Something marvelous happened during the Orioles telecast the other night when they gave up a 6-to-1 lead over the New York Yankees and lost in the ninth inning, 10 to 7.
Somebody told an amusing story.
For the record, it was Brian Roberts, who played second base for Baltimore once upon a time but now does occasional color on Orioles TV and radio.
He told a funny story about Rickey Henderson, the great outfielder and base stealer who was also pretty famous for being a jerk. Then, Roberts told another funny story about Henderson.
Both Roberts and play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne laughed out loud over the stories, as did many of us watching at home. And if they were listening, maybe even folks who run the Orioles organization had a moment’s smile.
There haven’t been many this season. The obvious reason is the pathetic way the team’s playing. They’re in last place, strictly on merit. That night of the depressing 10-7 loss to the Yankees, the O’s catcher muffed a pop-up that dropped behind him, and their center fielder forgot he had a cut-off man waiting, and their left fielder unleashed a couple of rainbow throws that should have embarrassed any playground player.
“I think he panicked,” Brian Roberts said when the second rainbow throw sailed south toward the Hanover Street Bridge.
Imagine that — Roberts wasn’t afraid to be critical. All that, and a sense of humor, too.
And it’s that humor that I want to mention for a moment. By telling two anecdotes, Roberts thereby passed Mike Bordick, who has done color over the last seven years after a lengthy playing career — and has yet to tell his first anecdote ever
This may be a new major league record.
A dozen years in major league dugouts, Bordick has never given us a single close-up moment, intimate or amusing — and he’s been a regular “color” man since 2012 on Orioles broadcasts.
Why is this important?
Because baseball is not just a sport — it’s an entertainment. We don’t need every single pitch analyzed — was it a fastball or a slider? A two-seamer or a four-seamer? — as though it’s the seventh game of the World Series.
For broadcasters, the job’s also about storytelling and kidding around during the dull moments and the awful ones. And the Orioles are about the most awful team in baseball right now.
More than any other sport, baseball has the time (and the need) to give us human texture, and to connect its todays with its yesterdays for each new generation of listeners thirsty to absorb some of the game’s legacy.
Or as former Commissioner Bart Giamatti put it, the game is “the most strenuously nostalgic” of any American sport.
So Mike Bordick — or somebody! — tell us some stories about those new kids in town, or the guys we remember from yesteryear when you were sitting in the dugout year after year.
Among other benefits, it might keep us from changing the channel.
The current Orioles aren’t very good, but the narrative they’re selling is that they’re building a foundation.
Fair enough. We went through it during the rebuilding years of Paul Richards, who built such a foundation that right after he left, the Orioles went on a 20-year binge where they had the best overall record in baseball.
But during that rebuilding era, they also had welcoming voices like Chuck Thompson and Ernie Harwell, and later there was the great Jon Miller. Maybe it’s just the mind playing tricks, but memory says those broadcasters humanized the players, told us stories about them that made us feel we knew them a little bit.
Right now, these Orioles are a bunch of strangers. It’s up to the announcers to tell us who these kids are — and to tell us a few funny stories, so that we can try to laugh our way past all those botched plays on the field.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.