With the coronavirus pandemic preventing Orioles fans from attending games in 2020, their only access to their favorite team came through the television and radio broadcasts, but even those lacked the familiarity of years past.
That will continue into 2021.
After longtime broadcaster Jim Hunter announced Friday the Orioles did not renew his contract, Gary Thorne confirmed Saturday that the team informed his agent last week that his contract would also not be renewed. The decisions mean the team’s television and radio broadcasts going forward will lack the play-by-play voices they have had for more than a decade.
“It’s sad,” Thorne said by phone. “I would’ve preferred that I be there, and leaving without the opportunity to say thank you to so many people I worked with and, particularly, the fans. I really regret that I’m not going to have a chance to thank the fans for their support and friendship and kindness because that meant a lot to me, means a lot to me. I just really enjoyed the people who were listening to our broadcasts, and they were great to me for the whole time I was there.”
Thorne, 72, has served as the Orioles’ primary play-by-play broadcaster on Mid-Atlantic Sports Network since 2007 and said he did not know why the team chose not to bring him back. He did not appear on a broadcast in 2020 as a result of a contract dispute in the wake of the pandemic.
“I missed not being there,” Thorne said. “We had a contract disagreement that we had to get taken care of, and it wasn’t done until after the season had started, and then with the pandemic and the change in schedules, the Orioles had the right under our deal to not use me if they didn’t want to, and the decision was not to. And in all honesty, with the COVID situation, I don’t know if I could’ve gone or not. I don’t know if it would’ve been possible to make the physical part of it work, so it was just a lost year for me in terms of broadcasting.”
But in other ways, there were benefits. Thorne was able to stay at home in California with his family and prepare for a decision from the Orioles that he said “didn’t come as a surprise.”
“We’ve had a deal of time, with we being the family, to talk about where we are and what we’re doing, and we’re still kind of doing that,” he said. “I’m not anxious about any part of it and being at home over the last year has been great. I’ve got a younger daughter who I get to share time with and my wife, so that’s been really wonderful. It’s the first time in 35 years of MLB broadcasting that I had a summer off and a chance to remember what it was like.”
Thorne said his favorite memories were those from the Orioles’ playoff runs under manager Buck Showalter, watching a team and a fan base that hadn’t experienced a winning season since 1997 become the American League’s winningest organization from 2012-16. But beyond that field, what he’ll take away most is the relationships he built, especially with analyst Jim Palmer.
Even as the Orioles’ on-field product trended downward in recent years, the combination of Thorne and Palmer kept fans watching at home engaged and entertained. In 2019, Thorne’s tiredness of Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres’ repeated home runs against Baltimore became a source of humor amid a 108-loss season.
“We became great friends and will remain that way,” Thorne said. “It was great storytelling. We had a tremendous crew that broadcast the games. We genuinely had a good time, worked hard, but enjoyed it, and that’s the kind of stuff I’ll miss. We had a situation where I think we provided a really good broadcast, and it wasn’t accidental. It was because of the people who were working it, and I’ll miss those relationships.”
He’s saddened that he didn’t get the true chance to say goodbye to the fan base and took that opportunity Saturday.
“I really want to say thank you for your support, thank you for your kindness, thank you for your friendship,” Thorne said. “Thank you for being there personally toward me in times, particularly around the city, when I would just run into people who were fans, and they would stop and talk, and it was as if we were next-door neighbors. I really appreciated that. Oriole fans, in the city and wherever they were watching, were just great. They could not have been more supportive of the work we were doing and more outgoing in saying how much they enjoyed the games and the broadcasts. I’ll treasure that forever.”
Thorne and Hunter are among a large chunk of the team’s crew who won’t be part of the 2021 lineup, according to a report from The Athletic, along with Rick Dempsey, Tom Davis, Mike Bordick and Dave Johnson.
In addition to the personnel changes, MASN is reportedly cutting its pregame and postgame programs for the Orioles and the Washington Nationals, who share the network. The two teams have been engaged in a lengthy legal dispute over $100 million in broadcasting rights fees.
Dempsey caught for the Orioles from 1976-1986, winning World Series MVP honors in 1983, and finished his career with them in 1992. He spent the next three decades as a coach and broadcaster, having been with MASN since 2007. He is the namesake of Dempsey’s Brew Pub and Restaurant at Oriole Park.
Davis began his broadcasting career 50 years ago and has hosted the Orioles’ pregame and postgame shows, as well as several other programs, on MASN. Even before the pandemic altered the 2020 seasons, the Orioles announced that Davis and Hunter would change roles and be used as “regular on-air contributors” during game broadcasts.
Bordick played shortstop for Baltimore from 1997-2002, with Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. moving to third base. After a couple of years as a coach in Baltimore’s system, he joined the team’s broadcast crew in 2012. He served as a guest instructor at spring training in 2020.
Johnson pitched for Baltimore from 1989-91, best known for serving as an emergency starter late in the 1989 season as the “Why Not?” Orioles tried to make a surprise entry into the playoffs. He has been with MASN since 2006.
The Orioles introduced several new broadcasters in 2020, with Geoff Arnold, Brett Hollander, Scott Garceau and Melanie Newman joining the crew after Kevin Brown was added in 2019. The wide-scale changes to the team’s broadcast crew in some ways echo the changes the team has made on the field, with several familiar players no longer part of the organization after a series of trades and free-agent decisions.
Before the pandemic altered the 2020 season’s format, the Orioles planned to use its new broadcasters across multiple platforms to engage fans in various ways. It’s not yet clear who will occupy which roles in 2021, as the Orioles will announce their full broadcast lineup next week, a team representative said.
In 2020, Garceau served as the primary play-by-play announcer on MASN broadcasts alongside analysts Bordick and Ben McDonald, with Brown, Arnold, Hollander and Newman working on both the television and radio broadcasts through the season. Palmer, Brian Roberts and Gregg Olson occasionally called into broadcasts to offer insights, as well.
Thorne doesn’t yet know what exactly 2021 and beyond will look like for him, either.
“We’ll play this by ear,” he said. “We’ll just see what happens, and we’ll see how we feel.”