From childhood through the start of fatherhood, my favorite way of going to sleep on spring and summer nights in Arkansas was listening to baseball on an AM radio, actually the St. Louis Cardinals, with the crystal-clear voice of announcer Jack Buck slicing through the airwaves.
Game after game, for years on end, Buck would share his immense knowledge and insights with listeners. If the game itself were dramatic, all the better. If not, Buck still kept you awake, always so pleasant, so polished, so enjoyable. He was a friend, and when I had the chance to meet him years later, I was awestruck, nearly speechless. He was kind and happy to talk. Perfect.
The game I remember most had nothing to do with playoffs or the World Series. On Sept. 11, 1974, St. Louis and the New York Mets battled for 25 innings and seven hours until the Cardinals won, 4-3. That was before the arrival of sports on cable, so Buck was the only option. Mesmerized, I never wanted that game to end.
Only a few other announcers of the past half-century, to my ears, have ever matched Buck. Vin Scully with the Los Angeles Dodgers, certainly. Many would add Ernie Harwell in Detroit, Harry Caray in St. Louis and Chicago, Bob Prince in Pittsburgh, Harry Kalas in Philadelphia — all of whom had wonderful careers, but not on the level of Scully or Buck. I've also had a special place for Jon Miller, known nationally for his ESPN Sunday Night Baseball work, but also doing play-by-play for Baltimore (1982-96) and then the San Francisco Giants (1997-present).
Hearing Miller over the radio on several occasions always made me think of Jack Buck. And I was happy at the news that Miller would be this year's broadcast honoree at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But not anymore.
Miller lowered himself incredibly late last week. On a San Francisco talk radio show, Miller basically charged the Colorado Rockies with cheating. He said Major League Baseball should investigate whether the Rockies are manipulating baseballs given to umpires during games. Colorado stores its baseballs in an MLB-approved humidor, preventing the balls from drying out, shrinking, and going farther when they are hit in the high altitude.
The humidor has been a great equalizer, not just for the Rockies but for all pitchers at Coors Field. But now Miller says the Giants and other teams think Colorado might be switching balls to the Rockies' advantage.
"To me, it's something that baseball needs to address," Miller said on KNBR. "Maybe the Rockies are just doing extremely well, but there is some question here ... and I'd like to see baseball take some action in that regard."
Because they're coming from Miller, those words have made headlines. But the charge is not only outrageous, it's wrong. As Rockies officials freely describe, the strict routine is to take balls out of the humidor before a game and deliver them to the umpires, who rub down baseballs to be used before every game in every stadium. Once every Coors Field game begins, the balls stay in a basket in plain view near the steps of the home dugout, and batboys supply the home-plate umpire as needed.
That's it. Nothing scandalous. No outside interference. The humidor keeps the baseballs at the same specifications as when they are manufactured. And yes, it has made a difference since the Rockies installed the humidor in 2002. They haven't had anyone hit 40 homers in a season since then. Many games have been lower-scoring, but not always.
So now Colorado puts on an exhilarating midseason run, with several late comebacks, and none other than Jon Miller has to tarnish it. He's never been afraid to express his opinion, but to accuse any team of outright cheating, without an iota of proof, is a sorry, inexcusable act coming from someone of his stature.
In fact, Miller owes the Rockies an immediate, eloquent apology, either on national TV or perhaps by tapes (video and audio) to be played during a Colorado game for fans to hear.
Otherwise, perhaps Major League Baseball should take action — not against the Rockies, but against Jon Miller.