Longtime broadcaster Hank Greenwald, whose superb wit and captivating calls kept things entertaining during a rough era for the Giants, died Monday at 83.
Known for his low-key humor and vivid accounts of the drama, Greenwald was a fan favorite over two stints with the team — no matter the results on the field.
“He may have been the greatest ‘bad team’ broadcaster of all-time,” said Ken Korach, the A’s radio man and Greenwald’s longtime friend. “He once told me, ‘If you get swept up in how bad the team is on the field, you’re going to sound just as flat as the team that’s playing. You can’t let that happen.’”
Greenwald suffered from heart and kidney complications and was reportedly taken to California Pacific Medical Center over the weekend. The Giants released a statement Tuesday on Greenwald’s passing, acknowledging his service with the organization and his relationship to the fans.
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Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow, upon hearing the news Tuesday morning, decided to celebrate with a smile instead of tears. He and broadcast partner Duane Kuiper made a point of savoring Greenwald’s handful of visits to AT&T Park in recent years because they knew their mentor’s poor health had him on “borrowed time.”
“Something magical happened every time he came out,” Krukow said by phone. “Hank was in such poor health, but as soon as he walked into that ballpark, he got a little twinkle in his eye. He just lit up.”
Greenwald could be hilarious. Krukow remembers a game years ago in Pittsburgh in which Greenwald was asked to tape the TV intro. So he opened with: “Welcome to Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh where the Giants play game two of a three-game series …”
But director Jim Lynch told Greenwald it was too long and asked him to cut it down. So for his next take the broadcaster started with: “Welcome to Two Rivers Stadium …”
Greenwald worked for the Giants from 1979-86, then again from 1989-96. He captured the excitement of the Giants’ long-awaited pennant in ’89, with two memorable calls in the Game 5 clincher against the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series.
After Will Clark singled against Mitch Williams in the eighth inning at Candlestick Park, Greenwald thrilled fans with: “And Clark hits it up the middle into center field! Base hit! Maldonado scores! Here comes Butler … on his way to third is Thompson. The Giants lead 3-1! And Superman has done it again!”
Greenwald capped that day with a perfectly cathartic line for a fan base that hadn’t been to the World Series since 1962: “Twenty-seven years of waiting have come to an end! The Giants have won the pennant!”
But Greenwald was no less enjoyable even while describing the 100-loss wreck of ’85. Krukow, who played on that team, later learned a few lessons from Greenwald about how to approach a losing season from the booth.
“He told me that a bad game on the field is no excuse to have a bad broadcast,” said Krukow, who became one of Greenwald’s proteges. “I wanted that tattooed on my forehead.”
It helped that Greenwald, like his friends and fellow Bay Area broadcasters Lon Simmons and Bill King, had a stealth sense of humor.
While describing the summertime conditions in St. Louis, Greenwald once said: “The Giants played a game here last year, and they said the temperature on the field was 143 degrees. With the wind chill, it was 140.”
While describing a newborn baby, he provided this scouting report: “Bats right, throws up.”
Not everyone remembers, but Greenwald’s first gig with the Giants came in 1972. Simmons left the club after the death of his wife. Bill Thompson, forced to work every game solo, lost his voice. Greenwald, then known primarily for his work with King on Warriors radio broadcasts, was rushed in on an emergency basis.
“I’m off to a good start,” he said at the beginning of his first game. “I remembered to turn on my microphone.”
But the quipster was also ferociously serious about his craft. Krukow said you could see that in the way Greenwald showed up for every game in a tie, even for those sweltering day games in St. Louis.
“That was him getting ready to go to work,” Krukow said. “And he was disciplined.”
When Greenwald tutored ex-players Krukow and Kuiper on their second career, he insisted they do thorough research — even if they never used the information. Krukow said Greenwald scolded them — sometimes between innings — if they ever used an anecdote or statistic out of context. He taught them how to be patient with the good stuff, even if that meant waiting a month or more.
“For Hank, the game was all about stories. But the game had to embrace it, otherwise it’s a distraction,” Krukow said.
Before he began calling games on KNBR, Greenwald’s first broadcasting gig in the Bay Area came in 1964 when he moved to San Francisco to broadcast Warriors games alongside King, the local broadcasting legend.
Korach, who would later work with King in the A’s booth, said the friendship between King and Greenwald was amazing to behold. The two had interests outside of sports, including travel or literature or jazz.
But Greenwald was never a national household name.
“He was underrated, but he never sought the spotlight, either, like Bill,” Korach said. “But people knew what they meant in the Bay Area. They enriched people’s lives. They were part of people’s families.”
A native of Detroit, Greenwald’s given name was Howard, but he changed his name to Hank in honor of former Tigers star Hank Greenberg.
Greenwald is survived by his wife, Carla, and their children Doug, 44, and Kellie, 40. Doug followed in his father’s footsteps as a broadcaster and is the longtime radio voice of the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies, a former affiliate of the Giants.