Miller's unfortunate departure stirs memory of Tigers debacle

Media Watch

November 07, 1996|By Milton Kent

It was George Santayana who observed that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Apparently, not much Santayana is being read in the Orioles' offices.

The explosion that has accompanied the departure of Jon Miller is eerily reminiscent of what happened in Detroit five years ago when Tigers management tried to dump Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell.

To recap, then-Detroit president Bo Schembechler decided that Harwell, a fixture on the airwaves there for over 30 years -- after he left Baltimore in 1960 -- was no longer needed, and tapped Rick Rizzs and Bob Rathbun.

The outcry over Harwell's dumping was swift and furious and laid the groundwork for Schembechler's eventual departure. Rizzs and Rathbun lasted three seasons, one with Harwell, before they, too, left Detroit, and the Tigers' image has barely recovered even now as Harwell has returned on a limited basis.

Miller's departure, coming admittedly through different circumstances, has the potential to cast just as devastating a shadow across the Orioles franchise.

It is astounding that Orioles owner Peter Angelos could either so totally misunderstand the public-relations fallout this would cause or be so arrogant as to think that replacing Miller wouldn't make a difference to the listener, who potentially becomes either a ticket-buyer or a patron of the club's sponsors.

Like Harwell, Chuck Thompson and Vin Scully before him, Miller is on a beeline for the broadcaster's wing of the Hall of Fame and announcers of that caliber just don't crop up everyday. His talent is such that his absence could very well cost the Orioles a few dollars in their current radio rights negotiations with WBAL (1090 AM) and Infinity Broadcasting.

All that said, Miller isn't entirely innocent in this. Miller and his agent, Ron Shapiro, made it clear to all three of his serious suitors, the San Francisco Giants, whom he eventually settled with, the San Diego Padres and the New York Yankees, that his overwhelming preference was to stay here in Baltimore. It's not unreasonable to think that those clubs wouldn't have been willing to wait a couple more weeks to give him every chance to stay in the town of his choice.

Also, both Miller and the owner have said that they never spoke to each other over the course of Angelos' ownership of the club. That, frankly, smacks of two men with sizable egos unwilling to partially meet each other. There was too much at stake for them not to talk, and Miller should get at least half the blame.

But Angelos has handicapped whoever succeeds Miller in the booth with two serious strikes before a spring training pitch is thrown or his name is announced.

First, the new announcer will probably find, just as Doug DeCinces did when he replaced Brooks Robinson at third base in 1977, that it's almost impossible to live up to a legend.

Second, and more importantly, Angelos' statement that Miller wasn't enough of an advocate and didn't "bleed black and orange" will automatically taint whoeverthe new person is as a homer and damage his credibility from the jump.

As Miller himself said in his teleconference Monday as he was introduced in San Francisco, the listener must believe that the person on the other side of the microphone will give him or her the truth or else the announcer's pronouncements carry no validity.

As an example, Miller cited his immediate statement during Game 1 of the American League Championship Series that a Yankees fan had interfered with Tony Tarasco's attempt to catch Derek Jeter's eighth-inning drive to right field.

"For the listener in Baltimore, if they don't trust me, then a lot of them would be saying, 'Wait a minute, here he goes again. Everything that ever happens, the Orioles are getting screwed, because this guy is an apologist for the club,' " said Miller.

"As it turns out, I got it absolutely right. The point of the story is the fans have to believe that I got it absolutely right or else I'm just no good to them or to the ballclub as a broadcaster. That has always been my philosophy and I think it's the ultimate philosophy of every good broadcaster. Get it right, be accurate and establish that with the fans, so that they know that you're going to give them everything that happens out there."

Who replaces Miller will largely depend on who gets the rights and how much of a say the club has in who will man the booth. If WBAL retains the team, then it would be safe to figure that incumbent Fred Manfra and sports director Josh Lewin would return. Should Infinity get the club, then all bets are off.

Some early speculation around town has tapped Cleveland Indians announcer Tom Hamilton as a favorite. He has ties to some team officials and, like Miller, is a Shapiro client. You'd have to figure that former Oriole Ken Singleton, who does radio for the Montreal Expos and is teamed with Lewin for Fox, would be a candidate, as well as Washington Bullets announcer Charlie Slowes, who has filled in for Miller on WBAL and done some Triple-A games, and Tom Marr, who teamed with Miller in the early 1980s on WFBR.

But the bottom line is that none of them is Jon Miller and that's a tremendous shame for all of us who enjoy listening to baseball.

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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