As an Orioles fan, there are lots of things I grumble about: being stuck in the AL East (especially with no league salary cap), national sportswriters’ patronizing/non-existent coverage of my team, NYY/Boston fans who rudely invade Baltimore home games, not winning a World Series since 1983, losing 100 games for the second straight year.
But there are good things. One of them is Camden Yards, at 27, still one of the most beautiful ballparks in the Majors. (If you’ve never picked up Peter Richmond’s Camden Yards on how the park was born, it’s a fun read.) Another is the Oriole Bird—because he’s marvelous, he can dance, and he is not Ace the Blue Jay, the San Diego Chicken, or the Cardinals’ Fredbird, whose gaping open mouth is, frankly, the stuff of nightmares.
Another reason I regularly give thanks as an Orioles fan is our announcers. This 2019 season has given me particular appreciation for the likes of Gary Thorne, Jim Palmer, Brian Roberts, Mike Bordick, Ben McDonald, and Jim Hunter. (I don’t catch many radio games, but certainly some Camden Chatters may want to pay their own tribute to the likes of Kevin Brown or Dave Johnson. Or to the O’s Xtra guys, Tom Davis, Rick Dempsey, and Rob Long.)
Baltimore isn’t the largest TV sports market out there, and MASN continues to wade through its own vile legal morass, but we have great guys out there calling the shots. (And gals, at one point: Sara Perlman, in her two-year stint with the network, got better and better as a host and sideline reporter.)
I’ve lived in New York and Massachusetts before, so I’m regularly blacked out of MASN when the Orioles play the Yankees or the Red Sox. And believe me, I miss Gary and Jim—and Bordy and Roberts—when they’re gone. The other broadcasts feel flatter to me, the banter less witty, the play-by-play more mechanical, the baseball insights less ... insightful.
So, in ascending order of affection, here’s a few words of appreciation for the MASN announcing team.
Jim Hunter has been an Orioles announcer since 1997, when he was actually the main radio play-by-play guy for the team. Personally, I think his “it’s always sunny in Birdland” homerism can get in the way of good analysis, but he’s a likeable guy.
Ben McDonald, a former Orioles No. 1 pick who threw seven seasons with Baltimore, joined the team as a fill-in a few years ago, and is getting slightly more airtime now. While he doesn’t quite have the gift of gab down pat yet, his thick “Loosiana” accent makes me smile every time I hear it, and he often comes out with some blunt, cutting observation (especially when the team is coughing up late leads).
Brian Roberts is the talented rookie of the MASN team. He joined the TV broadcast crew this year after doing some radio before that (and I guess the 2018 inductee into the Orioles Hall of Fame played a little ball, too?). He’s been more baffled about the pronunciation of “Anthony SantanDER” than most, but he’s charismatic, his baseball acumen is off the charts, he’s an Orioles legend. Give us more Brian Roberts!
Mike Bordick is basically someone’s dad up there on the mic. (I mean, he’s literally someone’s dad, with six kids and a wife, Monica, that he talks about all the damn time. OK, it’s kind of sweet.) Bordick comes out all the time with lame expressions—“He’s coming in hot with the cheese” a common one for a fastball—and his relentless Jim Hunter-esque optimism used to annoy me. This year, though, the badness of this team managed to awaken a little snark out of Bordy, and truthfully, his quaintness is growing on me.
Jim Palmer is an Orioles treasure, and a damn good announcer, to boot. He attracted some controversy in May 2018 by publicly calling out Chris Davis for his work ethic, and he definitely doesn’t sugarcoat things: he doesn’t like it when you don’t run out groundballs. During a wretched Gabriel Ynoa start against the A’s in June, Palmer wondered out loud whether Ynoa, showing two pitches and commanding neither, was a big-league starter. He’s been brutal about DJ Stewart’s defense, speculating that maybe Stewart had “an eyesight problem,” then reflecting, “That’s what happens when you try to play DHs in the outfield.” Most people, as far as I can tell, stick with Palmer for “telling it like it is,” and I appreciate our resident elder statesman for his honesty and insight.
But my favoritest of favorites is Gary Thorne, our main play-by-play guy, who’s been with MASN since 2007. Sure, Gary has a tendency to butcher names, and his banter can be a bit weird—like when he point blank asked Mike Bordick, “Are you a Pampers guy?” But I think there’s no one smarter in the biz. (He likes book clubs, too!) Not every announcer has the brains, the daring, or the integrity to talk about “real stuff,” but Gary does. He’s also hilarious, like when narrated this young fan’s struggles with an ice cream, or when he did his “Masters voice” during the 2015 game played in front of an empty stadium after the Freddie Gray riots.
Gary Thorne became a meme this year in his role as a horrified sane person held hostage to Baltimore pitching during the Gleyber Torres onslaught—13 home runs against the Orioles in 17 games, a record against a division rival. Composites were made of Gary’s increasingly alarmed home run calls, which went from good-spirited to on the verge of desperation (not wrongly). I felt for Gary, but then, I felt for all Orioles fans. And in a sense, I felt like he was speaking for us up there.
The Washington Post even made a poem out of Gary’s Torres home run calls. I kind of hate them for doing so, but I’ll leave you all with it, because it’s a fitting comment on the biggest plot arc of this season—our ghastly pitching staff—and on how much Gary Thorne means to Orioles fans.
Goodbye, home run
By Gary Thorne
In the air to left field
Will it carry?
Looking up and
Goodbye, home run.
High in the air
Going to left field
Smith at the wall, looking and
Goodbye, home run.
(Read the rest, and you know there were a lot of Torres home runs, from WaPo.)