BALTIMORE—Thirty years ago, what would become a local radio broadcaster’s most noted call occurred to him suddenly. In his first season working alongside Jon Miller, the man had been broadcasting Orioles games for more than three weeks, yet hadn’t seen a win.
“It was the ’88 season when they finally won a game,” Joe Angel recalled. “It was out of jubilation.”
Angel had been with the Orioles when they lost their first game and kept on losing.
“When they finally won a game,” he said. “When they started 0-21 and they beat the White Sox, I was wrapping up that game … I was giving the totals. Finally, ‘in the win column,’ because I was happy about it.
“They ended that miserable losing streak, and all the reporters disappeared after that because it was no longer a national story. The day they won, it was like chaos in the clubhouse after the game because it was such a big story.”
Something clicked with Angel.
“I heard the recording of it a couple of days later, and when I heard myself, ‘in the win column,’ I thought it would be nice to incorporate that every time we won a game, and that’s what I began to do, and that’s how that was born out of a 21-game losing streak.”
Thirty years later, the Orioles are on pace to lose even more games than they did in 1988 when they finished 54-107.
“Kind of like what’s happening now,” he said.
It would be a neater story to tell if this were Angel’s 30th anniversary of broadcasting Orioles games, but it isn’t.
After coming to Baltimore, he worked three years, left after the 1990 season, spent the next year broadcasting New York Yankees games, and then returned to Baltimore in 1992 when Camden Yards opened.
He was hired as the lead broadcaster for the expansion Florida Marlins in 1993, then came back to the Orioles in 2004. That makes 19 years, not 30 in Baltimore.
“I’ve left twice, and it’s unusual in this business to be broadcasting for a major league baseball team to leave them and go someplace else and come back,” Angel said. “To do that once is very unusual, and I’ve been very lucky to do that twice. For some reason, they keep taking me back.”
Angel is happy he’s allowed to come back, even in a season like this one. Unfortunately, he’s seen a lot of losing.
“They wound up losing 107 games,” Angel said of 1988. “It could have been worse. If I remember correctly, we only played 161 games that year. One game was rained out and didn’t have to be made up. It could have been worse. I remember after the 21-game losing streak to start the season, we never lost more than five in a row.”
For a few weeks, Angel was broadcasting a huge sports story.
“If you’re going to be bad, be historically bad, I guess,” Angel said. “It’s memorable for all the wrong reasons … Thirty years later, people ask you about it. It becomes this huge thing that you actually went through, and you didn’t realize you were going through it at the time.
“Just like this team, it didn’t look like it would be that bad a team. They had a couple of Hall-of-Famers on that team [Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.] … It couldn’t be that bad, and then it began to snowball. I never did so many interviews during that time. People wanted to talk about it. You kind of lament it now, wishing you never had to go through that. The very next season, they almost win the division title.”
After the debacle, the 1989 Orioles nearly won the American League East, and Angel is often reminded of that team, the “Why Not?” Orioles by his broadcast partners.
When Jim Hunter is working on television, Angel has done games this season with Dave Johnson, Ben McDonald and Gregg Olson, all key members of that team.
“You think about these things. You realize you’re getting old,” Angel said.
Before the games, he thinks of storylines and sometimes has a hard time. But there is something to play for. If the Orioles finish with the worst record in baseball, they could have the No. 1 pick in the draft next June, just like they did in 1989 when they selected McDonald.
“That’s the only race they’re in now, which it totally negative,” Angel said. “ If you lose enough games, something good can come out of it. That’s how you have to look at it. They’re in a race now with Kansas City.”
Angel’s: “In the win column,” hasn’t gotten used as often as he’d like this year. Instead, there’s been a steady diet of: “In the loss column.” Too much of it for his taste.
“The Orioles are surprisingly bad this season,” Angel said, but that doesn’t deter him.
“Once I come to the park and the game starts, it’s baseball. The game I’ve been in love with my entire career.”
Angel, who came to the United States from Colombia at age 7, moved to Chicago and began following the Cubs. Then his family moved to San Francisco, and it was the Giants.
“That’s when I fell in love with the game, and I’m still in love with the game,” he said. “You see young guys come up and make their debuts and have success, see the frustration and see the elation in the game.
“When you’re losing that many games, you’re losing for the same reasons, bad pitching, bad defense, not enough hitting. It’s the same thing every game. When you win, there’s different reasons why you win individual games.”
The games aren’t tiring, it’s what comes with it.
“It’s not hard coming to the ballpark,” Angel said. “What gets tougher [is] the travel, the packing, the planes, the buses. When you’re losing a lot of games, that becomes really difficult. When the game starts, you get into it.”
Angel has a year left on his contract, and he knows he’ll be back for a 20th season with the Orioles, but isn’t sure about what comes after that.
“I can see myself coming back, and I can see myself maybe thinking about not coming back or thinking about cutting back on my schedule,” he said.
“I’m 71 years old. I don’t feel like I’m 71, but I’m at the point where it may be soon time to kind of step aside and give a young guy a chance to do a what I’ve done for 41 years.”
In the offseason, Angel retreats to Northern California, where he plays golf, roots for the Golden State Warriors and spends time with his family.
There’s someone very special there, his 96-year-old mother, Cecilia, who walks, and sews for her neighbors. She’s Joe’s “mamacita.”
Angel has excellent genes. His father also lived into his 90s, and he’s thankful for what he has, as long as his beloved mother is still nearby.
“She’s healthier than I am, my biggest blessing,” he said softly.