For longtime Indianapolis Indians broadcaster Howard Kellman, Friday, June 4, will always be a day to remember.
The evening's ballgame in and of itself might not have been particularly noteworthy as the hometown Indians cruised to a satisfying but uneventful 5-0 victory. But what won't be found in the box score is that the June 4 contest marked Kellman's 5,000th game behind the microphone.
Five thousand ballgames! For those keeping score at home, that's nearly 50,000 innings and more than a million pitches. In this period of time, Kellman has seen his hometown team switch leagues (from American Association to International), affiliations (from Cincinnati to Montreal back to Cincinnati to Milwaukee to Pittsburgh) and facilities (from dilapidated Bush Stadium to state-of-the-art Victory Field).
The Indians honored Kellman in a pregame ceremony prior to the June 4 ballgame, commemorating a career with the franchise that dates back to 1974. Upon the conclusion of the ceremony, Kellman retreated to the concourse to sign copies of his new book 61 Humorous and Inspiring Stories I Learned From Baseball.
"For 35 seasons, Howard has done a tremendous job of informing and entertaining our fans. He's as good a broadcaster as there is in baseball," said Indians vice president and general manager Cal Burleson, whose time with the club parallels Kellman's. "[The 5000th game] was something we began to look forward to in the offseason, as a way to celebrate both Howard and the Indians. It was a nice bonus that it happened to dovetail with the book he had just written."
A long way from home
When Kellman began his employment with the Indians in 1974, there was certainly no indication that he'd go on to a career of such distinction and longevity. At the time, he was a recent graduate of Brooklyn College who had never lived away from home nor even attended a Minor League Baseball game. He wanted to break into the industry, though, and Indianapolis needed an announcer.
The team was impressed by Kellman's demo tape (calling an inning of a Yankees-Red Sox game), and they decided to give him a chance. The first game he ever worked was on April 20, 1974, with a young George Brett in the starting lineup for the opposing Omaha Royals.
"It was a dramatic change for me, moving from New York to Indianapolis, but the quality of baseball was good, and as a Cincinnati farm club during that time, we got to see some terrific players come through," recalled Kellman. "But there have been so many changes over the years, the biggest being our beautiful ballpark. The first year I was in Indianapolis we drew under 130,000 fans, but we've had several years at the new ballpark with over 600,000. I say 'new' even though at this point it's 14 years old. It's still beautiful."
No matter where the Indians happened to be taking the field, Kellman has had the opportunity to see a wide variety of future stars.
"We always knew that Randy Johnson would have a chance, though I'm not sure anyone envisioned just how good he would become," said Kellman of Johnson's stint with Indianapolis in 1988 and '89. "He's a cinch to be in the Hall of Fame, and the [Indianapolis] Indians haven't had a Hall of Famer since Harmon Killebrew. He played for the Indians in 1958."
Kellman mentions Larry Walker and Eric Davis as other notable players whom he had the pleasure to watch in Indianapolis, but stresses that one of his job's primary appeals is to illuminate the stories of every player on the roster.
"Even if a guy's not a prospect, he's still got a story. And one of the reasons the game of baseball is still such a joy to be around is you're surrounded by stories every day," said Kellman. "One of the greatest thrills and sources of enjoyment for me is to simply be at the ballpark, communicating with players, coaches and managers, and then incorporating these stories into the broadcast."
This strategy often pays unexpected dividends.
"One day, we were traveling to Evansville for a series, and a gentleman on the plane told our catcher, Don Werner, that he looked like Mickey Mantle," said Kellman. "I related the story on the air that evening, and then said, 'Speaking of Mantle, we could really use some power right now.' And wouldn't you know it, Donny then hit a homer to tie the game."
This anecdotal yet deeply prepared approach was exemplified by one of Kellman's friends and mentors, the late Ernie Harwell. Kellman got to know Detroit's Hall of Fame broadcaster during the 1981 baseball strike, when idle Major League announcing crews made a practice of working Minor League games. The two stayed in touch from that point on, and Harwell even wrote the forward to Kellman's recently published book.
"I felt that I was sitting in a clubhouse or in a dugout, having a conversation with my very close friend," wrote Harwell in the foreward's conclusion.
The Next Chapter?
Players come and players go, but Kellman has provided Indians fans with a long-time constant. He was behind the mic for perhaps the greatest moment in the team's history -- Game 7 of the 1986 American Association championship, when the team scored two runs in the ninth inning off of Rob Dibble to win the first of what turned out to be four consecutive league titles.
Kellman also recalls with fondness a game that occurred in Denver in 1992, when the Indians scored 13 unanswered runs over the final two frames in order to eke out an improbable 13-12 victory.
"There have just been so many great moments," he said.
Kellman's role with the Indians has led to many accolades and honors, including last year's induction into the Indiana Sportswriter and Sportscasters Hall of Fame. His prominence in the community and way with words has led to a side career as a motivational speaker, and "author" is now on his resume as well.
Kellman has enjoyed a stint as a Major League broadcaster (with the Chicago White Sox in 1984), and a recent gig calling the annual Triple-A Championship game on ESPN2 rekindled his desire to once again work on baseball's largest stage.
"I've been close to Major League Baseball jobs on a few occasions and have been inspired, over the last couple years, to once again put my name out there," he said. "If an opportunity came along, I'd certainly have to consider it."
"It would be wonderful to see Howard as a Major League broadcaster," said Burleson. "Moreover, it would be wonderful for the game of baseball to have someone of his ability and experience providing the play-by-play."