PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Most of us, even those of us who love sports, secretly don't understand what the heck is going on. That's why some of our favorite people are the announcers, especially in baseball, where frankly there's a lot of time to fill.
CARL KASELL: Speaking of filling time, here's our conversation with Jon Miller, legendary voice of the San Francisco Giants, who joined us in March along with panelists Tom Bodett, Roxanne Roberts and P.J. O'Rourke.
SAGAL: I asked him about how he learned to call baseball games so well.
JON MILLER: I really always wanted to do it, because I was a big baseball fan but not a great baseball player. So I bought a tabletop baseball game called Strat-O-Matic.
SAGAL: Oh yeah.
MILLER: And I used to wile away the hours all summer long, growing up near San Francisco, rolling these dice and playing these games and broadcasting the games. And not just broadcasting the games, but I would do the crowd noise. I would be the public address announcer, the ballpark organist; I'd be the whole show.
MILLER: There's a base hit to left field (makes noises) (humming).
MILLER: Righter fielder, Roger Maris, number 9 (makes noises)
MILLER: This was how I spent my youth. And the great thing is I still do the same thing, I just don't have to do the crowd noise now.
SAGAL: I appreciate that.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That's excellent.
SAGAL: When you were doing that, did you do the occasional sort of heckling of the players that the mikes in the crowd would have hit? I love that when that happens, when you hear people screaming at the players, and it gets picked up on the broadcast.
SAGAL: Did you do that too?
MILLER: Actually, when I was first starting out as a Major League broadcaster in 1974, I did the Oakland A's games. And the A's were the best team in baseball, but nobody went to see them. And we used to have people shout at us while we were broadcasting from down in the stands and said keep it quiet up there, will you, for God's sake.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We're trying to watch a game.
SAGAL: We heard that in addition to your skills as a baseball announcer that you're known for your impressions. Is that true?
MILLER: You know, everybody does an impression of somebody. And, you know, for me, it was certain baseball broadcasters who were very distinctive, or even public address announcers. And probably my all-time favorite, and he's passed away now, so there goes my act.
MILLER: But, you know, when you would go to Yankee Stadium...
SAGAL: Oh sure.
MILLER: It not only was the great historic ballpark where the Babe and Lou Gehrig played and Mantle and Maris and all those great players and championships, but then the public address announcer would welcome you to the ballpark, and you really knew you were someplace special. Bob Sheppard was his name.
SAGAL: Yes, of course.
MILLER: And he'd come on and he'd say, good afternoon - noon - ladies and gentlemen - gentlemen - welcome - welcome - to Yankee Stadium - stadium.
MILLER: For today's game - game - between - between. And the only thing was is that Bob spoke so slowly...
MILLER: Elegantly but slowly, that when he'd give the starting lineups before the game, it would be the fifth inning before he'd finish.
SAGAL: I know. Now, one of the things about calling a baseball game, you have to make it interesting even when nothing is happening, which happens a lot in a baseball game. So we wanted to test you. Do you think you could do a play-by-play on me, say, making a ham sandwich, if you could narrate that in such a...
MILLER: Now, at the deli section in the supermarket that he frequents, there are maybe 12 different qualities of ham, and that alone could be a very daunting sort of a project. And I know that he gave it a lot of thought ahead of time, so he's got excellent, excellent ham. That's no problem.
MILLER: The question is what kind of cheese to match it with. It'll be interesting to see what he's going to pull out next because a lot of people, you know, they just put that American cheese and...
MILLER: But if I know him, no, this is going to be some beautiful French aged - oh there it is.
SAGAL: Jon, we are delighted to talk to you, but we've asked you here today to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: You're going to eat that?
SAGAL: Science writer Mary Roach, having covered sex and death already, has a new book out called "Gulp: Adventures in the Alimentary Canal." We're going to ask you three questions based on her remarkable book, and if you get two right, you'll win our prize, Carl Kasell's voice on your home answering machine. Bill, who is Jon Miller playing for?
KURTIS: Elliott Liebsen of St Louis, Missouri.
SAGAL: Here, Jon, is your first question. For centuries, scientists have been trying to figure out how to get nutrition out of things that are, well, not food. So, in the 19th Century, you could try a nutritional supplement made from what? A: Peruvian seabird guano? B: Tiny pebbles? Or C: Ground up scrap iron?
MILLER: All right, well, I'm going to go with A.
SAGAL: You're going to go with Peruvian seabird guano. You're right, that's what they did.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Back in the 19th century, there was this theory that certain animals did not digest their food completely, so you could get some use out of it after they were done with it, as it were. This turned out not to be true.
SAGAL: Next question. Rabbis spend a lot of time deciding what's kosher and what is not. They recently decided that what is Kosher? A: Bacon? B: Zima clear malt? Or C: Human hair?
MILLER: These questions are just so obvious, you know.
MILLER: All right, well I'm going to go with B.
SAGAL: You're going to go with B, Zima clear malt, the now discontinued horror beverage. Now, I'm afraid it was actually C, human hair. And you my ask, who eats human hair? And the answer is you do, because food processors extract a particular kind of protein from human hair that is then used in food processing.
SAGAL: So isn't that amazing?
MILLER: I'm amazed.
SAGAL: All right, now this is exciting, Jon. This is an exciting game, as you might say. In fact, I wish you were announcing this game because it's tense because you've got one for two, with one to go. If you get this last question, you will win it all.
Until they reach a certain age, it turns out kids will pretty much eat anything. It turns out that cultural food preferences are not innate; they're learned. So one study found 55 percent of kids under 29 months happily ate which of these disgusting choices?
MILLER: A, a coil of peanut butter scented with Limburger cheese and presented as dog doo? B, a piping hot bowl of something they called Quaker's Goatmeal? Or C, a McRib sandwich?
MILLER: OK, I'm going to go with B.
SAGAL: You're going to go with B, Quaker's Goatmeal?
SAGAL: What would Quaker's Goatmeal be?
MILLER: I don't know. If I was 2-years-old, I'd eat it.
SAGAL: All right, your choice then is a piping hot bowl of something they call Quaker's goatmeal. It was A, it was the coil of peanut butter, and the whole point was that you could give a little kid something called dog doo, and he'd go OK because they don't learn to be disgusted by it until later.
MILLER: All right, I should have had that one. I don't know what I was thinking.
SAGAL: I don't know.
SAGAL: Bill, how did Jon do on our quiz?
KURTIS: He did, well, he didn't do very well.
KURTIS: But Jon, you know, all these tidbits are going to come in handy during the seventh inning for you.
SAGAL: Yes. I actually wanted to see if you could do something. Your team has just lost. You have just lost. So if you were announcing this game that you just played and you knew that the Jon Miller fans at home, of whom there are many, were sad that the Jon Miller team did not come out with a win, what would you say?
MILLER: I'd have to go with the Harry Caray idea in that scenario.
MILLER: Oh, what was he thinking of?
MILLER: I can't believe it. Ten million a year and he only gets one right. Holy cow.
SAGAL: Jon Miller is the play-by-play announcer for the San Francisco Giants. Jon Miller, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
KURTIS: Thank you, Jon.
SAGAL: What a pleasure to talk to you.
MILLER: My pleasure. And the next time you have questions like that, ask somebody else.
SAGAL: All right, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.