Nonce citizens

December 24, 1996|By James H. Bready

ALL WE WANT for Christmas -- to pretend to speak for Jon Miller's watchers and listeners, in their vastness -- is someone of comparable excellence. Someone with voice and verve, with broadcast know-how and baseball know-who.

But until such an appointment, we fret. On the surface, we invoke the grand old American tradition of looking over the team owner's (manager's, coach's, player's, water boy's, umpire's) shoulder and voicing disagreement, loudly. What is griping, after all, if not the standard reverse to spectator exultation? Underneath, though, our response to the unseemly speed of Mr. Miller's exit has transcended sports; welling up from deep within Baltimore's psyche, it speaks defeatism.

Victory gladdens Baltimore, for the moment. Unsuccess produces an all-too-familiar frown, in this city with reasons to doubt itself. We cannot afford further loss, cries the resident of this smallest of the great Northeast cities; day after day, we are being robbed (Mr. Miller), merged (Washington), swallowed (banks), forsaken (pro basketball), bled (suburbs), menaced (Alex. Brown & Sons, T. Rowe Price), belittled (port, railroads, heavy industry, corporate headquarters) and overlooked (travel maps). To the ramparts, if anyone can find them.

No replacement for Mr. Miller, letter-writers orate, can match his voice-of-Baltimore status on the networks. The Orioles will have fewer followers, cry the callers-in. Water levels in the bay will rise; whether in direct consequence is not yet certain.

Now, outrage and gloom are not to be made light of. But let us admit that cities, including Baltimore, can function after, or without, citizens of national distinction. The fact is, as U.S. cities come more and more to resemble one another, people are more frequently -- more cheerfully -- leaving one place for another.

Hopkins as way station

A top job here, by anybody's measure, is the presidency of Johns Hopkins University. Since World War II, seven presidents have passed through -- four of whom, including most recently William C. Richardson, rather than call this a culmination and retiring, moved on to something elsewhere.

With time, some of Baltimore's losses have only enlarged. Think of, in the 1970s, 1960s and 1950s, respectively, Oprah Winfrey, Garry Wills and Russell Baker. They and Miller were cut from a common pattern: start life out of state, accept a good Baltimore job offer, show unusual promise, accept a better job offer out of state.

Their decision had to do with individual, not municipal, values; not so much with that notorious couple, money and power, as with that less conspicuous compulsion, career. A young modern expects to move about, wherever advancement beckons. Had she stayed at WJZ-TV, would Ms. Winfrey have become a national byword? Would Mr. Wills, if still in the Johns Hopkins classics department, have written 19 books, won a Pulitzer, become a syndicated columnist? Would Mr. Baker, without leaving The Sun, have replaced Alistair Cooke at Masterpiece Theater?

At the time, their departures (for Chicago, Chicago, and both Washington and New York) caused pain. Yet by now some Baltimoreans, young or forgetful, may not even be aware of this former residency. Also there's the possibility of ultimate return -- such as the welcome sight of television's Jim McKay: out-of-stater, Baltimorean, out-of-stater and now, again, a Baltimorean.

On the other hand, Brooks Robinson is spending more and more time in southern California.

Once, Baltimore was used to dismissal as the stop between Washington and Philadelphia where passengers only glanced out the window, and never got off the train. Thanks to Beltway, bridge and tunnels, those people are now out of sight. What the eye does behold is out-of-staters standing in line for admission to Baltimore museums, stadia, restaurants, etc.

Jon Miller, defector, was briefly a news-page story across the country. But tomorrow's news story is more interesting than yesterday's -- even if our Christmas present, the new voice of Baltimore, prove to be unfamiliar, unproven. Enough tomorrows, enough seasonal glooms and here-and-gone civic despondencies and, at last, it'll be Opening Day again.

James H. Bready is a retired Evening Sun editorial writer.

Pub Date: 12/24/96

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