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With Kalas gone, Phillies must find new face

Harry Kalas would have hated it. The broadcaster's sudden death has put his beloved Phillies in a delicate position, one they've never really occupied before:

Tom McCarthy could become the new face of the Phillies - or not.  File photo. (Ron Cortes / Inquirer)
Tom McCarthy could become the new face of the Phillies - or not. File photo. (Ron Cortes / Inquirer)Read more

Harry Kalas would have hated it.

The broadcaster's sudden death has put his beloved Phillies in a delicate position, one they've never really occupied before:

They are a franchise looking for a face.

In an era when players and managers move from city to city like FedEx parcels, a baseball team's broadcasters often are its steadiest, most direct link to the public.

Men and women spend their evenings with them. Kids fall asleep to them. Some of life's best moments are revealed by them.

Used to be these franchise broadcasters were avuncular play-by-play men like the Tigers' Ernie Harwell or the Dodgers' Vin Scully. Or it could be a popular ex-player who slipped comfortably into the color man's role, like Richie Ashburn.

Franchise broadcasters are, as Kalas so ably exhibited, invaluable marketing tools. They can rally public support, soothe the discontent in bad seasons, turn up the volume in good ones.

But it has to be the right fit. You don't just parachute into a touchy situation like the one in which the Phillies now find themselves and win the hearts and minds of fans (patrons?). It takes time to gain their trust and their imprimatur, particularly in a hard-bitten town like Philly.

Harwell, who broadcast Tigers games for 42 years and like Kalas was a civic institution, retired in 2002. His replacements still haven't been fully accepted in Detroit.

That makes TV and team executives, not to mention advertisers, nervous.

The communication boom has made replacing Kalas even tougher. Every game is on radio and television - over-the-air channels, cable affiliates, pay-per-view networks. That means more announcers, more pairings, more fragmentation of that vital emotional link between viewer and broadcaster.

The Phillies haven't faced this kind of problem in at least 60 years. By Saam was the guy for decades. Ashburn joined him in 1963. Kalas teamed up with both in 1971.

There was a comforting continuum. The public never felt disengaged.

But what happens now?

If the Phils stay in-house, Tom McCarthy seems a logical choice. He's a little too chatty for some but long on likability. Still, he hasn't yet been exposed enough here for fans to have formed solid opinions or connections.

Chris Wheeler is the broadcast team's dean now, but he's an inside-baseball wonk - and a good one - not a warm-and-fuzzy presence like Kalas or Ashburn.

Larry Andersen is personable and well-liked, but his voice lacks a certain spark, and it's hard to be the man when you're confined to radio.

His partner, Scott Franzke, appears to be a pro, but a fan base that increasingly experiences the Phillies through TV only remains unfamiliar with his work.

Gary Matthews is probably still too new to judge definitively.

So perhaps the Phils will look elsewhere for that new face.

Maybe they'll seek to be comforted themselves.

If that happens, perhaps they'll bring in Kalas' broadcaster son, Todd.

There's precedence. When the Braves phased out longtime voice Skip Caray, they hired his son, Chip.

We were wild about Harry.

It'll take us time to warm to his successor.

And if the guy the Phillies decide on doesn't measure up, you can be certain it won't be long before we move him outta here!

It makes me crazy. Western civilization has been preserved.

We've made it through another Masters week without any broadcasters using the word fans or crowd to describe the patrons.

How ridiculous was it to hear one announcer after another on Sunday trying to describe the throngs following Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson with the totally inadequate word patrons.

If I promise not to harp on this for another 51 weeks, will someone please explain to me what this absolutely idiotic stricture accomplishes?

It's as if Major League Baseball insisted its World Series broadcasters call umpires arbiters.

I get the pimiento sandwiches, the ugly green jackets, and the azaleas. If you want to call the rough "the second cut," you're a moron, but fine.

But what exactly are Masters officials trying to preserve with their fans ban?



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