On the air with Bob Smizik: Lange back, but will he remain here?

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Sometimes the printed word fails us. Consider the following, 17 seconds of radio play-by-play by Mike Lange in the final minute of the Penguins' loss Monday to the New York Islanders. The call opens with Sidney Crosby in control of the puck behind the Islanders' net.

"Look at Crosby dance with it. Around back the other side to the near wing. Crosby's putting on the Ritz. Open man ... Recchi ... good shot ... better save DiPietro.

"Loose puck. Crosby wants it. Can't get it.

"The Islanders have it. Here they come. Hilbert on the left wing to the Penguins' end. Drop pass to Sillinger. Wrister ... scores."

You had to be there to believe it.

Lange used short bursts of words, full of emotion, to convey the drama and the emotion of the closing seconds of what had been a tie game. Even though the goal meant defeat for the Penguins, Lange never let on the team that pays his salary had lost. He was there to call a hockey game, not root for the home team. It was radio play-by-play at its best, as good as it gets.

Suffice to say, Mike Lange is back.

Lange, in his 31st year as a Penguins broadcaster, won't say it, but he's determined to prove the people who fired him wrong. His career is not over. In fact, it's flourishing.

Lange was fired in June as the Penguins' television announcer by FSN Pittsburgh, which owns the rights to the games. He was replaced by Paul Steigerwald, his former color analyst who had been doing radio. Lange was humbled. A few weeks later, he agreed to do the radio, where the rights are owned by the Penguins.

He makes no attempt to hide his disappointment about losing his job nor the fact he remains unhappy with how it was handled.

"I won't lie to you," Lange said the other day. "There is more money in TV. I took a gigantic hit."

He won't be doing Penguins television any time soon. FSN is happy with Steigerwald and Lange remains unhappy with FSN.

"I don't think [the firing] was done in a professional manner. They called my agent [in late June] and said, 'As of tomorrow he's fired.' If they wanted me to change some things, at least they could have offered me that. They didn't."

Lange had signed a two-year contract with FSN before the 2005-06 season. But FSN had the option for the second year and exercised it. With the firing coming so close to the start of the hockey season, Lange had little choice but to accept the radio job, which was a one-year deal. He might be more discerning after this season.

"I'm committed to working with the team and finishing the season," he said. "We'll see what happens after that. I still enjoy broadcasting, and we'll just have to see what presents itself. I'm going to explore every option. If I find something that's comparable ...

"I do love Pittsburgh, but the scene has changed for me. There isn't any doubt about that. I've been turned aside from TV. I'm not their No. 1 guy any more. I have to do what's best for me. I have to consider my career."

Working against Lange is this: As good as he can be, the era of announcers approaching the importance of players, a status Lange once had, is over. It's not like 20 years ago when the vast majority of games were handled by a small number of hometown announcers. Today, games are everywhere; often we don't know the announcers' names.

They might not be interchangeable, but the public hears so many it almost approaches that level. Consequently, the value of play-by-play announcers, particularly on radio, has declined.

What also might hurt Lange, but what definitely should not, is he's not a homer. If you listen to his broadcasts, you know he's the Penguins' announcer, but he's not there to provide excuses and alibis. He calls a game much more down the middle than announcers for most teams. That's the right way to do it, but not all teams might look at it that way.

Once Lange was as big a story as the players. He took on iconic status when the Penguins weren't particularly good and chronicled the glorious Stanley Cup years. He's proving again he's as good as he ever was. That might make him too good to stay with the Penguins.

Elsewhere

Dennis Galloway, a Pittsburgh native, has been hired by the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network to be director for Baltimore Orioles' telecasts. Galloway directed Pirates telecasts for 20 years before being fired after the 2005 season ... Richard Sutphen, long-time KDKA and FSN employee, is FSN's new producer for Pirates telecasts. ... The 1979 Steelers will be profiled tonight at 8 on "America's Game," on the NFL Network.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com .


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