When you move to a new city, a new home, alien sounds can drive you up a wall or to means of return transport. The pipes are a 16-piece ensemble of hyperactive cymbalists, the faucet is a torture test, the baseball announcers are shrill homers for a team you are just learning to like.
Even if you've recently made a felicitous move from, say, New Jersey to Washington, an understandable initial reaction to hearing Brooks Robinson continually call the Orioles "we"--as in, "We'd better shift around a little toward the wall to protect against Gorman Thomas"--is to pray for the cymbalists to drown out the broadcast.
That's what you might think at first.
But after a half-season of play, you discover that of all the Orioles' broadcasters--Robinson and Chuck Thompson on WDCA-TV-20 and Jon Miller and Tom Marr on WTOP-1500's radio broadcast--Robinson is easily the best informed and most thoughtful of the group--a delight.
Marr is easily the worst--a bore.
The disastrous twinight doubleheader between the Orioles ("us") and the Indians ("them") a week ago Wednesday was a nice barometer of homerism. In the first game, Toby Harrah hit a popup in front of the plate. An easy play, or it should have been. Third baseman Todd Cruz and catcher Joe Nolan collided a la Laurel and Hardy on the play and Harrah had himself a five-foot, comic "triple."
Robinson certainly did not relish the Baltimore botch, but he swiftly laid blame and pointed out who should have been doing what. Robinson is nothing if not dedicated to the art of the glove and he chastised the guilty parties like a stern judge faced with a couple of juvenile delinquents.
A homer's homer, like Phil Rizzuto of the Yankees, would have rendered immediate absolution had the offenders been named Wynegar and Nettles. Rizzuto may not call the Yankees "we," but his partisanship is far more grating than Robinson's.
Robinson also has an uncanny ability to predict the flow of the game. Like a good guess hitter, he will stay ahead of the pitcher, calling speeds and locations with clairvoyant skill. He must have inherited Earl Weaver's gift for knowing the right time to pull a pitcher or send up a pinch hitter.
Not suprisingly, only Weaver himself, who has improved dramatically since the beginning of the season as one of ABC's color men, is as astute. The other national color men fall short in that respect.
Robinson's partner, Thompson, is a fixture, the voice of the team for better or worse. If you've grown up with the Orioles, he is a bit like baby food--a little bland, but pleasant and warm.
Neither Marr nor Miller, who is in his first year with Baltimore after broadcasting baseball in Oakland, Texas and Boston, is as closely identified with the team as Thompson and Robinson. Marr's homeric comments are unearned, irrelevant and irritating. Miller, to his credit, wisely steers away from an instantly developed sense of loyalty.
The greatest burden of any radio sports announcer is description, the ability to furnish enough detail so that the game becomes vivid, almost within sight. While the television team is good about not repeating too much of what the picture has already told us, the radio team must recreate the game in all its specificity.
It is not good enough to say, "The guy caught it and now there's two outs." It is not good enough to rely on "scores around the league" to fill between pitches. In short, it is not good enough to be a talking, play-by-play wire reporter, a bulletin server.
Swing. Miss. Pitch. Run. Error.
It's not good enough and neither is Marr.
His broadcasts are mechanical in their reliance on abstraction and catchwords. His descriptions of plays sound as if he were reading off a random scorecard. One would never know that he has the game before him, that all the angles, sounds and sights are there for the describing. As a result, the listener has trouble making visual sense of the action.
Miller's voice is just a shade deeper than his boothmate's, but his grasp of the job is much firmer. Miller's flair for language may not be on the Ring Lardner level, but he is complete, concrete, competent. His voice conveys the tension of the moment without rising to incoherence, and he describes a play fully and accurately.
Miller may not yet bleed Oriole orange, he may not be ready to use the offending pronoun "we," but in his first year in Baltimore he has brought his new team's games alive.