This last call will stick in city's throat

November 05, 1996|By JOHN EISENBERG

This being Election Day, let's tally up the public's opinion on Peter Angelos' decision to let Jon Miller take a walk.

Who, like Angelos, thinks it was a good move?

Hello?

Anyone out there?

OK, going once, going twice, tell it goodbye.

It appears we have one person who thinks it was a good move.

Everyone else thinks it was a bad move.

Frankly, how could anyone think otherwise? How could anyone approve of summertime becoming less entertaining?

Angelos will have to live with that legacy, now and forever. If he doesn't know it yet, he will soon.

In a city that doesn't forget, this one isn't going to go away.

Even if he brings a World Series winner to town, Angelos will forever be excoriated as the owner who fired Miller and made it less fun to root for the Orioles.

To borrow that old grade-school threat, this one is going on his "permanent record."

Angelos will insist now that Miller never really wanted to come back, that it was strange how Miller signed a five-year deal with the Giants just days after his negotiations with the Orioles broke down.

That isn't a valid excuse. That's just Angelos trying to wash his hands of a mistake.

You know how he operates. If he wants someone, he gets him.

If he wanted Miller back, he would have gotten Miller back. Courted him, thrown money at him, signed him.

He didn't want Miller back.

He got his wish.

Now he'll have to live with it. All by himself. Can't blame Gillick for this. Can't blame Davey. Can't blame Cal. This was his call, his alone.

It will go down as his worst.

Miller wanted to stay in one place, stay associated with one team and go into the Hall of Fame as a Scully or a Harwell, a franchise's lasting emblem.

Angelos wanted a homer. Case closed. This is fair?

Of course, Angelos has hurt himself badly, even if he doesn't realize it yet. He has damaged his franchise, lowered its standards, cheapened its name and given the fans one less reason to pay attention.

Shrewd.

He has always fancied himself as a man of the people, the local owner who could feel his hometown's pulse, but he can forget about that.

Firing Miller is evidence that he is out of touch with what his customers want.

He has misread this situation in many ways.

He framed his opinion on one precept: that he shouldn't have to pay a guy $400,000 to knock his ballplayers.

Fine. Makes sense from a business standpoint. But the situation was far more complicated than that. Let us count the ways that Angelos has misread it:

1. The fans don't want a "homer" broadcaster. They want the story of the game told with insight, accuracy and humor. A shill has no credibility.

2. Miller was not "critical" of the Orioles players. That implies he was harsh on them. Wrong. He just pointed out their mistakes.

3. Miller was the Orioles' best marketing tool other than Camden Yards itself. He was an essential part of their popularity.

4. The fans loved him.

Someone should have told Angelos that the Orioles averaged 2.5 million fans in their last three seasons in Memorial Stadium, even though the team was lousy in 1990 and '91.

Those were fans drawn to the ballclub, not a new ballpark, drawn to the ballclub as much by Miller as any other element.

He gave the franchise a vestige of dignity when it was the laughingstock of baseball in the late '80s.

You found yourself listening to his elegant broadcasts even though the team lost most of the time.

For years, he was one of the few pockets of excellence in the entire organization.

Good opera is good opera, and Miller was good opera.

The fans who were drawn to him and the Orioles in those forgettable days were still listening. Still buying tickets. Still filling the ballpark.

Angelos has done them a disservice they won't soon forget.

Listening to Miller was one of the great simple pleasures of living here; it was free, it was fun and it was high art.

It contributed to the Orioles' popularity more than Angelos ever realized.

Whoever replaces him will be under orders from the boss to "bleed orange and black."

San Francisco gets Miller; we get a homer. That's a trade?

Oh, sure, life will go on, and the Orioles will still exist as a local secular religion. Angelos will sign a free agent soon and everyone will get excited again.

But then spring training will come around and everyone will realize that cheering for the Orioles isn't the same, elegant exercise it was.

It won't be as much fun to listen.

It won't be as much fun to follow the team.

All because one man's opinion, one nay amid thousands of yays, was all that mattered.

Hardly seems fair.

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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