Thompson partial to retirement Orioles announcer weighs radio role

October 17, 1990|By Mark Hyman

Chuck Thompson is sitting on the porch of his split-level home in Timonium. He's dressed head to toe in white, nicely tanned and, as usual, decidedly upbeat.

Is he enjoying retirement? Are you kidding?

For 28 years, Thompson was the radio and television play-by-play man of the Baltimore Orioles. His voice became as famous as Brooks Robinson's glove or Boog Powell's appetite. But eventually Thompson grew weary of the endless grind of baseball travel. "They make it as easy as possible for you, and still it's a pain in the duff," he said.

After the 1987 season, Thompson retired.

Or so he thought.

This season, when Orioles broadcaster Jon Miller accepted a Sunday night assignment with ESPN, Thompson came to the rescue by agreeing to fill in on about 25 Orioles radio games on WBAL.

Now, the radio station is pulling together its schedule for next season, and Thompson is being mentioned for an even more prominent role.

"I hope we can persuade Chuck to do 80 games," said Jeff Beauchamp, WBAL vice president and station manager. "If he wants to do 70, he'll do 70. It's really up to Chuck, but we hope he'll do as many as possible."

Last week, Beauchamp said he hadn't talked with Thompson in depth yet about 1991, and not at all since Miller's partner Joe Angel left the station to be a New York Yankees announcer.

But he added, "Even before we knew Joe was leaving for New York, the approach was the same -- we want Chuck to be a part of the broadcasts."

So, Thompson is in an unexpected position. He's standing at a career crossroads, at age 69.

Firmly, he says he is not interested in replacing Angel, which would require him to return to work full time. "It's too much work and too much travel," Thompson said.

Apparently, he'd at least consider returning to the Orioles games again part time.

"I'd have to think about it," he said. "I have a great fondness for Beauchamp and [WBAL vice president and general manager David] Barrett. If they were to talk to me, maybe I'd think about it."

Under no circumstance, though, will he let go of this wonderful thing called retirement.

This month, Thompson and his wife, Betty, have traveled to California and Florida. His golf handicap is 17, although he can't recall the last time he hit good shots consecutively. He lights up talking about a recent charity golf tournament of which he was the honorary chairman. He played in about 15 such events this year.

Sure, he's weary of baseball travel. But that is one of many reasons Thompson offers for clinging to retirement. Another is Betty. They have been married two years, and Thompson has been retired or semiretired throughout their relationship. He said he doesn't see any reason to change that now.

"At this stage of my life, what's to be gained running around the country and leaving this lady alone?" Thompson said.

"Also, maybe this sounds hokey, but when you get to my age, you begin to think about your valuable, personal time. It becomes very important. [This month,] we went to California and saw my granddaughter get married. It was important for me to be able to do that. . . . These are things I've never been able to do."

Still, WBAL was able to persuade Thompson to accept the job of stand-in for Miller last season. In that role, Thompson worked mostly at Memorial Stadium, mostly on weekends, and shared the microphone with Angel.

Ron Shapiro, Thompson's lawyer, said he believes the announcer initially agreed, in part, out of "some sense of obligation" to the Orioles, but he added that the job quickly became fun. "Once he did it, he enjoyed it," Shapiro said.

In his sixth decade as an Orioles announcer (he called the International League Orioles games in 1949), Thompson also gave the radio executives and, apparently, the majority of Orioles fans, the right stuff.

Beauchamp said WBAL received "lots of mail" about Thompson's return, almost all of it applauding the move.

"A lot of people wrote to say that listening to Chuck took them back to Orioles baseball of the past," Beauchamp said.

"It was seeing a Hall of Famer come back and go 4-for-4," Orioles president Larry Lucchino said.

But the Orioles and WBAL still are a long way from determining who will be describing Orioles games on radio next season. Miller recently signed a three-year contract with the team that commits him to doing 110 Orioles games each season on television and radio. He's expected to do about 80 radio games. Angel's departure muddles the picture.

Beauchamp said he hopes to have picked the station's announcing team within the next 30 to 60 days, and he acknowledged that the solution could be to hire two full-time broadcasters to join Miller.

Clearly, nothing will happen until Thompson has spoken. And, on his front porch last week, Thompson was speaking mostly about his next vacation with Betty.

"She's trying to get me to go to Hawaii," he said. "I'm trying to get her to fly out to Seattle, lease a van and drive down through that part of the country. . ."

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