It is a sultry day in Maryland, a day of hazy sunshine and slow movement, perfect for listening to Jon Miller's voice. Baseball on the radio is the sound of summer. And Miller, the Orioles' radio announcer, is best listened to deep in the summer heat. Even though the Orioles will lose 9-3 (after winning a game suspended by curfew the night before), Miller's mellow voice is reassuring, a reminder that the game is still very sweet indeed.
At precisely 2:08, as Detroit's Lou Whitaker leads off against Baltimore's Ken Dixon, Miller begins calling the game from his booth at Memorial Stadium. He wears a navy blue golf shirt, shorts and shower thongs, and over his shoulder he carries a bath towel to wipe away sweat. Before him is a three-minute egg timer to remind him to keep telling the score—three minutes, he reckons, is the longest you should go without doing so—a scoresheet, notes, a calculator for batting averages and ERAs, a few worn media guides and a brush for his remaining wisps of hair. Miller, 35, a walrus-like figure, is in his fifth year with the Orioles, but most fans don't recognize him.
What they do recognize is the Voice. As Miller announces that Dixon is "into the windup and the pitch," sunbathers at Ocean City adjust their transistors to the Orioles radio network. Sunday sailors on the Chesapeake tack to starboard and listen to the Esskay Out-of-Town Scoreboard. Families on picnics at Patapsco State Park hear about the Sherwin-Williams Sure Win Contest. Baltimoreans in old brick row houses sit on their stoops and tune in the flagship station, WCBM. On this steamy afternoon, old men listen in rocking chairs in the Perry Point Veterans Hospital, and gardeners in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County follow the game from out behind the kitchen.
After the Dodgers' Vin Scully, Miller is arguably the best radio announcer in baseball. He is a master at positioning the ball and the players in his call of a game; no one can describe the action more smoothly or precisely.
What is it about "Tigers 9, Orioles 3" that makes people listen? After all, the Orioles had lost 19 of their last 22.
The answer is fantasy. No matter what they're doing—fishing, polishing their cars, clerking behind a store counter—O's fans conjure mental images more vivid than the ones they could have seen on television. This is why certain plays in this routine game—Dixon floating a home run pitch to Kirk Gibson, or a fine stop by Alan Wiggins on a grounder to his right—will remain fixed in the mind's eye, though never actually seen.
An hour after the broadcast, Miller sits in front of his house in Cockeysville, Md., before heading out for dinner. By now the listeners on the shore and in the parks are on their way home. For whom did Miller call this game?
"Ninety percent of the time it was for Larry King," he says. "He's a big baseball fan, so I'm conscious of him listening. The other 10 percent of the time it was for some little kid, 10 or 12 years old. He's got a transistor wherever he goes, and he wants to listen to the game rather than tend the yard. I'd say he lives in a town called Maryland Line, right on the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania."
Miller says that, growing up in Hayward, Calif., he was a lot like that little kid in Maryland Line. And so, you see. "Tigers 9, Orioles 3" was a fantasy for the announcer, too.
Miller provided the voice from his perch in the press box, and listeners all over Birdland got the picture.