Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jon Miller

The Hall-of-Fame just got funnier. My former partner in Baltimore, Jon Miller gets inducted into Cooperstown today. Jon is currently the voice of the San Francisco Giants and ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Yes, Vin Scully is the ultimate baseball broadcaster but Jon Miller is the best of anyone under 82.

And the funniest.

Not that there’s a whole lot of competition in that category. Especially today. Baseball announcers used to have distinct personalities, regional accents, wry wits. Today they’ve largely been replaced by polished generic professionals who all sound alike and bombard you with statistics. Now you’d hear, “Two outs, bottom of the ninth, here’s Eugnio Velez. He’s been struggling, batting .197 with an on base percentage of .384 and with men in scoring position hitting only .178.” Harry Caray would’ve just said, “Here’s Eugenio Velez. Stay tuned for the post game show coming right up.”

Baseball announcing is a lost art. Very few today are master storytellers. Very few really bring the game “alive”.

Thank God for Jon Miller.

Blessed with a gorgeous baritone voice (I sounded like Minnie Mouse compared to him, the bastard), Jon is a throwback to the days when announcers not steroids made ballplayers seem larger-than-life.

I was privileged to share the booth with him in the early 90s in Baltimore. Every night I marveled at his preparation, knowledge of the game, descriptions worthy of John Updike, passion, and more than anything else – ability to entertain.

Like I said, Jon is funny. There were nights we’d be riffing on the air and I’d have trouble keeping up with him. (Don’t you hate it when someone just in passing does something as good as you when you’ve been doing it for twenty years?) I’m convinced, if Jon had gone into television writing instead of baseball he’d be in Comedy Writers Hall-of-Fame (if there were such a thing. And if there were, I guarantee you it wouldn’t be in Cleveland.)

We did lots of zany stuff together on the air. We imitated Wolf Blitzer giving rain delay updates, tried out ridiculous home run calls, a discussion of hockey prompted us to roll our chairs and body check each other while calling the play-by-play.

But my personal favorite bit is this. And it was all Jon’s brainchild. I left Baltimore for the Seattle Mariners. Our first trip into Baltimore Jon asked, for old time’s sake if I could come over and do an inning with him? I said sure. But here’s the thing: he would introduce me as if I were still calling Orioles games. No fanfare, no “nice to have you back”, nothing.

So we come out of the commercial break, Jon says, “Now as we go to the 3rd, here’s Ken”. I say, “Thanks Jon, 3-1 O’s and leading off for Seattle is… “ During the inning we discussed past Orioles games that season as if I had seen them, I did all the commercial drop-ins, and talked about all the giveaways for future homestands that I was looking forward to. After the inning I came back on and said, “Now to the 4th, let’s get back to Jon.” He said, “Thanks, Ken…” and that was that. Apparently the station switchboard was going nuts with confused fans. Was I back? Had I been there all along? Were they just having a horrible dream?

Wish I could be with Jon today in Cooperstown. He now becomes my fourth broadcast partner to enter the Hall (Dave Niehaus, Chuck Thompson, and Jerry Coleman being the other deserving three). “I would rather listen to Jon Miller call a baseball game than see the game myself.” I can’t think of any higher praise than that.

Either that or I’d say, “On to the Hall, here’s Jon.” Knowing Jon, he’d probably like that intro better.


Anonymous said...

As a kid growing up in Maryland, Jon Miller was the voice of my young summers. He was a radio poet, and funny as hell - he respected the game in a way that understood it would survive a ribbing.

When the O's fired him in '96, it was the beginning of the end for the franchise, and for my love of the team. Whenever I hear him on ESPN, I linger on the game, no matter who's playing.

Congratulations, Jon. You deserve Cooperstown, and it's lucky to have you.

Splenda said...

Jon Miller is the second funniest MLB radio broadcaster. I think the mantle of funniest has been claimed by Bob Uecker.

Dodgerbobble said...

I love listeneing to Jon Miller. Too bad it means putting up with Joe Morgan.

Gary said...

Long before the radio guys became TV guys...I remember listening to Harry Caray and Jack Buck calling the Cards, back in the 50s when my family ventured to MO in the summer. Harry sounded a whole lot different in the 80s and 90s when I found myself held prisoner in the Chicago area. He was still appealing, just sounded different. Teamed with Jimmy Piersall, doing the White Sox, that was a treat. A lot more interesting than when he went to the Cubs. But it's great to be bgakc home and listening to Dave Niehaus every day, but I do feel for Dave, these last few years he must think he's in another version of Groundhog, flashing back to 1977every damn day!

Kenny, come back, we need to know which Cartwright brother will save the M's!

Michael said...

Like Ken, I grew up listening to the golden tonsils of Vin Scully, and Ken put it correctly (albeit with a typo): Jon Miller is the best under age 82.

As I think I've said before, I think Miller does the second best Vinnie impression, after me (ha ha). But the things you learn ... Miller does a great riff on Vin explaining the Biblical implications of Dusty Baker wearing the number 12 (it's a multiple of the number of days for creation and the number in the trinity), ending with Dusty saying, "You know, I hadn't thought of it." I started regaling my wife with that impression, but concluding with Vin saying something outrageously obscene that he obviously would never say. Turns out Miller does Vin swearing! That must be a riot.

The first time I heard Miller, the Oakland A's games were being televised into Las Vegas for some reason, and he came over from the Baltimore radio booth and did Vin as John Wayne in "The Sons of Katie Elder," saying, "Welcome to Ma's grave!" I fell on the floor, it was so hysterical.

One of the best recent lines about Miller came from an obituary on Bob Sheppard. Miller does a great impression of him, and Sheppard said one day he was out with his wife, ordered breakfast, and the waitress said something like, "You know, you sound just like Jon Miller does when he imitates you."

Jack Leyhane said...

I looked this up to be sure.

It was 1988. The Orioles started the season 0-21.

Cal Ripken, Sr. had already been fired. Fortunately for baseball history, Cal Ripken, Jr. decided not to sit out a game in protest.

Then the O's came to Chicago. New Orioles GM (and former Sox GM) Roland Hemond persuaded Jerry Reinsdorf to let him have the suit he'd worn in the clubhouse in 1983 when the Sox clinched their first post-season appearance since 1959. The suit had been soaked with champagne and beer and kept in a display case case ever since.

I can't imagine who wanted to sit next to Hemond that night.

Anyway, Jon Miller was a guest on the White Sox pregame show. He did a spot-on imitation of Edward R. Murrow reporting 'from the rooftops of London' to show how desperately the situation was viewed in Baltimore.

That was the night the Orioles broke the streak.

How wonderful for you to have worked with him.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, great post. Miller is absolutely one of the best in the game.

It's too bad that he's placed with the attention craving Joe Morgan. Considering how great he is, it's a pretty big anomaly that he's even works for ESPN, considering they generally employ boring, conventional guys such as Morgan, Andre Ware, or tired ass Chris Berman,

Anonymous said...

If there were a Comedy writers hall of fame it would probably be in Schenectady, Walla Walla or Cucamonga. Those names just sound like they were made up by comedy writers.

Mac said...

I remember years ago when the Giants played St Louis MIller introduced them as "the team that leads the league in Smiths."

Cap'n Bob said...

I'll bet some smartass mentions that if you were Seattle going into the third inning the O's would be batting, not the M's. But I won't. I won't. The hell I won't.

That piddling matter aside, I enjoyed the post, as usual. I don't hear Miller much anymore because I can't abide Joe Morgan's incessant inanities. But when he's away from Morgan, I stay tuned.

WV: ovelae: How Linda Lovelace pronounces her last name while performing deep throat.

15-Seconds said...

I am a huge Jon Miller fan too. But he could have used your help, Ken, in tightening and punching up his HoF remarks.

Would have enjoyed hearing an imitation or two...and Miller needed more zip on his anecdotes. They started off well but then tapered off.

The "I'd like to thank..." part of such ceremonies are often tedious -- but c'mon Jon ...thanking your ACCOUNTANT?

Sherri said...

Not only does Miller do a killer impression of Vin Scully, he does an amazing impression of Japanese broadcasters who tend to mimic Vin Scully's cadences.

Terry said...

OK, I'll say it -- Miller is good and would be even better if he wasn't carrying on the love affair with himself and his voice. That phony, exaggerated "SAFE!" call is awful. I know that Joe Morgan is an idiot and can't be easy to work with, but Miller also shows a tendency to "show up" his partners (in baseball parlance). Yeah, Harry Caray was an egomaniac, too, but Harry made it charming.

scottmc said...

Today's post answered a question that I was going to ask; I just finished reading 'It's Gone...No, Wait a Minute' and wondered if Chuck Thompson had been elected to the Hall of Fame as you had hoped.
'It's Gone...' is a great book.(I found in the NYC bookstore Strand, a store featured in a number of movies. And, no, it wasn't stuck in the $1 bin-where Amy Adams is browsing in 'Julie and Julia'. Instead, it was on a main shelf between a biography of Joe DiMaggio and a copy of 'Moneyball'.)
The book tells of a time before the Wild Card, when Wayne Huizenga could be discribed as 'the magnate behind the hugely successful Blockbuster Video chain' and we see the start of Mike Mussina's possible Hall of Fame career. We read about the four pitchers combining for a No-Hitter, a player calling the other team's
bullpen pretending to be the other team's manager and getting a pitcher warmed up. And current Red relief pitcher Arthur Rhodes is a
control wild starter.
But the line that resonated the most for me was one from September 10. After spending time with you in Baltimore your family returned to California. And you wrote...'I returned home and couldn't sleep. Maybe if I could've read somebody a story...'. Something similar to that occured to me earlier this month after returning from a short vacation visit with my daughter. It was a perfect description of what I felt.

Baseball4Life said...

I'm with Splenda. Bob Uecker sits on top as the funniest broadcaster. So nice to have his voice back on the radio.

Jon Miller comes in second.

Og said...

Hi, Ken

I'm sure it's been covered in this blog, or supposed to be common knowledge, but when did you live in Baltimore?

Mike Schryver said...

Growing up in New York (slightly upstate) after the Dodgers left, I was treated to many years of listening to Lindsey Nelson, who I think gave Scully a run for his money at that time. The Mets have had questionable teams, but they've always had good play-by-play announcers, currently Gary Cohen and Howie Rose, who I think are two of the best, and who keep up the paint-a-word-picture tradition.
Still, I agree that Scully is the king, and it's hard to argue with Miller as the heir apparent.

parnell said...

In his speech today Jon Miller thanked Lon Simmons for being an inspiration. Lon never got the national platform he deserved but he's certainly among the wittiest broadcasters ever along with being one of the best.

During a spring-training game Lon set the scene and then twisted it: "The outfield is shallow but they plan on doing a lot of reading this summer."

Lon was great and so is Jon. Both deservedly in the Hall of Fame.

l.a.guy said...

You're being too modest Ken, it can't be coincidence that four of your partners made it into the hall. Clearly they listened and learned from the master. I'm sure your induction to Cooperstown is just a matter of time. If not, there's always the Comedy Writer's Hall of Fame... oops... never mind.

I do love Jom Miller, although next to Vinny, Dick Enberg may be my all time favorite. (Honorable mention to Bob Starr)

Cap'n Bob Napier
"I'll bet some smartass mentions that if you were Seattle going into the third inning the O's would be batting, not the M's."

Unless of course the smart ass read the blog correctly to begin with...
"Our first trip into Baltimore Jon asked..."

Sorry-- couldn't resist.

Dan Serafini said...

Echo the sentiment that Joe Morgan has ruined Jon Miller for me.

And while Miller is not the biggest violator of this rule, can we have a moratorium on Harry Caray impressions? Please?!

Michael said...

scottmc, Chuck Thompson did indeed receive the Ford Frick Award in 1993. Another wonderful announcer. Sherri, Miller also does Latino announcers imitating Thompson ("Ain't the cerveza fria!") and Vin Scully, complete with a commercial for "Farmer Juan."

I did think Miller rattled on a bit yesterday, but, hey, it's a big day for him and for baseball, and I guess his accountant is his pal. Scully delivered a whopper of a speech when he got in in 1982. But I have to say the combination of speeches yesterday was stupendous, and I was crying along with Doug Harvey.

Brian Daubach said...

Capt'n Bob - read agin, the game was in Baltimore...

Howard Hoffman said...

Gee, I might be wrong, but MLB always historically has the home team (Baltimore in this case) hitting at the bottom of the inning which would have the M's leading the inning off, but why break up a good Comments Section fracas?

Glad you shared my favorite you-and-Jon Miller story. It cracks me up every time I hear it.

Kathy said...

The YES network now has Paul O'Neill on occasion. I find him very entertaining. And Michael Kay has his moments, though there's a lot of that statistics stuff.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Ken. Baseball is a game that's filled with humor. Just last night I was watching a pitcher for the Cubs named Schlitter facing a batter from the Cardinals named Pujols.

There's a joke in there somewhere but I don't want to be the one responsible for creating it. Instead, I'll leave it to professionals such as yourself.

Dana King said...

I remember Jon and Ken doing Orioles games. The team was generally terrible, and they were the only reason to listen, and it was worth it. I grew up listening and learning from the great Bob Prince in Pittsburgh, occasionally catching Jack Buck and Harry Caray on KMOX on a clear night, but I never had more fun listening to baseball than when Jon and Ken did those O's games.

Mike said...

Having grown up in Connecticut, home of Roast Meat Hill Road, I well remember the good old days of Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner, who still does color on occasion, and the one and only Bob Murphy, the best ever in my estimation. G. Cohen v. good, Rose terrible. Jon Miller is great and well deserving of HoF honors, but, oh, that Morgan!
Yanks/Braves talkers tie for worst homers nowadays. Liked it better when they called the game and minimized the affectations. Just me.

Mike McCann said...

Delighted that Jon was honored for his three-decades-plus of outstanding work. He's in the special circle of those who not only capture the moment they describe, but draw from a lifetime love for the game to flavor the broadcasts just so.

Mitch McCrimmon said...

Jon Miller has a nice voice and he is extremely knowledgeable but like most baseball commentators, he talks way, way too much in my opinion. Having two others with him struggling for airtime makes it worse. It's like being at a movie and having people talking constantly behind you. My wife feels the same way so we have to hit the mute button between each pitch, unfortunately.

emma said...

i met john miller and he was nice, my father,(I'm 11) and i went down to the hotel lobby to meet him. he was on the computer but he got up and talked to us. my dad and him talked and told i hit 3 home runs off boys and he said congrats Emma. So either he is a really nice or a really, really good actor.

Anonymous said...

I was a big Orioles fan until they fired Jon Miller. I don't think the organization realized how the announcer is the voice and face of the franchise to the fans and the orioles had the best.

I hopped on the Nationals bandwagon before the Expo's re-location was finalized and never looked back. Of course, until this year the Orioles have been easy to ignore.