Jon Miller Wows Hall of Fame Audience
COOPERSTOWN, NY: In April, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum began a six-part 2006 broadcasting series, "Baseball Confidential: Voices of The Game," to be aired nationally on XM Satellite Radio.
I would gladly have attended as a spectator. Instead, I host each interview session with a famed baseball broadcaster. The first guests were Billy Sample, Ernie Harwell, Bob Wolff, and Ken Harrelson. This week (Saturday, September 16) baseball’s outside-of-Vin Scully Eden came came, spoke, and conquered.
"What I like is the company of baseball," said ESPN Television’s and San Francisco Giants’ announcer Jon Miller. "You enjoy and care about it." Another series full house jammed the Hall’s Bullpen Theater to enjoy Miller’s company in English, Spanish, and Japanese.
For an hour the big leagues’ radio/TV prosopopeia showed why Baseball Time is Miller Time. For example:
1) Circa 1961: Hayward, a town near San Francisco. Jon told the "Voices" audience how pals rode the surf. In his bedroom, Miller, 9, played the board game Baseball Stratomatic, denoting his future in a way that seems ordained. He mimed 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.’"
2) All of us recall our first bigs game. Jon’s was in 1962 at Candlestick Park. 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 heard and saw what Russ and Lon [Simmons] were saying." Ambition, meet adolescence. Jon wanted radio.
3) In 1972, the College of San Mateo student, 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.
4) In 1974, Miller, 22, joined the Oakland A’s, visiting Baltimore than April. "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!"
5) Jon joined the Rangers, Red Sox, then 1983 Orioles. In 1989, ESPN TV inked a four-year, $400 million pact. "Sunday Night Baseball" began April 15, 1990. Next year Miller won the cable ACE play-by-play Award. "I am incredibly honored [to be in] 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."
6) In 1996, Miller won another ACE. Back in Baltimore, he was happy in his adopted burg. New O’s owner Peter Angelos barely noticed: "Jon should bleed more orange-and-black." As Miller told the "Voices" crowd, his contract expired in late 1996. Phoned by agent Ron Shapiro, Angelos declined to phone back. Shapiro kept calling. Peter was busy. Ron set a deadline. It came, and went. Angelos is a trial lawyer. Axing Jon, he should have sued himself.
7) 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," Miller 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. Next season ESPN Radio gave Miller the All-Star Game, L.C.S., and Series.
Big Jon Goes Deep
8) In 1998, ESPN TV’s largest-ever bigs audience (9.5 Nielsen rating) watched Mark McGwire’s homer 61. "In Bristol [Connecticut's ESPN]," said a friend, "Jon means the game." He especially does in San Francisco, joining the ‘Jints in 1997. He called Barry Bonds’ No. 71, the Red Sox’ Promised Land, and White Sox’ first post-World War I title. "For a baseball fan," said Miller, "doing network and local is the best of all worlds."
9) Before Jon’s "Voices" show, shrine official John O’Dell gave Miller, my family, and Hall aides and friends a basement tour of private artifacts. "It’s the catacombs of the Vatican!" Jon said, evoking your first visit to a park — fielder crouched, batter cocked, and pitcher draped against the stands — above all, surety that there was no place on earth that you would rather be.
The tour’s Everest was a special Ted Williams model bat. In 1951, Satchel Paige fanned No. 9. Enraged, The Kid pounded his bat in the dugout, breaking it. Next day Ted dated the bat, asked Paige to sign, then donated it to the Hall. "What a story!" Miller said on "Sunday Night"’s Yankees-Red Sox. "Ted wanted so to do well against Satchel Paige. Even then, Williams knew all about him," how Paige buoyed the Negro Leagues, how he deserved to enter Cooperstown.
At the Hall, Jon held the bat, modeled Ted’s uniform, and asked my son who played for the Yanks and Sox. "Babe Ruth," said Travis, priorities straight at 6. On air, Jon wore white gloves required to touch the Hall’s treasure. "It’s sacred stuff. Why not?"
"A fabulous place," said partner Joe Morgan of Cooperstown.
"A great time," Jon added. Like the sport’s Valhalla, Miller is a brew that never goes flat.