BALTIMORE – It is early August and the storylines could not be riper for the home team.
Tuesday night, the Baltimore Orioles – with the best record in the American League, two years after having the worst mark in baseball – welcomed the defending World Series champion Houston Astros to their picturesque Camden Yards home, with so much to ponder.
Can erstwhile shortstop Jorge Mateo hold down center field and morph into a supersub? Will hyped rookie Grayson Rodriguez take another step toward the postseason rotation? And will Houston Astros lefty Framber Valdez come anywhere close to consecutive no-hitters, in a potential postseason preview?
Alas, a franchise headed for big things proved too small for that.
The cloud around Oriole Park was not who was here but who wasn’t, namely Kevin Brown, the club’s young, affable, talented broadcaster who has narrated almost every bit of the club’s renaissance.
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Brown remains suspended for what’s reportedly a violation that may be the most picayune excuse ever to discipline an on-air talent: Telling viewers the team is performing far better than it was in recent years.
His banning from the Orioles’ airwaves since July 23, as first reported Monday by Awful Announcing, is more than just an impetuous decision made by a club official – likely owner John Angelos – who can’t take anything even tangentially negative said about his team.
This time, it’s about a power dynamic almost flipped on its head, and a club owner starting a public-relations war he cannot win.
Reaction to Brown’s suspension was swift in the broadcasting community, where Brown retains a level of universal respect, and also among Orioles fans who already consider their fifth-year broadcaster woven deeply into the club’s fabric.
Additionally, Brown, youthful as he seems at 33, is not just some kid fresh up from Class AA. Brown also calls ACC football games and the women’s College World Series for ESPN, along with college hoops, the Little League World Series, MLB exhibition games and almost anything else the Worldwide Leader asks.
In fact, his “suspension” was almost indiscernible to the engaged viewer, in that the Orioles vigorously rotate announcers and Brown’s football duties will soon start.
Brown is going places, but you’d never know that by his work on the Orioles.
When they ask Brown to broadcast in center field to pump up the club’s Saturday pregame patio party, Brown treks out to the park’s nether reaches, far away from the air-conditioned booth on humid days. When the club debuts a water-works section helmed by Mr. Splash to commemorate the club’s hydration-based celebrations, Brown dons an orange Orioles bucket hat and plays along.
When it’s Little League Day and the future fans of the game are packed into the stands along third base, Brown interviews them with the same respect he’d afford a big leaguer.
And when the club wants him to pump up the club’s concession offerings, Brown dutifully takes a bite.
His peers notice this. Fans notice this. But apparently Angelos does not.
All of Baltimore and the entire baseball industry know what happened here: The bottom fell out of this club in 2018. A needed regime change occurred. New GM Mike Elias and Angelos took it to an extreme – the team was bad-bad-bad in 2019 and 2021.
But it worked. Everybody knows this.
What emerged from the rubble was an absurdly charismatic club, talented and young and headed for a future so bright that it almost whites out this glorious present.
So when Angelos goes ballistic over a thoroughly innocuous statistic – that the Orioles are going to beat the vaunted Tampa Bay Rays more times this year than the previous three – it says so much about him, nothing that Orioles fans can feel good about.
After all, Brown was reading a statistic on a graphic produced by MASN, citing a statistic from the club-provided game notes, pulling out a cogent and timely factoid, as he should.
But Angelos doesn’t like to hear that.
Jim Hunter, ushered out of the broadcast team’s plans after the 2020 season, said in a radio interview Tuesday that when the San Diego Padres came to Camden Yards with former Orioles cornerstone Manny Machado, club broadcasters were told to make no special mention of Machado. Not in the run-up to the game, not when he came to the plate for his first at-bat – he was just Padres third baseman Manny Machado, not the four-time Oriole All-Star who helped them to three playoff berths in five years.
Yet the broadcasters could not stop the crowd of 21,644 from giving him a standing ovation.
Watching that and presumably fuming, you’d think Angelos might learn. That he can’t fight sentiment. That he can’t distort facts. That he can’t prevent his employers from speaking the truth, ugly as it might be.
Funny thing is, the facts are finally on Angelos’ side. His team is awesome, the envy of baseball, headed to their first playoff berth in seven years.
Yet moments before gametime Tuesday night, there was discontent.
A young fan clad in a Gunnar Henderson jersey paraded the field level seats holding a “FREE KEVIN BROWN” sign. Just above him, two mildly besotted men turned toward the MASN booth three levels up and demanded, “We want Kevin! Where is Kevin?
“We’re going to be here all night!”
Later, a handful of noisy “Free Kevin Brown!” chants reverberated through the stadium and were audible on the game broadcast from which he was absent.
Friday, Brown is expected to return to the club, as first reported by The Athletic, three time zones and a few news cycles away in Seattle. It might be a little weird, but shouldn’t be for Brown. He did nothing wrong, and will likely show he is bigger than this moment.
As his star rises, Brown might someday get too big for this gig in Baltimore. Angelos might have unwittingly contributed to that. When you’re so unnecessarily petty, any of your employees will feel like the bigger man.