The Firing of Bill Campbell, brought to you by Schmidt’s Beer

Beer Week at PSH continues with the story of a new sponsor’s demands, the firing of the Dean and the beginning of our love affair with Harry Kalas.

The final game of the 1970 season marked the end of an era for the Philadelphia Phillies.  In the midst of a re-branding to attract younger fans, the Phillies would be leaving Connie Mack Stadium for the new Astroturfed, exploding scoreboarded, mini-skirted usherette filled Veterans Stadium; they’d updated this logo to a more stylized “P”; they’d be sporting red cleats for the first time in team history; they’d be introducing Phil and Phyllis; they’d be televising more games in ’71 than ever before and adding a 4th camera in addition to slow-mo replays; and they’d made an advertising deal with a new sponsor in C. Schmidt and Sons, the brewer of Schmidt’s Beer.

Another change Phillies fans would be “treated to” in 1971 was the voice of a new play-by-play announcer.  Prior to the start of the season, the Phillies announced that Bill Campbell, the Dean, would not be returning to the booth with By Saam and Richie Ashburn.  Since 1942, Bill Campbell had been the voice of Philadelphia sports.  His career in Philadelphia started at WCAU and in 1946 he became the play-by-play announcer for the expansion Philadelphia Warriors, a post he held until the team relocated to San Francisco in ’64.   He was also the play-by-play guy for the Eagles from 1952 to 1966 and did the same for the Phillies from 1963 to 1970.  He even called Big Five games.  If you watched or listened to sports in Philadelphia during that time period, you did so through Bill Campbell.

Needless to say, the Philadelphia sports world was shocked and disappointed by the news that the Phillies were canning Campbell.  At the luncheon when the announcement was made, reporters simply asked “Why?”  They were told that the decision was made because the Phillies wanted to move to a younger announcer to draw a younger audience.  The new, younger announcer was a relatively unknown 35-year-old from Houston named Harry Kalas.

The media jumped all over the Phillies for the decision.  Frank Dolson of the Inquirer described the firing as premature, saying “Bill Campbell enjoyed doing big-league baseball as much as his fans enjoyed hearing him do it.  Which is why his dismissal came as such a shock.”  Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote, “the Phillies youth movement has claimed another victim: Bill Campbell.  Announcer-type fellow.  Still has the tonsils.  Can go from ho-hum to home run screech in 3.2 seconds.  Can still snap open a can of beer with èclat…Campbell might be the town’s most professional announcer.  Does his homework, talks to athletes, lets his emotions tumble through his descriptions…Oh, and by the way, the new guy’s name is pronounced Kal-us, as in callous.”  A few days later, Bill Conlin chimed in with the strongest criticism of the firing with an article entitled “Striking Out and Honest Voice.”  He wrote that “all Bill Campbell ever wanted to do was call a good baseball game with some flair and integrity.”

Kalas, who loved Campbell and felt horrible about the situation, ended up doing a pretty good job as Campbell’s replacement.  He built a rapport with Whitey that was second to none in all of sports broadcasting and engendered a special bond with generations of Phillies fans.  The Hall of Fame announcer is sorely missed and will be always remembered.  And Campbell didn’t simply walk off into the sunset after he was pink-slipped.  He became the play-by-play announcer of the Sixers in 1972 and lasted until 1981.  After his play-by-play career was over he hosted a sports talk show on WIP until 1991, when he retired at the age of 68.  Campbell never resented Kalas and the two became great friends.

So what does this have to do with Beer Week?  Well, rumors about the real reason Campbell was let go swirled.  Most didn’t accept the “youth movement” justification because Bill Campbell was still shy of 50 when he was fired.  People thought Bill Giles, who knew Kalas from their time in Houston together and whose wife was best friends with Harry’s wife, was the real force behind the move to replace Campbell.

Giles always denied that was the case and instead, blamed C. Schmidt and Sons.  Interviewed about the situation decades later, Giles claimed that the real reason Campbell was fired was because the new beer sponsor demanded it.  The deal provided that Schmidt’s would pay the Phillies $1 million for broadcasting rights and would also pay the announcers salaries.  According to Giles, the Schmidts wanted Campbell out because he appeared in ads for Ballantine beer, the Phillies previous beer sponsor at Connie Mack.

Campbell, forever disappointed by the decision, never bought that excuse.  He said “Bill Giles blames it on the sponsor.  There wasn’t any sponsor conflict.  Bill wanted to bring Harry in and the problem was the beer sponsor only wanted to pay three of us…Somebody had to go and it was me.”  Bolstering Campbell’s position is this poster and this schedule, which feature the whole crew (Ashburn, Campbell and Samm) in Ballantine ads.

Giles disagreed with Campbell’s thinking: “That’s bullshit.  I didn’t want to embarrass the Schmidt’s beer people, so I put the onus on myself.  When Schmidt’s said Bill Campbell had to go, I knew the guy I wanted, so I called Harry.”

Thank God for Schmidt’s Beer.  In a shitty sort of way, it looks like the ends justified the means.

h/t to Randy Miller’s book “Harry the K, the remarkable life of Harry Kalas,” which served as a source for this post.

2 Comments on “The Firing of Bill Campbell, brought to you by Schmidt’s Beer”

  1. Edward Kirk says:

    Love this site, would like to incorporate this into my own site.

  2. Jim Marshall says:

    I happened to be at that last game at Connie Mack Stadium and never realized that was Bill Campbell’s last game. He was the best sports announcer I ever heard no matter what sport he was calling.

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