Phillies PA Announcer Dan Baker talks with Philly2Philly.com
Dan Baker is truly a Philadelphia broadcasting legend. In addition to his public address announcing duties for the Phillies since 1972, he has also served as the Eagles PA Announcer since 1985. Baker is also a member of the BIG 5 Hall Of Fame and is also the play-by-play announcer for men's Drexel Dragons basketball at Drexel University. With the Phillies' monumental rise in popularity over the last several seasons, Baker has become more of a household name than ever. In an exclusive Philly2Philly.com interview, Dan discusses life, his longevity in the business, and the 2010 Phillies' chance at baseball history.
Joe Vallee: Tell us how you got the job as the Public Address Announcer for the Phillies.
Dan Baker: A very nice man named Pat Cassidy was the Director of Stadium Operations for the Phillies and press box steward for the Eagles. I began spotting for visiting NFL broadcast teams in the late 1960's and developed my own radio show at WFPG in Atlantic City.
I befriended Mr. Cassidy and we would sometimes compare notes, and he told me about his Phillies involvement. He shared with me that the Phillies were contemplating making a change in PA announcers and he wanted to know if I might be interested. He had a very good relationship with Bill Giles and he thought he could arrange a interview with him. Mr. Cassidy spoke with Mr. Giles and he agreed to meet with me.
The interview went extremely well, and I think I was able to impress upon Mr. Giles my baseball background and that I was knowledgeable about the game. That was important because the PA announcer at Veterans Stadium had duel responsibilities to announce the starting lineups, each batter as he came to the plate and any substitutions, but to also to run the game in progress scoreboard (balls, strikes, outs, runs hits, errors). You don't need to be rocket scientist to do this, but you do need to pay attention.
So I explained to Mr. Giles how I would lay in bed at night when the Phillies played the Dodgers or Giants on the West Coast. When (play by play announcer) By Saam was calling pitches, I would keep the count on my fingers. I told Mr. Giles that if he hired me, I would be the quickest and most accurate in baseball. And for the 32 of the 33 years of Veterans Stadium's existence I was, and people would frequently compliment me on that in a very positive way.
JV: Your life with the Phillies and Eagles has truly been a family affair. You met your wife Cathy at Veterans Stadium while she was working for the Phillies. Your son Darren assists you at Eagles games, and your daughter Courtney is following your footsteps in broadcasting as well. I guess everything has come full circle in a way.
DB: I've been remarkably lucky to do something I love, and that I'm able to share. My wife Cathy's support, encouragement, and love of sports is a key to our family's success. If she didn't have an interest in sports, this couldn't happen, and the marriage probably wouldn't last either! (laughs). Her whole family are big sports fans, so Cathy understood the long hours and being out late at night. The fact that all of our interests are intertwined is a beautiful thing.
Darren used to videotape all the Phillies batters from the dugout so they could analyze their swings. Courtney babysat for the Phillies' children throughout her summers off from Boston College. They both love being around the ballpark and are big fans. Darren is a successful school teacher in West Deptford, and Courtney is a reporter for a CBS news station in Rock Island, Illinois . She is hopefully on her way to bigger and better things and a larger market closer to home.
JV: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Cal Ripken Jr., George Brett, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Nolan Ryan, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Roberto Clemente,Tom Seaver. These are just a handful of the game's all-time greats whose name you have called over the Phillies' PA system. At times, you must feel like a kid in the candy store.
DB: Oh that's so true. Lots of those players you mentioned were heroes of mine as a kid. I can remember in the mid 1970's doing Old-Timers games at The Vet, when Mickey Mantle was there along with Duke Snider, Stan Musial, Eddie Matthews, Warren Spahn. Those were some great players I admired, and I was down on the field talking with them and announcing all of them for the game. Mantle was such a broad shouldered man who looked like an Adonis. He could still crush a ball, but could hardly walk.
I was always really good at recognizing players faces from a game I played with my brother as kid where we would take baseball cards and cover the front of a card. I could recognize hats, hair, but one player I made a mistake with was Enos Slaughter, who I announced as Eddie Lopat. He was wearing a Yankees uniform, and Slaughter is probably more identifiable as a Cardinal. I announced each batter and give background on them as they got into the batters box. When I announced Slaughter as Lopat, he asked me "don't you recognize that number?" I then tried to give him a real big buildup because I felt bad about that, but I got everybody else right.
JV: Although this is your job, you are also a life-long fan. What are some of the greatest moments you have been a part of behind the microphone, and what are some of the most heartbreaking during your years in the business?
DB: Well the two best times clearly were the World Championships. There were other times the Phillies were in the post season that were great, but the first championship in 1980, when they beat the Royals, and 2008 when they beat the Rays were the best. Another great time were the closing ceremonies at The Vet in 2003, when I shared the emceeing duties with Harry Kalas. As some of the greatest Phillies walked of the field, Harry and I would alternate between names as they crossed home plate. He would call Mike Schmidt, then I would announce Greg Luzinski. It was just a fantastic moment.
My most disappointing time was Black Friday 1977. That was the first golden period of Philles baseball, and I thought they were going to break through and go to the World Series and win it for the first time ever. The Phillies and Dodgers split the first two games at Dodger Stadium. The Phillies had a two-run lead going into the top of the ninth inning of Game Three, and a series of events unfolded where the Phillies surrendered the lead, lost that game, and lost the next night. The Phillies also lost in the NLCS the next year to the Dodgers. I think that game and that year was the most difficult loss that I announced. As a fan in 1964, I suffered greatly. That team was one of my favorites.
JV: You have been present for the two greatest eras in the history of the Phillies: the mid 1970's to the early 1980's, and now the present. Which era do you think is better?
DB: I think right now they are about even. They have each been to two World Series. This group went back to back, and I believe that this nucleus still has a couple years of strong contention in them. And I think that before all is said and done, this group is going to return to another World Series or two. And if they are able to accomplish that feat, then I would say this is the stronger era. As individuals, you have all-stars from both eras. You have Hall of Famers from that first group: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, and Pete Rose SHOULD be in the Hall of Fame. It was a great team.
In this current group, I think Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have the chance to be in the Hall of Fame someday, and maybe even a Roy Halladay or Cole Hamels. It's premature to place anybody in that category just yet. I think you have to say that based on their careers they have had to date, and if they can sustain that success over a number of years in the future, then they could be candidates.
JV: Although the Phillies had a stretch of futility for a number of years, people don't seem to realize that the team is tied with the Braves and Cardinals for second in all of baseball for World Series appearances since 1980 (five). Would the Phillies returning to and ultimately winning the World Series in 2010 cement their legacy as a National League dynasty?
DB: Yes, I think it would. Plus, the Phillies would be the first National League team since the 1942-1944 St. Louis Cardinals to go to three consecutive World Series. While the Yankees and Philadelphia Athletics have been to three straight World Series, I think if the Phillies would get to this World Series, they would definitely be considered one of the best teams in National League history.
JV: You are known for having a unique approach to announcing certain players' names. What are some of your favorites over the years?
DB: Usually the polysyllabic names because they lend themselves to a more melodic interpretation. (In his announcers voice) "Number 12- second baseman MIC-KEY MOR-AN-DINI, number 19- left fielder GREG LU-ZIN-SKI." They're among the favorites, based on being able to draw out those names a little bit. "Number 53- right fielder BOBBY A-BRE-U," is another.
The Phillies had a second baseman in the late 70's named Ted Sizemore. After his playing career, Ted became a representative with Rawlings Sporting Goods, who present the Gold Glove Awards. Ted came back here to present some Gold Gloves to Phillies players as well as play in some Old-Timers games, and he walked up to me and said "I would just like to hear you say my name one more time," and I was more than happy to oblige. Now batting for the Phillies, number six- second baseman TED SIIIIIZZZZZZEEEEEEMORE. And of course the big names like Mike Schmidt, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Larry Bowa, and now Roy Halladay.
JV: You've had the distinction of calling Eagles games in the afternoon, and then World Series games at night. You have also broadcasted Big 5 games in the past and you still are the Drexel Dragons play-by-play man. If that's not enough, you participate in Chickie's and Pete's Summer Nights at the Ballpark" at selected Phillies away games. Do you ever sleep?
DB: I really try to pace myself. I've filled in for Lou Nolan with the Flyers, and also Dave Zinkoff for the Sixers. I'm pretty sure I'm the only Philadelphia PA announcer who has done public address announcing for all four major sports. I've been really busy the last couple years and that is really keyed by the Phillies success and their ability to extend the season a whole other month or so. I enjoy the work so much, and in this business it can be feast or famine sometimes. Believe me, there have been years when I've prayed for more work. So when you're lucky enough to get additional assignments, you're very appreciative and you don't think of it as being too busy or you don't get enough rest or relaxation. You find a way to make it work, and for me it's no problem at all.
JV: There are many pictures of people posing with your 2008 World Series ring when they see you out at dinner or in public. People really get thrilled by this don't they.
DB: I'm flattered, and I'm happy to share. I am a life-long Phillies fan and I'm still a big Phillies and Eagles fan as well as the Flyers and Sixers- although not to the same degree with the NBA and NHL as I am of Major League Baseball and the National Football League. I feel as if, with all the nice things that have happened to me and come my way that I have a duty and responsibility that goes along with that. If that means sharing a little bit of my time or being friendly with somebody or taking a picture or signing an autograph, I'm happy to do it and I'm never offended when someone asks for a request.
Now compared to the players, who are much more recognizable and more requests are made, I don't know if I would have as much patience. I'm not sure. Some players are thought to be not as fan friendly. However, I'm not recognized everywhere I go, and ballplayers get no privacy.
JV: With the passing of Harry Kalas, not only are you the longest tenured voice of the Phillies, but you are also the longest tenured public address announcer in baseball. I think that type of longevity speaks volumes for you as far as your professionalism and loyalty, and dedication towards the Phillies goes.
DB: You need some luck, good timing, good fortune, and good health along the way. You have to work for organizations who likewise believe in loyalty, and I've had the good fortune to have that with the Phillies, Eagles, BIG 5 and Drexel. I try to keep myself in pretty good shape. I've had my wife's support and my family's support. As a young boy growing up, my mother and father encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. At first, I wanted to be an athlete, but I knew I wasn't good enough, and I thought announcing was a way to stay close to it. I give it everything I have and put my heart and soul into every game. I think Philadelphia sports fans can relate to this. They know who is giving it their all, and who isn't, who believes in what they are doing, and who doesn't. I think the fans' acceptance is recognition of that.
Let's face it, as much as I love the job, if the organization and fans didn't like what you are doing, it wouldn't make a difference how much I love the job. Most importantly, I bring a love for the game and the enthusiasm for what I do doesn't wear off. I love it just as much now as I did 39 years ago. I'd like to do this for at least another 11 years to give me 50 years as the Phillies' PA announcer. I believe if I accomplish this, I will be one of only three public announcers in Major League Baseball history to have done so: Bob Sheppard of the Yankees from 1951 to 2007, and Pat Pieper of the Cubs from 1916 to 1974. In fact, Pieper announced Babe Ruth's famous "called shot" in 1932! To emulate those two great announcers and what they accomplished would be such an honor. And the fact I get hired back each year is such a compliment in itself.
As the Phillies march towards the playoffs, you can catch Dan Baker at Chickie's and Pete's Summer Nights at the Ballpark. Click HERE for the schedule.
Dan Baker photo: Joe Vallee Sr.: Josephv985@aol.com
Contact Joe Vallee at firstname.lastname@example.org