NEAL CONAN, host:
Yesterday, the city of San Francisco celebrated its first World Series championship. The Giants took the series over the Texas Rangers in five games to complete one of the more unlikely campaigns in recent years.
Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer Jon Miller broadcast the Giants games throughout the regular season in San Francisco, then did the World Series on radio for ESPN. And he joins us in a moment.
If you have questions about the Giants, the series or the start of the hot stove season, give us a call. 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Jon Miller joins us by phone from San Francisco. Jon, I know you must be tired. Thanks very much for taking the time.
Mr. JON MILLER (Announcer, San Francisco Giants; ESPN): Well, I'm tired, but it's been a joyful time and the city celebrated big time yesterday with the players, the fans. And I've never really been through anything quite like that. It was an amazing day, and I'm sure a day that everyone will long remember in the city of San Francisco.
CONAN: Well, you get to call the last game of the World Series almost every year, doing the ESPN radio broadcast but never, I don't think, for the team that you broadcast for during the regular season.
Mr. MILLER: No. I did when the Baltimore Orioles won the World Series on the local broadcast back in 1983. And that was the only time that I'd ever been there and been able to broadcast that culminating moment of a World Series for the team that I'd actually been with all season long.
So and it was kind of nerve-wracking because I was very mindful that there were a lot of Texas Rangers fans tuned in for that game, and a lot of fans who weren't really following either ball club. And yet, it was kind of an exciting moment because I grew up in San Francisco. I grew up watching the Giants. I was there when on the radio, anyway, I was there when Willie McCovey hit that drive that almost made over Richardson's head that wouldve won the '62 World Series, so, you know, it was sort of an incredible day.
And there were Mays and McCovey sitting just to my right during the ceremonies at city hall. And there was that thread of the game, as Roger Angell once put it, connecting the Mays-McCovey marriage (unintelligible) the Giants with the Liebskin(ph)/Cain, Wilson and Huff Giants. And hundreds of thousands of people from all generations and all strata of society all joined in joyful celebration together. It was a memorable day.
CONAN: I should point out, when Jon Miller says he was there on the radio back in 1962, I'm sure listening to the radio, not quite broadcasting yet.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MILLER: I was sitting in a dentist's chair. I got out of school early so I could go to the dentist. And he had the ballgame on and then it was George Kell doing the play-by-play. George Garagiola was working the game with him on the radio that day. And there was a line drive and right through Richardson, and the whole thing was over. Mays had just hit a double to put runners at second and third. They were behind one to nothing. A ground ball, double play had knocked in the only run of the game for the Yankees.
And it was that close for the Giants against the Mantle, Maris, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra New York Yankees. So it took a long time to get that close again.
CONAN: That was Ralph Terry who pitched so brilliantly for the Yankees that day, and maybe as brilliantly as Tim Lincencum did in game five of the World Series this year.
Mr. MILLER: Indeed. And it was Edgar Renteria who had the McCovey role for the Giants. And he launched it right over the wall. A mistake by Cliff Lee, who didn't make many in that postseason, but he made one there. And Edgar Renteria, the man who never drove in three runs in a game at any time in the regular season, an injury-plagued season for him, who was an all-but-forgotten man the last two months of the regular season, who did not get the starts early on in the postseason. And yet, it evolved that Renteria became the key man down the stretch and had two three-RBI games in the World Series after not having any of those all year long.
CONAN: How do you think you would have broadcast that game differently if you were just on locally in the Bay Area?
Mr. MILLER: I think the only difference would have been - because the job is still the same, to try to describe accurately what's going on, try to be on top of everything, to give a good visual image of the action on the radio. The only difference is who you're talking to. And I would have anticipated the audience being primarily Giants fans, and instead of always being so mindful of all the Rangers fans listening and - for that matter, all the Yankee fans, and Red Sox fans and White Sox fans and all of that that were tuned in, as well. So it's just a, sort of, the difference in terms of who you're talking to. Otherwise, it's the same deal.
And let's face it. When Renteria hit the homerun, it was a tremendously exciting moment for Giants fans. And I got excited about it, but I believe that had it been the opposite way, and the, you know, the Rangers' Josh Hamilton or somebody hit that big homerun, I would have been equally as excited about that, because baseball is exciting, one way or the other. I'm all - even if it's a local broadcast, for me, it's always about the game itself and how interesting, exciting and just how much fun it is. And I try to bring that through on the broadcast, because I think that's our real job as baseball broadcasters.
CONAN: I wanted to ask you about the contrast between this year's World Series, two unlikely teams: The Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants, a team of castoff and misfits, as they were characterized. And a year ago, you had the Yankees and the Phillies, teams filled with superstars and potential Hall Of Famers.
Mr. MILLER: Well, that was a very satisfying World Series before it ever even began, because you thought, wow, clearly, the two best teams are the two teams that are here with the big stars. And this is what the World Series almost always used to be like when the one team that won one league always just went ahead and played the one team that won the other league. There were no playoffs. There was only the one team that made it through. And...
CONAN: And 154 games, the best team almost always emerges.
Mr. MILLER: Absolutely. So, you know, I think - how many of those teams that made it through in those - when the Yankees won five straight World Series, '49 through '53, without ever having to go through a playoff series, would they have won all of those pennants have they had to play one or even two - as we do now - playoff series prior to going there, where you meet a hot pitcher or hot hitter or - you know, as the Yankees did this year, Josh Hamilton, and you just can't get him out? The Yankees might not have won all those five World Series, nor would they likely have even been to all five of those World Series. We can - I'd have a big argument, I guess, if I proposed that to Yogi Berra right now.
CONAN: I suspect so, yes.
Mr. MILLER: Yeah. So it is a lot different. And it sometimes doesn't feel that you get there. By the same token, the way the Rangers ran roughshod over the Yankees and the way they put down the Tampa Bay Rays, I think, by consensus, the conventional wisdom was that those were the two best teams in the American League, if not all of baseball, and the Rangers dispatched both of them, and they dispatched the Yankees big time. They doubled the run output of the Yankees. They just clobbered them in all of their victories in that series. So they seem to be the best team in the American League by the time they got to the World Series, without question.
CONAN: Well, we're talking with Jon Miller, the Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer for the San Francisco Giants. And Tom's on the line, Tom calling us from Des Moines, Iowa.
TOM (Caller): Yes. Jon said that he thought that the Rangers have proved they were the best team in the American League. I'd like to challenge him on that if I could, and the Giants, as well. I mean, if any team showed that they had the postseason mettle, it was the Giants this year. But the fact that they only played three of the possible seven teams that were in the postseason doesn't prove that they're the best team in baseball. And I have a different set up. I would have the four teams that play - that earn the postseason status to play each other in kind of a round-robin situation.
CONAN: And you'd be playing until January?
TOM: No. I would have them play what I call a preliminary postseason. They would play in September, after 144 games. And then the four teams would play an 18-game preliminary postseason and determine who's the best. And maybe the top two teams in that 18-game division would play for the league championship. And then the championships would play in the World Series, as always.
CONAN: Tom, running for baseball commissioner, Jon Miller.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MILLER: Well, I don't think that baseball is going to change the system that they've used for such a long, long time. But they do use a round-robin system in the World Baseball Classic, an international sort of a way of doing it. And the teams start in groups of four, and they play each of the other three teams one time. The only complaint I have with the World Baseball Classic is it sort of ignores the actual nature of baseball, which is not just your one team on one day, but your team and its pitching staff and the depth of your staff, the depth of your lineup, your ability to match against left-handed pitching and right-handed pitching. And a best-of-seven series, I think, is the best way to actually express that and to find out what you've got versus - you know, because there a lot of teams - let's face it, 1972 - and you're an historian of baseball, Neal...
Mr. MILLER: ...the Philadelphia Phillies were one of the worst teams in baseball, and maybe one of the worst teams of all time, except when Steve Carlton pitched. He was 27 and 10 that year. So the Phillies, with Steve Carlton on the mat, could have beaten anybody, and likely would have beaten anybody in a tournament like that, one game for all the marbles. So - but that's not the way baseball works.
So, you know, the Yankees were great when CC Sabathia pitched. And down the stretch, they were a little more human when everybody else was pitching. And that ultimately seemed top catch up with them in the postseason.
CONAN: And not just the 25-man roster that are tested over 162 games, but indeed, the 40-man roster, the entire organization that - the critical player on the Giants this year, Buster Posey, was installed as the starting catcher about half way through the year.
Mr. MILLER: Yeah. And that was another (technical difficulties) of the game that - I'm struck by yesterday, at the parade, it was Willie McCovey who came on out of the Minor Leagues during the season in 1959 with the Giants and won the rookie of the year award, even though he had not been there all year, he was so good. And here's Buster Posey all these many years later. He may well do the same thing after not coming to the Big Leagues until nearly the end of May, and ending up cleanup hitter for the Giants down the stretch, as well as the guy handling that great pitching staff and doing it - obviously doing it so well. And there they were, McCovey to Posey and hundreds of thousands of Giants fans there to enjoy that whole panorama of the history of the San Francisco Giants.
CONAN: In violation of one of the rules of radio, never invite a guest with a voice better than yours, Jon Miller is with us from San Francisco, the Hall of Fame announcer for the San Francisco Giants. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
And let's go next to Joan, Joan calling from San Francisco.
JOAN (Caller): Oh, wow. Thanks for having me on, Neal. Jon, it's an honor. You are the best voice, the most positive and knowledgeable - you and Dave Flemming are the best. You keep us company every night when there's a game. And...
Mr. MILLER: Well, thanks very much.
(Soundbite of laughter)
JOAN: Since we're all coming down from the euphoria of this victory and the parade yesterday, I wanted to ask you: What do you do in your off months? Because we all know what you do during the season.
Mr. MILLER: Well, my wife and I, actually, we're heading for England and - tomorrow, and we're going to stay out in the country and view the rolling, pastoral British countryside and take strolls and find pubs and just sort of stay where it's real, real quiet for a good, long time. And then we're going to get onboard the Queen Mary 2 next Wednesday and do an old-fashioned, old-timey trans-Atlantic ocean crossing from England to New York, just like the old days of the old kind of travels.
So I like that because I travel a lot, as Neal well knows. And I'm not necessary a big fan of the way we travel now, and I'm - I am a big fan of that sort of old-time travel. It takes a while to get there, but just the getting there is a great deal of fun.
JOAN: That sounds fabulous. And you're going to turn off all the TVs, I take it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MILLER: Yeah. We don't do too much TV stuff on - when we're out on the North Atlantic.
(Soundbite of laughter)
JOAN: Yeah. That's great.
CONAN: Joan, thanks very much.
JOAN: Thank you. All right. Bye-bye.
CONAN: And Jon Miller, before we let you go, I have to bring up a sad note. We learned earlier today, just an hour or so ago, the death of Sparky Anderson, of course, the manager of the Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati Reds, back in the mid-1970s, who then came back and became the first manager to win the World Series in each league when he managed the Detroit Tigers.
Mr. MILLER: Sparky Anderson, a great manager and a great man who was so good to me and, I'm sure, countless people like me who just wanted a little information about his ballclub to use in our broadcast. He always had time for us. And I was so grateful to have seen Sparky up in Cooperstown. You can see that he wasn't doing that well, but he still was the same old Sparky, just filled with life and laughing and smiling and one of the great gentleman of the game. And it is a very sad day for all us who knew Sparky. That's for sure.
CONAN: There was some criticism, if you can call it that, of his managerial style with the Reds, saying anybody could have manage that team. They were such a collection of great stars and dominant defensively and offensively and great pitching, as well. And it must have been an enormous satisfaction to him to go to Detroit and put together one of the great seasons any team has ever had.
Mr. MILLER: Indeed, and Sparky, they used to say he was a pushbutton manager...
Mr. MILLER: ...because he had so much great talent. But as Joe Morgan, my partner for 21 years on "Sunday Night Baseball" on ESPN, has often said, not only did he learned so much about the game and about managing, but also about interacting with people. And that's what Sparky was so good at, because there were a lot of very heavy-duty personalities, great superstars in that Red's ball club. And not just anybody could have held them on together, because they all bonded the way the Giants just bonded, and a very tight group for the greater good of trying to win ballgames and not just put the stats up, because, you know, baseball can be a very selfish game. It's, ultimately, it's that pitcher versus that hitter. But there's a lot more to it than that. And Sparky was, as Joe would often said, a genius at getting everybody to band together and do what the team needed at any given moment.
So I think Sparky perhaps was underappreciated in those years. That Tigers club in '84, I remember being there. They were 35 and five to start the year. And Sparky talked about it later because he was(ph) a very humble man. And he said, you know, I was terrified. You're 35 and five. And it's given you're going to win. Now, if you don't win, all you've done is you choked, you collapsed and people will remember that forever. So he had a lot of uncomfortable days there, even though his team was doing so very well. And I was real happy for him when they ultimately did win it, because they were the best team. And that was a great time for baseball in Detroit.
CONAN: Jon Miller, have a wonderful time in England. I'm sure you're going to be sunbathing out there and then - on the QE2 on the way back to New York.
Mr. MILLER: We may not see too much sun in November in England.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MILLER: But we'll do the best we can. And I'm going to bring a heavy coat and - but it will be very quiet. Well, there won't be any parades with a million people along the route, I'm pretty sure. And as much as I love the roar of the crowd, I'm sure we won't have any there for a while.
CONAN: Jon Miller, the play-by-play voice of the San Francisco Giants and also a broadcaster for ESPN. We'll catch up with him next spring.
Tomorrow, it's SCIENCE FRIDAY. Ira Flatow will be here with a discussion with scientists and philosophers about the origins of human morality. Did we evolve our sense of right and wrong, or just opposable thumbs?
I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
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