ANOTHER APRIL, another baseball season.
Andy Musser is downing a lunchtime brew, when I ask him if he misses it. The game, the players, the travel. The extra innings, the blow-outs, the 6-4-3. The chin music, the suicide squeeze, the inside-the-park home run. . .
“Baseball,” he says, “always meant a lot to me. I’ve always been a fan, even as a kid.
“But I’m not looking back.”
Andy Musser called it quits last summer. For the first time since he was a high school junior in Harrisburg, Pa., he isn’t spending his days and nights in the announcer’s booth. That’s almost 50 years behind a mike, calling plays.
He spent the last 26 of them at the Vet, doing Phillies play-by-play. He remembers the first one like it was yesterday.
“It was a Saturday home opener, and I had to take a red-eye back from Portland, Ore., where I was doing a Bulls game. . .
“The Phils were playing the Pirates. Johnny Oates was catching – he beat out Boone that year. And Dave Parker ran into him at the plate and broke his shoulder. Oates was never a No. 1 catcher again.”
You hear the memories, and you think that quitting would leave a hole. But you’re wrong. For Musser, there’s more to life than baseball.
Beer, for instance. Anchor Steam Beer.
It is Musser’s favorite beer, and that means something. The guy’s a hophead. He’s visited more breweries than ballparks. He was a part-owner of the now defunct Dock Street brewpub. He’s a guest speaker at beer-tastings. He’s a reg’lar in Philly’s beer bars. He knows his beer.
And so, this April, at the age of 64, Musser is swinging into a second career, as a beer rep, for San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing.
“It is truly a labor of love.”
When a guy starts talking about love in a bar, there’s usually tears or regret. But Musser is unabashed:
“It was 1974. I was living in San Diego, doing Chargers games. And I did USC football, too.
“One day, I was driving along the coast and I stopped in at a place in Newport Beach. I remember the place to this day: the Rusty Pelican.
“I ask the waitress what they have on tap, and she tells me they have something new from San Francisco. Anchor Steam.
“I take one sip, and it was like the old Ford commercial, where the lightbulb just goes on in your head. I never tasted anything like it.
“It was a life-changing experience.”
Those are strong words, and Musser pauses. He takes a sip and admires his glass.
“It is just such a fine beer. . .”
Then he continues.
“Whenever the Phils played at Candlestick, I’d try to stop in at the brewery. I took the tour a few times, then one day this woman asks me if I’d like to meet Fritz.”
Fritz Maytag, the father of the American microbrewing revolution. He took his family’s washing machine dough and saved the old Anchor brewery from extinction by reviving handcrafted Steam Beer. The success spawned 1,000 micros over the next 20 years.
“We started talking, and we just clicked,” Musser said. “Our birthdays are just 19 days apart. He’s a baseball fan, I’m a beer fan. A friendship just developed.
“In ’98, I was visiting him at his vineyard. We went to the World Series together. And he promises me, if I ever wanted to leave baseball and come to work for him, he’d find something for me to do. . .
“It turned out to be a godsend.”
A man turns 60, he’s got some tough decisions to make. A job he’s had for a lifetime will come to an end. If not fear, it’s surely the loss of a love that makes him worry, “What’s next?”
Maytag’s offer stuck with Musser, but he still had his doubts.
“I was told that beer’s kind of a dirty business,” he says. “You know, someone’s always asking for free kegs, or something.
“Plus, I always loved beer, so I was worried about making it a job.”
(Indeed, Musser praises competitors – Downingtown’s Victory Brewing, for example – with as much enthusiasm as he has for Anchor.)
Meanwhile, baseball – especially Phillies baseball – was taking its toll. Not just the travel and the late nights and the long, long season. I did a quick check and figured that during his career, Musser broadcast something like 2,000 Phillies losses.
And every one of them hurt.
“It always ticked me off when we lost, and I felt depressed. I did 1,000 games I hated, when you’re down 10-3 and you’re trying to make it sound interesting.”
He called Fritz Maytag and said, “Yes.”
“Basically, I’m at Fritz’s disposal – whatever he wants me to do.”
That means spreading the Anchor Steam gospel, of course. But Maytag isn’t just about beer. Lately, Musser has been carting around $90 bottles of Maytag’s Old Portrero single malt, an all-rye whiskey from Anchor’s micro-distillery. At 124 proof, it’s a liquid thermo-nuclear device with a ton of flavor.
“It’s the whiskey our forefathers drank,” says Musser.
“This is the thing I like about Fritz. He makes products with integrity. It’s why you’ll never see an Anchor beer in a can. You’ll never see an Anchor Light. Just true, traditional products. That’s integrity.”
Musser drains the rest of his beer. I get in touch with Maytag.
“I decided Andy’s just about the most excellent gentleman I’ve ever known,” Maytag says. “I really admire him. I just loved sitting in the announcing booth and listening to him. He has a quality of integrity, an old-fashioned honorable attitude toward sports. I think it’s fantastic.
“We became personal friends, and he helped me with a project or two, just as a favor.
“Then the idea came up to have him as a consultant, a representative, a diplomat – I don’t know what to call him. Ambassador, trouble-shooter, sales assistant. . .
“He just has an enthusiasm. There are people who are beer guys and there are people who aren’t. Beer guys are down-to-earth, not self-important, helpful, relaxed. It’s just hard to explain.”
But it’s not.
“Andy,” says Maytag, “is a beer guy.”
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Anchor Steam.