Miller's a hit behind Orioles mike--and a fixture here

October 31, 1990|By Mark Hyman

It's a little early to launch into heavy speculation about the Baltimore Orioles' Opening Day lineup for next season, but here's one safe bet:

The man sitting behind the microphone, as he has for the past eight seasons, will be Jon Miller.

Last month, the Orioles and Miller ensured his return when they reached agreement on a three-year contract extension that will keep the announcer in Baltimore through the 1993 season.

Although Miller will be back, the lineup in the radio booth next season is anything but settled. For one thing, he will be appearing on only about 81 games. For another, Joe Angel, Miller's partner and foil for the past three seasons, announced this month that he is leaving Baltimore to broadcast New York Yankees games.

One opening filled quickly when WBAL Radio signed Chuck Thompson to work the games that Miller can't. Angel's slot is still vacant, and Jeff Beauchamp, WBAL Radio vice president and station manager, has said he hopes to pick a replacement before Christmas.

Miller's new contract seems to recognize his star quality. He'll earn more (in excess of $250,000 a year) to work less (a total of 110 games between WBAL Radio and Channel 2) than in any year since he came to Baltimore in 1983.

But despite the seemingly generous terms, a case could be made that the Orioles got the better of the deal.

For the investment, the Orioles get a man who most former co-workers agree is among the most gifted baseball broadcasters today, if one whose attention to detail occasionally can cause him to become overly demanding.

More important to fans, the team also retains a man who, in some seasons, is a bigger attraction than the team itself. Remember the billboard along I-83? "Listen to Jon Miller and the Orioles."

To keep their star broadcaster, the Orioles have had to convince him to reject a series of job offers that would have paid more and, in most cases, would have meant performing to larger audiences.

Most recently, the Orioles prevailed over ESPN, the sports cable network that hired Miller last season to be the play-by-play broadcaster on its Sunday night baseball telecasts. Miller's four-year contract with ESPN gave him the option of going full time starting next season, an offer he since has rejected.

That's just the latest of many attempts at making off with the Orioles' No. 1 announcer. Through his years here, Miller says he has turned down offers to do radio broadcasts for the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. That doesn't count one job contact that sounded more like a death threat. In 1986, Miller received an ominous call from a Yankees employee who said he'd been instructed by George Steinbrenner to "find me and investigate my situation."

Through,it all Miller has stayed in Baltimore. You don't have to be a New Yorker to sometimes wonder why.

Miller, 39, offers a number of explanations, and they include his fondness for Baltimore, his loyalty to the Orioles and a reluctance to uproot his family. Packing alone, it would seem, could take months.

Three years ago, Miller married his wife, Janine, and the couple has a son, Alexander. Then there are Jon's daughters, Holly, 14, and Emilie, 9, and Janine's daughter, Michelle, 17. They all live under one roof in Cockeysville.

That's part of the story. In Baltimore, Miller also has been able to fulfill his career ambition. And it isn't having pancake makeup applied to his forehead every night by television production aides.

Rather, Miller's favorite place to be is still at a radio microphone, preferably at a baseball game. "My idea of the optimal national job would be to do the Sunday night [baseball] radio game on CBS," he said.

According to many in broadcasting, Miller already has moved into the top echelon of radio play-by-play men. As long as Ernie Harwell and Vin Scully are working in Detroit and Los Angeles, respectively, it might be a waiting game for Miller to reach the top. But both men are in the twilight of their working lives. Miller's time is coming.

Angel, an Orioles announcer from 1988 until last season, recently said of Miller, "I think he has a legitimate chance of one day winding up in the Hall of Fame."

Sometimes, however, the purity of radio collides with the dollars of television. Miller experienced this shortly after ESPN and CBS announced their $1.1 billion rights-fee agreements with Major League Baseball last year.

CBS offered Miller a two-year contract to do play-by-play on its regular-season backup games. ESPN's proposal, for four years, potentially was worth twice the money. Miller signed with ESPN.

Miller admits that dollars spoke loudly, saying, "It was so much money that it was an offer I couldn't refuse."

But radio remains his preference, maybe even an obsession.

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