There was a time when I had the blissful objectivity of a child. That time was many years ago, when I was a child.
The voices coming through the TV and radio were authoritative entities, their words correct, their narration precise. Not only were they geniuses–it was amazing the stats they knew off the top of their heads–but they had enough personal history in the game to rattle off a solid rant here and there. Was there a real difference between Whitey going off about how the stupidity of a sacrifice bunt and my grandfather complaining about the… the, um…
Actually, my grandfather was a depression-era gent and the fact that he was alive and comfortable was pretty much all he needed to never complain about anything. But the point is valid. These guys were the hosts of Phillies baseball, their voices a steady, soothing flow of information through the airwaves that kept my child brain up to date. By the time I learned they had faces and names, I had already established my own vision of what they looked like. I was way off. None of them were the Phanatic.
And then, they started dying. First, Whitey went when I was in third grade. I remember because I had a Hall of Fame commemorative poster of him that my dog happened to chew the corner off the very day of his passing. Why she switched her chewings from neighborhood children to my personal belongings on that particular day remains a mystery.
Then, of course, Harry died when I was in college. I was standing in a corridor on Temple campus, waiting for some self-absorbed, ironically mustachioed hipster film student to drop off a lighting kit when somebody from inside the film office shouted “Harry Kalas died.” Being at work, I didn’t really have the reaction I could have had.
Yet there was a very specific collapse of my guts in that moment that stays with me to this day. I can’t guarantee that fleeing to South Street for some day drinking was “…what Harry would have wanted,” like I explained to my boss, but that’s how we were forced to remember him.
And now, Andy Musser, whom I instinctively remember as “the radio guy.” In my adolescent mind, I had set roles for the core group of four broadcasters I had come to know: Harry was the leader; stoic and golden.
Whitey was his second-in-command and comic relief–not so much in a Larry Anderson way, but in his own curmudgeonly way that would have him remaining silent for innings at a time; stuff that, if it happened on air today, would result in a nervous young producer having to explain to him that “…that’s just not how we do things,” followed by Whitey probably getting up and leaving to smoke a cigar.
Wheels sounded–and still does–like a little kid wearing a colorful striped beanie who had been allowed into the booth and was just jazzed at the opportunity. Despite not really being that young, his tone and enthusiasm gave him a youthful quality that made him seem like he was an heir apparent being raised by Harry and Whitey (despite them hating him in real life).
Finally, Andy Musser, the aforementioned “radio guy.” He did the radio.
His “old-timey showman” voice sounded like it had to be wound up with a crank before his classic notes would touch the mic. Harry and Whitey’s voices take me back to night games in ’93, but Andy Musser always puts me on my living room floor, the carpet soaking up the late afternoon sun, the hum of familial post-dinner chore coming from the kitchen. Most of it were complaints as to why I was not helping. I’d swear I’d be in at the next commercial, but all knew. It would take a lot more than a Kevin Stocker Phillies Franks commercial to get me off the rug.
And now, each time one of these gents dies, we’re crammed back into the past, when we were closest with them. Which is nice, but nothing will ever come close to having your baseball explained to you by such a melodious gallery of voices and personalities.
Even if none of them were the Phanatic.