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To Cooperstown With Jon Miller

(originally written 8/4/10)

If those in media up for Hall of Fame consideration were subjected to the same criteria that players are—including up to 15 years on the ballot—there’d be no argument; Jon Miller would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he would have deserved it. Miller recently received the annual Ford C. Frick award, and his name will be displayed along the likes of Vin Scully, Red Barber, Curt Gowdy and all other past winners inside the Hall of Fame (HOF). 

(Note: before anyone feels the need to submit a correction, I am astutely aware that no Frick award winner is technically enshrined as a Hall of Famer. That said…

…since winning the Frick award carries the same level of prestige for a broadcaster as a plaque in Cooperstown does for a player, the ceremony is presented at the HOF, and its winners vote in special HOF elections, I consider Miller a Hall-of-Fame broadcaster and will refer to him as such in this article and beyond, as his constituents do—regardless of technicalities.)

I’m not offering this praise solely because of his Giants ties, although it’s primarily through those ties that I’ve deemed him praiseworthy. These ears have been fortunate enough to hear hundreds of Jon Miller broadcasts over the years, and he’s slugged a 420-foot homer in almost every one of them—local and national. If he sucked, believe you me I’d be shouting it from the rooftops.

But JM (I feel unqualified to refer to him as “Jon”, and “Miller” sounds far too coarse for such a personality, IMHO) doesn’t suck. He is as gifted a talent as the Bay Area has ever had, and we are very grateful to Orioles owner Peter Angelos for unceremoniously dumping him after the 1996 season. There just isn’t anyone else like him in Major League Baseball. And never will be.

Former Giants infielder Duane Kuiper is the team’s other “main” announcer, revered by the majority of Bay Area fans (including yours truly) for his excited home run calls, his self-deprecation, his distinctive voice, and for just being “Smooth”. 

JM’s style could not contrast any more. Trying to differentiate the two styles, the best I came up with was this: 

If a group of teens wanted a tour of AT&T Park, Kuip would be the ideal guide. If the President of the United States wanted a tour of AT&T Park, Miller is probably the ideal guide. (Not to say either isn’t qualified to do both.) 

JM has a stately, almost regal quality that is matched by few, if any, who have ever broadcasted the game of baseball. He doesn’t “Americanize” Latin names, using strictly proper pronunciation at all times (Pedro Fay-leez, Rafael For-call, Eric Shuh-Vez). He makes home run calls in Spanish, and can speak some Spanish and French with flawless pronunciation (the Montreal Expos’ move deprived us of Miller’s “sacre bleu!” forever). 
When balls are whacked off the bricks AT&T Park, JM doesn’t just tell you “it’s off the wall!” He will tell you “it’s off the Willie Mays wall, near the #7 archway!” I’m as avid a Giants/AT&T fan as there is, and I couldn’t name the archways at gunpoint.

Miller is well-educated in baseball history, including the Negro Leagues, and often tells stories from eras long gone by, all the while never coming off as dull. He is keen, astute and dignified—when he tells you that the President of the United States is throwing out the first pitch, or that Ruben Rivera’s baserunning is the worst in baseball history, or that Barry Bonds has hit more home runs than anyone else to ever play the game, or even when he performs the mundane task of announcing the game-time temperature, he conveys the significance unlike any other. In the 40 years ex-Giant announcer Russ Hodges had been dead, no other person has mentioned his name more than Miller, who idolized Hodges.

But don’t be mistaken—Miller’s not some old fogey droning on and on about people whose eras came before the advent of mitts or uniform numbers. He can be very funny when he wants to be—especially when being interviewed or bantering with his fellow broadcasters on the Giants postgame show. One of my favorite Jon Miller lines came years back, when Mike Krukow described a particularly slow runner. “That guy’s slower than a dump truck,” said Mike. Added Jon: “With the engine off.” 

Despite his sophistication and cultural merit, Jon Miller manages to always present himself as exactly what he is—a regular guy living out his dream. He gives you every impression that if you saw him in public and wanted a handshake, or just a “hi”, he’d oblige.

Another area where Miller stands out: his ability to separate his ESPN broadcasts from his regular gig in San Francisco. During the rare Giant games to air on ESPN, Miller’s partners naturally offer opinions or criticisms of Giant players, without necessarily knowing their full stories (i.e. John Bowker didn’t play his way OUT of the RF job; Nate Schierholtz played his way INTO it). It has to be difficult to hold back, as someone who’s around the Giants every day and knows exactly what’s going on with the team, when one of his partners makes uninformed observations. I’ve listened to a load of Miller’s ESPN Giant games (except, ironically, this past August 1st), and not once hasn’t he remained objective and neutral toward his home team.

JM doesn’t pomp up his on-air personality like some. He doesn’t shout “The Giants win! Thhhhhhhheeeeeee Giants WIN!” He doesn’t say “He gone” on strikeouts. He doesn’t bellow “See ya!” on home run calls. He doesn’t openly blast the Giants when they screw up. The closest to trademark calls Miller has: “Two!” for a completed double play, and “Gone; a home run!” for home runs (or Adios, Pelota for Latin players). That’s pretty much it. 

For the record, JM’s book, Confessions of a Baseball Purist, is still a great read even though it is now 13 years old. If he ever writes another, this writer will go Trekkie and camp outside Barnes And Noble three days in advance to get to it. Jon Miller—a 100% class act who is as deserving of Hall Of Fame stature as any man to ever put on headphones. 

Way to go, Big Kahuna!

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