Mr. Write? Emmy winner wants to add Orioles' radio to script

November 14, 1990|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

If it weren't for a guy like Ken Levine, guys like Hawkeye Pierce and Frank Burns, Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin, Homer and Bart Simpson and George Jefferson might not make it to first base.

Levine is an Emmy-award winning writer and producer who, with his partner, David Issacs, has penned scripts for "M*A*S*H," "Cheers," "The Simpsons," and "The Jeffersons," making spots as disparate as the Korean War and the corner bar uproariously funny.

But ever since he was 8 years old, sitting atop Dodger Stadium and listening to Vin Scully spin yarns over the Los Angeles airwaves, Levine has wanted to weave some of his own funny stories as a baseball play-by-play man on the radio.

"It's something that was always there in the back of my mind to try," said Levine.

And so, Levine has tossed his hat into the ring of about 80 broadcasters seeking to replace Joe Angel alongside Jon Miller and Chuck Thompson as Orioles announcer for the 1991 season.

WBAL station manager Jeff Beauchamp, who expects to make a decision on Angel's replacement by the end of the year, would not comment on Levine's candidacy, except to confirm that he is one of about 80 applicants for the post.

This is no lark for Levine, who shared a Writer's Guild award in 1982 with Issacs for an episode of "Cheers," in which a former teammate of Sam Malone, the bar's owner and a former Red Sox reliever, reveals that he is gay.

Levine has broadcast almost 300 minor-league games during the last three years in such hamlets as Syracuse, N.Y., and Tidewater, Va., and all the spots in between.

And although Levine regularly rubs shoulders with some of Hollywood's elite, the sights, smells and feel of the ballpark have taken hold of him.

"I really enjoy being in that inner circle and developing closeness with the players and with the audience," said Levine. "It's me getting to know them and them getting to know me. I kind of like it."

Levine's entry into the wild and wacky world of broadcasting was as unusual as his introduction to writing.

He graduated from UCLA in 1971 and set out as a radio disc jockey, plying his trade in Detroit, San Francisco and Bakersfield, Calif. In what could be an eerie coincidence, Levine said he actually replaced Angel at a station in San Bernardino, Calif.

Levine said he got "discouraged over playing the same 12 records," got out of radio and hooked up with Issacs, whom he had met in the Army. They sent out scripts for most of 1974 and were largely rejected, before they sold their first script to "The Jeffersons" in 1975.

The next year, they landed at "M*A*S*H," with a script that, oddly enough, had Hawkeye and B.J. besting Frank Burns by re-creating a baseball game on the 4077th's radio station.

Levine and Issacs moved onto "Cheers" in 1982 and had a good run there. But in 1985, Levine, slightly despondent over the failure of a Mary Tyler Moore sitcom that he and Issacs had created, decided to act on his childhood dreams.

"We were really proud of the show, but Mary was somewhat disenchanted and things just didn't work out," said Levine. "So we both said, 'Let's pursue the things that give us pleasure.' "

For Levine, that could only mean baseball. So, he and a friend regularly got nosebleed seats at Dodger Stadium and began calling games into a tape recorder. They bought more professional equipment as the infatuation grew.

And then during the winter of 1988, Levine really moved on his dream, sending audition tapes and resumes to 20 minor-league teams. The Syracuse Chiefs, the Toronto Blue Jays' top affiliate, called him three days later and he headed East with his wife and two children.

The Writer's Guild strike of that year made it easier for him to follow through and Levine stayed for the 146-game season to see if this notion was just a passing thing or even worse, a bout of middle-aged crazy.

"I thought I could do it for two months and be so tired of the experience that I wouldn't want to do it anymore," said Levine.

Instead, he found the experience as intoxicating as any beer that Norm Peterson has gulped down and the journey continued, this time heading south to Tidewater, where he has called about 70-80 games of the Tides, the Mets' Triple A team, for the last two years.

But he has kept his hand in writing. Levine and Issacs are writing a script about -- what else -- a comedy writer who goes to Syracuse to become a baseball announcer. His most recent television work was for "The Simpsons" and aired last week.

In it, Homer, America's most beleaguered animated dad, became a mascot for the team representing the nuclear power plant where he works.

"Let's face it," Levine said with a laugh. "The ballpark is the best place to be."

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