May 04, 2017
There’s something to be said for familiarity, and perhaps especially in sports.
You turn on a replay of an old Flyers or Phillies game, you hear the voices of Gene Hart and Harry Kalas. Childhood memories came flashing back. You switch on the radio in the fall and you hear the iconic voice of Merrill Reese. You easily recall all of the great Eagles memories you’ve listened to throughout your life.
Veterans Stadium has been gone for more than a dozen years, but when you walk into Citizens Bank Park for the beginning of a game and you hear the lineups being announced, you’re taken back to the Vet every night thanks to the comforting tones of longtime Phillies public address announcer Dan Baker.
Baker, 70, began his 46th season behind the microphone at Phillies games last month. He is the longest-tenured public address announcer in baseball, a distinction he’s held for a decade.
He started with the Phillies in the spring of '72, just before Lou Nolan's own long run with the Flyers got underway the following fall.
A South Jersey native and childhood fan of all of the Philly teams, Baker also worked behind the microphone at the Vet and Lincoln Financial Field as the Eagles P.A. announcer for 30 years, has worked college basketball and college football games, has introduced Wall of Famers, Hall of Famers, and even United States presidents, too.
Baker is an institution in Philadelphia (he was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2012) and his voice is one of the most iconic in Philadelphia sports history. He used it this week to sit down for The Q&A.
How did you get into announcing sports?
Dan Baker: I wasn’t a good enough athlete to play professional sports. I had visions of myself as a Phillies player as a kid. Don’t we all? But reality sets in as you get older. I think that I declined – I was a really good Little League player. In fact, I pitched the championship game and won it for Mt. Ephraim in the 1962 Camden County Pony League.
That’s great. How old were you then?
16. I was born in ’46 and that was ’62.
I think I was the opposite. I got better when I was older, not as good in Little League.
You know, playing sports, I played two years of junior varsity basketball at Glassboro State – that showed you how good I was, I never got into a varsity game – playing competitive sports and growing up being a big fan. I’ve always been a big fan, I loved going to Phillies games as a kid, Big 5 games at the Palestra. Getting Eagles tickets was a little harder so I didn’t go to too many Eagles games. But I was a big fan of the Eagles, the Phillies, initially the Warriors, the Philadelphia Warriors who preceded the Sixers before moving to San Francisco. So I rooted on all of the Philadelphia teams and loved going over to Convention Hall to see the Warriors. I’d even see the Warriors once in a while at Camden Convention Hall, there used to be a Camden Convention Hall.
What was your first thing you did as an announcer?
I filled in and worked a couple of Glassboro State (now Rowan University) basketball games and baseball games on WGLS. My last two years (of college) were my first big breaks. I graduated Glassboro State in 1968. I applied for a job in the mailroom at Channel 48 in Philadelphia … and I got it. So I worked full-time my last two years at Glassboro State. I did better academically my last two years even with the full workload. I think I was maturing. I made the princely sum of $1.50 an hour, $60 a week. [Laughs] And from there I went to the engineering department.
But when I was with Channel 48, there was a guy named Stu Nahan who did Captain Philadelphia. You remember him as the handsome white-haired gentleman who did the play-by-play in the Rocky movies at ringside, not the ring announcing but the play-by-play. So I worked with him. He was the first Flyers play-by-play guy on TV by the way, back in ’67 and ’68. But Channel 48 did college football, local teams like Penn, Temple, Villanova, and so I used to do statistics for him. And then he did some NFL games and introduced me to visiting NFL announcers and I’d work with them coming into town. Jay Randolph, Jack Buck, Van Patrick, Al Wester. I’d get like $25 a game and I’d write down the number of first downs, the numbers of passes thrown, the number of passes completed. … All of those things and feed the information to the announcers.
That was really like an education for me, learning from some of the top announcers in the country. I was beginning to think more and more that, ‘Wouldn’t this be great?’ Because I knew I wasn’t going to be playing NBA basketball or Major League Baseball [laughs]. ... When I graduated, I taught school in Philadelphia for 12 years, from 1968 to 1980 and I did sportscasting on the side.
Where did you teach?
The Landreth Elementary School at 23rd and Federal Street. It’s now closed. I taught there until ’68. … And then I taught for two more years at the Smith School at 19th and Wharton. By the way, for 7 of the 10 years at Landreth, I also coached the boys' basketball team. We were undefeated for six years. We had some wonderful kids. One of those kids was Gene Banks, who went on to become an All-American at Duke and later played in the NBA with the Bulls and Wizards.
When did you retire from teaching?
In 1980. That was a great year for me, our son Darren was born, the Phillies won their first ever World Series and I just decided to take a chance. I was getting more and more part-time opportunities in sportscasting. The Phillies job came along in ’72 and I just loved it with all of my heart. I knew that I found something very, very special. I admired Philadelphia sports P.A. announcers growing up, particularly Dave Zinkoff of the Philadelphia Warriors. But I admired Pete Byron, who did the Phillies, Matt Guokas, who did the Eagles and preceded me as the Eagles P.A. announcer.
The Phillies job was really the catalyst of so many things for me. As a result of doing the Phillies, I was no longer ‘Dan Baker – who is that?’ You need to have a little bit of a resume or track record. I thought I was a pretty good announcer but I didn’t really have a lot of experience to point to.
And once you’re the Phillies P.A. announcer…
…it opens doors. That directly led to being hired by the Eagles for that role in ’85. And of course, I did the Eagles from ’85 to 2014. I did Big 5 radio announcing play-by-play for 21 years, from ’77 through ’98. I did Drexel basketball play-by-play for 15 years. Along the way, I did Penn football, Temple football. …I’ve been so fortunate, so many great experiences.
Has there been anyone else with the Phillies that’s been active since 1972? As in one specific job for 46 years?
David Montgomery. Chrissy Long, who is the director of entertainment. I think Mike DiMuzio in operations. Of course Bill Giles.
Some of them have taken different roles, though, where you’ve been consistent in the one role.
I just saw on the Today Show that the Godfather is also celebrating 45 years.
I saw that.
It feels like a long time ago. Do you ever sit back and realize the accomplishment of being in your 46th season?
I just feel so privileged to do it. I enjoy it just as much today as when I started 45 years ago. I feel very lucky. I met my wife, who worked full-time with the Phillies, we met there. Both of our children briefly worked for the Phillies.
What’s it mean to you to be the longest active P.A. announcer in major league baseball?
I’m proud of that. That’s a distinction I’ve enjoyed since the late, great Bob Sheppard retired from the Yankees following the (2007) season, so I’ve had that honor for about a decade.
How many weddings do you get asked to do a year?
Half a dozen.
Enjoy that stuff, interacting with fans?
I know Harry Kalas would get plenty of requests to leave voicemail messages on people’s phones – you ever get that stuff because of your own iconic voice?
Not nearly as much as Harry, but yeah, I get a few. I’ve had a pretty successful promotion I’ve done since 2008 where I’ve recreated the ballpark atmospheres at sports bars. They’ll show the Phillies game on big screens. And I do the starting lineups there and announce each batter, give it that ballpark feel, and any substitutions. And the Phillies provide me with giveaway items and in between innings I ask Phillies trivia questions. A lot of nice things have dovetailed off of this.
Do you have a favorite all-time name to announce?
Well, the polysyllabic names with the multiple syllables, they are the ones that are the most enjoyable to say, because the longer syllables lend themselves to a more melodic interpretation. “Number 12, second baseman, Mickey Morandini.”
I knew you were going to say that.
“Number 19, left fielder Greg Luzinski." You know, you can do more with that than you can do with, "Number 8, Bob Boone.”
Yeah, right, a shorter name, there isn’t a whole lot you can do with it.
Bobby Abreu is another. “Number 53, right fielder, Bobby Abreu.”
Yep, that’s an iconic one for sure. And one of the more underrated players in Phillies history.
I think he had a lifetime on-base percentage of over .400.
Yeah. I mean who does that? That’s impressive.
Do you like to play up to the fans’ expectations? For example, when Chase Utley returned (last year), do you sell that differently than normal? Or do you go the opposite way if you know it’s someone the fans don’t like?
I try to be enthusiastic for all of the Phillies. And in a special situation like Chase’s return or Jimmy Rollins’ return …
Ryan Howard’s last game…
… I’ll try to pump it a little bit more enthusiastically. But I try not to forget that my main purpose there is to provide information. To me, P.A. announcers that shout and scream and distort their voice in the way that you can’t understand them, they’re doing a disservice to the fans. The reason we’re there is to provide information, concisely and accurately. If you’re going through too many theatrics and so forth, and they can’t understand you, you’re not really doing your job well.
Right, just give me the information. It’s not about you, it’s about the game.
And as far as the visitors are concerned, I just try to do it straight. I’m not looking to vilify anybody or celebrate them. I want to make sure that people can hear the name, that they know who it is.
Of course, I felt so bad about the J.D. Drew situation. I remember a guy on ESPN and I think Mike Missanelli on the (radio) said, ‘Listen to how Dan Baker incites the crowd.’ The crowd did not need me to incite them. They starting booing as soon as he started to come out onto the on-deck circle. They said I raised my voice when I announced him. And I did – to be heard above the din of the boos, not to provoke the boos. Although I didn’t like what he and his agent did.
I root for all of the Philadelphia teams with all of my heart, I want them all to win, and I want us to win fair and square. I am not in agreement with – I think we have great sports fans in Philadelphia and I know that there is a minority that might curse or spit or throw things. I don’t agree with any of that, I believe in good sportsmanship.
Back to J.D. Drew. There’s also something when you have names with two initials rather than a full first name.
Well, that’s another thing. Mike Matheny, the Cardinals catcher, accused me of drawing it out. I do that for everyone. “Number 7, right fielder J.D. Drew. Now batting for San Francisco, F.P. Santangelo.
Yeah, I’ve always noticed that with you. Even "Jay.... See.... Romero." That’s how it works.
But the Cardinals complained about me to David Montgomery. He said, “Dan, make sure there aren’t any dramatics with J.D. Drew.” And I said, “David, that’s the way (I read it).” They said something to me that they think I might be (overselling it).” I said, “David, I’ll try to say his name a little bit faster.” I think most people that know me that’s not my style. I felt quite bad about it, that a knucklehead would throw a battery at him. And that night, I think we had over 45,000. We weren’t drawing that well but that night they turned out. Ed Montague the home plate umpire called me and told me that he wanted to make as announcement that if anything else got thrown that this game was going to be forfeited. I said, “Well Ed, I will do that, but I think we need to do it in a diplomatic tone as to not incite worse behavior.” … So then I called David Montgomery, I didn’t want him to be blindsided. …
I think Anthony Gargano wrote about that game, he was there, and he said something like “to hear people tell it, you might have thought you were at Omaha Beach at the Normandy invasion, that there were missiles, projectiles, dozens of batteries being thrown.” Not that you can justify it, but two batteries out of 46,000. And the Phillies, they’re such a class organization. They made sure there was extra security there that night to diffuse the problem.
Do you have an all-time favorite moment behind the mic?
Oh, there are so many. Winning the World Series at home in 1980 and 2008, that was so special. Announcing World Series games in ’80, ’83, ’93, 2008, 2009. Announcing the Major League Baseball All-Star games in ’76 and ’96. Introducing the president of the United States, Gerald R. Ford at the ’76 Major League All-Star Game. I introduced two presidents. I also introduced George W. Bush at the 2003 Army-Navy game, the first Army-Navy game at Lincoln Financial Field.
Also, for the Phillies, special moments include the Final Innings, if you remember, the last game at Veterans Stadium. And, really, the star of the show from the announcing standpoint was Harry Kalas, but I was there to provide any assistance if needed. And so when the players went out they were introduced. But when they came off the field, they each touched home plate. So Larry Shenk said if Harry needs your help, maybe you can announce every other batter, so that’s what we did, myself with the great Harry Kalas. He would announce Mike Schmidt and I would announce “Greg Luzinski!” That was a big thrill. … And with Harry’s passing I now have the privilege to announce the Wall of Famers each year, being on the platform with Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Charlie Manuel, Dick Allen.
Do you miss doing Eagles games?
I do. But, I man the void has been filled very nicely. In fact, I’m doing more Eagles games now than I was when I worked for the Eagles, I do home and away (from Xfinity Live during games) so that worked out well. But, you know, in our business, radio and television, sports and entertainment, there are changes made, all the time.
I know it.
Some of them don’t seem fair. And it’s not always performance-based. Sometimes it's from an executive who wants to make a name for himself, or change the marketing direction. There are many reasons. But, you know what, even though I thought I earned the privilege of continuing, there’s a lot of other people (who deserve a chance). So you have to be thankful for the opportunities we are given. I’ve had many more kindnesses (since then).
I was just about to say that. There was an outpouring of support for you when that happened. That must have made you felt tremendous.
It did, it did. I still get that all the time. But I don’t want to be defined by that. I’d like to think my career has been somewhat successful. As a matter of fact, one thing that annoys me a little but, if you were to google me there are quite a few articles on the internet… and a lot of the pages are “Eagles fire Baker.”
Right, you’ve done more than that. Changing gears: what’s the biggest compliment you could receive?
Sometimes, like Phillies security will tell me when I’m walking out, say it’s a game we (got blown out). "I can’t believe you’re still announcing with that enthusiasm in the eighth or ninth inning.” But what am I going to do, give up? [laughs] I want to see the Phillies win, too.
I’ll tell you a story about Von Hayes. In the early 90s, this was at the Vet, he was coming out of the clubhouse and I’m in the dugout with Larry Bowa before the game. And I hear a set of cleats coming sown and Larry goes, “Here he is, tell him yourself.” And Von Hayes says, “That’s bull(crap).” I said, “What?” He said, “When I hit a home run, the next time I bat you give me the big Von Hayes introduction. But If I strike out, you give me the (monotone) Von Hayes.” I said, “That’s not true.” It is true that I will raise my voice to evoke more enthusiasm, but it’s the situation. I said, “Von, you could have struck out 3 times, but if you come out in the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded in a tie game, I’m going to give you the big, ‘Now batting Number 9, first baseman Von Hayes!’ And conversely, if you hit 2 home runs and a double and come up in the bottom of the ninth with 2 outs and we’re losing 10-4, I’m not going to insult the fan’s intelligence.'” He said, “All baloney.”
I think you file that under not being able to please everybody, ever. And that sometimes people hear what they want to hear.
I assume you’re going to go five more years (four after this season), and get to 50?
At least. One of my goals is to do this for at least 50 years. So I need four more after this. And to the best of my knowledge, there have only been, in the history of major league baseball, two P.A. announcers to announce for 50 years or more: Bob Sheppard, who served with great distinction (with the Yankees) for 57 years, from 1951 to 2007, and Pat Pieper of the Chicago Cubs, who announced at Wrigley Field, at 1916, when it was still called Weegham Park, until 1974.
That’s an exclusive club.
That’s 59 years (for Pieper). Now, four more years and … maybe there is someone else. I don’t think there’s a listing. But to the best of my knowledge, they’re the only two with 50. Four more years and I’ll join that exclusive club. And I would be 75 (years old). Now, Bob Sheppard, do you know how old he was when he last announced for the Yankees?
So if you do the math…
If the Phillies will have me, and my health holds out, and I’m still performing at a high level, I could break the record. And in my 60th year as a P.A. announcer, I’d be 85. It’s possible. Who knows. Maybe the Phillies will want to have somebody else at that point, maybe my health won’t permit me, maybe I won’t be able to perform at the level I can now.
But it’s fun to think about.
It is, and I take good care of myself. I’m in pretty good shape. I walk a lot. I have a wonderful wife and children and a lot of terrific friends. A lot to keep me going.
Do you do voice exercises to keep it strong?
I walk about 15-20 miles a week, and that’s good for my heart and lungs. I think I have pretty good vocal range. Now I don’t have a basso profondo, like Harry Kalas or John Facenda, but I think I have pretty good range. And I know when to emote and when not to emote. That’s a mistake that I think some announcers make. You can’t shout all the time. It loses the effect. Just as a person who speaks in a monotone voice is uninteresting or unentertaining, the person who screams all the time … you have to know when to (go there).
Will the Phillies win another World Series before you finish 50 years behind the mic?
I think by next year they’ll be competing for postseason play.
You like the young talent then?
I do, and there’s more of it around the organization than in just about any time I can remember. Maybe the early 2000s, 2000-2005 there was that influx.
Utley, Rollins, Hamels, Madson, Howard…
... Ruiz. And the other time was the early 70s with Schmidt, Luzinski, Bowa, Boone.
So you look at that minor league talent and think it has a chance to be remembered like those groups?
I do, I do. I think we have more of it now. Now sometimes it’s hard to identify who will emerge as the next Schmidt, Luzinski, Utley, Rollins, Howard, but I think we have enough of them. It’s not like a few years ago.
When everyone was praying on one guy.
Like Domonic Brown.
All hopes are on him. That’s a bad way to go. But I agree, I was just in Lakewood. Lots of players there, that pitching staff…
Yeah, that kid throws 99 with a 91-MPH changeup. Mickey Moniak is on that team. Adonis Medina. And at Triple-A, all of those hitters. And with all of these kids, even if one or two of the hitters become major leaguers, that’s OK. If you have 5 or 6, the odds are a couple of them are going to be productive.
I think that’s the case here. I think we have enough numbers that the law of averages is on our side.
How many games have you missed in 46 years?
About 15. I haven’t missed any since they opened Citizens Bank Park in 2004. The only times I’ve missed was when my father passed away, when my father-in-law passed away, for my kids’ graduations. And when I was doing play-by-play for Penn football and Temple football, the Phillies allowed me to miss a couple of games to call those games. That was in the 70s and 80s. I’d say of the 15 games I’ve missed over 3,600 … I can’t make the claim that I’ve never missed a game, but I think I only missed one or two with illness.
Any idea what your current streak is?
I don’t know. It was probably my son graduating college … in May of 2002. I haven’t missed a game since then.
Do you have a favorite all-time Phillie?
Robin Roberts. He was my hero growing up, second to my father. I was such a big baseball fan. My father took me to Phillies games at Connie Mack Stadium. In the 50s there were a lot of great baseball players with Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson of the Dodgers and Roy Campanella, Duke Snyder, Don Newcombe. The Milwaukee Braves with Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron. But we had Robin Roberts, the top pitcher in the National League for the first half of that decade. What he did from '50-'55: he won 20 or more game sever year for 6 straight seasons. Nowadays if a pitcher throws 200 or more innings in a season he’s considered a workhorse. Robin Roberts threw 300 innings or more in each of those six years. He went 28-7 in ’52. And then later I had the privilege to announce him as a Wall of Fame.
Who is going to be the P.A. announcer when you get into the Wall of Fame?
I make no assumptions about that. But, I don’t know how that would work. … Maybe Chris Wheeler, he does the P.A. in Clearwater.
***For more on Baker, check out his website. There's a bunch of great stuff on there.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21
Like the new PhillyVoice Sports page on Facebook.