I may not be the most qualified to write this list. I’ll admit that.
I didn’t start listening to Orioles’ radio broadcasts until the 1970s, so I missed Ernie Harwell and Herb Carneal. And Bill O’Donnell and Tom Marr are a bit fuzzy in my mind’s ear.
For the last 15 years or so, my time listening to O’s broadcasts has been limited, since I’ve been in attendance during many of those home and road games.
But with the official news that Fred Manfra will be broadcasting only a few games this year – his schedule already had been highly truncated the past few seasons due to health issues – I thought it was appropriate to put together a list of my Top 5 O’s radio broadcasters.
A couple things here:
One, we’re talking radio only. I’m not getting into the TV angle of it. Those are different animals. Although I will say I believe Gary Thorne is the best Baltimore’s ever had for TV. To me, he’s the perfect mix of straight-forward professionalism and show-biz goofiness.
Two, I don’t think Baltimore realizes how spoiled it has been when it comes to play-by-play radio announcers. There have been five winners of the Ford C. Frick Award (presented annually by the Hall of Fame for broadcasting excellence) who, at one point, announced Orioles games. And that group doesn’t include Joe Angel, who I think should be an annual finalist for the award.
I hear fans complain a lot about the club’s announcers, and I don’t get it. I have listened to a lot of baseball games on satellite radio on my way home from Camden Yards over the years, and I would put Angel, Manfra and Jim Hunter up against most of the groups that I’ve heard.
Here’s my Top 5. Feel free to comment or argue.
1. Chuck Thompson
Yes, he was folksy. Yes, he was a homer. I don’t care. To me, no one was better. No one comes close. Perhaps in this day and age, his style wouldn’t work. But it was perfect for the era in which he called games. I was saying, “Ain’t the beer cold,” long before I was allowed to taste beer (and I’m Irish). Oh, that voice. That voice was baseball, was freshly cut grass, was summer.
2. Jon Miller
He replaced Thompson as the lead play-by-play announcer on WFBR in 1983. It was an impossible task, like replacing Brooks Robinson at third base. Miller was completely different from Thompson. Yet the transition was seamless. Thompson took you by the hand and guided you smoothly through a game like a grandfather; Miller was a carnival barker, tossing you onto a bumper car for nine innings. He entertained like no other. It’s a shame he didn’t win his Frick Award with the Orioles. But his 14-year run in Baltimore was sublime, nonetheless.
3. Joe Angel
I considered causing a mini-controversy here by putting Angel ahead of Miller. Angel is heading into his 18th season as a voice of the Orioles while Miller did it for 14 seasons. But Miller has the hardware (Frick Award) and was so unique that I had to recognize him as a trailblazer. So, I’ll put Angel third on this list. However, with all due respect to Thompson and his partners, Miller-Angel is the greatest combo in O’s radio history, in my opinion. Miller’s impressions and Angel’s sharp wit were such an amazing combo that they made 1988 bearable and 1989 a tour de force. It was like two crazy uncles topping each other – and working together — at a Fourth of July backyard picnic. Angel is still so very good, and his wit is still razor sharp.
4. Bill O’Donnell
From 1966 to 1981, O’Donnell accompanied Thompson in the broadcast booth, and meshed perfectly with Balmer’s GOAT. Although I can’t remember specifics, I know that Thompson-O’Donnell is considered the standard-bearer in Baltimore. That all-time duo was cut short when O’Donnell died in 1982 of cancer. He was only 56.
5. Fred Manfra
Maybe there is a bias here because he lived every Baltimore kid’s dream, at least after most Baltimore kids realized they couldn’t hit a curveball. Manfra, a Patterson High grad, has taken the Orioles’ microphone for 24 seasons, and his rich baritone is synonymous with Baltimore baseball to a generation. He also was a tremendous straight man for Angel.
Ernie Harwell, Herb Carneal, Bob Murphy
These three all won the Frick Award in their careers. Harwell, the Orioles’ first announcer in 1954, is best known for his work with the Detroit Tigers. Murphy, who technically replaced Harwell as the Orioles’ lead announcer, is remembered as one of the original voices of the New York Mets. And Carneal, who assisted both Harwell and Murphy in Baltimore, became the beloved lead of Minnesota Twins broadcasts. I never heard any of them announce in Baltimore, but they all were revered in their adopted cities.
Hunter may be viewed as a TV guy now, but he came to Baltimore thanks to his radio chops. And he’ll be doing more of that again this year. He’s often a lightning rod for fans who consider him too much of a cheerleader — the anti-Miller, if you will — but many of those same critics revered Thompson for his black-and-orange-colored glasses. Hunter might be a little rah-rah for some tastes, but there is no one more prepared on a daily basis. My dad, who is 85, would list Hunter ahead of everyone on this list besides Thompson. He loves when Hunter gets on the umpires for questionable calls against the Orioles.
He played second fiddle to Thompson and Miller for eight seasons, so no wonder he was overshadowed. He had a knack for describing things as he saw them, and that honesty was appreciated by many listeners. His famous and fake “Manager’s Report with Earl Weaver” from Seattle in 1982 – it was an outtake and a lark that never made the air — is still floating around the Internet to the presumed chagrin of poor Alice Sweet from Norfolk.