I almost drove off the road one night on my way home from a San Francisco Giants game. Things were getting a bit blurry from the tears of laughter. Giants radio man Jon Miller put me there, and it's a good thing I recovered, because it was near the cliffs known as "the Devil's Slide," and that's a long way down.
The Giants had just lost to the Dodgers, and to begin the post-game wrap, color man Mike Krukow awarded his "player of the game" to someone on the Giants' bench, a guy who hadn't even played (anyone but a Dodger). Things got sillier from there, and not long after Miller unveiled his priceless Vin Scully imitation, he could be heard in the background doing John Ramsey, the revered voice of Dodger Stadium for so many years.
"He always sounded like he had a slight case of indigestion," Miller would explain, and although this was a somewhat private moment, it really hit home with a transplanted Southern Californian, and I barely could keep it together.
Years from now, when people reminisce about this latest golden era of Giants broadcasting, I'm not sure what they'll remember most about Miller: his spectacularly fine touch on play-by-play, his gift for storytelling, or his sense of humor. Perhaps all of that makes a Hall of Fame broadcaster, and you could almost hear the applause as Miller was awarded that distinction Monday.
Maybe it's this: Miller has always been bigger than one game, one city, one franchise. He is baseball's voice of America, a fixture on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" and ESPN radio's voice of the postseason since 1998. Wherever he goes, he's asked to do his imitations of Scully, Harry Caray, Sherm Feller (Fenway Park's gravel-voiced P.A. man of yore) or Harry Kalas. He belongs to the Giants, absolutely, but they claim him on the East Coast, as well, particularly the Boston and Baltimore fans who cherished his time with those teams.
Like all the great broadcasters, Miller arrives at the park prepared to work the best damn game in history. If he ever tires of the travel, he never lets on; each night is a huge adventure in the game's great unknown. And if the game goes sour -- "Well, its 12-1 here in the seventh, and the Giants have called on Poole"
Miller takes a turn toward the whimsical, a bit of nonsense. There can't be anything more difficult than being funny for a living (ask a stand-up comic), but Miller doesn't really try -- he just is, at just the right times. You can't imagine a bigger break than the one handed Dave Flemming, the Giants' young announcer, as he broke into the Giants' radio booth alongside Miller.
It is well known that the Giants haven't won a world championship since 1954, near the end of the New York era, and that puts them behind only the Cleveland Indians (1948) and Chicago Cubs (the War of 1812, I think) in the realm of baseball futility. But when it comes to broadcasting, I'll stack up their San Francisco history against any franchise in the sport.
Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons, a pair of future Hall of Famers, worked together from 1958-70. The legendary Bill King moved from the Midwest to the Bay Area in 1958 to be part of the Giants' broadcast team (he left in '62 when the Warriors moved here from Philadelphia). Lindsey Nelson wasn't here long (1979-81), but you can add him to the Hall of Fame list, and the masterful Hank Greenwald certainly belongs there.
If you're talking about a combination of humor, talent and irreverence -- particularly appropriate when the team is awful -- it's hard to beat the Simmons-Al Michaels team in 1976, before Michaels headed to network television. Nobody analyzes a ballgame as expertly as Krukow, and I can't think of an ex-player anywhere in the country, any era, that surpasses the work of Duane Kuiper.
As a student of baseball history, Miller must be blown away by the Cooperstown company he now keeps: Scully, Mel Allen, Red Barber, Ernie Harwell, Jack Brickhouse, Curt Gowdy, Jack Buck, Chuck Thompson. And what a relief to see a Hall of Fame assignment handled with such dispatch. No fooling around, no debates, no incessant prattle about steroids or statistics. Jon Miller was elected almost instantly, at a time when he's active, still in his prime. The rest of us get to sit back, enjoy, and hopefully stay on the road.