Before there was a Brooks Robinson, there was a George Kell. Doug DeCinces had to supplant Robinson, and starting today, Mike Bordick becomes the answer to who followed Cal Ripken at shortstop.
But while Robinson, DeCinces and now Bordick can forge new ground on the playing field, where success can easily be measured, Jim Hunter will have to replace the broadcasting legend of Jon Miller in both the radio booth and, just as importantly, in the minds of fans, where wins and losses aren't so precisely calculated.
"Maybe it's good that I'm replacing a guy like Jon because maybe it's going to force me to work harder. I know I'm going to be under the microscope at least for this whole year. I'm well aware of that. [Today], if for no other reason than there's going to be a lot of curiosity, I'm sure people are going to be listening to every word I say. I'm aware of that," said Hunter.
If Hunter, 38, who begins his career as the voice of the Orioles with today's exhibition opener against the Minnesota Twins, is aware of the challenge before him, he doesn't appear to be daunted by it.
"I know I'm going to be under the microscope because I'm replacing Jon, but I don't think I'm going to be under the microscope because people want to see if I fail or not. I think it's just because Jon is so liked in that town and so good at what he does and I happen to be the guy that's following him," said Hunter, while fielding calls in his CBS office in New York last week.
"I like to look at it that way, that I'm following Jon, not replacing him. Jon left. He made a decision for his career to go to the [San Francisco] Giants and then a month after that they [the Orioles] called and said we'd like to talk and I said I'd like to talk too."
Today's first pitch and the first call of Opening Day are moments that Hunter has dreamed of and been preparing for since he was a boy growing up in New Jersey.
His father, also named Jim, was a longtime producer of New York Yankees telecasts, and as the only boy in the family, young Jim got to tag along with his dad to Yankee Stadium, where a love for the game was born.
Once he discovered how passionate his son was about pursuing announcing, the elder Hunter did all he could to encourage his son, who got his first broadcasting job doing morning drive-time sports on a station in Asbury Park, N.J., at the age of 19, while attending college at Seton Hall.
It was through his father's friendship with former National League president Bill White that Hunter got his first big break. White recommended Hunter to a CBS Radio executive in 1982, and three months later, when an opening became available, Hunter was going to the network at age 23 to anchor weekend sports reports.
After three years, Hunter pestered CBS management to give him a shot on its Saturday baseball game of the week, and he got his chance on a late-season Boston-Toronto game in 1986, the first major-league game he ever called.
Since then, Hunter has been a cornerstone of CBS Radio's sports operation, calling not only postseason baseball games, but also working the network's NFL package, which he'll continue to do when the Orioles' season is over.
Though Hunter now has 10 years of baseball broadcasting under his belt, his work has been of the weekly, not daily, variety and never with just one team, the kind of crucible where most announcers are tested.
The chance to test his ability to be a day-in, day-out baseball storyteller was precisely what Hunter was looking for, provided he didn't have to uproot his New Jersey-based family. He was also under consideration for a time by the Yankees, but he said the Orioles' stable ownership and the strength of WBAL (1090 AM), the team's flagship station, were lures that he couldn't resist.
"This job, in my business, has always been regarded as a marquee job. Go back to Ernie [Harwell, with the Detroit Tigers]. He was their first announcer and he's in the Hall of Fame. Herb Carneal [now with the Minnesota Twins] was his partner that year and he's in the Hall of Fame. Chuck Thompson's in the Hall of Fame. Bill O'Donnell isn't, but probably could be. Jon Miller will be in the Hall of Fame as soon as they get around to putting him in there," said Hunter.
"This is an organization that always has had one of the best announcers at that time as their lead guy. And there's always been stability there. Look at how long Jon was there and Chuck is still there and Ernie was there for a number of years before he left. It's always been a job that from afar you admired."
Harwell, among others, encouraged Hunter to take the Orioles' job.
"I feel like the ultimate in sports broadcasting is the play-by-play, day-by-day job of an announcer who covers the baseball team in the major leagues," said Harwell. "You get so much exposure, you come into the folks' homes and boats and ships and automobiles and beaches and so forth. You get to be part of the family that way, I think. I felt like when he's on there every day as the voice of the Orioles, he'd be a lot more valuable to himself than going on maybe once a week, even with a national network."
Said Bob Wolff, like Harwell a member of the Hall of Fame as a Washington Senators announcer and a mentor of Hunter's: "He [Hunter] looks like the kind of guy you'd like to have as a friend. Doing baseball in particular, because you're there every day, that friendship has to grow and mature."
Since Hunter's delivery is, by all accounts, not as colorful as Miller's, his presence in the booth will test a theory, stated often by Orioles owner Peter Angelos since Miller and the club parted ways in November -- that a team's announcer isn't as important to the listener as the team itself.
Indeed, what sells Hunter to those who have worked with him is not flashiness, but his work ethic and the notion that he is a good guy to be around.
Still, for all the talk of his hard work and passion for the game, what will likely define Hunter, in the short term in Baltimore, is how he is perceived to stack up to Miller. He's eager to get out and start the game on the field of public opinion.
"I understand that the people have to get used to me and hopefully that will come sooner than later. And I understand that they are used to Jon and they're used to his way, his personality and his phraseology and all," said Hunter. "But I still think any broadcaster has to approach it that the most important thing is what's going on on the field, and it's my job to describe that."
Pub Date: 2/27/97