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No one offered Queen Elizabeth a plug of Red Man or even a chunk of Bazooka when she attended her first major league game this May at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. Some O's fans, ignoring her royal presence, shouted barnyard epithets at the umpire. Others, Irish Republican Army sympathizers, displayed their awareness of her presence on hand-lettered placards in the bleachers—reading, among other things, BRITS OUT OF IRELAND. So it was left to Jon Miller, the Orioles' radio announcer, to celebrate Her Majesty's attendance by invoking Shakespeare. "The queen of England is at the game today," he told his listeners. "But that doesn't mean we're going to call it any differently." Then, copping a couple of lines from Romeo and Juliet, he added, "It's just two baseball teams, both alike in dignity, in fair Baltimore, where we lay our scene."
When Oakland A's leadoff man Rickey Henderson let a pitch go by for a called strike, Miller paraphrased Lady Macbeth: "It was the umpire that shrieked, the fatal bellman, which gives the sternest goodnight." When Henderson had an opportunity to steal a base, Miller quoted Malcolm in Macbeth: "Let us not be dainty of leave-taking, but shift away. There's warrant in that theft which steals itself when there's no mercy left."
The queen occasionally looked perplexed, though not because of these and other "British Monarchy Moments" Miller inserted into his play-by-play. "I was just trying to get her to come on the air with me," says Miller. "I was hoping she'd come up and read the Esskay Meats out-of-town scoreboard."
Says Jim Palmer, who frequently teams with Miller on TV broadcasts of Baltimore games, "I've never heard anyone better on radio. Vin Scully is very good, but Jon can even make an 8-1 blowout interesting." Adds Joe Angel, Miller's former radio partner, who's now broadcasting New York Yankee games, "Jon may be the best in the country as a play-by-play announcer."
Miller's voice has an authoritative tone that some might associate with a lifetime of serious reading. But that's not why he sounded erudite during the queen's visit. Those quotes from the Bard were supplied by his 14-year-old daughter, Holly. Still, he knows enough about James Joyce to have dropped a reference to Blooms-day (June 16) when baseball commissioner Fay Vincent joined him last month on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Miller's weekly TV gig. Vincent asked Miller if he knew the name of Joyce's wife.
"Nora," Miller said.
"Don't believe it, Commissioner," said Joe Morgan, Miller's sidekick on Sunday Night Baseball. "He's reading from a paper in his briefcase."
Short, with rounded, pillowy cheeks and a burly body, Miller, 39, looks like a Hirschfeld cartoon of himself—you could read his expression from the last row of the upper deck. He sees things whole, in clear air, with benevolence toward idiosyncrasy. He describes the game with surgical simplicity, adding a running commentary and improvising on the action like a bebop horn player.
Miller won't wear you down by making a routine catch sound like an unassisted triple play. When big plays do happen, he can shift to hysteria without losing credibility. "Jon's opinions are always informed," says Palmer. "That's one of the reasons I admire him; he actually goes down on the field and asks questions."