When he was a kid, Fred Manfra wanted to be Gus Triandos. Then he decided he'd like to be Chuck Thompson.
WBAL Radio granted Manfra's second childhood wish yesterday.
"I grew up listening to Chuck Thompson," Manfra, 46, said yesterday. "He was the guy who really was the basis of my career. Listening to him really planted the seeds of broadcasting in me."
And, next season, Manfra will join Thompson and Jon Miller to form the Orioles' radio announcing team. Like Angel and Ken Levine before him, Manfra will be the thread of continuity in Orioles broadcasts. Miller misses about half of the radio games for television assignments on Channel 2 and ESPN, and Thompson substitutes for Miller.
"He's really enthusiastic," Thompson said. "Nothing about this business bores him."
Miller was unavailable yesterday.
There are few sports that Manfra hasn't covered. He's worked the Olympics starting with the 1984 Winter Games, done play-by-play of the NBA Finals, called United States Football League games, been part of Triple Crown broadcasts for 10 years and covered college football and basketball.
Manfra doesn't have extensive major-league baseball experience. In the late 1970s, while working in Detroit, he did 25 games for the Tigers subscription television package. He has filled in on Orioles radio broadcasts, most recently for a week in 1990.
Manfra said the pull of his hometown got him to leave his network job -- regular radio listeners likely have heard him on one of the 22 sports updates he does each weekend -- for a baseball position.
"Had it been a job in Cleveland or Detroit, I would have said, 'No,' " Manfra said.
The announcer's parents and brother still live in Baltimore, and he has two sisters in Bel Air. Manfra, a 1964 graduate of Patterson High, said he developed an affinity for Triandos because, like the Oriole, he was a slow catcher who could hit for power. He once displayed some of that power at Memorial Stadium, hitting a double off the left-field wall in an American Legion game there.
After playing baseball for a year at Arizona State and while stationed in Hawaii with the Navy, Manfra turned to broadcasting when he was attending college in California. After stops at two California stations, he went to Davenport, Iowa, then Milwaukee, Washington and Detroit before coming to ABC Radio in New York in 1981.
Manfra described his style as "pretty straightforward. I like to describe what's happening.
"I think radio is the best thing for a broadcaster. You are, in effect, the camera in radio. . . . Baseball allows you an opportunity to be a friend of the listener. A lot of the time in football or basketball, the action carries your words."
"He's a great wordsmith," said Jeff Beauchamp, WBAL Radio station manager and vice president. "He can paint great pictures."
Manfra has a one-year contract with the station, whose deal to carry Orioles games runs through 1993.
Beauchamp said WBAL had gone through 93 audition tapes and made the cut to a final five.
"We had probably the best prospects we ever had," Beauchamp said. "It was a long process, but it wasn't a tough decision."
Manfra said he will move his family to Baltimore in June, after his 14- and 11-year-old daughters complete the school year at their home in Middletown, N.J.
"This is like a ballplayer getting to play in his hometown," Thompson said. "It's a hell of a thing."