any period of time understands that the mannerisms that Brad Pitt had were spot on. It was unbelievable. I thought George Clooney was pretty good in “The Descendents,” but I couldn’t imagine anyone doing a better job than Brad Pitt did in portraying Billy Beane. I thought it was awesome. I really enjoyed it. I didn’t think the Art Howe was as realistic, physically. But I thought it was a well done movie.
CB: Moving on to the 2012 A’s club, what do you make of the battle for three potential spots in the starting rotation?
JD: It’s so early to tell. So much depends on what happens at the big-league level with those guys. It also depends on the health of some of these guys too. You just don’t know where they are going to be, the Jarrod Parkers, Tommy Milones and Brad Peacocks. There are just so many variables. If you asked me on the 20th of March I’d have a better idea, but it’s just so early to speculate.
But it seems that every year, we seem to have pretty good pitching. At any level, but especially the Triple-A level, you’re only as good as your bullpen. And we always seem to have a pretty good ‘pen. I always look at the bullpen more than the starting rotation when it comes to Triple-A. So we’ve been fortunate through the years. So I see Travis Banwart in there [the River Cats’ rotation], of course. Graham Godfrey I think will spend some time with us, although I think he has a chance to compete for the big-league rotation. Parker might start with us, but he might start with the big club, I don’t know. I’m not really on the ‘in,’ on who’s going to start where, but I do know we’re going to have some guys with experience and we’re going to have a pretty good starting rotation. I’m almost sure of it.
CB: It appears the starting spot at third base for the A’s is up for grabs between Josh Donaldson and Wes Timmons. Based on what you’ve seen from those guys, how do you see that battle shaking out?
JD: Josh Donaldson has looked pretty good over there at third base. But it’s hard not to root for Wes Timmons. I’m not saying I’m rooting for either one, but I’d like to see Timmons. With all he’s been through, all that time with the Braves and all that time he spent in the minor leagues finally get a chance to play in the big leagues. There will not be a dry eye in the Timmons household. He’s such a great teammate. He’s such a good guy. I think everybody’s rooting for him to get a spot at some point with the big club.
With that being said, Donaldson, I saw him play some third base with the River Cats and he looked good at third. He looked really good at third. I think Josh has a chance of being the third basemen with Sizemore out. I’d love to see Timmons get a shot at some point this year – whether he breaks camp with the club, gets up there in May or June – I just want to see him get a shot.
CB: How about you? Do you ever picture yourself getting the nod to call some Major League Baseball?
JD: It’s a great question. I think we all do. We all want to get that chance. Not every one of us is going to get a shot to broadcast at the next level. But it’s obviously been a dream of mine since I was a little boy to broadcast at the next level. Of any place to be in the minor leagues, I’m glad to be in Sacramento, with the big crowds, the success the River Cats have had on and off the field. Not a day goes by I don’t think about it. I think about it every day. To get a chance to broadcast at the next level, I think that would be the ultimate.
CB: Could you explain the origin of your signature call, “Holy Koudelka?”
JD: When I was back in northeast Iowa working at a group of radio stations, there was a Turkey Valley football player named Jeff Koudelka. The name just kind of rolled off the tongue pretty well. When I was writing some ad copy, I said “Holy Koudelka the Czech days are coming,” for the Czechoslovakian days. I started saying it, then it starting coming out during more sporting events I was doing. Then when I started saying it in Cedar Rapids it got so big they put it on the marquee of the Holiday Inn sign.
But I would only say it in a natural way. I would never force it. I could go four days without saying it and then say it five times in one night. It would have to come out naturally for me to say it. So I took it for Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to High Desert, then to Fresno and then to Sacramento. But it has to come out naturally. Some people could listen for a few games and not hear “Holy Koudelka.” It has to come out if I’m shocked or something surprises me, that’s when it comes out. It’s a little anticlimactic as far as the story. Everybody wants a better story. But that’s how it came about.
CB: Is there anything else you think I should ask you?
JD: Maybe you can ask me about my bobble-nose coming out on June 22. Instead of a bobble-head, they’re doing a bobble-nose of me with my plus-sized nose. They picked that particular appendage on my face because it’s pretty large. Someone in the marketing department here came up with it and thought, “You know what? Why not do a bobble-nose? He has a very large nose.” It’s going to be tremendous. June 22.