This entry is the latest post from guest contributor Mike Murphy.
Upon entering the beautiful confines of Citizens Bank Park one can expect some delightful stimulation of the senses. A whiff of crab fries and cheesesteaks sparks your hunger. Then you take a look around at the people, a sea of red and white filing into their seats, along with the sight of grass so green you think you are at Augusta National.
But then you listen. You hear a booming voice. One that you are so used to at this point you might not give it too much thought. A voice that has style and life, emphasizing each syllable of a batter’s name as he strolls to home plate.
That voice belongs to Dan Baker.
For 45 years Baker has been in the public address box, and has witnessed some of Philadelphia’s greatest (and worst) baseball moments.
That voice was developed from a very young age, as his parents, Ed and Margery Baker, created a household in which he would learn to speak with perfect pronunciation and grammar.
“My mother and father were sticklers for elocution,” said Baker in an interview I conducted with him on my West Chester University sports talk radio show.
“You are accustomed to the environment in which you are raised. For myself, my brother Rick and sisters Sandy and Kim, our parents focused on making eye-contact with people when we spoke, making sure that our subjects and predicates were in agreement, that we pronounced every syllable in a word so that when each of us went to school we already were pretty good speakers.”
Those lifestyle practices have lived with Baker to this day, in his pronunciations of each ball player’s name. It’s almost so simple yet so unique to see in this day, given that public speaking is not what it used to be.
Baker’s journey to becoming the Phillies’ public address announcer was not simple in the least. A Philadelphia sports fan since childhood, Baker, much like the rest of us mere mortals, wanted to step on to the court or field with a Philadelphia franchise. He came to the realization that such goals were just a dream in high school and he set his sights on a different profession in sports.
He started to emulate announcers for the Phillies, Eagles and Warriors (the current Golden State Warriors) as he watched on television and listened to the radio. He had an epiphany. “I thought to myself, ‘Boy this wouldn’t be such a bad life either.’”
After graduating from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University), Baker taught English for 12 years in Philadelphia at the Landis School, and later the Smith School. He fueled his broadcasting fire on the side by spotting for visiting NFL announcers coming to Philadelphia and doing radio broadcasts to gain experience.
Baker was always an excellent with networking and creating opportunities to have his voice heard. In the fall of 1971 he was finally given the opportunity he had dreamed for.
“Pat Cassidy, then director of stadium operations, at Veterans Stadium for the Phillies, told me the Phillies were contemplating making a change in PA announcers,” Baker said. “1971 was the first year the Phillies played at the Vet. The Phillies were looking to make a change from the opening year of ’71 into the 1972 season. They interviewed a few people including myself, and thankfully Bill Giles hired me and that was the catalyst for a lot of nice things that would eventually happen with me.”
If Baker is able to continue his announcing for the next five seasons, he will become one of three public address announcers ever in the MLB, to announce for a half-century. The others are the legendary Bob Sheppard of the New York Yankees (1951-2007, 57 years) and Pat Pieper of the Chicago Cubs (1916-1974, 59 years).
Another iconic Philadelphia voice, Harry Kalas, shared the same stadium with Baker, he was just broadcasted to a different audience. At first Baker was not sure what to think of Kalas when he was first brought to the booth, but his appreciation grew tenfold as he got to know the fellow team ambassador.
“I admired him so much, and the irony is that when Harry first came to town I was not inclined to be a fan,” he said.
“Because I admired the fella that he replaced, Bill Campbell. I admired Bill so much.
“But Harry was such a great talent,” he added. “Besides his enormous talent, (I loved) the excitement in his voice, the way he was able to anticipate plays, whether a ball to the outfield had a chance to be in the gap or be a home run. All the signals to let you know that there could be a special play taking place.”
Beyond the talent, Baker saw another side to Kalas, one that he would imitate in his own life.
“I did pay very close attention to Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn, and I saw that not only were they so talented on the air, they brought a wonderful sense of humor to the broadcast as well. But they took time to say hello to everyone. They would sign for autographs when they were requested, they would pose for pictures, and they were just great ambassadors for the Phillies,” Baker said. “I have tried to emulate them in that regard. Trying to take the time to speak with anybody who is kind enough to say hello, or if they have questions I try to answer them. I think that is a very important part of doing your job well.”
Along with doing Phillies games, Baker manned the public address microphone for the Philadelphia Eagles for 29 seasons (1985-2014).
In his life he has done PA for five World Series (1980, 1983, 1993, 2008, 2009), three NFC Championship games (2002, 2003, 2004), and two MLB All-Star games (1976 and 1996), and has a place in the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.
His genuine personality coupled with his stylistic voice make Baker an immortal in Philadelphia sports history.