Howard Kellman: AAA Baseball Broadcast Mainstay; 43 happy seasons and counting!

Brooklyn bred, he's still living his dream, calling a full season of baseball

In 1974, Howard Kellman, then a budding baseball play-by-play announcer fresh out of Brooklyn College, left New York on an unknown journey, one he hoped would be a short hop or two to his first major league job. The journey began with a brimming tank of gas that drove him to his first stop. For a callow announcer who had only limited professional experience, AAA Indianapolis was a lofty entry point.

Howard  was appointed Voice of the Indians not long before Richard Nixon was forced to leave the White House. As it turned out, Kellman’s journey to happiness didn’t require as much as another fill-up. Eight presidents and 44 years later, he’s still in IndyFrom a wealth perspective, the S&P was 92 when he unpacked his bags. It’s now roughly 2,750. 

Although Kellman may not have made millions in AAA salary, money as they say, doesn’t buy happiness. It also doesn’t bring the joy of doing baseball on radio every day, covering players on the precipice of Major League ballparks. The buses and occasional flights that connect through Detroit are hardly the chartered flights of big-leaguers who dine with silver utensils and linen napkins. Still, a microphone is a microphone. Satisfaction is painting pictures and spinning yarns.

Yet, Indianapolis is bigger than Major League markets like San Diego, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Milwaukee. So don’t mistake it for a minor league town. The city also has hosted a Super Bowl and several Final Fours.

Howard also found out that working in the minors requires more than just announcing skills. He’s learned to sell advertising and sponsorships, just to keep the broadcasts afloat. Kellman also had to survive a couple of seasons (1975 and 80) when the Indians couldn’t land a radio station to carry their games. 

Kellman absorbs stories and anecdotes like a sponge. He delivers them on-air, knowing that baseball on radio is a storyteller’s medium. While everyday baseball is his passion, he’s also pretty good doing basketball and football. They love their high school sports in the Hoosier State and he calls championship games on television. The Brooklyn  native also puts his storytelling to work on the speaking tour where he regales and inspires corporate groups and associations. 

On the ‘This Day in Baseball History’ feature this past Saturday, his sidekick Andrew Kappas, recounted the story of the late and eccentric Jimmy Piersall who hit his 100th career homer in 1963 as a Mets outfielder. Piersall ran the base paths in the right direction but did so backwards. Kellman, remembering the moment from his New York youth, jumped in immediately: “Yes, Mets’ manager Casey Stengel wasn’t amused. A couple days later, he dropped Piersall, saying,  `If there’s gonna be a clown on the ball club, I’m it.'”

All these decades later, Kellman sounds fulfilled, feels accomplished and has few regrets. Gone are the days of the cacophony of New York clunkers that hunk around potholes and gridlocked streets. Even if Kellman’s sheet music isn’t the chorus of race cars that whisk around the Indy 500, what’s pleasing to his ear is the summer-full rhythmic sound of bats meeting balls. 

From a tenure standpoint , Kellman is part of Indianapolis’ sports broadcast tapestry. There’s Don Fischer, forever the Voice of the Hoosiers, Mark Boyle, who has presided over Pacers radio since the 80s and Bob Lamey, who’s emoted behind the  Colts’ mic  through seasons thick and thin.

Kellman’s time in grade and accomplishments haven’t gone unnoticed. On July 27th he will be honored at his home park, Victory Field, with the Spirit of the International League Award.

I remember when Howard took off on the unpredictable journey.  There was a group of us at the time following CUNY  (City University of New York) basketball in those years; Barry Kipnis, an exceptional broadcaster then and a banker now; Mickey Morabito, Hunter College’s team manager and now the longtime traveling secretary of the Oakland A’s; Andy Furman, Hunter’s PR man, now a talk host nationally on Fox Sports Radio and Myron Rushetzky, sports writer for CCNY’s The Campus and recently retired from the city desk of the New York Post. Oh yes, in addition to Kellman, there was Queens College’s Howie Rose, now radio voice of the New York Mets.

Kellman and I caught up recently. He reflects on his long career and his mostly ups and occasional downs along the way.

You’re a Brooklyn boy. It sounds like you picked yourself up and moved to Indianapolis, sight unseen. What was it like?

I was fortunate to broadcast St. John’s basketball on radio while I was in my junior year at Brooklyn College. During the beginning of my senior year, I wrote a letter to every Minor League Baseball team…there were about 110 teams then (1973) and there were three job openings; one of which was in Indianapolis. I sent the Indians an inning of play-by-play from a Yankees-Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium. I was hired in February, 1974. 

So 45 years ago, you chase your dream. You wanted to be a baseball announcer. Now you’re entrenched. In your wildest imagination, would you have envisioned being In Indianapolis all these years? 

No, I thought I would be there for several years since I was 22 when I moved to Indianapolis. I was hopeful of getting a major league job when I was in my 30’s.  As it turns out, things have worked out very well. Broadcasting baseball on a daily basis is the thing I have always wanted to do, more than anything else for a living or a hobby.

New York had Mel Allen, Red Barber, the first two Ford Frick Award winners. There were others too like Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson and Phil Rizzuto. Who did you like?

I had two favorites, Mel Allen and Phil Rizzuto. Each had infectious enthusiasm and a great knowledge of the game. I learned so much about baseball from listening to Mel and the Scooter.

Any veteran big-league broadcaster, past or present, whose assistance you cherished? I know Ernie Harwell meant a lot to you.

Ernie and Marty Glickman would critique my tapes and were very helpful. I once asked Ernie what to do if someone I was interviewing said something that was incorrect. Ernie said, “Let it go, because it is better to be kind than to be right.” I said, “Ernie, that was not exactly our motto in the schoolyards of New York.” Ernie and Marty both spent a great deal of time with me and I think of both of them quite frequently. I am friendly with a number of current MLB broadcasters and enjoy listening to them on SiriusXM Radio.

At what point, did you say to yourself, ‘I will no longer pursue major league jobs and why?’

I was among the finalists for MLB jobs in Milwaukee in 1982, Minnesota in 1983, St. Louis in 1984, Cleveland in 1985 and ’88 and Baltimore in 1987. In 1990, I was hired to announce the High School Football and Basketball Game of the Week on Television in Central Indiana…which I still do to this day. That was when I took a step back and said to myself that I have a great situation here in Indianapolis and there is no need to leave. I did not look at any other jobs for close to 20 years. I did get the itch and put my name out there for MLB jobs after announcing the Triple-A World Series on ESPN from 2006-2008. 

Who are your favorite MLB announcers today?

There are so many good ones that if I start mentioning names I won’t slight one or two, I would slight many more than a handful and it would not be right.  This said, I would like to recognize Howie Rose  for recommending me to WOR and the Mets to do some fill-in work. Howie and I have been friends for many, many years, I enjoyed working with him.

You’re big on play-by-play fundamentals. Define what you mean when you say “active tense”; play-by-play presented rhythmically. Provide an example.  

Marty Glickman would broadcast basketball and say, “He shoots” as opposed to, “His shot is….While I do not do this on every pitch, I think it is good to say, “He winds and pitches .. “

Who are a few of the top players you’ve covered in Indy, those who’ve moved on to MLB careers?

Randy Johnson is number one; he pitched for the Indianapolis Indians in 1988 & ’89. We could see that he had a great arm but there are a lot of pitchers with great arms who never develop fastball command. George Brett played 3B for the Omaha Royals in the first game I ever broadcast  in Indianapolis. In 1986, two future Hall of Famers, Barry Larkin and Greg Maddux played and pitched against the Indians. Lots of terrific players…eight Championships…but the single biggest thrill for me remains doing the job on a daily basis.

Is there a funny AAA experience you cherish, one that a major league play-by-play announcer would never have had? 

I never had to “pull the tarp” like some announcers do in the lower minor leagues. In 1993, I was doing a pre game interview with pitcher Jerry Spradlin on a very windy day in Oklahoma City and my hair piece flew right off! Jerry was a kind man and picked it up and handed it back to me! Fortunately in 2008, my wife, Robin, convinced me to get rid of it. Smartest thing I ever did because since I ditched it, “I have a lot less overhead! “

How difficult is the travel at the AAA level? Are the bus trips tedious? Can you stretch out or are the seats standard?

The bus trips can be challenging but what is much more difficult are the 3 and 4 AM wake-up calls and taking two flights on a given day. For the last several years, we have had “sleeper buses” that have bunks. Just about all of us in the traveling party would much prefer sleeper buses to the early wake-up calls.

You’ve always been a diet and health freak. Still, you suffered an unsuspecting heart attack a couple years ago. Have you completely recovered and has it changed your lifestyle?

I have been a health conscious individual because heart disease runs in my family. I thought that with a good diet and consistent exercise I would not have the issues with heart disease that my father and his brother had. I was wrong.  I had a heart attack a little over two years ago. It happened at the ballpark in Indianapolis before a game and I got great medical attention.  Fortunately, no damage was done to my heart so when I have an EKG done it does not even show that I had a heart attack. I feel great and have not had to change my lifestyle at all. I exercise every day and watch my diet. The one change I did make was now I take a baby aspirin and a low dose of a statin every day.

You’re often called upon to do inspirational speaking.  What kind of groups do you address and what’s your general mission?

I do three different kinds of speeches, two of which are motivational: “Becoming a Champion” and “Leadership & Teamwork.” The other speech is strictly entertainment: “The Humorous Side of Sports.” The speeches are about athletes and coaches in the major sports and state associations like the fact that I customize my talks about athletes and coaches in whatever state I am speaking. Most of my speeches are to associations and corporations. Each has its own set of challenges which I address after I ask a series of questions. I often use quotes and here are two of my favorites.  Joe Maddon said, “Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.” Along those same lines, comes one from  Willie Stargell, who in addition to being a Hall of Fame player, was a great leader. Willie said, “The umpires don’t say work ball; they say Play Ball!” 

It is all about having fun!

David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Barry Kipnis
5 years ago

I have a picture of Howard and I standing behind the media table at the Hunter College gym (The Hawks Nest) that’s about 45+ years old. Long sideburns (hey, it was in style then) and definitely more hair (and it was real too). My congratulations to Howard for his incredible career in Indy and for his considerable achievements.