Coming off the bench is not a job that Frank Robinson performed very often in a 21-year career that included two world championships and two Most Valuable Player awards, one in each league.
But when Home Team Sports was left without either of its regular Orioles analysts, John Lowenstein or Jim Palmer, for the first two games of this weekend's Oakland series, the cable channel pressed Robinson into service.
And, as he did 586 times in his Hall of Fame career, Robinson hit a home run, making an impressive return to the broadcasting booth, where he had been absent since a stint during the 1975 American League playoffs for NBC.
Robinson was blunt, outspoken and informative throughout his two-game stay, making the kinds of points you'd expect from a man who had been around the game for 43 years, but articulately and with a sense of humor.
For instance, in the fifth inning Saturday, Robinson astutely observed that Oakland pitcher Mike Harkey was spending too much time worrying about leadoff hitter Curtis Goodwin, who had reached on a single.
After walking the bases loaded, an obviously distracted Harkey gave up a grand slam to Cal Ripken and as Ripken was circling the bases, Robinson said of Harkey, "He'll look back on this inning and say, 'I should have concentrated on Brady Anderson and not worried about Curtis Goodwin. I was in a good groove, I was pitching well and it [Goodwin] got me all fouled up.' "
After Saturday afternoon's game, Robinson said he wouldn't rate his performance, but said he had felt "relaxed and comfortable," crediting his on-air partner, play-by-play man Mel Proctor, for keeping the atmosphere in the booth low-key.
"That was the most impressive debut that I've ever seen," said Proctor. "Normally, when you have a guy working his first time, you have to draw him out to get him to talk, but not Frank. He knew when to get in and when to get out. He blew me away."
Impressive performance or not, the presence of Robinson, the Orioles' assistant general manager, did raise questions about a conflict of interest, since he is involved in personnel decisions.
Bill Brown, HTS' director of programming, said Robinson was the only person he considered and that he had received permission from owner Peter Angelos and general manager Roland Hemond to do commentary.
Brown said if Lowenstein and Palmer were away for an extended period of time, he might not have considered Robinson, but thought the cable channel could use his talents for a short term, like the two games this weekend. To his credit, Robinson did not shy away from criticizing player performances or even team strategy.
"We're not going to put the Orioles in a position to compromise themselves and we certainly wouldn't do that with Frank Robinson," said Brown.
Give her a contract
For WBAL Radio's Pam Ward, there were 45,000 reasons for her to be nervous Saturday, as she filled in at Camden Yards for ailing public address announcer Rex Barney, who is recuperating from a heart attack.
"It's not that different [from radio announcing]. It's just that you have 45,000 witnesses and they're all used to Rex. On radio, I'm xTC never nervous, because I'm in a room alone, but with this setup, everybody can see you," said Ward.
Ward, who came to WBAL (1090 AM) from Washington in March, did a turn behind the PA mike for the Washington Capitals in December 1993 in a game with Ottawa that featured 14 goals and more than 100 minutes in penalties.
"Compared to that, this is calm," said Ward, who joked, "People I know have been coming up to me [Saturday] and saying, 'Don't give up your day job.' "