Mundane musings of an O's broadcaster

April 01, 1993|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

The date is April 25, 1991. The place is Baltimore. This is the entry in the diary of former Orioles broadcaster Ken Levine:

"An off-day. I tried to sleep. I did laundry. I sneezed a lot."

Maybe there are people so intrigued by the idea of reading about baseball or spin cycles that they will proceed beyond this point in Mr. Levine's new book.

Then again, maybe not.

On the surface, this would seem to be a book easily recommended to Orioles fans, particularly those seeking the inside poop about their ballpark heroes. How often does Brady Anderson trim his sideburns? Does Cal Ripken ever whine about needing a day off? This is the stuff we want to know. And this is the kind of mindless book in which we expect to get answers.

But no. What do we get?

April 5: On arriving at his Baltimore apartment, Mr. Levine is horrified to discover the kitchen walls are covered with "busy yellow-and-silver wallpaper."

June 1: He checks into the Boston Sheraton with the Orioles. It's the worst hotel he has ever stayed in, strongly suggesting that he has never been to Farmingdale, N.J. "My room was freezing and there was no heat."

July 24: A Baltimore heat wave breaks. The Levine family enjoys a pleasant lunch at the Inner Harbor, then returns to its apartment to watch a videotape of "The Sound of Music."

Why is Mr. Levine telling us these things? Presumably because they offer an inside glimpse into the life of a major league broadcaster, one dominated by endless air travel, room service and lengthy separations from family.

Mr. Levine, who has moved on to a broadcasting job with the Seattle Mariners, did not come to this life by accident or against his will. For years, he has been a successful writer of television scripts, turning out dialogue for hit shows ("M*A*S*H," "Cheers") and an occasional bomb.

It was after a memorable flop that Mr. Levine and writing partner David Isaacs decided to turn their attention to broadcasting.

They began at Dodger Stadium, sitting in the upper deck, announcing games into tape recorders. They progressed to jobs as announcers with minor league teams.

On Dec. 19, 1991, Mr. Levine landed the dream job of his life -- a major league baseball assignment, joining veteran Orioles broadcasters Jon Miller and Chuck Thompson.

That autobiographical stuff, told in a 12-page prologue, is fascinating. The problem is the rest of the book.

For one thing, the diary hardly qualifies as breaking news. It is set during the 1991 season, an interesting enough year, but one far removed from the Orioles of today.

Mr. Levine is writing about a time before Camden Yards, before Mr. Ripken's $30.5 million contract, before the average fan even had heard the name William O. DeWitt Jr.

The book also suffers from a dearth of truly interesting stories. In his first year traveling with the big boys, you'd figure Mr. Levine would have stumbled on to maybe five foolproof anecdotes a week. Instead, the author devotes most of his writing to events that range from the mundane to the mildly interesting.

Mr. Levine has two young children and a wife, who remained in their home on the West Coast during most of his year with the Orioles. He describes one tearful parting. Then another. Then another. Question: Why does this man keep torturing himself (and us)?

There's also a minor, though irritating, problem with spelling errors. The spelling of Bobby Maduro Stadium, the Orioles' former springtime home in Miami, is butchered on Page 14. Sun columnist Mike Littwin loses a "t" on Page 110. And Towson restaurant owner Hersch Pachino will have mixed feelings about the free publicity on Page 80. His name is misspelled, as is the name of his eatery, which Mr. Levine transforms from Hersch's Orchard Inn to "Hersch's Orchid Inn."

Next time, hire a Baltimore native to transcribe the tape, Ken.

That said, he is a deft writer with an amusing, self-deprecating style. Some of his daily entries are funny. A few even are moving, most notably an account of a meeting with Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, Mr. Levine's idol during those days that he was broadcasting from the cheap seats in Southern California.

That section makes lively reading. But it's just four paragraphs.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "It's Gone! No, Wait a Minute: Talking My Way Into the Big Leagues at 40."

Author: Ken Levine.

Publisher: Villard.

Length, price: 295 pages, $20.

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