The Hall-of-Fame is about to get funnier. My former partner in Baltimore, Jon Miller, gets inducted into Cooperstown this Sunday. Jon is currently the voice of the San Francisco Giants and ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Yes, Vin Scully is the penultimate baseball broadcaster but Jon Miller is the best of anyone under 82.
And the funniest.
Not that there's a whole lot of competition in that category. Especially today. Baseball announcers used to have distinct personalities, regional accents, wry wits. Today they've largely been replaced by polished generic professionals who all sound alike and bombard you with statistics. Now you'd hear, "Two outs, bottom of the ninth, here's Eugenio Velez. He's been struggling, batting .197 with an on base percentage of .384 and with men in scoring position hitting only .178." Harry Caray would've just said, "Here's Eugenio Velez. Stay tuned for the post game show coming right up."
Baseball announcing is a lost art. Very few today are master storytellers. Very few really bring the game "alive."
Thank God for Jon Miller.
Blessed with a gorgeous baritone voice (I sounded like Minnie Mouse compared to him, the bastard), Jon is a throwback to the days when announcers, not steroids, made ballplayers seem larger-than-life.
I was privileged to share the booth with him in the early 90's in Baltimore. Every night I marveled at his preparation, knowledge of the game, descriptions worthy of John Updike, passion, and more than anything else -- ability to entertain.
Like I said, Jon is funny. There were nights we'd be riffing on the air and I'd have trouble keeping up with him. (Don't you hate it when someone just in passing does something as good as you when you've been doing it for twenty years?) I'm convinced, if Jon had gone into television writing instead of baseball he'd be in Comedy Writers Hall-of-Fame (if there were such a thing. And if there were, I guarantee you it wouldn't be in Cleveland.)
We did lots of zany stuff together on the air. We imitated Wolf Blitzer giving rain delay updates, tried out ridiculous home run calls, a discussion of hockey prompted us to roll our chairs and body check each other while calling the play-by-play.
But my personal favorite bit is this. It was all Jon's brainchild. I left Baltimore for the Seattle Mariners. Our first trip into Baltimore Jon asked, for old time's sake if I could come over and do an inning with him? I said sure. But here's the thing: he would introduce me as if I were still calling Orioles games. No fanfare, no "nice to have you back," nothing.
So we come out of the commercial break, Jon says, "Now as we go to the 3rd, here's Ken." I say, "Thanks Jon, 3-1 O's and leading off for Seattle is... " During the inning we discussed past Orioles games that season as if I had seen them, I did all the commercial drop-ins, and talked about all the giveaways for future homestands that I was looking forward to. After the inning I came back on and said, "Now to the 4th, let's get back to Jon." He said, "Thanks, Ken..." and that was that. Apparently the station switchboard was going nuts with confused fans. Was I back? Had I been there all along? Were they just having a horrible dream?
Wish I could be with Jon Sunday in Cooperstown. He now becomes my fourth broadcast partner to enter the Hall (Dave Niehaus, Chuck Thompson, and Jerry Coleman being the other deserving three). "I would rather listen to Jon Miller call a baseball game than see the game myself." I can't think of any higher praise than that.
Either that or I'd say, "On to the Hall, here's Jon." Knowing Jon, he'd probably like that intro better.