Thursday, April 16, 2009

Replacing Harry? Impossible. So, don't even try.

Although I've had a few conversations about who will be the next lead broadcaster for the Phillies, I haven't wanted to organize my thoughts enough for post (even a brief one). Instead, I wanted to spend a few days casually reading through the remembrances and obituaries; and thinking back on my own fond memories, including listening to the replay on radio of the shootout in Chicago (1979's 23-22 victory) as Harry described the action.

And of the pieces I've read so far (the sheer volume of the memories speaks to how beloved Harry was), the ones by Doug Glanville in the NYT and ESPN's Jayson Stark are my favorites.

I'm willing to contemplate the future without Harry in the booth. I'm just not willing to look forward to it.

Of the current announcers, it's clear that Tom McCarthy has the voluble personality, easygoing manner, and love of the game to be successful for a long time. Indeed, Fox Sports has already identified him as an upcoming star by tapping him for national broadcasts. And that's great. He'll probably have a very fruitful career, but I just don't see him as a Philadelphia guy, even if he stays here for 40 years. Maybe it's his time with the Mets. Maybe it's his easygoing, open personality.

We're just not as nice as Tom McCarthy is seems to be. And that niceness will always seem to a Philadelphian (and especially a Phillies fan) like a lack of passion. So, he feels like a bit of an outsider to this Phillies fan. Of course, time can change that perception. And certainly, Tom's pairing with Gary Mathews on the telecasts has dramatically improved Sarge's performance in the booth.

Chris Wheeler is now the elder statesman of the group, and I'm hopeful that somehow all of this will dampen the (to my mind) inexplicable venom he has generated among a small group of fans. I'm not a huge fan of Wheeler, but I respect his willingness to call out a player who's underproducing, and I refuse to blame him for not having the same rapport with Harry that Richie Ashburn did. That's just not fair to Wheeler. As for succeeding Harry, well, obviously that won't be Wheeler. First, he's a color guy who sometimes does play-by-play. Second, that small minority of fans who hate Wheeler is very vocal, and especially following such a loss, the Phillies family doesn't need a feud.

In the interim, I expect McCarthy and Wheeler to pair up for the 7th-9th stint, but long-term neither mantel will truly inherit Harry's spot.

There's been talk, of course, of bringing in Harry's son, Todd (who calls the Tampa Bay Rays' games), and while baseball announcing has become something of a family business in the past few years, I don't know whether Todd would even be interested in the position. It certainly would be a characteristic move by the Phillies to keep things within the family, but I've always thought sons who follow in their fathers' footsteps too closely are burdened with the dual curse of being loved by half the fans solely for reminding them of the father and being written off by the other half as the beneficiary of nepotism who never quite measures up to the old man.

The Phillies might, of course, go out and scour the country for a new voice, finding some youngster from a town as unlikely as Naperville, IL, to become the next voice of the Fightin's.

I do hope, however, that they'll give consideration to the remaining duo inside their current staple of broadcasters. Scott Frankze and Larry Andersen certainly have all the makings of a new generation of Harry and Whitey. The grizzled veteran who isn't afraid to speak his mind with a quick wit seems to thrive on the radio with Franzke's youthful exuberance. Great friendships (especially professional ones conducted largely in public) take time to develop, and this pair seems to have done just that over the past few seasons.

Of course, I haven't seen them broadcast a televised game together, and many (if not most) fans don't listen to the radio; so this pairing is relatively unknown in the area. But I'd like to see the Phillies try out this pair in prime time. If it works, all's the better. And if it fails, well, I hardly think Whitey or Harry would have objected to the attempt to re-create one of the great professional relationships in baseball broadcasting history.

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