Touch 'em All: Jon Miller on constant travel, walking Barry Bonds and night terrors
With the Giants in town over the weekend, one of baseball’s great broadcasters made a pit-stop in Kansas City. Jon Miller, “The Voice of the Giants” for the last 12 years and ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Play-by-Play man for the last 19 years, called the Giants versus Royals on Friday. Miller then took off Saturday to Chicago for ESPN’s Sunday Night Game of the Week featuring the Cubs and White Sox with his partner, Joe Morgan. Miller has worked in baseball for 30 years and called 11 World Series. He’s also broadcast hockey, basketball and soccer during his career calling sports.
While Miller wasn’t in Kansas City very long, Around the Horn was able to snap a picture of him and set-up an interview for Sunday morning at 8 a.m. (We were probably his wake-up call). Miller was then gracious enough to give us a full 27 minutes of his time (we only asked for 15). In the interest of saving some bandwidth, here is a condensed version of the interview in what we at Around the Horn hope will become a semi-regular feature – Touch ’em All. We’ll be rounding the bases, providing interviews with broadcasters, stadium personalities and anybody else who works in baseball and will give us at least five minutes. Here goes…
Around the Horn: Good morning Jon. How are you doing?
Jon Miller: Good.
ATH: Are you ready.
JM: Yea, sure.
ATH: Alright, let’s do this. Here in Kansas City, we never really got to see Barry Bonds. He came here once in 2003 and we played in San Francisco once, but other than that, we never got to see him up close. How was covering Barry Bonds?
JM: For a broadcaster it was great because Bonds was the most exciting player in the game. Everything in a Giants game, the game really revolved around Bonds. He changed everything. The way the opposing manger managed was dictated by when Bonds was going to be coming up. Bonds would routinely draw walks with nobody on base – intentional walks, which you’d never seen.
Mike Scoscia in the World Series in 2002, would walk Bonds intentionally in the first inning with runners at first and second or a runner at first. He just wouldn’t pitch to him – things that you never, ever saw. One game in 1998 when Buck Showalter was managing in Arizona, he walked Bonds in the ninth inning with the bases loaded intentionally. He actually walked in a run intentionally and actually moved the possible winning run into scoring position. I think the score was 8-7 after he walked him and there was the possible wining run at second base.
So not only did he do remarkable things, but remarkable things happened just because of his presence. In that way, as a broadcaster, it was great for us because there was always excitement.
ATH: Did you script your home run call of Barry’s record-breaking 756th homer?
JM: I get that question a lot actually and I guess I could’ve. But the job is to capture the moment and how can you do that when it hasn’t happened yet. It’s not really possible to script it. I mean it is, but I just wanted to do it like any other moment that happens. I actually thought of some great lines afterward on my way home.
ATH: Other than the obvious excitement and enthusiasm toward the records, what’s the atmosphere been like in San Francisco when all the TV cameras aren’t there?
JM: The last three years, the Giants were not very good. A lot of those years, Bonds basically missed the whole year. He came back for a couple weeks in September. And then the following year he was there all year but didn’t have a really good year. He finished well, but not the big year we were used to seeing. And last year when he played, he played well. But he had formerly been a guy who could hit for average, hit for power, steal bases and was a great outfielder. The last couple of years, he was not a fast runner anymore. He kind of clogged up the bases and couldn’t really play outfield anymore.
He was really not a National League Player any longer. He had to play the outfield to be in the lineup, but he was not very good at it. So when he was in the lineup – I think he had about 340 or so official at-bats – he was still very good. He had 28 home runs and drew a lot of walks, partly because teams weren’t afraid of anyone else in the lineup.
I think these last three years, the team was not good. The fans in San Francisco were tired of the team. It was an old team all three of those years. It was a team that did not have a lot of energy. They’d win big games in September and maybe win four in a row. And if they could just keep that going, they’d be back in the race. The problem was they’d win four in a row and half the lineup would need the day off. They were exhausted.
So I think fans were tired of that team. And considering that Barry was the face of that team, I think the fans were saying the same thing about Barry. I think a lot of people in San Francisco were unhappy last year that the team re-signed Barry. Because they were bringing back the same, basically old team. They were ready for something new at that point.
ATH: This is probably the most common question you have gotten this year, but how are things different without him?
JM: I think a lot of people wish that Bonds had just retired – announced his retirement and gone out that way, but I guess he felt he could still play. So the Giants said we need to go somewhere different. The net result is that people are very excited about this team, even though the record is not that good. They’re very excited about all the new players.
I think at least eight players have made their Major League debut for the Giants this season. They’ve gone deep into the farm system. We’ve seen a lot of players we’ve never seen before and we’re finding out that some of them can actually play. The best of them seem to be the young pitchers like Lincecum and Cain and Wilson, the closer. Emmanuel Burriss has been a great surprise, the young shortstop. He was at A-ball last year and he seems to be the heir-apparent to Omar Vizquel.
It’s funny, the attendance is down, but I think they’ll still draw 3 million fans. People are very excited about this team, even though the record isn’t very good because they are seeing the future start to form right before their eyes. And after three bad years, I think people are very excited about it.
ATH: It seems like the fans in San Francisco may have something in common with the fans here in Kansas City. The anticipation here is peaking with a new manager and several young players growing on the field.
JM: Hey, those of us who were there Friday night were struck with the similarities. Not only did the teams have identical records, everything about the results was identical as well – their runs scored, runs allowed. But also the make up of the club with some veterans to kind of show the young guys the way and then a whole lot of young talent.
It could be that on the field, for everyday players, the Royals may be ahead of the Giants. Alex Gordon, although he hasn’t fully blossomed yet, has the tools to be a star player. I don’t think the Giants have anybody in the field yet that you would look at and say ‘Well that guy’s going to be the best player on the field.’ Gordon still has the ability to be that. They’ve also got guys like Greinke and Hochevar and guys like that in the rotation that I think have the tools that they can be outstanding pitchers. If that pitching comes along, that’s what makes a team competitive.
The Royals I think just had that one bad stretch for two weeks. And I think they play in a tougher league than the Giants. It’s like NCAA college basketball; their strength of schedule is above the Giants. Everybody in the Giants division has a losing record except Arizona. And the Diamondbacks, after a great start to the season, have not played well for a long time. They are kind of living off that great start, otherwise over the last six or seven weeks, they have kind of fallen off the table like everybody else.
Obviously, the American League Central is one of the most competitive divisions with the White Sox and Cleveland and Detroit. Those are some monsters in that division. And even outside of the division you have to play the Red Sox, Tampa Bay, the Yankees and Anaheim and what not. So I think the Royals play a tougher schedule so they may already be beyond the Giants even though their records are very similar. Although ironically, it may be that their task is more difficult climbing back into being a contender.
ATH: So, you’ve got it set. Working for the Giants during the week and then every weekend you take off to work for ESPN. You’re set.
JM: I think I get the big money for the flying. No, once I’m actually in the cities, I just have to be prepared, go to the ballpark and work the game. I get to go to the park everyday. It’s fun being able to get away and see other teams other than the Giants and the National League games. I get to go to Fenway and catch Yankees-Red Sox. Or like, this weekend, see the Cubs-White Sox, which I think is one of the most exciting interleague series. Or leave the Giants and go see a couple of American League teams play. So, I have sort of the best of both worlds.
There is a lot of travel. The Giants on this trip are going to Kansas City and Cleveland. I’m going Kansas City, Chicago and then Cleveland. After a Thursday night game in Cleveland, the Giants go home and they play Oakland next Friday. It’ll be one of those nights where they get in like two or three in the morning. And then make the drive over to Oakland. So I’ll do that one game and then turn around and fly back to Chicago next Saturday for next week’s Cubs-White Sox game.
So occasionally, travel can be a little brutal. But I still wouldn’t want to trade jobs with many people. I think I’ve still got the best job going. That’s the trade-off. In the eight months of the season when I go to Spring Training until the World Series is over, I’m probably away from home, five months out of that time. It’s not ideal but that’s the job and I’m fortunate to have it.
Every once in a while I wake-up in a sweat in the middle of the night and I realize I’ve just had a nightmare and they tell me “Baseball has gone away and you’ll have to get a real job.” Talk about a night terror.
ATH: Jon, that wraps it up for us. Thank you so much for your time this morning.
JM: Great, thanks a lot.