Interview with Phillies play-by-play announcer Tom McCarthy
by Scott Butler 2/12/13

Phillies announcer Tom McCarthyHarry Kalas is a legend in Philadelphia. A man so beloved that he was memorialized as a statue, a ballpark restaurant was named after him, and his voice celebrates each Phillies home victory. Harry was synonymous with Phillies baseball for 39 years.

Now try being the guy who replaces him.

That task was given to Tom McCarthy. Nearly four years after Harry's death, Tom narrates the next best era in Phillies broadcasting.

The Jersey man who once considered medical school and whose jobs took him from Trenton to Philadelphia to New York and back to Philly again has finally made a permanent home with the Phillies. What stories did the new voice of the Phillies have in store for us? I just had to find out.

Let’s start with your family life. You live in Allentown, NJ, with your wife and four kids. Tell us a little about how your unorthodox schedule impacts your family?

Being away is the hardest part. I get to miss all of their baseball games, which is tough. But when I’m home, I’m home, just soaking in as much as I can. As their dad, I’m the guy who works for a living but also a guy that can coach them too, so that’s very important.

Will anyone be following in Daddy’s footsteps into the broadcast booth?

Actually it looks like my oldest son. He’s going to Syracuse to be a broadcaster. He may work behind the scenes because he’s pretty talented when it comes to the camera and when it comes to the production part of it, but he also has a pretty sweet personality and if that’s something he chooses to do, I’m excited for him. It’s a great life. It’s awesome to be at all these events and to be part of this kind of lifestyle. I go to work every day not dreading one ounce of being there.

And that comes across, too. It’s obvious this is what you love to do.

I love it, I love being a part of sports. When I got cut from the baseball team in college I was lost because sports had been my life. I tried to figure out something to do in the world of sports because it was so important to me to be a part of the team aspect of the game and be part of the energy of the ballgame. Whether it be a college game or a minor league game, it doesn’t matter, just to be part of that energy. It was important to me to try to find something to do that would keep my hand in it.

So, were you expecting to move on further than college baseball?

Well, I think everybody does, or at least I feel like everybody does. In high school my goal was to play college baseball and if I could, to play professionally. At that point I didn’t realize I wasn’t good enough. You don’t realize you aren’t good enough. You just want to keep playing as much as you can. I went to the College of New Jersey (Trenton State College at the time) to play because my older brother played there and I thought it was the perfect place to play right away. As it turned out, what I thought and what they thought were two drastically different things. I still played for five years after that with different semi-pro teams and college teams, but it wasn’t on the ultra-competitive level.

I read that you were a Biology major and wanted to be a doctor. Is that true?

I was a Biology major, but it depended on which school I went to. If I had gone to Rutgers I would have been a Communications major, if I went to Indiana I would have been a Journalism major, and if I went to North Carolina Wesleyan I would have been a Hotel and Restaurant Management major.

In my mind I wanted to be a broadcaster but I never knew anyone who did it, so I never knew there was a possibility of doing it, if that makes any sense. I had met lawyers, accountants, and doctors, so I thought that was really the only thing you could do. I was a Biology major because I thought I was going to go to medical school. I actually took the Dental School exam and stuff like that, but after two and a half years I was so bored of being a Biology major and I think they were so bored of having me be a Biology major. I switched at the end of my junior year to Communications.

How did that work its way into broadcasting?

At that point I had already started working for the Trenton Times as a sportswriter, covering high school and college sports. It was ‘92 and ‘93 when I really started covering the Phillies as one of their backup beat writers. That’s where the bug kind of started, with writing and starting to do all of these interviews.

I had been a guest on Marc Narducci’s radio show in Philadelphia and somebody had told me they heard the interviews and thought I had a really good voice and that I should consider doing that more often. That’s all I really needed, because from there I started an internship at NJN and also at WTTF in Trenton. I actually did sports for Big Daddy Graham and he used to call me the "sports moron" because he said I knew more sports than anyone he had ever met. That’s where I kind of got bit by the bug and wanted to be behind the microphone.

Does that mean you didn't even work on your broadcast skills as a kid? Was that ever something you practiced?

I did. We used to go to Mets games, Yankees games, and Phillies games all the time, so there were a few occasions where I would bring a tape recorder and start broadcasting games if we were in the upper deck. But once I got bit in college there was no turning back.

I was a real student of radio and I didn’t like TV. I wanted to listen to Harry do games on the radio, listen to Ernie Harwell do Tigers games, and listen to Bob Murphy do Mets games. As strange as it sounds, I didn’t really have a TV back in the late 80’s. So, although I never practiced it as a kid, it was always in the back of my mind like a lot of kids.

What do you think makes you a good broadcaster?

It’s tough for me to say, but who I am off the air is truly who I am on the air. I make fun of myself, I laugh a lot, I try to be as outgoing as possible, and I try to help as much as I can with different things. I think one of the most important things as a broadcaster is to be who you are because it’s hard to hide it. You have to have your own personality.

I also took a number of speech classes and rhetorical classes in college where I would have to get out in front of people and talk and do presentations. I think that was important.

But I think more than anything it was being behind the microphone a lot when I was younger. When I was at WTTN, I had my own sports talk show and I did high school basketball and football. I did the Babe Ruth World Series in 1993 that we sold to all the different cities that were in the World Series. I think being able to do all those things outside of being a broadcaster has helped me become a broadcaster. It is understanding the business of it, the marketing and the sales aspects, all those things.

Fans enjoy your relationship with your broadcasters partners. What is it like working with Sarge, Wheels, and the rest of the crew?

We always joke that we’re one big TV sitcom family. We do a lot of things together. Scott and I golf all the time together. Murph golfs with us, too. We’re together more often than we’re not, at times more often than with our families. We are all close friends, which is the best. That, to me, makes it great to go to work because we all get along so well.

Sarge is who he is. What you see is what you get. He is nonstop. We can laugh at the things he does and says all day long. Wheels is kind of the patriarch, he’s the elder statesman. He’s also there for us to jab at and joke with, and he can take a joke with the best of them. Murph has been a fantastic addition, not only from a friendship stand point but also as a broadcaster. He fits in like our favorite pair of sneakers. I’ve known Larry Anderson since 1992. He and I have been friends for a long, long, time. There’s not a more loyal person that you will meet. Larry will do anything for you.

And it comes across on television. Can you tell us something we might not know about the guys?

I think people know everything about us. Wheels is truly the best golfer and then probably Murph. Sarge is probably the most generous person you will ever meet, whether it be with his time or bringing food to the stadium. He loves to cook and he loves good food. Larry is obviously funny, which you know from listening to him on the air. Scott is who he is. He’s just a good friend and a good person to be around. His hair is real - that’s real hair.

When I interviewed Murph recently, here’s what he had to say about you: “Tom is a big teenager. He is always pulling pranks. He puts sugar packets in Wheels' briefcase, hides his wallet, and moves his car keys. He hides behind a door just about every day and scares the crap out of Sarge.”

That’s funny that he said that. I try to have fun. For Wheels’ birthday a couple of years ago, Scott and I got a cardboard cutout of Wheels and we brought it all around Philadelphia. We got pictures with Mayor Nutter, Phil Martelli, and we went to the Zoo and fed the animals with it. It seems like it’s me, Scott, and Murph who try to do this all the time. We try to come up with stuff to keep it light and just laugh as much as we possibly can. I hide on Sarge all time. I’ll hide around corners, hide behind doors - I get him every single time.

Any new pranks planned?

We had this thing in Cincinnati where Sarge left the water running and flooded the whole hallway, so I went back to the hallway and took a picture of it and I sent it out to everybody. Then I let Wheels know that I was ready for the season and I had all these things planned, and he just went, “Oh joy.”

Most of the stuff we do is pretty spontaneous. We do try to celebrate Wheels’ birthday in a different way each year. One of the things we’re going to try this year is to get a life sized puppet of Wheels so we can carry it around with us everywhere we go.

Speaking of Sarge and Wheels, how does your approach change when you work with each of them?

With Wheels, I don’t really plan anything out because I know he’s raring to go and he has his scouting report and an understanding of who’s on the mound and different things. With Sarge, I do like to come up with stuff to lead him into different things I know he wants to talk about.

They are different styles. Wheels is a former play-by-play guy who kind of migrated into being an analyst and had an understanding of the pacing of the game and things like that. Sarge does too, but Sarge likes to be prompted when it comes to certain topics. Not a lot of it is planned, but Sarge and I will discuss the things he would like to speak about prior to the game itself.

When Sarge first came in, it was great to watch you coach him along and ask questions of which you already knew the answers just to get him going, but he seems to need much less prompting now.

He’s understanding when he’s supposed to come in and when he’s supposed to come out. I think that’s a big deal. He has come so far and I just love him. I love being around him, I like his personality, and I like everything about him. He has come a long way and I think it’s more confidence of saying what he feels. He’s not afraid to criticize and I think that is a good thing.

I understood the game, so I would ask questions I already knew the answers to, but there are probably people out there that didn’t know the answer. As a play-by-play guy you are supposed to engage your analyst and are not supposed to be the analyst, so I try not to be as often as possible.

I still kind of feel that I’m a radio guy doing TV. I’ll always feel that way. I’ll always feel that I don’t need to talk as much as I do, but that’s continuing to be more and more comfortable with me. I watched the replay of a basketball game I did the other night and there’s still certain parts where you are like, “You are talking way too much” and I still sometimes feel that way when I do Phillies games. It’s not where it used to be and it continues to get to where I want it to be. It’s not totally there yet, but that’s OK because everybody needs to keep learning.

Do you watch your game tapes a lot?

All the time. I’ll watch games two or three times. Especially on the road I watch them quite often. Oftentimes I’ll watch it when I get back to the room after the game to see how it went. When I was up in New York doing radio with the Mets, I would listen back to the game on my way home because I had an hour and ten minute ride. I’ll get letters from people about certain things that I say and I’ll listen back to it and I’ll say, “Yeah, you know what, I can see how they construed it that way." That’s not what I meant and this is how I meant it, but I have to say it a different way. That’s the reason I listen to it more than anything else.

Is there anyone that offers you feedback? Do you ever compare notes with Scott Franzke?

Scott and I talk all the time. We talk about ways to handle certain things and it’s kind of a give and take. I consider him one of my best friends, so I can be honest with him and he can be honest with me. I have a number of people that listen and watch games. I’ll send them things and they know that I don’t mind when they give me constructive criticism. I’ll ask Wheels about the way certain things were handled. Should I do it differently this way? We kind of work together with all that stuff.

Let's talk a little about life as a Phillies broadcaster? What is a typical day/week/season in the life of Tom McCarthy?

During the season I’m pretty regimented. I’ll usually get up in the morning and I’ll work out. Then I start to read pretty early in the morning. When the kids are at school I’ll get a lot of that stuff done in the morning. I read all the time during the baseball season, whether it be newspaper articles or magazine articles. Beyond that, I’ll read a lot about the teams in our division, because you never know what topics will be brought up.

Usually at home I’ll get to the ballpark around 2:15 or 2:30 and then try to talk to the players early before anybody else gets in there when they are a little more relaxed. At that point they don’t have a lot going on, so it’s easier to get the information from them. Once I’m at the ballpark the day kind of takes care of itself. I listen to Charlie, Rich Dubee, and the other manager. Most of my day is spent thinking about baseball and that night’s game. I very rarely am deviating from that. For a couple of years I had a boat and I’d go down on the boat and spend some time there and kick back a little bit, but right now most of the time is just preparing for that night’s telecast. When the kids are around and they aren’t in school it’s a little different because of the things I’m doing with them, whether its throwing batting practice or doing stuff like that.

We’ll play golf too. We play golf a lot. That’s sort of our "out" on the road. Scott and I, we get tired of sitting in hotel rooms, so we will find a place to play on the road just to keep our sanity.

How/what/when do you eat on game day?

About seven years ago I lost 140 pounds, so I don’t generally eat a whole lot. I try to maintain a specific diet, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I eat a lot of peanut butter cups. People send me peanut butter cups and anything with peanut butter so I eat a lot of that. Usually I’ll have lunch with Scott and sometimes our clubhouse guys. We’ll go find a restaurant on the road, but nothing major. California Pizza Kitchen or a little grill before the game and then usually it’s ballpark food. The press box food is either good, bad, or ugly. If it’s really not good we will go to the stadium.

It’s not that healthy, either.

Not at all. The minor leagues were even worse because you didn’t get paid as much and it was a lot of fast food. It’s trying to understand the lifestyle and being able to manage it.

Can you walk us through when you first began with the Phillies?

Back in 2000, I was the assistant GM for the Trenton Thunder. I was the radio and TV announcer plus the PR guy for the first three years. For the next four years I was the assistant GM and basically the vice president of the organization. Back in 1999, I was offered the opportunity to run my own minor league team and I turned it down. At that point I was doing the Thunder games and Princeton football and basketball. People had told me that I had to make a decision whether I was going to broadcast or an administrator. I decided not to be an administrator, so I took a job hosting my own radio show for ESPN radio in Philadelphia. I stopped being the assistant GM of the Thunder, but I still did their radio.

The Phillies asked in September of 2000 if I would fill in doing the pre and post-game show on radio. Scott Graham was doing more play-by-play and Scott and I had worked together on a number of different things. I guess he had suggested my name to Rory McNeil with the Phillies and that led to me getting the pre and post-game show job with the Phillies a year later. Whatever they heard they liked and my life totally changed at that point. I would do no play-by-play and I knew that for that first year, but eventually started doing play-by-play for two innings a night after my second year.

After three years with the Phillies, the Mets were looking for a radio broadcaster and they had asked if I would apply. I didn’t get the job, but I finished as finalist. Well, two years later when they had another opening, they called and asked again if I would apply and so I did. So, after my fifth year with the Phillies I went to New York for two years and in the middle of my contract the Phillies came to me and asked if I would be interested in coming back and doing television. At that point I had only done television for football and basketball and I was a little hesitant on it because I loved, loved, doing the radio. I loved being in Philadelphia and I never wanted to leave, so it was one of those opportunities that even the people in New York said I had to take. Doing television in Philadelphia and being closer to home was just something that I couldn’t pass up, so that’s how I wound up coming back.

It’s nice to be in the same place for once.

Well it’s funny, I’ve been around a number of different places, but I’ve been in the same house since when I was with the Thunder. That to me is the key that I never had to uproot my family from where I am. That’s been huge because my kids have been able to enjoy the same friends, same neighborhood, same school, all those things, ever since I began sort of looking for my dream. It hasn’t really impacted them in any kind of negative way. It’s really the most important thing to me out of everything. I had opportunities to go other places, whether it be to go to Denver to do a talk show or possibly going to Tampa to do the Devil Rays. But this fit, this has really been an unbelievable treat to be here and also to keep my family in the same house they’ve been in for 14 years.

That is great to hear, but I understand last season was the final year of your contract. Have you discussed renewing your contract yet?

I actually heard that from a lot of people. I never even realized my contract had been public notice or that people had wondered. I even got an email from someone asking if I was coming back this year and I said, “Yeah, why?” They said they heard my contract was up and I said, “It was?” But yes, I signed a new contract last winter for a five year extension. It starts this year, so I’m here for at least another five years after this.

You get to spend a lot of time with the team. What can you tell us about any of the players or coaches that might surprise us?

I think you probably understand everybody’s personality. Jimmy is who he is, he is unbelievable. A lot of these guys are unbelievable fathers. I’ve watched them interact with their kids on a daily basis, whether it be Halladay, Ryan Howard with his son who’s always around, or even Jimmy Rollins with his new daughter. That’s the thing, they are really good players, but I gauge a lot of who they are on how they deal with, say, my kids when they are around. Shane Victorino was great. He knew my kids by name and Jimmy is the same way. A lot of them are really good people and they are good fathers.

Any final thoughts?

We got to get back to the postseason. That’s the key.

It's hard to believe we've enjoyed the same Phillies crew for almost four years now since Harry's passing. It's nice to know that the new voice of the Phillies with be with us for a least a while longer.

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