Miller is only a voice the game is baseball

November 07, 1996|By Peter A. Jay

HAVRE DE GRACE -- In some respects, although not in others, Peter Angelos exemplifies the maxim that you'd better be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

When he became the owner of the Orioles he seemed the answer to the hopes of all who followed the team -- and on a less emotional level, to the hopes as well of politicians, business people and others with a personal stake in the survival of a successful baseball franchise in Baltimore.

After the dreadful Edward Bennett Williams, whose fondest dream was to move the team to Washington, and the equally dreadful Eli Jacobs, whose fondest dreams are unknown, but almost certainly didn't involve Baltimore baseball, when Mr. Angelos bought the team he looked like the light at the end of the tunnel.

Mountain of cash

He was a tough local plaintiffs' lawyer with a mountain of cash he had sucked out of the asbestos industry, and he had some

political connections, but in the beginning he wasn't especially well known. His roots in the city were as genuine as anyone's, though, and so was his commitment to it.

Because this is an era in which sports franchises are increasingly bought as personal ornaments by rich, restless people who think roots have something to do with dentistry, Mr. Angelos appeared different. To the media, he seemed refreshingly old-fashioned. That made a good story.

And when he showed up, checkbook in hand, to buy the team at auction from the financially humiliated Mr. Jacobs, the story got much better. It was a last-minute rescue worthy of John Wayne. The leading lady collapsed into the arms of the dusty cavalryman. The circling buzzards from other baseball-hungry communities flew resentfully off, and the orange-and-black banners continued to fly in Baltimore.

But the hero and heroine haven't lived happily ever after. As happens in the best of marriages, there has been some friction and some second thoughts. Like most very rich people, the Orioles' owner likes to throw his weight around, and as time went by he did it more and more. Sometimes the fans agreed with him, as when he vetoed trades last summer of David Wells and Bobby Bonilla, who immediately started playing very well and got the team to the playoffs. But sometimes they didn't.

When it comes to Jon Miller, the team's eminent announcer who has now packed his bags for San Francisco after 14 years in Baltimore, it's plain they didn't. Put a Bring Back Jon Miller referendum question on the ballot, and it would carry overwhelmingly.

Even as he takes his leave for the other coast and the other league, the orotund broadcaster is as popular as anyone in Maryland except Cal Ripken Jr. and Louis L. Goldstein. And for letting him go, the Orioles' owner is taking some hard knocks. Right now Peter Angelos' support is down there in the muddy shallows along with Parris Glendening's.

No messing with Miller

Eli Jacobs never messed with Jon Miller. Neither did Edward Bennett Williams. When Mr. Angelos let him go, the sportswriters waxed hysterical; one columnist, a sensible one, too, on the whole, went so far as to write that even if Mr. Angelos' Orioles win a World Series, it will be spoiled for the city by the absence of Jon Miller.

Well, says one voice from the distant peanut gallery, in a pig's eye. Get real.

Jon Miller was and is a wonderful broadcaster, and the Orioles paid him well for his talents -- $400,000 a year, according to the papers. In a sport where million-dollar contracts for players are routine, that may sound to some like little better than taxi fare, but it's still not a bad salary for a six-month season. It's also more than utilityman Billy Ripken gets, and Billy Ripken is as good at playing the infield as Jon Miller is at broadcasting a game.

The San Francisco Giants, we can surmise from news reports, are to pay their new announcer more than he was earning in Baltimore. The public and the sports columnists seem to think Peter Angelos should have met the figure and raised it to whatever was required to keep Mr. Miller here.

But really, how many people listen to a game on the radio because of the broadcaster? Not many. The people who liked Jon Miller best are for the most part knowledgeable about the game, and care about it deeply. They're precisely the people who aren't going to stop listening.

There are plenty of young broadcasters with the same raw talent and ambition Jon Miller had when he was a kid just starting out, and they'd do the games for the minimum wage and a hot dog. The faithful will listen anyway, and if the team wins, so will everyone else. Peter Angelos knows that, and if he puts the money he's not paying Jon Miller into developing a better team, more power to him.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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