Ladies and gentlemen, Lange has left the building
Legendary Penguins announcer Mike Lange was stunned Thursday to learn that he had been fired by FSN Pittsburgh.
Fans also reacted with shock and anger when they heard that Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh decided not to renew Lange's television contract. FSN will replace him with radio play-by-play man Paul Steigerwald.
"It floors you a little bit. We had another year left, a one-year option, and they elected not to renew," said Lange, who recently completed his 30th season as the voice of the Penguins. "They didn't give a reason except that it was a business decision."
"This is a big mistake," said Chuck Kelly, 48, of Marshall, a Penguins season ticket holder for 18 years. "Mike Lange is the best announcer in all of hockey. They'll never get another one like him."
"Mike Lange is Pittsburgh. I probably won't watch another Penguins game," said Michael Plummer, 32, of West View.
"I guess I can't 'buy Sam a drink and get his dog one too' anymore," said Plummer in reference to one of the hundreds of Lange's original sayings that are now part of the everyday parlance of Penguins fans.
Penguins President Ken Sawyer offered Lange the radio play-by-play job that Steigerwald vacates, but Lange has not decided if he will take it.
The television broadcasters are employed by FSN while the radio broadcasters are employed by the Penguins.
Lange said he was never contacted by executives at the television station, who delivered the news to his agent during a meeting yesterday morning.
He said he does not know the specific reasons behind their decision to let him go and that he had no indication that executives were unhappy with him or his work.
"I missed one game in 30 years, and not by my own desire but by doctor's orders not to go into work. ... I put in a lot of time with these guys, was off a whole year without any money (during the 2004-05 lockout) and didn't pursue any other jobs in loyalty to them, and there you have it. But things happen for a reason."
The firing was reminiscent of KDKA-AM's decision to fire another beloved Pittsburgh broadcasting icon, Bob Prince, who spent 29 years as the Pirates announcer.
However, where Prince's folksy style had drawn the ire of the management of both the Pirates and KDKA, officials at FSN said they were not dissatisfied with Lange.
"There have been a number of dramatic changes in the game," said Steve Tello, vice president and general manager of FSN Pittsburgh.
"With the new changes with the players on the ice, the management on the ice and possibly even new owners, we thought this was the time to give Paul the opportunity to move to the TV side," Tello said.
"Paul and (color commentator) Bob Errey were a team on the radio and did a terrific job. We feel that Paul is well suited to what we are trying to do with the game," Tello said.
"Mike has done a terrific job over the years, as has Paul. This is more about Paul's hard work and not a comment on Mike Lange. This is not a political decision. This is a television production decision."
Tello said he hopes that Lange "will embrace" the opportunity to return to radio and remain with the team.
"Once FSN informed us of their decision, we told them we'd like to offer Mike the radio job and keep him in the broadcast family," Penguins vice president of communications Tom McMillan said.
Lange asked for some time to think it over.
"Right now I have to weigh my options, and I need a little time to sort it out," he said.
Steigerwald, who worked alongside Lange as the television and radio color commentator for the Penguins for 14 seasons, said he approaches his new job with trepidation because Lange is his longtime mentor.
"I never angled for the job," said Steigerwald, who just completed his sixth season as the radio play-by-play man.
"I loved doing radio and I would have done it for the rest of my life happily. But from a career standpoint, when you have an opportunity like this you should probably take advantage of it."
Longtime fans of Prince never warmed to Milo Hamilton, who replaced him in the broadcast booth, and Tello said he understands that there may be some backlash from Lange loyalists.
"I certainly understand where some might question the move. Mike deserves all the accolades and attention he has gotten over the years," Tello said, adding that he hopes that Penguins fans give Steigerwald a fair chance.
"I'm pretty dismayed by the whole thing," said Scott Marker, 27, of Greensburg. "After 30 years of loyalty to the city of Pittsburgh and the fans, this is how Fox Sports and the Penguins show their support for Mike Lange• No more 'Arnold Slick from Turtle Creek.' That's unreal."
"Mike Lange is Pittsburgh. He's the only reason I listen to the Penguins. It's certainly not for the hockey," said Mike Smith, 23, of Latrobe.
"It's a public relations disaster. It sends the wrong message to the fans," said Mike Porembka, 31, of Latrobe.
"You have a team that might move without a new arena. The one constant is Mike Lange. I think it sends the wrong message to the people who want to support the team and keep them here. You get rid of Mike Lange, you might as well move the team right now."
Chris Clark, 39, of Shaler, said, "It seems like a stupid move. I like 'Staggy' but he's not Mike Lange. He always gives the party line."
Lange, a native of Sacramento, Caliif., began his relationship with the Penguins in the 1974-75 season when he broke into the National Hockey League as a play-by-play man. He left for a season but returned in 1976-77 and has been a fixture ever since.
He did radio exclusively until 1979 when the games began to be simulcast on radio and television. He has been the primary television play-by-play broadcaster for several years.
In 2001, Lange was awarded the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award presented by the Hockey Hall of Fame to members of the radio and television industry who make outstanding contributions to their profession and the game of hockey during their broadcasting career.
Steigerwald, a South Hills native, is a Kent State University graduate who joined the Penguins in 1980 as director of marketing and intermission host during the broadcasts. He became the color commentator on Penguins broadcasts in 1985.
Langisms'It's a hockey night in Pittsburgh.'
'I'll be cow-kicked!'
'Oh no, Eddie Spaghetti!'
'Heeeeeeeeeeeee shoots and scores!'
'Scratch my back with a hacksaw!'
'Great balls of fire!'
'You would have to be here to believe it!'
'Look out Loretta!'
'Buy Sam a drink and get his dog one too!'
'He doesn't know whether to cry or wind his watch'
'Michael, Michael, Motorcycle'
'Get in the fast lane Grandma, the bingo game's ready to roll!'
'She wants to sell my monkey!'
'Call Arnold Slick from Turtle Creek!'
'He beat him like a rented mule!'
'Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has just left the building!'
'Book 'em Dano!'
'Smilin' like a butcher's dog'
'He takes the heat out of a hot kitchen'
'How much fried chicken can you eat?'
'He smoked him like a bad cigar!'
'Buzzing like beeeeeeeeeees around a hive.'
'If you missed this one, shame on you for six weeks.'
'He's throwing out checks like it's the first of the
'Lord Stanley, Lord Stanley, bring me the brandy.'