The news that a number of recognizable names won’t be part of Orioles television and radio broadcasts in 2021 drew a strong response from fans, and that’s not surprising.
It’s their personal connection to the Orioles, people who come into their homes night after night during the season.
Four of the broadcasters who won’t be back in 2021 — Gary Thorne, Jim Hunter, Tom Davis and Rick Dempsey — weren’t in their accustomed roles in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season for a variety of reasons. Mike Bordick and Dave Johnson were.
In Hunter’s case, he was removed from the broadcast team before the 2020 season, and he made the announcement that his contract for 2021 wasn’t being renewed in a Twitter post on Friday.
Fans have grown attached to the broadcasters. Thorne, whose resume includes high-profile national assignments in baseball and hockey, often teamed with Jim Palmer to give the Orioles’ MASN telecasts a classy, informed feel.
Hunter, known for tireless preparation, performed gallantly for 24 years in a number of roles on radio and television.
Davis, a lifelong Baltimorean, has been around the Orioles for decades and his encyclopedic knowledge of the team and its history is impressive.
Dempsey, perhaps the greatest catcher in team history, has long been a fan favorite on pregame and postgame shows.
Bordick and Johnson, both former Orioles, were also fan favorites. Each worked diligently to make themselves into good broadcasters.
Now, they’re officially gone, and fans are upset. Their voices are more familiar to fans than most of the players on the team.
The changes in the Orioles’ broadcast team might seem sudden, but the movement began with the retirements of longtime radio broadcasters Joe Angel and Fred Manfra.
The Orioles, who aren’t commenting on broadcast personnel changes, say they’ll announce their 2021 broadcast team soon.
Many of those who won’t be back are veterans in the business, presumably with pricey contracts, and the last year has been an awful one for many businesses, including broadcasting. Many broadcasting outlets have made changes driven by economics, eliminating familiar names.
But it still hurts for those affected and for those accustomed to hearing them.
The names likely to be on the 2021 team are familiar to those who watched games on television and listened on the radio last year. Geoff Arnold, Brett Hollander and Melanie Newman joined the broadcast team in 2020. Kevin Brown joined in 2019.
Scott Garceau and Ben McDonald were featured on many 2020 telecasts. Garceau has been on Baltimore sports broadcasts for 40 years. McDonald’s addition to Orioles radio and television has been a welcome one.
Last year was a tough season to start broadcasting Oriole games. Spring training was truncated and the broadcasters’ time to get to know players was limited. Once the season began, there was no clubhouse access.
Calling road games from a television monitor is difficult even for experienced broadcasters, but that could be the case again in 2021.
Economics might be the primary issue, but there’s another important one. Baseball fans’ demographics are the oldest among major sports, and the Orioles are trying to attract younger fans with younger voices. The addition of Arnold, Brown, Hollander and Newman play into that.
Local broadcasting jobs are attractive. If a there’s a comfortable fit between a broadcaster and the team, they can stay for years, as Thorne and Hunter did.
Fans will miss their voices, and so will I. Not only did I listen to them, I saw them daily at the ballpark and grew comfortable in their presence.
As a longtime fan of “Jeopardy!” I was shaken, as all longtime fans of the program were, when Alex Trebek died in November.
I made sure to watch and savor every program that Trebek taped before his death. Now, after seeing Ken Jennings host the program for the past two weeks, longtime fans have quickly grown accustomed to him.
The guess here is that fans might continue to miss Oriole broadcasters who won’t be back in 2021, just as many still miss voices from the past: Chuck Thompson, Bill O’Donnell and Jon Miller. But they’ll still watch and grow to enjoy the new voices, too.