The Jan. 2 phone call from Home Team Sports general manager Jody Shapiro to John Lowenstein, informing the former Orioles outfielder that his services as an analyst on the channel's baseball telecasts would no longer be desired, caught him like a fastball to the noggin, and he still hasn't recovered from the blow.
"I have run the full gamut of emotions here from kind of stunned tTC and shocked silence to bitterness and anger," Lowenstein said during a visit to town this weekend to put his home on the market.
"And I'll tell you what: This move leaves me very distraught. This is very, very difficult to stomach, especially when you know you're doing a good job. I was devoted to this job."
Lowenstein, who will turn 49 on Saturday, served 11 years as lead analyst for HTS' award-winning Orioles telecasts, but was bumped out two weeks ago to make room for Mike Flanagan.
Lowenstein, who lives in Las Vegas during the baseball off-season, said he got no inkling from HTS officials that a change was in the offing before it happened.
And because the move was formally made in January, not in, say, October or November, Lowenstein said it will be difficult for him to line up work for next season.
"I could have spread my wings much more at least in an effort to stay in the framework of the game," said Lowenstein, who acts as his own agent. "I just wish I had been told about this early. Even if you're told about it early, you can carry the ball for yourself, and maybe you can do some things for yourself."
HTS officials said the switch to Flanagan was made because they believed the former Orioles pitcher, who served as the team's pitching coach last year before being dismissed after the season, was a valuable broadcasting commodity based on his work two years ago.
In addition, the channel announced plans to add to the workload of Hall of Famer Jim Palmer to do the 50 or so games that Flanagan won't in the 1996 season schedule.
Lowenstein said he believes the Orioles, using their right of refusal over announcers, may have placed pressure on HTS to make a change, feeling either that Lowenstein had been too critical or to help Flanagan after turning him loose from the club.
"I'm sure all that came into play, but why should that impact me? I don't know what more I could have done," said Lowenstein. "I could not have made more of a nutrient commitment to the club or the network.
"You have to be credible to your audience, don't you? And if that requires being a little critical, so be it. But there's no way I was overly critical. I strongly supported this club in its mission to build a championship team. That's why I admired [owner] Peter's [Angelos] efforts. For this to come down like this was inexplicable."
Bill Brown, HTS' executive producer and director of programming, said the club had no input on the decision to replace Lowenstein with Flanagan. On the timing issue, Brown said HTS officials made the decision Dec. 15, but elected to wait until after Christmas to tell Lowenstein.
"We knew we were going to hurt him, but the decision was made not to ruin the guy's holiday," said Brown.
Lowenstein said he would accept a reduced schedule with HTS if it were offered, but Brown said he doesn't see that happening this year, though HTS officials will evaluate their coverage at the end of the season and make changes if they feel they're necessary. Brown said the Bethesda-based channel has received about 20 phone calls and 20 letters about the decision, with 70 percent of the correspondence favoring Lowenstein.
At any rate, what was a long and prosperous relationship appears to have come to an unpleasant end.
"To me, this shows a callous disregard for the professionalism, dedication and effort I put forth, not only for the 11 seasons I was with HTS, but for the many years I was with the Orioles as a player. I put my heart and soul into each telecast," said Lowenstein. "In each telecast, you try to give the performance of your life, because you're only as good as your last game and I took that to heart."
Big Game plans
TNT officially launches the week of Super hype with a one-hour, NFL Films-produced documentary "The Super Bowl at 30: Big Game America" tonight at 8 with a repeat at 10.