It’s time to consider those most-revered narrators of baseball lore: the announcers, who call the games that we listen to. Let’s talk Orioles broadcasters of radio and television, and hand out a few early-season grades.
Now, in full disclosure, I will state that I am a broadcaster myself, of WCBM’s “Tom Moore Show,” which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this June. We are not primarily a sports show, but we do often talk sports.
I am however an avid listener and viewer of sports broadcasts, and was so long before I was ever accepted into the University of Maryland’s journalism program or I ever wrote a column or hosted a TV or radio show.
I’m a fan of Orioles broadcasting history especially, and the O’s have been ever blessed in that department. Since the team’s 1954 arrival in Baltimore, the Orioles have had Hall of Famers Ernie Harwell (1954-’59), Chuck Thompson (’55-’57; ’62-’87; ‘91-2000) and Jon Miller (1983-1996) amongst their announcing fold. (Yes, the team has also had Ken Levine too, but thankfully, only for a short few years.)
But of the current announcing lineup, it’s fairly indisputable that Gary Thorne will soon be headed to Cooperstown’s Ford Frick Announcers Wing. But what of the others? Here I rate them on grades of A-F, regardless of medium.
The standard? Baseball is a game of storytelling from the announcers’ perspective. They need to have the tools (pipes as they are called in the industry), the knowledge, and the panache to put it all together. See below who makes the grade:
1. Gary Thorne (MASN-TV). Grade: A+
The only knock against Thorne is that he doesn’t call enough O’s games. Thorne was frequently absent last summer on assignment on other sports for other networks. The former Maine attorney is busy indeed, but the star hire when MASN came into existence is the class of all current O’s broadcasters.
2. Jim Palmer (MASN-TV). Grade: A-
Palmer, one of the Orioles’ National Baseball Hall of Fame members as a player, is a top-notch color man whose insights are sharp, to the point, and usually dead-on, from his decades of experience. Some viewers get turned off by his semi-regular mentioning of players he faced that much of the audience has never heard of, but having played as long as he did, at the level he did, earns Palmer a little slack. The former ABC baseball announcer is another great get for the O’s.
3. Mike Bordick (MASN-TV). Grade: B-
Bordy, who played on the Orioles ’97 AL Championship Series team, is also an insightful announcer. He just doesn’t possess great pipes and sometimes is a little hesitant to offer a thought. He’s better in 2013 than he was in 2012, and continues to improve, but it’s clear Bordick is still, at times, finding his way. The bet here is that he will eventually find it.
4. Joe Angel (Orioles Radio Network). Grade: B+
Joe Angel’s legendary gruff intonation reminds a listener of a 50’s TV cop sitting next to his partner and telling him that it’s time to go catch the bad guy. But where Angel excels is in his storytelling. He understands the drama of the game, and makes it exciting to listen to. He was at his best when paired with Jon Miller in the ‘90’s, but hasn’t lost much since. Angel’s familiar home run call, “Wave it bye-bye” and “put it in the win column” salutation, are great catch-phrases that are easily memorable. Angel is another very good announcer in the long Oriole line.
5. Jim Hunter (MASN-TV and Orioles Radio). Grade: B
Hunter is sharp and versatile, able to do postgame, TV or radio and never miss a beat. While he lacks a signature call, like Thorne or Angel have, he makes the game exciting to hear and is generally very solid.
6. Fred Manfra (Orioles Radio Network). Grade: C
Manfra, sadly, is the one bump in the road as far as O’s announcers go. He’s not a bad announcer – great pipes – a deep resonant voice that makes him a natural for the radio (on sound alone).
The problem is that Manfra simply doesn’t seem to get the drama of a game. In a recent series against San Diego, a long, deep fly ball hit by the Padres sounded like a routine fly to Manfra until he informed us that the ball was a home run. When the Orioles hit home runs, Manfra’s intonation also barely changes. In comparison, Jon Miller made it seem like a major event took place any time the Orioles did anything exciting, and much of that came during years of losing seasons. Manfra just lacks in this department. It’s one thing to be the other extreme, like the Denver Broncos radio announcers calling the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens last season, who barely uttered a whimper when the Ravens scored a touchdown.
That’s disrespectful to the game being played and to the listening audience who deserve to know when something significant has happened, good or bad. But at least those announcers went nuts when the Broncos scored. Manfra doesn’t get very excited either way. Hopefully he can get a bit more fired up as the season progresses. Unfortunately so far, he strikes out more often than he connects.