Cow-kicked: FSN fires Lange as Penguins' TV voice
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Mike Lange, sitting next to Eddie Olczk, has been broadcasting Penguins games on the radio and television for 30 years.
In the pantheon of Pittsburgh sports broadcasters stand three men: Bob Prince, Myron Cope, Mike Lange.
All three were enormously popular for their unique styles and all three had that special relationship with their listeners that sometimes elevated them above their team. All three brought new fans to their sport.
Only Cope walked away still holding his job.
Like the legendary Prince before him, Lange, 30 years in the broadcasting booth for the Penguins, was unexpectedly fired as the team's television play-by-play announcer yesterday by FSN Pittsburgh in a move that is certain to startle and anger his many fans.
FSN owns the TV rights to the Penguins' games and, as such, hires and pays the announcers. The Penguins have control of their radio rights and hire and pay those announcers.
Paul Steigerwald, who worked beside Lange for many years as a color analyst, will move from his radio play-by-play duties to television.
Lange was offered Steigerwald's job, the position he filled when he started with the Penguins in 1974, by team CEO Ken Sawyer. Lange said he is considering the offer.
"At this point, I'm kind of overwhelmed with what's happened today," said Lange. "I told Ken I needed some time to think. It's on my list."
Lange said he hoped to have an answer for the Penguins in a few days.
Lange signed a two-year deal with FSN in September, but the station had an option to end the agreement after one season. It exercised that option yesterday.
"They called my agent late on Wednesday, and called him in for an 11 a.m. meeting," Lange said. "That's when they told him I was fired."
The last contract negotiations were contentious with Lange taking a pay cut he didn't particularly like. At the time, he said: "It was rocky. It's negotiations. It's business. The scene has changed, no question about it. You have to accept it or move on. That's the way it is."
He acknowledged yesterday that he should have learned something from those negotiations.
"I should have read more into that," he said. "It's their choice. They made their call."
Said Steve Tello, the vice president and general manager of FSN Pittsburgh: "Mike has done a tremendous job over the years. We had a contractual option. We have looked at Steigerwald for some time and believe he brings a different and fresh set of eyes to a new team."
Tello said TV color analyst Bob Errey will continue in that role.
Steigerwald is in the awkward position of replacing not only a legend but a man who he worked beside for more than two decades.
"I don't look at this as replacing Mike Lange," Steigerwald said. "He's irreplaceable.
"An opportunity arose, and I'm going to take advantage of it. It's a chance for me to expand my horizons in my career. With the uncertainty surrounding the franchise, it's never a bad idea to put yourself in the best possible position."
The Penguins wasted no time in offering Lange the radio job. If he accepts, it will go a long way toward diffusing fan anger over the firing.
"Mike is an extremely important guy in Penguins history," said Tom McMillan, the team's vice president of communications. "That's why we wanted to immediately offer him the job."
McMillan, who once covered the team as the beat writer for the Post-Gazette, wasn't understating Lange's place in Penguins history. When the team struggled in the pre-Mario Lemieux seasons, Lange was as important to the franchise as any of the players. He was a reason to tune in no matter how poorly the team was playing. His trademark calls are part of team lore and immediately bring him to mind.
Who can forget:
"Scratch my back with a hacksaw."
"Buy Sam a drink and get his dog one, too."
"He beat him like a rented mule."
"Elvis has just left the building."
"Lord Stanley, Lord Stanley give me the brandy."
Lange did radio exclusively until 1979, at which point the team began to simulcast games. In the mid-1990s, when the team began doing two broadcasts, he switched almost exclusively to television.
In 2001, Lange was honored by the Hockey Hall of Fame with the prestigious Foster Hewitt Award for excellence in sports broadcasting.
For Steigerwald, who grew up wanting to be a hockey play-by-play announcer, this is the continuation of a dream come true.
He started out working in the Penguins' marketing department in 1980. While working in that capacity, he also did between-period player interviews on radio. He became a full-time color analyst on the simulcasts in '84, then became the No. 1 radio play-by-play announcer in '99.
"Obviously, this is a difficult situation," he said. "I've worked with Mike for 27 years. I didn't finagle for the TV job. I never have. I was perfectly happy doing radio. An opening existed, and I decided to take advantage of it."
While Steigerwald celebrated his new job, Lange was left wondering.
"My mind's going a mile a minute trying to figure out what I've done wrong," he said.
Then he seemed to understand the situation. "Certain people like you and certain people don't."
And the fans?
"I love them. I put my whole life here for them. They're the most wonderful fans anywhere."
First Published June 30, 2006 12:00 am