It was a lazy, early-season Baltimore Orioles game in Toronto. Rich Dauer, oh for 1985, came to the plate. With a 1-0 count, analyst Brooks Robinson excitedly told broadcasting partner Chuck Thompson that Dauer was going to get a single, probably to left field.
Three pitches later, Dauer singled to left for his first hit of the season.
"Probably it happens one out of 10 times when I say that," said Robinson, who has had an uncanny knack for predicting singles, homers and final scores of games in his eight years as TV analyst. "On that type of thing, people tend to remember when you're right."
Robinson plays down his forecasting skills. "Sometimes you see something in his swing or maybe the way a guy's pitching," he said. "Sometimes I just say it for the lack of anything else to say.
"I'm up there to have a good time. Chuck, and rightly so, I think, he lives and dies with it a little more than I do. I just love being able to go to a game and work it."
It is that obvious enthusiasm for the game that makes Thompson and Robinson an endearing, enduring broadcasting duo.
Here's a brief look at the Orioles' TV and radio coverage:
WMAR-TV-2 (WDCA-TV-20 in Washington): For 26 years, Thompson has been the voice of the Orioles. Seldom has there been a better match in professional sports -- the folksy, upbeat Thompson leisurely guiding us through the fortunes and misfortunes of a solid, home-grown baseball team. Like Earl Weaver's appeal to the working man in Baltimore, Thompson always has touched Orioles followers for his simple sensibilities.
When Thompson was joined by Robinson in 1978, they soon established themselves as a solid team. To be sure, they root for the Orioles, but Thompson will tell us when the club is playing poor baseball ("A team is never as good as it looks when it's winning and never as bad as it looks when it's losing," he likes to say). Robinson is a keen analyst of pitching patterns and hitters' weaknesses.
Additionally, Thompson and Robinson chatter away at just the right pace for a summer's game. They question strategy and recall interesting antecdotes, but never lose their focus on the game. For the viewer, they're like a comfortable pair of worn jeans that fit just right.
Sometimes they don't seem to do their homework on opposing players (Robinson will readily admit when he knows nothing about a rookie) and sometimes they treat out-of-town scores too haphazardly. But they are so consistently enjoyable that it seems a shame they do only 40 games a season.
The biggest problem with the telecasts is the production work. WMAR's camera work is uninspiring. And if you must watch the games on Channel 20, you'll grow tired of WDCA returning from commercials too late, failing to break for commercials at the right time and constantly missing its cue on giving Cal Ripken's taped answer to the trivia question.
Home Team Sports: The local sports cable network, home of 82 Orioles games, already does baseball better than NBC and ABC. HTS' camera angles -- especially the ones from ground level behind home plate and from left and right fields -- are shockingly inventive, bringing viewers memorable pictures.
In fact, with HTS' wonderful production work, postgame interviews and regular scoreboard updates, it might make Washingtonians think twice about fighting through two cities' rush hours to get to a stadium with terrible parking and overpriced concessions.
Up in the booth, HTS has a logjam of talented folks. Ex-Orioles are flocking to the air waves -- Jim Palmer (Orioles, 1966-84), John Lowenstein (1979-85), Pat Dobson (1971-72) and Ken Singleton (1975-84) all have worked for HTS this season. Throw in Rex Barney, Tom Davis and Larry King, and you can understand if play-by-play man Mel Proctor needs a scorecard just to figure out with whom he's working.
In fact, all that sound and fury detracts from the game. The telecasts suffer when three or four people are crowding for air time. Proctor, an able professional who is used to working alone when he does NBA basketball on the radio, must feel a bit squeezed. When you throw in HTS' fledgling experiment to allow viewers to call in during certain telecasts, you wonder if the game will be lost in the shuffle.
WFBR-1300 (WTOP-1500 in Washington): On these hit-and-miss radio broadcasts, Tom Marr does the middle three innings after Jon Miller does the first three innings. Which is like asking Earl Scheib to put a second coat of paint on the Sistine Chapel ceiling after Michelangelo has finished.
Simply put, Miller is one of the best radio men in baseball and Marr is not.
Luckily, Miller returns for the final three innings, and Orioles followers can delight in his storytelling and impersonations.
Miller has a deft, light touch. Sometimes, in describing dramatic moments, he seems to lose his poise (and voice) in the excitement, but the rest of the time, he is a relaxing, reassuring presence. His understanding for the nuances -- like when he'll mention casually that umpire Durwood Merrill "has a flair" for cleaning off home plate -- makes you sit back and visualize the scene.
Marr's act is wearisome. His homerism is more intruding than any other Orioles broadcaster. Here's a sampling of some of his frequent nightMarrish play-by-play calls: When Ripken homers: "Grandmother Ripken, you can kiss that one good night!!!" When any other Oriole homers: "Say sayonara to that one!!!" When catcher Rick Dempsey throws out a would-be base stealer: "Dempsey fires to second base, and he is O-U-T out !!!"
Marr and Miller do a much better job than Thompson and Robinson of keeping us abreast of other games (although National League scores sometimes disappear mysteriously for several innings). Vast improvement is needed in giving the score of the Orioles game. A cardinal baseball-radio rule is that you can't give the score often enough; occasionally, four or five minutes will elapse before Marr or Miller tells us the score.