Marriage is said to wed something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. The saw describes the current World Series.
Old: history, starting in 1903. New: MIA New York Yankees, absent for the fourth time since 1995. Borrowed: from the 2004 champion Boston Red Sox, the hope that pigs can fly, MTV become PBS, and cows jump over the moon. Blue: Knowledge that 2005 can become miracle and metaphysical for only one Series team: the Houston Astros, or Chicago White Sox.
In 1945, writer Warren Brown eyed the wartime Cub-Tigers Classic: "They’re so bad neither team can win." The pity is that the Astros and White Sox both can’t. Exhausted but inexhaustible, they are twin veins from a common mine.
Born in 1962, the Colt .45s-turned-Astros — beloved Lastros to a Houstonian — had never made a Series. The White Sox — Pale Hose of quaint childhood usage — last graced 1959′s. A more poignant Classic happened forty years before.
"Say it ain’t so, Joe," a child told Joe Jackson, one of eight Black Sox said to throw the 1919 Series. As Hamlet said, "When sorrows come they come not [as] single spies, but in battalions." Since then the stars have misaligned; tide, run out; Almighty, backed the Yanks.
Take the Astros: said Voice Gene Elston, "forged so we could suffer." They did even in 1962, training at Apache Junction, Arizona, near Superstition Mountain, where Indian spirits and a Dutchman’s ghost were said to guard lost gold. Geronimo’s warriors warred there. "The way we played, he warred on us."
Early ‘Stros had a Reverse Midas Touch. In an exhibition game Al Heist stepped in a hole, breaking an ankle. Jim Pendleton rounded third base:" "My cup fell out, rolled down a pant leg, and was around my knee by the time I hit home." First baseman Rusty Staub told a pitcher, "I’m charging the plate. Whatever you do, throw home." Hal Woodeshick nodded, then almost hit him in the ear.
**** Farrell shamed Peck’s Bad Boy. "He’d put snakes in lockers, give the hot-foot," said Elston. One drive off his head caromed to Jimmy Wynn for an out. Blue acrylic on the Astrodome roof killed grass. The ‘Astros lost the 1980-86-97-98-99-2004 post-season. Said Elston: "If we didn’t have bad luck, we wouldyn’t have any luck at all." The Pale Hose empathized, having long ago turned albino.
The White Sox’ last world title was in 1917, a year before the Yankee Division entered France. They then became the prosopopeia of Wait Till Next Year — except that next year never came. Chicago became a Cubs town. The 1921-35 Hose failed the first division. "Fans expected little notice," said player Hal Totten, "and didn’t get it."
For 40 years the South Siders went pennantless. Then, in 1959, Early Wynn went 22-10. Nellie Fox hit an MVP .306. Luis Aparicio presaged Guillen, Garciaparra, and Cabrera — the first great Latin shortstop. The Go-Go White Sox became a grand team worth living by. "We beat you, 2 to 1," said manager Al Lopez. "No Murderers Row": like now, pitching, defense, and speed.
Chicago clinched September 22 over Cleveland. Mayor Richard Daley ordered city air raid sirens to blast on the final out. Their wail presaged the White Sox’, who began a slow list leeward. Finally righted, the Hose match Houston’s diaspora of the devoted and the crazed.
Lindsey Nelson said of New York’s 1962 Amazin’ Mets: "They played for fun. They weren’t capable of playing for anything else." By contrast, each team will play this week to become the Peepul’s Choice: like the ’04 Red Sox, crushing ghouls and ghosts and deflations of the past.
"Holy Toledo!" says Astros and ex-Hose Voice Milo Hamilton. "Hot ziggety dog and good ol’ sassafras tea!" roared Houston’s Loel Passe. "Holy Mackerel!" former Soxer Vince Lloyd chimed. Harry Caray "Holy Cow!"ed a South Side generation. The Sox’ Ken Harrelson beams "Yes! You can put it on the board!" The Series usually does.
Anyone can have a bad century, Jack Brickhouse excused the sans Series title since 1908 Cubs. Only in America. For the Hose or ‘Stros — mocked, maligned, and yearning to breathe free — a good century is about to dawn.
The Eagles sang, "Take It To The Limit." If baseball’s 2005 World Series goes the limit, ESPN TV/Radio’s apotheosis will have aired 17 post-season games. Here’s to Miller Time. Jon Miller time. Less filling. Sounds great.
In 1997, Vin Scully did his last network Fall Classic (CBS Radio). Buying rights, ESPN then picked Jon. He does its TV Division Series, then wireless LCS and Oktoberfest. On each Jon remains an outside-of-Scully Eden.
Some announcers make you throw up. Miller is a throwback. "Many are automatons," Jack Buck observed. "Same voice and style." By contrast, Jon is a personality and a gas: "Baseball entertains you and you care about it. What I like is the company of baseball." The listener enjoys his company — in English, Spanish, or Japanese.
Circa 1961: Hayward, a small town east of San Francisco. Broadway, like baseball a peculiarly American institution, fills Jon’s home. "My mom kept playing Camelot. I got hooked." Pals ride the surf. In his bedroom, Miller plays the board game Baseball Stratomatic. It suggests the future in a way that seems ordained.
Already Jon, 9, loves the art of rhetoric. For hours he mimes the public address Voice, organist ("dum-dum-dum," in key), crowd (blowing, like wind), and home team’s Russ Hodges or Scully from Chavez Ravine. "Friends’d say, ‘Let’s hit the wave.’ I’d say, ‘I got a big series coming up — first place for grabs.’"
Mom wanted to grab Jon around the neck. Friends of her’s heard sonny through the door. "’Mrs. Miller, who is this?’" She denied even knowing him. "It sounds, though, like he has a little bronchial condition."
Miller saw his first bigs game in 1962 at Candlestick. Los Angeles outhit the home team, 15-12, but lost, 19-8! Billy O’Dell threw a complete game. Three Giants homered. Attendance was 32,189. "Other than that I don’t remember a thing." Jon, dad, and their transistor sat in Section 19, upper deck, behind first base. "I looked down at the booth with binoculars, like being backstage. I was hearing and watching what Russ and Lon [Simmons] were saying."
To Miller, the year became "my coming of age as a fan": its Khyber Pass, the final week. San Francisco played at day. "I’d hear Russ, then he’d re-create the [leading] Dodgers at night," Scully coursing over distant KFI. Pardon the peroration: "Giants keep winning, Dodgers losing. I’m sitting in a car, on a hill to help reception, switching back and forth!"
On September 30, the 49ers played at Kezar Stadium. "The crowd’s going nuts hearing baseball. The football guys wonder what’s going on." Giants win, 2-1, at the Stick. Russ then re-creates on P.A. L.A.’s 1-0 playoff-forcing loss. The ‘Jints make the Series. In Game Seven, Miller is in a dentist’s chair as Bobby Richardson snares Willie McCovey’s drive. "Given the pain, how appropriate I almost bit my dentist’s finger."
At 15, Jon fingered his first play-by-play in high school basketball. Next morning the voice — "highlights, from reel-to-reel recorder"– filled the intercom. The whiz broadcast from the bleachers at Candlestick and the Oakland Coliseum. Ambition, meet adolescence. He loved every word.
From Rinks To Birds
In 1972, the College of San Mateo graduate, becoming Santa Rosa TV sports director, noted the NHL California Golden Seals being treated like caster oil. Owner Charlie Finley OKd his offer to televise odd games. "You sound like you’ve done this for years," a producer said until Miller accidentally began puck with f. "In baseball, you call a ball fall and nobody notices," Jon said,
thereafter calling the puck it.
The Seals folded in 1973. Straightaway Miller targeted Finley’s A’s’. "He owned them for 13 years and had more broadcasters than managers — and more managers than any team." Voice Monte Moore hired Jon, 21, by tape. Balding, he looked 31. The resume read 26. "What’s truth in advertising when you have baseball on your mind?"
In April 1974, Jon visited Baltimore. "I’d grown up on Chuck Thompson doing CBS football. Now I’m amazed: He’s doing the Orioles." That fall another hero did the Series. "I say, ‘A curve, 2-1.’ Vinnie’s much more elegant. ‘It’s on the way, currrve loow.’" Laughing, he mimicked Scully. "Two-and-one, and it’s interesting to note that as Moliere said in 17th-Century Paris.’ Whoever heard of baseball in the 17th Century? Yet people go bonkers about Vinnie quoting Moliere!"
That fall Finley fired him. "Charlie had axed guys like Harry Caray, Bob Elson. My stock went up in the business." By 1980, Jon trekked to Boston via Texas. Quickly its literati embraced the muse. "He’d done imitations since childhood," said Ken Coleman, "and I pushed him to do Scully, Chuck, Caray." Thompson left O’s radio in 1982. Next Opening Day his successor hosted a rally at Inner Harbor. Fifty thousand cheered O-R-I-O-L-E-S. "People ask, ‘How do Oriole fans compare to the Red Sox’? I ask, ‘How do Boston fans compare to the Orioles’?"
Well-read, -fed, and -spoken, Miller inherited a seven-state network. ‘Eighty-three swelled it. The L.C.S. swung on Game Three. "There’s a high fly ball to deep right-center field! And, baby, way back! It’s long gone!" said Jon. "Upper deck! Right-center field! Kiss it good-bye! Three-nothing, Orioles! And Eddie Murray’s first hit is a monster shot at Comiskey Park!"
Baltimore’s first post-1970 title completed a monster year.
"The [World Series Game Five] cheering you hear is from Orioles fans," Miller said in Philadelphia. "Everybody else is in muted silence. The pitch! Line drive! Ripken catches it at shortstop! And the Orioles are champions of the world!"
A Network’s/Voice’s Rise
Stratomatic. Mimicry. A rookie crown. Everything came early for Mrs. Miller’s son. Baseball on TV, he said, was film: "You see what the producer shows you." Radio was a novel, absorbed and transformed. "He is [now] The Franchise, with great broadcast instincts and sensibilities," wrote The National. Jon’s company warmed Camp David through Little Italy to Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
"Before ESPN Television, you never knew anything until the radio announcer said it," said Bob Costas. "This romantic figure sitting in a booth, very personal, mostly gone except for Jon as the Thompsons and Harwells disappear and Bob Princes and Jack Bucks and Mel Allens die." The dinosaur tethered the banquet circuit, NBC’s backup "Game," and ESPN "SportsLook." Following his own drummer, Miller built a cult to beat the band.
Each March wife Janine said, "Have a good day, honey. Listen, any time you’re in town, stop by."
He nodded. "I’m Jon Miller, your husband. See you in October."
In 1989, ESPN inked a four-year, $400 million, six-day-a-week pact. "Coverage went to cable," said Costas, "because CBS [replacing NBC] didn’t want a ‘Game.’" The network forecast a 5.0 Nielsen rating (7 million of 140 million homes). "The weekend’s over," Jon, hopeful, said, "you come back from the beach, and there it is."
"Sunday Night Baseball" began April 15, 1990. Sow’s ear: a final 3.0 average. Silk’s purse: It doubled EPSN’s other bigs programming (1.5). "It’s an exciting opportunity if you consider standing on the edge of a cliff exciting," said Miller. Washingtonian Magazine named him "Best play-by-play broadcaster." In 1991, Jon won its cable ACE Award.
"I am incredibly honored to win this award with this room full of talented people," he said at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. "What am I? I go to games and my best lines are, ‘low, ball one,’ or probably the line I’m most proud of — ‘line drive, foul.’"
Baseball already burlesqued a Hessian chorus line. "Don’t talk money," Jon demurred: "I’m an artiste, you know."
Do Know Much About History
A year later the Orioles began milking a cash cow. "They tried to make Camden Yards like Fenway. Now new parks want to be like the Yards." In 1992, a record 3,567,819 paid. Baseball repaid them with The Strike.
On September 6, 1995, a game became official after 4 1/2 innings. "History!" said Miller over ESPN. "For baseball, what great news" — Cal Ripken Jr.’s record 2,131st straight game. The warehouse banner shed "2-1-3-0." Tipping his cap, Cal began a hand-shaking/high-fiving voyage around the Yards.
Jon was happy, in his adopted burg, barbing and critiquing. "Bud Selig’s name is a code word for everything wrong with baseball." Replacement strike games "would be a joke." Players "sign for the most money — which is out and out greed." Leave the place where he once cried, "Thirty-six thousand people are jumping up and down and saying, ‘We believe! We believe!"? What happened next was more unbelievable than redubbing puck.
In 1996, Miller won another ACE. New O’s owner Peter Angelos barely noticed: "Jon’s not much of an advocate. He should bleed orange-and-black once in a while." Miller’s contract expired that year. Phoned by agent Ron Shapiro, Angelos declined to phone back. Shapiro kept calling. Peter was busy. Ron set a deadline. Angelos phoned the Baltimore Sun: "This is an employee, mind you, issuing an ultimatum, to the owner."
Baseball watched, wide-mouthed. Peter was a trial lawyer, explained a friend. "He’s not used to sharing the attention." Axing Miller, he should have sued himself.
You’re The Top
1997: Washington’s National Press Club. A guest asks if the Voice should be a fan or a reporter. "I think the announcer should be an advocate for the team," Jon twinkled. "I think the announcer should bleed the colors of the team. I have seen the light. Hallelujah!" The crowd roared. That year CBS Radio lost baseball.
Miller got ESPN’s 1998- All-Star Game, L.C.S., and Series. Next year its largest-ever bigs TV audience (9.5 Nielsen rating) watched Mark McGwire’s homer 61. "In Bristol [Connecticut's ESPN]," said a friend, "Jon means the game."
In 1965, his dad, returning from a business trip to Minnesota, yawmped, "The Twins got nothing on Russ and Lon Simmons. The voices of those two!" Miller joined their booth in 1997. "It’s all a little much. I grew up with these guys." Pacific Bell Park ultimately replaced the Stick. "Now it’s like the early ’60s."
Jon wrote "Confessions of a Baseball Purist," hosted ESPN’s "Voices of The Game," and became American Sportscasters Association 1999 Sportscaster of the Year. He built a Moss Beach house, could see his boyhood home across the bay, and studied ships in McCovey’s Cove. "I love boats. Wish I could go everywhere by ship." Instead, he flew 100,000 miles a year. One day: ESPN’s Toronto-Texas, Puerto Rico. Next: ‘Jints opener, emceeing pre-game. "For a baseball fan, it’s the best of all worlds," the best being Barry Bonds.
On October 4, 2001, he whacked McGwire-tying 70. A day later Bonds faced Chan Ho Park. "There’s a high drive deep into right-center field! To the big part of the ballpark! Number 71! … Over the 421-foot marker! … And Barry Bonds is now the home run king! And it was impressive!" Less impressive was O’s interest. "God gave him the sublimest vocal chords," said the Washington Post. They were missed in Birdland. "Sometimes it’s good to make a change," Miller said, discreetly. As good would have been a happier 2002 Series.
Ahead, 3 games to 2, Jon’s team led Anaheim, 5-0, in the seventh inning. "Deep to right! Going back, Sanders! … It’s gone! Ed Spezio has made it a two-run game! The Angels are breathing!" he blared on ESPN. Next inning Troy Glauss hit: "Swing and a shot! Left-center! … It goes to the Wall! Figgins scores the tying run! Anderson scores the goahead run! A double! … The Angels have come all the way back from a five-run deficit, and they lead the game!"
The final was academic: Halos, 4-1. Miller then took his annual cruise, taking the Queen Mary II’s 2004 maiden launch. "Forget spring training. I’m ready for ball by New Year’s." Ronald Reagan told how a young boy found a room of horse manure Christmas morning. "Yes," said the optimist, "but there must be a pony in here someplace."
Deem baseball a room. On ESPN, you hear broadcasting’s pony. Turn down other post-season fluff. Quaff the brew that never goes flat. Daily Miller gives his maximum. Perhaps baseball’s Grand Event will, too.