Miller stores away the answers, using the information sparingly. He disdains stats for stats' sake and expounds on what he calls the "Fallacy of the Predestined Hit," the theory that if a certain player had not been, say, caught stealing third, the next hitter, who singled up the middle, would have knocked him in. "I don't know if he thinks like a manager," says Palmer, "but he's as current as one."
At least part of Miller's baseball acumen may come from Strat-O-Matic, a board game that allows you to act like a manager without having spent 30 years in pro baseball. At 13 he played an entire 162-game season, broadcasting every game in the basement of his Hayward, Calif., home. He didn't stop at play-by-play; he supplied everything from public-address announcements to crowd noise to vendors yelling "Cold be-ah, he-ah!"
When young Jon went to Candlestick Park, he would train his binoculars on Russ Hodges, the San Francisco Giants' broadcaster. " Hodges would call a strike, then grab eight french fries and stuff them in his mouth," says Miller. "Then he'd call a ball and take a big gulp of a Coke. I thought, This is the life for me."
At 20, Miller quit the College of San Mateo ( Calif.) to work in sportscasting's low minors-Channel 50 in Santa Rosa. The next year he began sending around audition tapes. He was about to accept a radio job for the 1974 season with the Triple A Wichita Arrows when Oakland called. Miller signed as a radio and TV play-by-play man with the world champion A's at the precocious age of 22. "I'd never broadcast a minor league game, much less a major league one," he recalls. "I had to learn on the job."
Luckily, he had a patient teacher in A's manager Alvin Dark. "I could ask Alvin stupid questions, and he wouldn't look at me like I was an idiot," says Miller.
He felt like an idiot at the end of the season. Team owner Charlie Finley fired him. "I thought I was washed up at 23," says Miller.
For the next few years, he pretty much was. He kicked around the North American Soccer League, calling games for the San Jose Earthquakes and the Washington Diplomats. Miller didn't land a steady broadcasting job in baseball until 1978, when he lassoed a spot with the Texas Rangers. Two years later he hooked on with the Boston Red Sox.
In his maiden game in Beantown, Miller and partner Ken Coleman became mired in a rain delay. Coleman goaded Miller into doing impersonations of broadcasters: Harry Caray talking baseball with Phil Rizzuto, Chuck Thompson swapping anecdotes with Scully.
"Vin, you know this is the doggonest rainstorm I've ever seen."
"You're right, Chuck. It reminds me of the time at Dodger Stadium when we got 1.2345 inches of rain in 6.7 minutes."