Love or hate him, Rimer will be missed

August 22, 1994|By PHIL JACKMAN

There was never an issue he couldn't skirt, a fence he couldn't straddle, a wishy he couldn't washy and a hockey game he couldn't get to within an hour to provide play-by-play.

Jeff Rimer developed as many detractors as he did fans during his decade-long stand as the sports director at WBAL Radio. Which, in the final analysis, tells you he did a bang-up job.

Positively or negatively, people reacted to Rimer and his evening talk show, "Sports Line." They were rarely indifferent to the show, which is priority No. 1 for any ratings- and advertiser-driven program.

You want numbers, you got 'em. The 11.5 rating the station got for the 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. nightly block last fall is dynamite in any market. And since this month in 1984 when he sold his sled dog team and headed to "The Land of Pleasant Living" to "re-establish a sports presence" for WBAL, well, did it all come to pass?

So he talked a little bit funny sometime (I'm one to talk, right?) -- his north of the border background leading to "about" becoming "a-boot" and "eh" finishing off too many sentences -- he helped get the station back to drawing the audience a 50,000-watt monolith should.

Once so prominent in town before school closings seemed to become its reason for existence, WBAL again became a huge part of our summer evenings as we waited for zany Cal Ripken to play game No. 1,997 or whatever. Of course, the return of the Orioles was the main boost, but U. of Maryland sports and "Sports Line" were a big part of it, too.

It was always a such a thrill getting a call from Rimer. Mainly, it meant he was hard up for a guest that evening, and couldn't you sort of drop over and just shoot the breeze for a spell? Who could resist the temptation to belly up to a microphone and take shots at the host, currying favor with those listeners calling for Jeff's immediate departure from the airwaves?

A standard line has always been that all Rimer's clothes had the logo of at least one professional sports team or manufacturer on them, sometimes two. I know for a fact that his wardrobe wasn't all freebies, actually seeing him purchase his own underwear and socks at a mill outlet 127 miles northwest of Winnipeg.

rTC Jeff was never in the habit of filling you in on his impressive capabilities. You never heard it from his mouth, his proving beyond a shadow of a doubt who was the better man physically in his well-documented confrontation with Pete Rose in a baseball clubhouse.

Rimer will be gone for a week, establishing a beachhead at his new place of employment, the Sunshine Network in Miami, getting the family established and the kids in school. He'll be back working the phone lines next week, thus taken the pressure off WBAL to find a replacement quickly. See, the station looks at some of its past hires and, understandably, isn't enthusiastic about making such decisions. What was the name of that baseball announcer who was so bad?

The Sunshine Network does Florida Panthers hockey, the baseball Marlins, football Dolphins, basketball Heat, fishing shows, ocean boat-racing and jai alai. Rimer's already a semi-expert on all of these so, in his spare time, there's a good chance he'll pick up some radio work with "Sports Line Caribbean."

A resilient sort, Rimer happened upon this plum tree last winter when the Washington Capitals cut his hockey announcing schedule in half and he became the Panthers telecaster. One thing led to another and . . .

There are those who have indicated that when Rimer leaves, he will leave no vacancy. Oh, yeah, watch. You think this being host of a sports talk show is a vacation in the south of France? Let's see anyone log a few months of putting up with and appeasing many of the people who call talk shows, renowned for knowing dangerously little about the subject they chose to expound on.

Naturally, after being so long at the fair, Jeff says he's going to miss it around here, especially one of his favorite people, Stan White. He promises to phone in a dozen rumors or so each month and apologizes for leaving for something so crass as about twice the money. "And just when I was catching onto baseball, too," he lamented with a wink.

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