Miller case shows why stations, not teams, should do the hiring

November 10, 1996|By John Steadman

From Chesapeake Bay to San Francisco Bay, bounding east to west in one mighty leap, without a stop or a breath in between, marks more than a mere change of broadcast booths for Jon Miller, baseball announcer extraordinaire. He was at the head of the line when talent was handed out and can be selective -- at his price -- in where he wants to work.

From the standpoint of reaction, at least in Orioleland, it caused a furor comparable to what happened in show biz when Arthur Godfrey dismissed Julius LaRosa in the long ago past. Except, in this instance, Miller wasn't fired. His contract ran out and he chose not to talk about new financial terms or revised working conditions, as to what he could and could not say, set by team owner Peter Angelos.

There were rumblings in late September that he was thinking of leaving. Contact was made with the Florida Marlins to see if they'd be interested in his services. However, as much as they would like to have had him, the salary the Orioles were paying, $475,000, wasn't reachable in their ballpark.

Angelos wanted to meet with him directly, and there's little doubt that if this had happened, the matter would have been resolved. Miller was in concert with his agent, Ron Shapiro, and felt that's what agents are supposed to do -- negotiate contracts. Miller tells the world that he holds Shapiro in high regard. They have done well together.

The call to leave Baltimore was Miller's all the way, not Angelos'. Yet there was no direct communication. The situation was on hold. Meanwhile, Miller didn't like what he wasn't hearing from the Orioles. So he heads back to where he's looked on as the kid who went "back East" to create a reputation and now is coming home to his native Hayward, Calif., where he and his wife, Janine, both grew up.

When the Orioles' season ended, Miller was a free agent and able to make his own deal -- to stay with the Orioles, if they wanted him, or shop his services. An old friend in San Francisco said when announcer Hank Greenwald disclosed Aug. 27 that he was leaving the Giants, the club discussed possibilities for a replacement. General conversation in the office of the Giants was what they needed was "to find someone like Jon Miller," never believing they had even a remote chance to get him.

Why does Miller have so much appeal? In simple language, his ability sets him apart. He brought the voice, a natural gift, with him. Then consider the man's intelligence, eloquence, superb knowledge of the subject he describes (both the present and past of baseball history), timing, colorful phrasing and an entertaining sense of humor.

Two men in his field, Vince Bagli and Phil Wood, talk about his capabilities in the highest of terms. "I heard a late-night broadcast a couple of years ago from Seattle," remembered Bagli. "The Orioles were losing by a high score and, for a brief moment, he began to call the play in Spanish. It was entirely amusing and a change of pace from the regular report of listening to just another losing game. What was drab routine became exciting."

Wood said he ran into Miller in the Cockeysville post office on a winter afternoon several years ago. They began to talk baseball and "for the next hour and a half Jon offered detailed discussion about the 1930 National League season and the Philadelphia Phils. He is remarkably knowledgeable about the history of the game." But 1930? Yes, Miller and Wood were losing themselves in the glories of relative antiquity. Ah, the sweet nostalgia of the game.

On the air, Miller is a joy for the listener. It's difficult to comprehend Angelos said Miller didn't bleed orange and black, Orioles colors, but thank God he doesn't. Such an expression is downright trite, which is why we have trouble believing it came from the owner. Miller, to start with, wasn't from the "gee whiz golly" school of broadcasting. He delivered the game with accuracy and clarity, plus giving the audience much more than that -- including an insightful interpretation of managerial strategy and performance of the players.

The man responsible for bringing Miller to Baltimore in 1983 is Harry Shriver, now managing partner of station WWLG but then in charge of all operations at WFBR. "The first recommendation I got on Jon came from Tom Marr," recalled Shriver. "Bill O'Donnell, who was on the Orioles' broadcast, had died. Marr was high on Miller and got my attention.

"I listened to over 100 audition tapes, including some pretty good names. I thought Jon had the personality that would be pleasing and also put excitement into the game. He had been fired by the Boston Red Sox. I didn't know if the Oriole management would like him or not, but I got their approval.

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