ONE of the rare happy results of the baseball strike is...

Salmagundi

August 16, 1994

ONE of the rare happy results of the baseball strike is WBAL's rebroadcasting of entire VIOGP's -- Very Important Orioles Games of the Past. In an apparent attempt to help fans with baseball withdrawal, the station started last weekend with the Orioles and Oakland A's American League playoff series of 1971, to be followed by the 1971 World Series. Presumably, other VIOGP's will follow.

The ordinary fan will love these repeats. Most of us know in general how these games came out, but we've long since forgotten the particulars. Since the O's have such a glorious past, we can listen again without sweating, safe in the knowledge that the good guys will prevail. It's like watching a good movie the fifth time.

Names pop out that ring bells -- Merv Rettenmund and Dave Johnson, for example. Some are still around town: Boog Powell and Jim Palmer, who was batting .160-something in 1971, before the designated hitter rule soiled the American League. Earl Weaver is playing golf in Florida. Elrod Hendricks is still with the O's as bullpen coach.

But one of the striking differences between 1971 and 1994 is in the broadcasters' approach to the game. In 1971, the late Bill O'Donnell and Chuck Thompson, who is still calling Orioles games, split their duties between radio and television; Thompson did the first five innings on radio, O'Donnell the last four. There was no "color" man, no repartee, no filling in dull spots with happy talk. Dull spots were filled in with statistics and game strategy.

O'Donnell and Thompson concentrated almost exclusively on the game at hand. When a superstar came to the plate, we were not treated, as we are today on both radio and TV, with discussion of his stalled contract talks, his free agency status or his 14th suspension to enter drug rehabilitation.

The announcers gave us little color that didn't relate to the game. They gave the dimensions of the park, of course, and described the weather. But there were few references to the fans and their behavior. (One reason may have been that the Orioles failed to sell out Memorial Stadium, even in the World Series.)

What it makes you realize is what a pro O'Donnell was, with that honey-smooth voice, and Thompson is, with a voice that seems to have mellowed (though maybe it's the quality of the recording). They described the game and the players. They were reporters, not entertainers. In 1971 that seemed enough.

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