Defining success is far more subjective than identifying the keys to obtaining it. For Tom McCarthy, the ingredients have been simple – preparation, work ethic, and treating people the way you would like to be treated.
A New Jersey native, McCarthy is recognizable to eyes and ears as the play-by-play television broadcaster for the Philadelphia Phillies. He also calls games for the NFL on Westwood One and NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament games for CBS.
But it was not his booming voice that ignited a successful career in sports communications. McCarthy’s climb began in college, by putting pen to paper and his nose to the grindstone.
Q: People see you on television and hear you on the radio today, but there was a lot of work to get to your current position in broadcasting. Can you summarize the path that led to where you are today?
TM: Funny, I never set out to be a broadcaster, even though it was always in the back of my mind. I, truly, went to college to play baseball and to be a doctor. But when I was cut from the baseball team at Trenton State College, I was kind of lost. I was going to transfer to Montclair, but decided not to do it. I kind of fell into the broadcasting thanks to my writing career. I had a buddy, Tom Campisi, who hired me to write for the Hopewell Valley News. After doing that during my freshman year, it led to me being hired at The Times of Trenton to answer phones. That led to writing stories and eventually being asked to do Trenton State College football on the radio, as the analyst, for $50 a game. That is where it started. And then gradually one thing kind of led to the other.
I stayed local, did a lot of high school and college games and talk shows, while also writing for the Trenton Times. My boss from The Times, Jim Gauger, let me do both, write and broadcast. And then each year, dominoes and fate started to fall into place and one job – The Times, New Jersey Network, WZBN in Trenton, WTTM in Trenton – led to the Thunder job. And that job led to so many opportunities. But there were decisions to be made. I was offered President positions with Minor League teams that I turned down because I wanted to broadcast. And one day, Rory McNeil from the Phillies called and asked if I wanted to try out for the pre- and postgame show. He had heard my ESPN Talk show and broadcasts of games. And that was where my ascension led to the job I have now.
Q: If you can think back to the early stages of your career, what was the most important component to your progress?
TM: The word “yes” even if I had no idea how to do something. Plus, flexibility, work ethic and a wife that understood!! Truly. Every time someone asked me to broadcast a game or work on a holiday, she said “OK.” The only thing she asked was that we didn’t move. And even though I was offered several jobs, play-by-play opportunities, and talk show opportunities – away from New Jersey, I didn’t take them. But anything else, she was like “go for it.” Although she didn’t want me to give up the position with the Thunder. But that’s because we had a young family.
Q: You’ve held a variety positions. How did wearing so many different hats through your progression in sports communications help you professionally today?
TM: I think more than anything, it gave me an appreciation of what everyone else does to make a baseball game, a basketball game, or a football game work. I pulled tarps and threw down diamond dry, I sold advertising, I interviewed game-day employees for jobs, dealt with umpires, was an official scorer, covered a game for a paper – so I get what it takes. That has helped me understand people and what it takes to be good at so many jobs.
Q: Was there a particular setback that made things tough or made you question your career path?
TM: Probably when I had to turn down a couple of big jobs – in my mind – because we didn’t want to move. There was a huge setback when I was writer at The Times when I was a senior that I thought was the end of the world and I was angry, but that turned out to be the right move for everyone. Plus, I turned down the chance to run my own Minor League team in 1999, and subsequently, giving up the Assistant General Manager job with the Thunder to just be a broadcaster was scary. But it was the right decision. Someone told me, “Folks in the business don’t know whether you are a broadcaster or an administrator. You have to decide what you are.” So, I decided I was a broadcaster and that was scary, but at 30, I had to put the foot on the pedal!!!
Q: You have a reputation of being a “great guy,” very easy to get along with and willing to help. How has treating people nicely and with respect helped your day-to-day job?
TM: It’s enabled me to sleep well at night. Haaaaaa! Honestly, the easiest thing to do is to make people feel like what they do is the most important thing. David Montgomery taught me that. Plus, I have done a lot of what the people around me are paid, solely to do, and I know how hard it is and how important it is. So, I look at my job and my surroundings as a team effort. If they’re good at what they do or if the atmosphere is light and fun, then I am going to enjoy my job.
Q: Your son, Patrick, is following in your footsteps. What has your advice been to Pat as he begins his career?
TM: I told him to be himself. He has a lot of his Mom in him and a lot of me in him. And I think he has the good parts of us, so I know he will be respectful and comfortable in different surroundings. He knows that people will question why he is doing something, just like Tommy, but he doesn’t care. He knows that opportunities might come because of his name, but that he has a job to do. Pat is better than I am at his age. He is sharper. And he has better hair. I also told him – and sometimes he struggles with this because of his age – that he cannot compare himself with other folks. He can only compare himself to himself. That’s his sole competition.
Q: Finally, with the shutdown in sports, how is your schedule different and what have you been doing?
TM: Well, more than anything, I have more time with my kids. Like a lot of us. I get to spend more time with my wife. It’s hard, though because I think sports could help people through this time. And it will eventually. I am trying to think of ways to stay engaged with our fans and with the organization. But I am making sure my kids are focused on their tasks which is kind of cool. We are all together, which I think is the most important part of this whole adventure.