MCCARTHY A MOST-DESERVING TRENTON BASEBALL HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE

The other day, a friend from South Jersey – an ardent Phillies fan – asked me what I thought of Phillies TV voice Tom McCarthy.

        I thought for a minute, back to the day he joined our sports staff at The Times of Trenton, when he was still a student at The College of New Jersey.

        “Tommy McCarthy?  I’m really proud of him,’’ I said with a straight face. “He’s one of the best, and not just when he’s calling Phillies games of Comcast SportsNet or WPHL (Channel 17).’’

        “You really think highly of him?  I see that,’’ my friend said.

        “Absolutely,’’ I said. “Not only is he a terrific broadcaster, but a terrific guy as well.’’

        What makes McCarthy, who turned 43 this past July 5, such a winner?  Let’s turn the clock back a few months.  The place was Cedar Gardens in Hamilton. The affair McCarthy’s annual dinner for the Allentown (N.J.) High baseball team, the locale in which he and his family reside.

         The dinner, which featured such luminaries as former Thunder manager and Boston bench coach DeMarlo Hale and former Phillies reliever and MLB Network personality Mitch Williams, gave the Allentown program support, but that was just the start.

         When one just sat there and took it all in, noticing the smiles, excitement and appreciation on the faces of Allentown’s players, their parents and their coaches – and the way McCarthy gently talked to many youngsters – the scene was perfect.

         Perfect for the latest addition to the Trenton Baseball Hall of Fame, which McCarthy joins Thursday night at Waterfront Park prior to the Thunder’s game with the Reading Phillies.

         Believe it or not, McCarthy, still affectionately known among his friends as “Boog,’’ despite his present slim-and-trim look, was assigned Mercer County field hockey as a beat at The Times. That’s what we needed at that juncture.  McCarthy dutifully filled that beat, but also was quick to remind what his goal was.

        “I want to be a broadcaster,’’ he said.

        A few years later, when a group of men from the area purchased the London (Ont.) Tigers and moved the Double-A Eastern League franchise to Trenton to become the Thunder, McCarthy quickly pursued the broadcast possibilities.

        It all worked out – Tom is the one who first introduced me to Sam Plumeri Sr. telling me what a great guy he was – and McCarthy was named the Thunder’s first Director of Public Relations and broadcaster.

        On a chilly April 1994 night in Harrisburg’s ballpark – then known as RiverSide Stadium – McCarthy called his first professional baseball game with colleague Nick Simonetta at his side. A player named Kelly O’Neal, a Detroit farmhand like his teammates, was the Thunder’s first-ever hitter.

        McCarthy’s call was strong and solid. He spent a lot of time in those early days reporting on the construction of Waterfront Park, which didn’t open until May 9. He doubled as both a broadcaster and a publicist during a challenging time for the new franchise.

        Ironically, the construction delays at Waterfront Park forced the Thunder to play a series with the Canton-Akron Indians – the predecessor to the Akron Aeros  – in Veterans Stadium, then the home of the Phillies.

        “It’s nice to call a game in a big-league stadium,’’ said McCarthy at the time. “Someday, this is where I’d like to be all the time.’’

         Following six seasons with the Thunder, during which he received a promotion to assistant general manager, McCarthy left the club, then a Red Sox affiliate, and got his break, spending five seasons (2001-05) as a Phillies radio play-by-play voice and pre- and postgame host.

        “I wanted to broadcast full-time,’’ he said then. “I had to take a chance.’’

         In addition to his baseball work, he was the voice of Princeton University football and basketball, calling the Tigers’ 43-41 upset of UCLA in 1996. Stints with Rutgers and ESPN Radio also were in the mix, as, over the years, were football assignments from CBS College Sports (then CSTV).

         The Atlantic 10n called. So did St. Joseph’s University, whose men’s basketball games McCarthy still calls. So did MLB Network, for which McCarthy and Boston Spanish broadcaster Uri Berenguer called the 2009 Caribbean Series via monitor at a studio in Secaucus.

         During four of his Thunder seasons, McCarthy worked with Andy Freed, who is now the voice of the Tampa Bay Rays.  There is little doubt McCarthy and Freed were one of the most talented duos ever to regularly work Double-A baseball.

         The two see each other often during spring training. While with the Thunder, they made a pact.

         “We both had the major leagues as our broadcasting goal,’’ said McCarthy. “ We made a promise that whoever made it to the major leagues first, would help the other the best we could.

         “Now that Andy and I are both where we want to be, it’s fun to stay in touch and reminisce. We had great times in Trenton.’’

          McCarthy took a position with the team he rooted for as a youth – the Mets – in 2006 – but returned to the Phillies, who offered a five-year contract, two seasons later.

          When the Mets were looking for a replacement for their WFAN broadcasts, McCarthy recommended Freed, who was honored, but politely declined to stay in the broadcast home he made for himself in Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater.

          Following the death of beloved Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, McCarthy took over as the team’s main TV voice.  He is one of just three major-league broadcasters – Tim McCarver and Todd Kalas, who now works with Tampa Bay – to call both the Mets and Phillies on a regular basis.

          It’s not easy, even with the Phillies becoming an elite team, for anyone to replace a legend like Kalas. I covered the Pittsburgh Pirates in the late 1970s when Milo Hamilton, a fine broadcaster who still calls Houston Astros games at age 83 – and is a fine broadcaster – tried to replace a fired Bob Prince in Pittsburgh.

          McCarthy, however, is up to the task. He works with his on-air analysts better than anyone.

          Honors such as Thursday’s are earned only partially because of your public persona.  Fans don’t often see the McCarthy who is the devoted family man to lovely wife, Meg, and their four children. They don’t see the man who gives back to Allentown High’s baseball program willingly and effortlessly.

         So, Thunder fans, the cheers for McCarthy will be many Thursday night. They are deserved, for what this gentleman – and he is that to highest degree – does publicly on the airwaves, but also what he does personally behind the scenes.

        No doubt a Hall-of-Famer.

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