A field where Andy doesn’t have to deal with bad hops

Richie Ashburn was an orange juice and ice tea man.

Harry Kalas is a vodka drinker.

And Andy Musser – a glass of milk?

In fact, the unassuming, almost-gentle longtime Phillies broadcaster is a beer man. At last count, he’s visited 312 brewpubs. His cellar is filled with vintage beers. He owns a piece of Center City’s Dock Street Brewery & Restaurant. He’s a veritable East Coast ambassador for San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing.

Let there be no mistake, he proclaimed during a recent lunch:

“I AM A HOPHEAD!”

In the words of the late, great Harry Caray, Holy cow! I haven’t heard such forceful language from Andy’s tongue since he described the climactic home run that Mike Schmidt hit off of Montreal’s Stan Bahnsen to clinch the divisional championship back in 1980. “He buried that ball!” Musser cried.

He smiles when I remind him of that call. “The emotion of the moment overwhelmed me,” he says, almost apologetically, a half-generation later.

This would have been the trio’s 23rd season together.

Richie, who passed away last summer, was lionized. Harry is loved.

Andy, we hardly know you.

A quick anecdote:

Last season, during a Phillies-Rockies game in Denver, Musser is doing the middle three innings. Afterward, he takes off his earphones and wanders out to the right field line, where the Sandlot Brewery overlooks the field. Denver, of course, is a happening beer town; once, he and a couple friends visited 12 of the city’s brewpubs in a single day. Anyway, on this afternoon, the sun is shining, the crowd is cheering and the thwack of a fastball hitting the catcher’s mitt is echoing through Coors Field. It’s right out of “Field of Dreams.” Musser grabs a pint and settles in. “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” he remembered. “Then a guy from Philly comes up and says, `Hey, I know you – you’re Bill Giles.’ ”

Despite all the years behind the mike, Musser has enjoyed only a portion of the warmth that fans have given Richie and Harry. Maybe he’s suffered from comparison with two of the greatest announcers in baseball history. Maybe he’s suffered from his own low-key approach to describing America’s pastime.

Other announcers – especially ex-players – amuse listeners with anecdotes and inside strategy. Musser seems satisfied with musing about the slow-paced action on the field. He speaks wistfully of baseball’s charm, of finding joy in the game even amid the many years of awful Phillies baseball. His advice to Ashburn’s replacement, Larry Anderson, is telling: “Let the game come to you.”

But beer, now that’s another matter.

Musser is ravenous about searching for good brew, and he’s completely earnest when he tells you, “I have very strong opinions about beer.” He likes them bitter and he likes them fresh.

It started on a West Coast road trip, driving on an off-day from San Diego to L.A. In Newport Beach, he pulled into a joint called the Rusty Pelican. “I ask the waitress what they had on tap, and she tells me there’s a new one from San Francisco – Anchor Steam. I took one sip and it was like looking across the room at your first love – unforgettable.”

Musser has been a disciple for Anchor brewer Fritz Maytag’s trend-setting lager since. Before Anchor became widely available in the East, Musser would load up Phillies charter flights with cases for the trip back home. He’s collected years of the brewery’s annual holiday Our Special Ale, carefully cellaring them and pulling them out for special occasions. He wears a jacket with Anchor’s logo on the back.

A while ago, a grateful Maytag gave the announcer a box of business cards describing Musser as his “East Coast Brewcaster.”

“If someone ever told me, `You can have one beer before you go,’ ” Musser said, “I’d have an Anchor Liberty Ale. If someone said I had to drink the same beer for the rest of my life, I’d say Anchor Steam.”

Musser – fit and trim as a marathon runner – looks like he has plenty of beer-drinking to go. He celebrated his recent 60th birthday – yes, 60 – by taking his wife to Sugar Mom’s, the Old City beer bar. “She didn’t enjoy it as much as I did,” he confessed.

But like any earnest hophead, he won’t give up preaching to the unconverted.

He got Whitey Rigsby, his color partner on Villanova basketball broadcasts, to give up his Coors Light. Now, he’s a Red Hook fan. Kalas, though, is one of his failures – Anchor is too bitter for him. As for the players, forget em. Most are young guys happy to cool off with a can of light. (Pitcher Mark Portugal is the exception, Musser said. “He’s a serious beer drinker.”)

Musser will head off to Florida for spring training next week – an enviable assignment after spending a rainy winter covering Big East hoops. But he shrugged it off.

“Yeah, Florida’s sunny, but the beer is lousy. All you ever get is Clearwater Light in a chilled mug. Yech.”

-30-

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *