Brooksie puts on show for fan Clinton

Phil Jackman

April 06, 1993|By Phil Jackman

The TV Repairman

As you've no doubt heard by now, the Orioles got beat yesterday in the season opener at Big Jake's Place, 7-4.

In many respects, it was your typical 7-4 ballgame: The winning team (Texas) smacked more home runs (four), got better pitching and fans wondered why Birds manager Johnny Oates went with starting chucker Rick Sutcliffe so long.

Meantime, up in the Channel 2 television booth, things were a bit different.

For instance, instead of talk show host Larry King dropping in to kibitz with his buddy Jon Miller, there was this interloper obviously bent on getting Brooks Robinson's autograph.

Yes, it was none other than President Bill Clinton and darned if he didn't seem in awe during a chit-chat with the famed third baseman from the chief executive's home state of Arkansas.

It's hard to tell if being fussed over by the president inspired Brooks or if No. 5 has taken on a new, keener interest in the game. It's as if he has come by a subscription of Baseball Weekly.

Of course, Brooks has always had an advanced knowledge of the game, owing to more than two decades of making fantastic plays on defense, smacking a zillion clutch hits and watching top-flight pitchers perform from just a few yards away.

It has been individuals he hasn't appeared to be enthralled with since retiring in the mid-'70s, and who could blame him. Maybe that's changed. After just one game, he seems a lot more familiar with the men in uniform now and that includes the other guys, not just the O's.

As has been the case for a while now, the key to analyst Robinson's having a good game is play-by-play man Miller. Jon's so good at wrenching material out of the mind of Brooks and he doesn't do it with a dreary, "Who's the best pitcher you ever faced?" approach.

Miller, who has approximately 750,000 stories floating around in his head, simply lays one on the audience at the appropriate time. It strikes a responsive chord with Robinson and away we go.

Somehow, during a lull in the action -- yes, baseball games have them, you know -- the conversation got around to some minor points of the game, like signs and signals.

"I know a coach who used to stick his tongue out if he wanted you to steal. Real scientific," said Brooks.

Which reminded Miller of the time in Milwaukee when manager Earl Weaver got up and screeched to one of the Orioles who was on third base at the time: "Earl hollered, 'Suicide Squeeze.' The Brewers obviously didn't believe him, because the guy started running, the bunt went down and he scored easily."

Robinson noted Texas coach Mickey Hatcher pointing out something on a bat to one of the young Rangers: "He's showing the guy the sweet spot on the bat, and I

can assure you Mickey never hit it there in his life."

It was good, easy, free-flowing stuff throughout while in no way masking or straying too far from what was going on on the field.

"That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, throwing the ball right down the middle on a 3-and-0 count with first base open," Robinson said after Sutcliffe had served up another of the three home runs he allowed.

The announcers took turns being entertaining and informational. Brooks rendered the unvarnished truth about Bill Ripken leaving Baltimore for the Rangers: "The Orioles said, 'We're not interested in you for $800,000 [salary]; now for $200,000, we are.' "

Earlier and during a brief visit, it was probably President Clinton who offered the most insight on the day's play. The Rangers had two runners aboard in the first inning and a fine hitter for average at the plate, Julio Franco, when Jose Canseco just seemed to wander off second base to become a dead-duck third out at third base.

"He seemed to lose concentration there," said the First Jogger, gently. Clinton revealed that during his ballplaying days, he had to play outfield, "because I was so slow." Which probably prompted listeners to wonder what kind of baseball they play in Arkansas if the slowest people play the outfield.

Game 1 of WMAR's 50-something slate of Orioles games proved an enjoyable watch and listen. Thankfully, an exciting squeeze bunt play for a run wasn't booted this time, as happened in last year's Camden Yards inaugural. And the wing job the rest of the station talent did starting at noon provided some yuks, too.

Yes, there was Stan Stovall with his glove and hat playing the part of an expectant 12-year-old, Beverly Burke speaking in gusts of 200 words per minute, the traffic reports going out to all those folks headed for the ballpark with televisions in their cars. Plus the usual missed cues, defective equipment, shameless huckstering and memorable moments from last season, compliments of Home Team Sports. What, you guys got no library?

Oh, owner Eli Jacobs was there, too, trudging the field beforehand. But he didn't want to be interviewed about his financial difficulties, realizing this was a day for fans and players.

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