Jon Miller grew up doting on some of baseball's legendary broadcasters, and has spent the last 36 years working with -- and on occasion memorably impersonating -- new generations of verbal artists. Monday, Miller joined the legends of the booth as the 2010 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award. Well into his fourth decade behind the mic and currently the vibrant voice of the San Francisco Giants, Miller was announced as the latest honoree of the award presented annually since 1978 in recognition of contributions to baseball broadcasting.
Ford C. Frick Award winners have their own wing in Cooperstown's Hall of Fame, and announcement of Miller's selection by a specially-selected 20-member electorate was made by Jeff Idelson, the president of the Hall of Fame who called the 36-year veteran of local and national broadcasts "one of baseball's most recognizable voice." But that was only after Idelson had called Miller, vacationing in Cartagena, Colombia, with news of his selection. "As I told my wife, I'll never forget this town," Miller said on a conference call with reporters. "I'm the luckiest man in Cartagena -- or anywhere else, for that matter." On a call which evolved into a reflective stream of consciousness for Miller, the San Francisco native recalled falling in love with baseball in the early '60s through the voices of Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons, the Giants' verbal bridge from New York to The Bay. "I was obviously very excited to get the phone call and the first people I thought of were Lon Simmons and Russ Hodges, who taught me the game as a kid growing up," Miller said. "They called games for the great Giants clubs at the time, and that was the team I grew up with and learned to love the game." Hodges was one of the first winners of the Frick Award in 1980. Twenty-four years later, in 2004, Simmons followed suit. And pulling abreast of them now is the guy they had held captive through the thin speakers of a transistor radio in the far reaches of Candlestick Park. "It's astounding to me that I'm the recipient of the same award they received," Miller said. "They were people larger-than-life to me, as big as the biggest movie stars. I idolized both." Miller vividly recalled attending his first ballgame as a 10-year-old in 1962. He and his father sat high in the Candlestick Park stands, from where he could see inside the radio booth. "My father had this little transistor radio, and I listened through the wire earplugs while looking in the booth through binoculars, watching them broadcasting the game," Miller said. "My father kept asking, 'Why aren't you actually watching the game?' But I was more interested in what was happening in that booth." Thirty-five years after peeping into that booth, Miller moved into it, closing his broadcasting circle in 1997 by taking over as the Giants' play-by-play man. He had started out as the Oakland A's play-by-play announcer in 1974, and thereafter moved into the booths of the Rangers (1978-79), Red Sox (1980-82) and Orioles (1983-96) prior to the homecoming. While in Baltimore, Miller also joined former Frick Award winners Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek on NBC-TV's Game of the Week telecasts from 1986-89. In 1990, Miller took over ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts. "With a national audience on Sunday nights for the last 20 years," Idelson said, "an entire country has been able to enjoy on a weekly basis what fans in San Francisco, Baltimore, Boston, Texas and Oakland have known with Miller as their home team's broadcaster for varied points over the last four decades. "His soothing play-by-play, his affable and welcoming personality and his relaxed nature on-air give every baseball fan a personal invitation to enjoy the game, as if each was sitting in the front row." For all his national identity and strong bond with his hometown, Baltimore still thinks of Miller as its own. The coming season will be his 14th calling Giants games -- only matching his tenure with the Orioles. In Miller's debut 1983 season as their broadcaster, the Orioles won the World Series -- still his only World Series champion subjects, with the exception of that faded break-in with the 1974 A's. "The best thing that ever happened to me was going to that place at that time," Miller said of the move to Baltimore. "It was the best possible scenario for a broadcaster from out of town. I'm grateful to those Orioles players, they made me look good. "That was a great team that put it all together to win the whole thing in repeatedly dramatic fashion. All their ninth-inning heroics ... it was a very happy and fulfilling time." The Birds' penchant for late-game dramatics enabled Miller to dip his verbal brush into the paint from which sprang the images he would conjure. "There is a lot of genuine drama in baseball, especially to fans who care about the outcome of a game," Miller said. "There is tension, a great sense of the unexpected, and being able to translate that into painting a picture puts the listener right in the ballpark." All the indelible broadcasters had their own way with that easel, and Miller is no exception. Although the best description he could come up with for his own broadcasting style was "just being yourself." "Whoever you are, that's who you have to stay when you get behind the mic," Miller said. An ironic self-evaluation only in the sense Miller gained some of his widest popularity for frequently spicing broadcasts -- especially those stretched by rain delays -- with spot-on impersonations of the likes of Harry Caray, Vin Scully and Howard Cosell. Miller will be honored as an award recipient during the Hall's induction weekend, July 23-26 in Cooperstown. He will be sharing the spotlight with Hall of Fame inductee Andre Dawson, Veteran Committee electees Whitey Herzog and Doug Harvey, and Bill Madden, the winner of the 2010 J.G. Taylor Spink Award for excellence in baseball writing.