INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- What were you doing 50 years ago? For those who have been around long enough to even consider that question, the answer is probably a bit hazy. Not so for Indianapolis Indians broadcaster Howard Kellman, who can tell you exactly what he was up to: Working tirelessly
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- What were you doing 50 years ago? For those who have been around long enough to even consider that question, the answer is probably a bit hazy. Not so for Indianapolis Indians broadcaster Howard Kellman, who can tell you exactly what he was up to: Working tirelessly to secure a Minor League Baseball broadcasting job.
That mission was successful, as Kellman was hired by the team that he still calls games for today, and he's now on the cusp of his golden anniversary season. Kellman’s remarkable longevity is comparable, on an individual level, to the Indianapolis Indians themselves. The team, Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates since 2005, has operated continuously since 1902.
Kellman grew up in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay neighborhood rooting for the New York Yankees. He was nine years old when his hero Roger Maris hit his 61st home run in 1961, an event he says he “remembers like it was yesterday.” He went on to make his broadcasting debut while attending Brooklyn College, calling basketball and football games for St. John’s University. Baseball remained his first love, however, and he was hellbent on breaking into the industry.
“In the fall of ’73, as I began my senior year of college, I wrote to every Minor League Baseball team, inquiring about a broadcast opening. 110 letters,” said Kellman, speaking last month prior to a game at Indianapolis’s Victory Field. “I was really naïve. I figured that the reason I didn’t get more responses was because the letters were being lost in the mail.”
25 teams got back to Kellman and, of those, only three said they had a job available. Indianapolis, where Kellman's hero Roger Maris played in 1956, was one of those teams. Looking to impress, Kellman sent Indians president Max Schumacher a reel-to-reel tape of him calling the eighth inning of a September 1973 game between the Yankees and Red Sox. He recorded this sample of his work within an empty broadcast booth at Yankee Stadium, having gained access after writing George Steinbrenner a letter about his career aspirations.
Schumacher offered Kellman a job in February of 1974, and on April 17 of that season he called the first of what has now been approximately 6,700 games. The Indians were then a Reds affiliate, members of the (now-defunct) Triple-A American Association who played their home games at Bush Stadium.
“We didn’t draw many people except on special nights, which were free nights,” he recalled. “We’d have UAW Night; Stokely-Van Camp Night; Standard-Del Farm, a grocery chain. We’d draw large crowds for those, but the typical crowd was just a couple thousand people.”
Better times were ahead, as the Indians won five American Association titles during the 1980s alone. The last four of these, won consecutively from 1986-89, came when the Indians were an affiliate of the Montreal Expos.
“Oh, that was a special time,” said Kellman, who can recount games, dates and players with uncanny specificity. “Randy Johnson was here for all of 1988 and for three weeks in ’89. He started with Montreal, struggled, was optioned to Indianapolis. I believe it was Memorial Day weekend, a Saturday, we were in Rochester and got word that he’d been traded to Seattle. Larry Walker was here most of 1989. ’88 he was supposed to be here but tore up his knee and missed the whole season.
"Those were special teams. Everybody [on the Indians] was, ‘The big leagues will take care of itself. It’s about winning and being a team.’ And that was so great, with all the turnover in Minor League Baseball, that we could win championship after championship.”
A lot of turnover, but one constant: Razor Shines, an infielder who played in Indianapolis in nearly every season from 1984-93. Kellman calls him “the most popular player in Indians history,” noting that he is one of only two players honored with their own day at the ballpark (the other, which Kellman recalls with no hesitation, was Frank Sigafoos in 1933).
“He was a good player who got a lot of clutch hits. Switch-hitter, but natural left-handed hitter, which was unusual,” said Kellman. “In 1984 he was our team MVP. Three or four weeks into the season our PA announcer Kurt Hunt says ‘Now batting Rrr-azor Shines.’ Razor lined a ball into the gap for a double, crowd was buzzing. … It just caught on and people around the city would go ‘Rrr-azor Shines.’ That helped his popularity.”
Kellman spent the first 22 years of his Indianapolis tenure at Bush Stadium, which has since been turned into an apartment complex.
“We [the Indians] were at Bush Stadium from 1931 through July 3, 1996,” he said. “Baseball is about childhood memories, and a lot of people wanted to refurbish Bush Stadium. They grew up here. Max [Schumacher] grew up here. But he had the vision to say, ‘No, we need a downtown ballpark.’ And it’s just been a huge success.”
The Indians switched to the International League in 1998, and two years later, won what remains their most recent championship (the sixth of Kellman’s tenure). Their current affiliation with Pittsburgh began in 2005, and one of the highlights of this era was watching Andrew McCutchen put the pieces in place to become a star player. Kellman’s now excited for the team’s players who are on their own ascendant path, citing Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis as standouts from the ’23 campaign.
As the years progressed, Kellman realized that he had not just found a job in Indianapolis. He’d found a home. In addition to his long run with the Indians, he has juggled an array of sports media gigs in the city while also working as a motivational speaker. He says that while he was “very close” to big league jobs in the 1980s, he eventually realized that “I’ve got a great situation. I don’t have to leave.”
Speaking of big league jobs, Kellman has had the opportunity to call games for both of New York City’s MLB teams. He did some fill-in work for the Mets radio booth in 2014, and on Sept. 2 of last season he called a Yankees game against the Rays in Tampa Bay.
“Growing up a Yankees fan, it was a big kick to do that. I started there [at Yankee Stadium] 50 years ago doing play-by-play in a vacant broadcast booth,” he said. “So it’s been wonderful being in Indianapolis all these years. It’s been absolutely sensational.”
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.