Tom McCarthy, The Voice of the Philadelphia Phillies

By Ken Dunek

Posted: 04/16/2012

Tom McCarthy
Photo: Jeremy Messler

I apologize in advance for the alliteration, but the B’s in this story are basically bursting. Birth, biology, baseball and a nickname of Boog have all had a hand in turning this current Allentown, NJ resident into a solid pro behind the microphone, and have helped him fill some of the biggest shoes in Philadelphia sports broadcasting history.

Tom McCarthy dreamed of playing baseball, and actually went to what was then Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey) to do just that. To his dismay, he was cut from the team, but found a path to the major leagues anyway.

From writer to PR guy and assistant general manager for the Trenton Thunder, his Jersey roots eventually led him to the big show. And he now has a front row seat for what could be the best team in the city’s history.

Harry Kalas
Harry Kalas

Did JerseyMan have an interesting exchange with the man who replaced the iconic Harry Kalas? That you had better believe.

JerseyMan Magazine: I want to start out with an obvious question that is like the 2,000 pound elephant in the room.

Tom McCarthy: Is this my real hair?

JM: I promise no hair jokes if you promise no weight jokes.

TM: Deal.

JM: But seriously, what was it like replacing a legend like Harry Kalas?

TM: Scott Frantzke and I have talked about this, and we just try to be ourselves. I was with the Phillies from ’01-’05 as the pre- and post-game host. I did two innings of radio, then went to the Mets for two years to do radio full time. And then the Phillies, in the middle of my contract, asked me to come back full time to eventually take over for Harry when he retired. So Harry and I talked about it often. I’m very different than Harry, there is no question. And he is irreplaceable. I still wish that he was here to call some of the games that these guys have played because this is a great group.

But I think Scott and I have both said that we can NEVER replace Harry, just as Larry Anderson couldn’t replace Whitey (Richie Ashburn). But we succeeded him and we were the next in line. And I think it is kind of how we looked at it—that it was going to take some time for people to get used to us. And we just had to do the job the only way we could.

Harry and I talked about it, too, and he said, “T-Mac, you can’t be someone you are not, because people will find out.” And they will, there is no doubt about it. But who I am on the air is who I am as a person. I like to have a good time and I love the game. I’ve loved it since I can remember—played it since I can remember. And I’ve just tried to be myself.

JM: So you actually had some prep time knowing that you would eventually be his replacement? Did it make it easier?

TM: I think it made it easier. You know, I never really thought about it, because I thought he was going to be around forever. When I came back from the Mets—happily—I had a very good job up there, but I loved it here. When they asked me to come back, I was floored. But I figured he would be here forever because he’s been an icon forever. And you just don’t expect an icon will ever leave. And if he did he would leave on his own terms. That would be the key…so I never really thought about it. I just wanted to get better and be the best I can possibly be.

JM: Had he talked about retiring?

TM: His youngest son (Todd), who is a wonderful singer and has been gifted with Harry’s voice, was just starting college my second year back. And I think the thought was that once he was done with college at the University of Miami, that maybe Harry would think about it a little bit. But that was really a brief conversation. I never brought it up, because I always wanted him around. We sat next to each other in the office. He always told me he enjoyed our interaction when I was in the stands doing things which were cool, because that was new to both of us. I didn’t know how it would fly for anybody. Because I’m a purist, I don’t like interruptions to games, but it worked. And it will work in the future with (Comcast’s) Gregg Murphy doing it for us now.

JM: Well, in keeping with our theme, you are a true JerseyMan. You were born in Jersey City and attended Brick Memorial High School. You have a wife, Meg, and four kids—Patrick (17), Tommy (14), Maggie (12) and Carrie (9), correct?

TM: Two boys and two girls—it’s a good mix but a totally different world. The boys are involved in every athletic event possible, although that is changing a little as they find their niche in certain sports, and the girls like sports, but they would rather dance and sing and do the things that most girls their age would do.

JM: How did you get your start in the business? Is this something you always wanted to do?

TM: I’ve been fortunate on two fronts, in that I was able to break in and I haven’t moved. I’ve basically been in New Jersey since I was born. And I am very thankful for that. I talk to kids all the time who have to go to different venues to establish themselves. I was able to establish myself in New Jersey, which was great. But I always wanted to play. I was like every other kid who was a baseball player, in that I thought I was going to play major league baseball. And I was okay at it; I thought I was better than I was. But I went to Trenton State College to play baseball. I thought about a couple of other schools; Montclair State, Carolina Wesleyan, Indiana… for no other reason than Bobby Knight was the basketball coach there. But I went to Trenton State because my older brother was there, and I had the rudest awakening of all when I went and tried out there and I was cut. I was stunned. But I always wanted to do something in baseball. I was a biology major and my thought at one time is that I would be a doctor. That’s a hoot to think about that. When I think about all those years of being in labs, I was convinced there was NOWAY I was going to be able to do this. My other dream was to be a broadcaster. But I never knew anybody that was actually a broadcaster. I knew accountants, I knew lawyers; those were the people I thought I could be, because those were the people I knew.

Tom McCarthy and Hunter Pence
Tom McCarthy with Phillies’ Outfielder Hunter Pence (left).
Photo: Miles Kennedy

JM: What is the life of a big league broadcaster really like? It’s a long season—do you get fatigued like the players do?

TM: It’s interesting. People ask me all the time if I get tired, and there are times when I am probably dragging. But I love it. I get energy from what I am doing. I do baseball, then I do the NFL, and I do 20 or so basketball games. I am a workaholic, but I put it in perspective. A lot of times, if I’m home, I’m home. And my kids are my priority. My day with them begins at 7 a.m. when I help get them off to school. My wife does most of the work, but I do at least see them. And then I will read newspapers from 9-11:30 from all the teams in the Eastern Division and the teams we are facing. Then I get my scorebook ready for the game that night, and usually get to the ballpark about 2 or 2:30 p.m. I will then prepare for the game and talk to the players—do whatever interview responsibilities I have, and things like that.

JM: How much detail is in your scorebook?

TM: Everybody has a different one. Scott Frantzke and I are always changing our scorebook. Sarge (Gary Matthews) doesn’t have one. LA (Larry Anderson) is meticulous with his. Wheels (Chris Wheeler) has not changed his in years. But they both have great handwriting. But Scott and I have both made our own book on Excel. I have a different one for baseball, basketball and football with four different styles depending on the mood I’m in. If I feel I’m really prepared, I go with the small one, and if I need to be better prepared I go with the bigger one. We write notes about the starting pitcher and who is in the bullpen—stuff like that. We’re like kids. If you love this game, you know its not rocket science. And it’s the most enjoyable thing in the world.

JM: You really need to over-prepare, don’t you, because there is so much information and there is so much time to fill in a baseball broadcast isn’t there?

TM: Absolutely you do, because there is so much stuff that I will do and I won’t use it—for as long as a week. But then down the road you have a chance to use it. You know, people say the days are long, but I will never, ever, ever complain about it, because I am living everybody’s dream and I know it, respect it and appreciate it.

JM: Do you have much interaction with the players?

TM: Yes. During the season and even in the off-season we are always doing dinners together and breakfast here at the ballpark. But that is why I get here early, because I feel like that is the best time to get them because this group is here early.

JM: What time do the players showup during the day for a night game?

TM: Some get here at noon. Some at 2:30 p.m. and the rest arrive by 3.

Roy Halladay
Roy Halladay
Photo: Miles Kennedy

JM: And they are here doing what?

TM: Some work out, some watch film and some take extra BP. Raúl Ibañez was famous for taking loads of BP, and Ryan Howard is always taking extra time in the cage. Roy Halladay is a workout machine.

JM: I read where Halladay gets to the spring training facility as early as 5 a.m. to work out. Is that true?

TM: Yes, he does that so he can get home when he needs to, so he can be with his kids. And it’s a little different during the season. But he is always here. And this is a working man’s team. It’s easier for me to get info if I’m here early enough, and although the clubhouse isn’t open to everyone, as team broadcasters we can find our way in there and talk to the players.

JM: Is there a player that is particularly good to work with?

TM: This is a great group. Victorino is easy to work with. Jimmy Rollins is easy to work with. Although the bullpen has changed this year, they were great—Chad Durbin, Lidge, Madsen. But I have certain “go to” guys that if I need something I seek out, but I can go to any of them.

JM: Over the years were there some guys not as cooperative as you had hoped?

TM: Sure. That ’93 team, as beloved as they were by the fans, they were a tough bunch to interview. I was writing at the time and it was hard sometimes. I can remember thinking “Wow, I don’t want to do this for a living.” But it is different now with this crew and being one of the team’s broadcasters, it’s easier.

Scott Frantzke
Scott Frantzke
Photo: Miles Kennedy

JM: Tell me about your relationship with your broadcast partners. What kind of a relationship do you have with them?

TM: Frantzke and I are probably together more. We play golf together, and we are similar in age.

JM: Who is the better golfer?

TM: He is. He has gotten better. I still have a baseball swing, but I think I’m starting to figure it out. Wheels is the best golfer, and Larry Anderson is pretty good, too. We do play a lot together, and we are unbelievably close as a group. And that doesn’t always happen. But I consider all of them my closest friends. I don’t like to golf often on game days, it wears me out a bit. But we bring our clubs on road trips, and we always play on off days. And I work out a lot on road trips as well.

JM: What are your partner’s personalities like?

TM: They are all different, and it’s great. “Wheels” is the senior guy. He is very particular in some ways, but is always there if you have a question. He is the only one of us that grew up a diehard Phillies fan. Scott grew up a Rangers fan, I grew up a Mets fan, Sarge was a Dodger fan. But even though he is older, he is like everybody’s little brother, as strange as that sounds. We can always needle him a little bit. We made up a cardboard cutout of him, and a “Fathead” and took it around everywhere. It was fun. And he’s great about it even on the air and he doesn’t blink. Sarge is… what you see on the air is who he is. He is a remarkable person and a great friend—they all are.

JM: Do you tease Chris Wheeler about the dance he did in the booth when Harry made the call to clinch the World Series?

TM: Yes, we call it “the Wheeler.” I was standing next to him pinned against the wall, because I wanted to hear Harry’s call. That was important, because he had never called a clinching game.

JM: Is that right?

TM: Yeah. Harry never called a clinching World Series game. In 1980, they weren’t on the air. In ’83, they didn’t win. And in ’93, they didn’t win. So for him to be able to have that accomplishment, I thought it was great to see that happen. But Wheeler’s dance was funny, and we all try to imitate it. We’ve added our own thing to it. It’s not exactly the way he did it, but it’s still funny.

JM: In your travels, do you have any favorite city, restaurant or ballpark?

TM: I’m pretty simple when it comes to food, as strange as that sounds. I’ve been up and down with my weight over the years (at one point well over 300 lbs!). It’s tough when you travel. Last year I had a really bad back that precluded me from working out and I put on weight that I’ve since lost. I guess San Francisco is one of my favorite cities to go to because of the energy level of the ballpark. Usually when we are off it’s just me and Frantzke that go out, and we just try to find a burger or a steak place. We really don’t go out of our way to find a place. But Lydia’s in Pittsburgh comes to mind as one of my favorite places to eat on the road.

JM: You spent some time calling games for the Mets in New York. What are some of the differences in calling Mets baseball versus Phillies baseball?

TM: Good question. It’s very similar with the fans and the passion and the knowledge of the game. But in New York, the Mets’ fans root against whoever is playing the Mets, and they hate the Yankees. Here, the fans love the Phillies and whomever they are playing, they don’t like them. Up there when I did the radio, I was an employee of the station. Here I am an employee of the Phillies. And there is a little difference in that, but not much. I found the organizations fairly similar, though, front office-wise. Here it’s more of a family.

Tom_McCarthy
Photo: Jeremy Messler

JM: What is the main difference working for a club as opposed to working for a station?

TM: Up there—working for the station say you were calling a home run for the other team. You call it as if it is a significant part of the game. Here, you kind of back off a little bit, because as a fan I don’t want to hear an exclamation point on a Scott Rolen or a Brian McCann home run. Up there, if it’s a big home run, it’s a big home run. And I thought that was a pretty good education. Also, in both cities, losing is not accepted. So if you go to the Midwest—they want to win—but if they don’t win, they’re still going to go to the Cubs games.

JM: Any particularly memorable moments?

TM: Halladay’s perfect game. It was unexpected and memorable. I was literally shaking the last three innings. I wanted to get it right; I wanted to get the call right. I wanted to get the information right. I didn’t want to over-talk. People say, “Did you say it was a perfect game?” I did, because that is part of it and you should say it. You are not jinxing it. That was memorable.

There are a lot of Sarge moments that were funny—when he interviewed Alyssa Milano, who is a big baseball fan. But he started asking her about her tattoos. That was funny!

Away from the Phillies, I once missed a shift on the overnight on ESPN national, because I fell asleep in my basement studio. I used to do shows. Maryland had just won the national championship, and I was doing Todd Wright’s overnight show. I had been doing a lot of shifts and I guess I was tired. It was a 1 a.m. start, and I had done all these interviews and I fell asleep. My wife had to wake me up because the producer called. But they were all laughing, and they filled time until I got on.

JM: Since you are working for the Phillies, and say the club is playing poorly. Are you held back from your criticism at all?

TM: No, I think you have to understand that there is a certain line you can’t cross, and we all know what that is individually. I can’t really explain what it is. But I don’t subscribe to the pounding, pounding, pounding. I think that if Larry or Sarge or Wheels were to say it, that’s fine because they are the analysts. Larry and Sarge played the game, so they know if something is done right or wrong. I tell the story, and try to describe it. Then I let the fan deduce what they want to deduce from what they have seen themselves. Editorializing? I don’t do it that often.

JM: Larry Anderson seems to wear his baseball emotions on his sleeve and it comes out on the air. Would you agree of all your partners he has the most tendency to speak his mind?

TM: Yes, and I think on radio he can do it more often because he is describing. On TV, I don’t think it’s as easy to do it. On radio, the fan can’t see the play so he has that honesty that I think you need to accurately describe what he sees going on. I think he is really good at knowing what is right and what’s wrong and when to say it. And he is smart. He is one of the smartest people I have ever known.

JM: As a play-by-play guy, do you consciously call a game differently on radio that you do on TV?

TM: Absolutely. I am a radio guy who has been doing play-by-play football and basketball for eight years and baseball for five years. There are times when I’m on TV and I say to myself, “shut up.” You just can’t talk as much. On radio, you are talking, you are describing. I find when I go back and do an inning or so on radio it takes me a while to catch up.

Phillies Fans
Photo: Miles Kennedy

JM: Explain this magical ride the Phillies have been on for the last five years. How do you describe it?

TM: And you can even go back to 2001 when Larry Bowa took over, because that is when it started. They were in the hunt for a wild card, and the games were important. The greatest thing I can say is that if you went up and talked to a 14-year-old from Philadelphia and talked to him about winning and losing, he doesn’t know what it’s like to lose as a Phillies fan. Isn’t that remarkable?

JM: And this run has to make it fun to come to the ballpark.

TM: It does—it’s like the perfect storm. Even when I left for the two years, I was always watching, I was always listening, because I love the people here. This front office is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. I’ve been so lucky. Back 20 years ago, if you said there would be a Halladay in a Phillies uniform, people would say, “What, his brother?”

I mean you wouldn’t think it would be the guy. Lee, Howard, Utley—these guys are the best!

JM: Well how has this franchise been able to evolve into one that is so proactive and so willing to spend money? Is it Citizen’s Bank Park?

TM: It is. It’s a very cooperative ownership group. It’s talented GM’s. It’s again the perfect storm. In 2001 they started getting better. Then Jim Thome came here, and Kevin Millwood came here. And then this stadium is remarkable. There are other new stadiums that are nice, but they are not like this. There is an intimacy and an energy here that is unusual.

JM: Interesting, because when the stadium was first built, some called it a bandbox and the rap was that good free agent pitchers wouldn’t come here. And last year the team assembled what was arguably the best starting rotation of all time.

TM: Winning changes everything; it does. The team was built perfectly for this ballpark. And they had enough pitching in 2008 to win the title. I think if you asked any free agent pitcher right now—where would you like to play? If Philadelphia wasn’t at the top of the list, it would be in the top three. And it’s because of the organization, the team, Charlie (Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel), so many different things. It’s a once in a decade type of thing, and I think it will continue because of the way they have built this that it will sustain itself.

Charlie Manual
Charlie Manual
Photo: Miles Kennedy

JM: Go into detail for me about Charlie. There was some criticism of the hire early because of a lack of communication skills or polish. What kind of a guy is he and how has he been able to transform this team into what it is today?

TM: I think he has been true to himself. He hasn’t changed one iota. Winning hasn’t changed him. He is still the same guy as he was when he was a consultant for the Phillies as he is now. I think he keeps a relaxed clubhouse, and he doesn’t panic. He never shows it on his face, never shows it in his body language. And I like people like that, because I think if you start to panic, then everyone else around you will panic. And these guys don’t panic. I think he is smart, but he is gut smart. The game of baseball is statistically driven, and he does look at stats. But he also decides in his mind and his heart what he is going to do to make a move. I think he is tough when he has to be. He even said this year that he probably wasn’t tough enough last year. But he is tough one-on-one.

JM: Does he have many locker room meetings?

TM: He has them, but he doesn’t like to have many of them. As he says, “If I have them and they don’t work, then the self-doubt expands.” And I think there is some truth to that.

JM: So if he sees a guy not playing to his potential or not hustling, is he more likely to take them into his office?

TM: Almost immediately. Or he will talk to them as he is walking around from locker to locker. He does that often, too. I think he is who he is, and he hasn’t changed for anybody’s sake. Sometimes that doesn’t help him, but most times it does. He and I have become very close, we do a TV show together, and we have a good time doing it. He is compassionate and very loyal. If you are loyal to him, he will be loyal to you.

JM: Do you think he is going to hang around for a while?

TM: I think he is going to hang around as long as he wants to. He is 68, and if he decides he wants to keep managing the Phillies, he is the all-time winningest manager, and I think he has earned the right to manage them as long as he wants to.

JM: Anything in closing?

TM: I think people know that I am as lucky as anybody in the world to be able to do this. And I respect it more than anything else in the world. I cherish it. And I look forward to coming to work everyday. We have an unbelievable group that we are around. We are all the closest of friends, and that makes it even easier. I’ve been very fortunate with all the people that have helped me along the way from Rich Jablonski in South Carolina to Joe Finley, the owner of the Thunder, to Jim Gauger, the former editor at the Trenton Times who let me broadcast games and let me cover them for the paper, because he knew it was important to me to broadcast the games. I’ve just been lucky, and I hope that everybody can be as lucky as I am.

Rumor has it that Tom McCarthy wears a size 12, and that Harry Kalas wore a 9. Under normal circumstances, you would think it would be a tight fit.

Well, the shoe size may be different, but McCarthy’s passion for the job has him squeezed into those loafers just right. We can never forget Harry, but in his own right this new bearer of the Phillies Phlame is sizing up a legacy of his own.

That you can Bet your Boots on.

Video: Watch the full interview with Tom McCarthy

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