With no calls to make, Miller is caught off base


August 24, 1994|By MILTON KENT

The events, or rather the non-events, of the past 13 days have turned Jon Miller into a grumpy not-very-old man.

Miller is a major-league baseball announcer, one of the best in the business, when there is business.

And there's the rub. For the past 13 days, the baseball strike has made Miller's life very simple.

"Well, let's see. I take my kids to the movies, read some books, watch some videos, talk on the phone, where I holler about the owners, then I hang up, read another book and take a nap. That's an ideal life, eh?" said Miller, with a little chuckle.

Don't believe it for a moment. With due respect to his wife and kids, there's no place Jon Miller would rather be at this time of year than a ballpark.

So far, Miller, 43, has received a bit of a baseball fix from his other job, play-by-play man for ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball," with the network having done one minor-league game and planning to do another Sunday, both involving the Double-A Birmingham Barons, who include a certain former basketball player you might have heard of.

But Miller would rather be in the bigs. "It is kind of disappointing," he said. "It was a great season with some great things happening. You had the potential to see some players do things that had not been done since fellows like Ruth, Gehrig, Williams and DiMaggio, the icons of the game, had done them."

One of the books Miller has been reading is "Lords of the Realm," authored by Wall Street Journal reporter John Helyar, which chronicles the history of baseball labor negotiations.

It should then come as no surprise to learn that Miller's sympathies in the current strike lie with the players.

"Does [Yankees owner] George Steinbrenner believe Bud Selig [the Milwaukee owner and de facto commissioner] when Bud says the small-market teams are in desperate trouble? If so, why isn't George Steinbrenner as a fellow owner willing to help?" said Miller.

In Miller's opinion, which sounds a lot like that of the Major League Baseball Players Association, the owners forced the players into this strike by presenting a salary cap proposal that they knew would not be accepted.

"They [the owners] had to know what the response from the players would be. That leaves only one conclusion: They wanted the players to strike," said Miller.

Miller believes, as the players do, that the owners can resolve whatever financial hardships they are in by redistributing wealth among themselves, without asking the players to give up hard-won gains.

Miller says the bigger teams, such as the Yankees, Dodgers and Blue Jays, should agree to place a percentage of their local broadcast dollars into a central fund -- where national TV and radio dollars are placed and disbursed at the commissioner's disposal.

In addition, Miller says, the National and American leagues should adjust their formulas for paying visiting teams shares of their gate receipts. Presently, visiting American League teams receive 20 percent of the opponent's gate, while National League teams pay out only 5 percent of their take.

Miller's comments seem even stronger when one remembers that he is not an employee of WBAL (1090 AM), the Orioles' rights holder, but of the team itself, a so-called big-market team.

Also, Miller has not reached agreement with the Orioles for next year. His contract expires at the end of the season and Chicago's WGN has been rumored to be after him -- either to team with or replace ailing Hall of Famer Harry Caray.

Miller said he has left the negotiating to his agent, Ron Shapiro, and is not troubled that he is not signed to a new contract, adding that he would like to stay in Baltimore, but is keeping his options open.

"[Baltimore] has always been my first choice. I've been here 12 years. My little boy was born here. This is my family's home. I got married here. This is a very good place for me, but you want to do what's right. I always want to make sure we hear everybody out," said Miller.

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