Play-by-play giant Miller left his heart in Baltimore Radio: San Francisco opened up its Golden Gates and announcer jumped at the chance. But he says he misses the Orioles.

April 17, 1997|By Dan Ouellette | Dan Ouellette,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SAN FRANCISCO -- Jon Miller is having a little trouble feeling at home.

It's a cool, breezy Sunday at 3Com (nee Candlestick) Park. Miller has arrived at the home stadium of the San Francisco Giants for a quick, two-hour, get-acquainted tour before his first-ever broadcast here as the team's new radio and TV voice.

It's not all new to him, of course. Miller cut his teeth on baseball here, coming from his boyhood home across San Francisco Bay to see Mays, McCovey and Marichal play. It's where he developed his love for the game, and for announcing. As a kid, he idolized Giants' announcers Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons, imitating their radio deliveries, even sitting high in the upper deck near their booth to watch them work. He got his first broadcast job thanks to a tape he made of a Giants game he called from a remote section of the stadium.

So some things are familiar: The park's ever-changing, often vicious weather. The fact that the visiting team has no clubhouse behind its dugout to escape to when the fog rolls in and the winds begin to howl. The fact that the home team will have to stave off not only the Dodgers, Padres and Rockies, but the annual specter of the dreaded June Swoon, killer of so many pennant hopes over the years.

But much more here is unfamiliar, and not just at the park, where he still has to find his way to the radio booth and restrooms.

"I'm so homesick," Miller says as he heads for the Giants' locker room for the first time, looking for some last-minute tidbits of information to use on the broadcast today. "I've got a great furnished apartment here, but it doesn't feel like home yet. During spring training, I came to San Francisco from Scottsdale one day to pick up my keys and hang up some clothes. I walked in and it felt like somebody else was living there. I was supposed to spend the night, but two hours later I called the airport and went back to Arizona."

Home, it's clear, is important to Jon Miller. And it's pretty clear that in his heart, Baltimore is still home.

Changing fortunes

"I can't even begin to understand why the Orioles let Jon slip through their fingers," says ex-Giants pitcher Mike Krukow, who will work TV and radio broadcasts with Miller. "It blows my mind. Because of Jon's ESPN work, I believe he's the voice of baseball today."

Extravagant praise, perhaps, but nothing Miller hasn't heard before. Certainly he'd heard it in Baltimore, where he'd become an institution, broadcasting Orioles games since 1983. But then, suddenly, he was gone, an apparent squabble with Orioles owner Peter Angelos over his broadcasting style sending him across the country, to a new job in a new league.

To expect immediate success in San Francisco, though, was not a sure bet. For one thing, there were the team's diminishing fortunes on the field. In Baltimore, there had been a pennant race and dramatic playoffs to describe to listeners. In San Francisco, where the team had finished 1996 at 68-94, dead last in the National League West, Miller himself might have to be the most entertaining thing about the broadcast.

There was also the matter of the man he was replacing. Veteran Giants announcer Hank Greenwald, who retired last year after 16 seasons, had never earned Miller's national renown. But for diehard Giants fans, his wry, sharp-witted style and encyclopedic baseball knowledge made him at least Miller's equal.

As any Orioles fan might have bet, though, that battle was over almost before it started.

While admitting that Greenwald will be missed, those who had their ears glued to spring training broadcasts agree that luring Miller from Baltimore last fall was a coup. Local sports radio pundits, newspaper beat writers and baseball junkies are all talking about the off-season acquisition with the sort of excitement normally reserved for a pennant-insuring trade, just the kind the Giants' brass failed to make over the winter.

After just one spring training broadcast, San Francisco Chronicle sports media columnist Susan Slusser was convinced.

"He's got an easy style and he's really forthright in his criticisms," Slusser says. "He's one of the best. Anyone who doesn't respect him is crazy." Does she mean Angelos, perhaps? Slusser just laughs.

"Jon brings a rare sense of what the game of baseball is all about," says postgame radio host Bruce McGowan. "That's what we need right now -- someone who knows the game well, who studies it and can relate it to listeners."

The Giants' No. 2 announcer, Ted Robinson, agrees. "There's a discerning baseball audience here. The landscape has been littered with announcers who have been chewed up and spit out by fans. But Jon's talent and knowledge is so strong that he won't have any problems being accepted."

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