Through Tom Candiotti’s Eyes Former knuckleballer brings a wealth of knowledge as D-backs analyst

Tom Candiotti, left, chats with former catcher A.J. Hinch, right, the Houston Astros’ manager, during batting practice at Chase Field. (Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks)

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Tom Candiotti really loves baseball. From his early pitching days with the Milwaukee Brewers, to his 14-year role as radio analyst for the Arizona Diamondbacks, baseball has been the Scottsdale resident’s life.

“I can remember playing baseball at 5 or 6 years old,” the California native says. “Once I got into high school—maybe as a junior or senior—I got serious about it. I thought I was pretty good, and maybe I’d have a chance to play professionally.”

It almost didn’t happen. Nicknamed “The Candy Man,” he went undrafted, but won five games for the independent Victoria Mussels of the Northwest League in the late 1970s.

The team sold him to the Kansas City Royals, who then sent him to the Milwaukee Brewers, thanks to a Rule 5 draft. The knuckleballer found success with the team, even pitching a complete-game shutout against California.

His career continued with the Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays, Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers. When he retired, he was among the top 100 best pitchers in starts and strikeouts. In 2001, the Cleveland Indians named him one of the best players.

His career came to a close quickly.

“My body gave up and said, ‘You can’t play anymore,’” Candiotti says. “I started working in the front office of the Indians.

“When I shifted toward the front office, I was really motivated to be a part of the decision-making process. I learned a ton after six to nine months. I loved going to the winter meetings.”

While he was employed by the Indians from 2000 to 2001, EPSN asked to interview him. He spent five years with the network, until the D-backs came knocking.

“I wasn’t sure whether I should take it or not,” Candiotti says. “I had only done TV. I hadn’t done radio before. They said they would give me TV games. That presented another challenged that I liked. I had never done radio, and I would be associated with one team.

“With ESPN, it was, ‘Who is it going to be this week?’”

Apples and oranges

Candiotti weighs radio and television this way. Radio sticks with the game; television is for entertainment.

“With radio, we stay with the game, pitch by pitch,” Candiotti says. “TV is entertainment. People want to be entertained. You have to go where the camera goes. I learned that with ESPN. You can get ready to make a point and then the camera shows the kid who had all this mustard fly on his shirt from a hot dog.

“With radio, I want people to see the game through the analyst, how I see the game. This is my 40th year in baseball. I’ve seen quite a lot. I’ve been in the dugout or locker rooms with guys who have really struggled or really been successful. I have to be the person with eyes all around my head. I like to bring that.”

Candiotti sees himself as a D-backs’ promotional tool. He doesn’t necessarily criticize the team when it’s playing poorly, but he’s not easy on it, either.

“You learn a mild way to be critical when you have to be,” he says. “People appreciate that. They know and they can sense when someone is sugar coating everything. You lose your credibility if you do that.

“If someone doesn’t make a play, I wouldn’t say, ‘That was a terrible play.’ I might say, ‘Maybe next time he’ll do this.’ Something that’s a little nicer.”

In terms of credibility, Candiotti slyly chides analysts who have “never worn spikes in their lives talking about how tough it is to hit.”

“I never wanted to lose that perspective—ever,” he says. “I want people to know this is not an easy thing to do.”

Candiotti has another reason for sticking with baseball: it keeps his memory alive.

“I can reflect on situations or tell stories of being at certain ballparks that were still there while I was player,” he says.

“I walk into a stadium and I get flashbacks of games I pitched or situations that happened. It’s a real surreal feeling. That’s why I like some of the old ballparks.”

Candiotti—whose sons Casey and Clark are playing for the Clarinda Iowa A’s this summer—enjoys working with his radio play-by-play partner Greg Schulte.

“Greg is so good at following the game,” Candiotti says. “He’s so good at teeing me up when he sees something. I enjoy seeing little things that happen out on the field that most people might not have an eye to see and tell that to the listeners.

“My job is to explain why this guy is swinging at that pitch or how that pitcher is throwing the curveball or why they’re shifting on this particular hitter. What I say is predicated on how, why and what I’m seeing through my eyes.”