Another Major League Baseball season opens this Sunday night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where the World Series-champion Cardinals host the Mets in an NLCS rematch (8 pm/ET, ESPN2). As welcome a sound as the crack of the bat is the silky-smooth voice of play-by-play man Jon Miller, who opens his 18th season of Sunday Night Baseball alongside analyst Joe Morgan.
TVGuide.com: Wow, 18 years. You and Joe have joined 60 Minutes and The Simpsons as Sunday-night institutions. Who do you think will last longest?
Jon Miller: So Joe and I are dropping the gauntlet on Homer and Bart, huh? I don't know which one of us will say, "So long, sucker" first. [Laughs] We're offering a different sort of program in prime time. We're the only baseball game in town and it's always at the end of the baseball week, so we have the one game that any other player that's not traveling at that moment could sit and watch. At the same time, we can sum up all the happenings in the game that week and look ahead to the next week, so we're sort of a crossroads each Sunday in terms of the schedule. The great thing about opening night is that we'll hopefully get their best teams and their best pitchers, [the Mets'] Tom Glavine and [the Cardinals'] Chris Carpenter. That's about the only time all year we can guarantee something like that.
TVGuide.com: Do more teams have positive outlooks this season after seeing the Cardinals win only 83 games and then take the Series?
Miller: I think most teams have looked at it that way all along — "We'll just try to make it to the postseason, then take our chances." It seemed like the Cardinals couldn't beat anybody the last two weeks of the season, but when you saw the team they put out there in the postseason, you said, "How could this team only win 83 games? This is a really good team." I think what literally did happen was for their first division series game against San Diego, they put their whole team on the field maybe for the first time since opening day. They had lots of key injuries all year long. Scott Rolen was back, and Jim Edmonds was in there.... They finally just said, "Here we are, this is the team we set out to be on paper."
TVGuide.com: Seven different teams representing all six divisions have won the last seven World Series. Any feelings on who could be an eighth different winner?
Miller: There's nothing to match that in any other sport — NBA, NHL, NFL. There's been no such parity. But I don't know if that'll be the case again. It could be a different team from the last seven, but the Yanks and Red Sox could very well be there. I think the strongest division on paper is the AL Central, and if they're the strongest division, then I suppose it follows that one of those teams would have the strongest chance to make it to the World Series. Somebody like Detroit, Minnesota or Cleveland.
TVGuide.com: With acquisitions such as Barry Zito (by the Giants) and Freddy Garcia (by the Phillies), and the Cubs spending like they did, over $300 million, did the National League strengthen itself a little more than the AL in the off-season?
Miller: This is something that's cyclical and these things tend to go back and forth. I think the NL not only strengthened itself in player movement, but the central core of emerging young hitters are in the NL. There are some excellent young pitchers in the AL, but the bulk of the talented young everyday players are in the NL. There are a lot just on Florida, where you have Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla.... So I think the balance of power was already starting to change.
TVGuide.com: Do you think you'll do a Sunday-night game this year without talking about Barry Bonds?
Miller: Almost impossible, it sounds like. The school of thought is that he had a very good final two months last year offensively because the knee had strengthened considerably and he had his base back... and was able to drive the ball again. So if he starts the year with that kind of strength, Aaron's record [755 home runs] may not stand for very long. By the same token, he's going to be 43 in July, so is he going to be able to defy the laws of diminishing returns? Obviously he's not very well liked around the game, so he's going to carry that stigma as well. The whole thing has a very negative connotation. Joe and I, we want Sunday night to be entertaining, we want it to be compelling, we want it to be fun, like a three-hour vacation for the viewer. Get away from all your troubles, enjoy this game. If Barry is in the game, he may be a net negative in terms of all of that, but at the same time, if he hits one [out], the people will be glad they were watching — even if they say something like, "The cheater hit one."
TVGuide.com: As a Giants broadcaster, you've seen quite a few of Bonds' 734 homers. Are there one or two that really stand out?
Miller: I was not there when he passed The Babe. I missed 714 and 715. The one that really stands out for me is when he hit No. 500 in 2001, because it was a Giants-Dodgers game, which on the West Coast has the same feeling as Yankees-Red Sox. The Giants were down 1-0 in the bottom of the eighth inning and Rich Aurilia led off with a triple, so at that point the whole park wasn't even thinking home run. Everybody had been thinking home run the whole night, but now the game was on the line and Barry needed to get a base hit or a fly ball to get that run in from third. And then all of a sudden he launches one into the night. It was breathtaking.
TVGuide.com: If Bonds does hit Nos. 755 and 756, is it just as much an opportunity to celebrate Aaron?
Miller: I believe that that would be appropriate, to bring [Hank] Aaron to the forefront and remember all the great things that he did and just the quality player that he was. He always seemed to be unappreciated in his own time, much less all these years later. He was not a self-promoter, he would not have been a guy angling to show up on SportsCenter because of something outrageous he was doing.
TVGuide.com: Glavine is approaching a milestone with a little less fanfare than Bonds' home-run chase. What are your thoughts on him as he nears 300 wins?
Miller: I think he's always been underappreciated, like Greg Maddux, because they don't do it like, say, Roger Clemens does. Clemens is powerful — striking guys out, overmatching guys. The ultimate statement for the pitcher is the strikeout — "Guy can't even make contact, didn't even hit the ball against him!" But that's not Glavine's style, and I think they get overlooked because it's just not as impressive the way they [win games]. The best at-bat for Glavine or Maddux is a one-pitch comebacker or pop-up. He has evolved with the Mets, and now he's a threat inside. Used to be you could go to the bank that whatever he'd throw is out over the plate, but now he'll bust you on the fists.
TVGuide.com: The biggest arrival in the American League is probably Boston signing Daisuke Matsuzaka from Japan. What are your impressions of "Dice-K?"
Miller: We had the game where he faced Cuba in the finals of the World Baseball Classic last March . He just overpowered them. Give the Red Sox credit for making a preemptive bid to get him. They probably thought it out better than any other team, but you have to sort of gamble. They're paying him a little less a year than the Giants are paying [Barry] Zito, and Zito's won a Cy Young, while Matsuzaka's never thrown a major-league pitch. Now there's all this huge expectation and pressure on him, but anybody who's been to Japan knows that all their cities are like New York. New York City would be almost quaint compared to Tokyo, which is just gigantic. It's like every mile and a half there's another Times Square. So I don't think Matsuzaka will be overly impressed. He'll think Boston is a nice, relaxed, comfortable place, practically a pastoral setting versus what he's used to.
TVGuide.com: With two Red Sox Sunday-night games in April, maybe ESPN's K-Zone can become the "Dice-K Zone." What kind of feedback have you gotten on that technology?
Miller: When I see a game without it, I keep waiting for it. I see a pitch and say, "Well, where was that?" And I hear this all the time, that K-Zone [on-screen graphics mapping the placement of pitches] is like the single greatest addition to the coverage of baseball since slo-mo replay and the installation of the centerfield camera. It shows so much, like not only if the umpire called it correctly, but how much a Glavine or Maddux is around the strike zone and maybe not even in the strike zone. We were always told these things, but K-Zone shows the reality.
TV Guide: We've seen you do a dead-on Vin Scully to open ESPN games involving the Dodgers. Any other favorite impersonations of announcers?
Miller: I do it for fun, but most of my guys are retiring or passing away, so one day soon I may not have any act at all! I'm just not hearing guys as interesting or distinctive. With a guy like Vin Scully, he's the greatest there ever was and is extremely distinctive, and you can do him almost anywhere and anyone would know that's him. How many can you say that about?