Miller sets tone and pace for Orioles broadcasts

Media Watch

July 11, 1996|By Milton Kent

I wrote incorrectly in yesterday's space that Channel 2 was the only local television station to have a reporting presence at Tuesday's baseball All-Star Game in Philadelphia.

In fact, Channel 45 reporter Steve Davis and cameraman Steve Weinstein also were at the game and, by virtue of their earlier start time, had the Cal Ripken broken nose story before Channel 2. Sorry about the error.

Perhaps the metaphor of broadcaster as member of the family is most appropriate in the dysfunctional '90s, but even if it isn't, it certainly applies to the baseball announcer, who spends as much time in the sports fan's home during the spring and summer as a relative.


In order to be invited into your living room or backyard barbecue day after day, your broadcaster had better be as welcome as a favorite uncle, and the six men who handle the Orioles' television and radio broadcasts are largely pleasurable.

Of course, any discussion of Orioles announcing should begin with Jon Miller. It may be bad form to blanketly declare Miller the best radio play-by-play man in the business without hearing the talent in either the National League or from the West Coast, but it's awfully hard to imagine anybody doing a better job on a day-in, day-out basis.

Miller, whose skills probably haven't peaked, is brilliant at

gauging the tone and feel of a game, and tailoring his call to fit it. Sublimely played games get the full fury of his rich baritone, while sloppy contests rightfully earn his scorn.

While superb at providing information, Miller is a marvelous entertainer and storyteller. His recollections of great rain delays during a weather break during the Texas series last month was side-splittingly funny. It's an art that is lost on most announcers of this era and it's the kind of thing that will land Miller in the broadcast wing of the Hall of Fame someday.

The man who is in the Hall of Fame, Chuck Thompson, is just as warm and inviting today as he ever was, and while Thompson might not be able to immediately recall minute details on whoever the left fielder for the Detroit Tigers is on a given Sunday when he generally fills in for Miller, Thompson's overall breadth of baseball knowledge makes him a vital part of the broadcast.

Miller's daily partner, Fred Manfra, continues to develop as a baseball broadcaster, four years into his stint. He has a rich voice that wears well and his friendly manner is a welcome one.

However, there are nagging holes in Manfra's delivery. He still has problems explaining plays where there is more than one thing going on, say, for instance, when there is a relay throw and there are runners moving around the base paths, or a tricky fielding play. His home run calls can sound, at times, rushed, as if he's trying to cram every ounce of information into the narrative at once.

In his defense, however, Manfra's biggest problem might well be that his work will suffer in comparison to his partners, and he'll always play Doug DeCinces to Miller's Brooks Robinson and to Thompson's George Kell, and we all know how good DeCinces became once he left Baltimore. If you place Manfra in virtually any other city, where he doesn't work alongside two Hall of Fame caliber announcers, his flaws wouldn't sound as noticeable.

All-Star fallout, fall-off

NBC did a rather splendid job with its coverage of Tuesday's baseball All-Star Game. Too bad not many people saw it.

The Nielsen overnight survey of the nation's top 33 markets shows the game posted a 13.2 rating and 23 share, the lowest ever for a prime-time All-Star Game, making it the least watched one in 27 years.

That's a shame, for NBC was largely on the mark in its only regular-season telecast of the year, starting with its hustle to get footage of the pre-game incident in which Roberto Hernandez inadvertently broke Cal Ripken's nose, though Hannah Storm's interview of Ripken left something to be desired.

By now, praising Bob Costas should be old hat, but darned if the guy just doesn't prove himself to be the best in the business every time out. He was informational and entertaining, as always, but blunt when he had to be, as, for example, when he rang up Albert Belle and his supporters, saying they should urge him to seek help for his problem before it places a "blight" on his career.

Baseball's best analyst, Joe Morgan, was likewise on the money, noting that Belle, who is usually aggressive at the plate (not to mention other places), was taking a lot of pitches and appeared to be uncharacteristically passive.

The third man in the booth, Bob Uecker, brought a really nice comic touch to the proceedings. When American League

catcher Ivan Rodriguez got whacked on the head by a back swing, Uecker cracked that when he caught, he kind of liked getting hit.

One final shout goes out to Channel 2, which had the presence to send Keith Mills, producer Joe Hammond and cameraman Lamonte Williams to Philadelphia, making them the local crew to get the Ripken story firsthand. In fairness, the game time didn't lend itself to Channel 45's sending a crew, but why didn't Channel 13 and particularly, Channel 11, the NBC affiliate, dispatch someone?

Rivers flows to Turner

Turner Broadcasting yesterday added Glenn "Doc" Rivers to its cast of NBA game analysts, succeeding Danny Ainge, who left after one season to become the heir apparent coach in Phoenix.

Rivers spent 13 seasons with four teams, the last two years with San Antonio. No play-by-play partner was named for Rivers, but the smart money would have him teamed with the wonderful Verne Lundquist. Rivers' cousin is former Oriole and current Fox baseball analyst Ken Singleton.

Pub Date: 7/11/96

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