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Harry Kalas Was Baseball

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Mon, April 13, 2009 06:30 PM | Comments: 135
Commentary, Harry Kalas Tribute, Posts

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My mother’s and father’s were the first two voices I heard after I was born. Now I’m not sure, but I would bet the third was the voice of Harry Kalas.

It was a stunning voice. His rich, regal baritone felt like the wind shaving across a midwestern field. He was an Illinois boy, honing his craft in the fields of Iowa – closely neighboring the fields where Richie Ashburn rooted. He moved to Hawaii, then to Houston, then to Philadelphia. Despite his youth, he carried that majestic voice, deep and hearty, assured and personable. It honestly felt like baseball.

And for millions of us, Kalas’ voice wasn’t simply something that felt like baseball, it was baseball. It was the first sound heard when we turned the radio dial, then it was the first sound heard when we clicked to the television. It greeted us to the park as if we sat there ourselves. His words wrapped around the hollow concourses of Veterans Stadium, echoed into the field, warmed us on those chilly summer nights. And yet it defined our lazy summer afternoons, sitting at the public pool, or on the stoop, or in our living rooms. It cradled our hopes and ambitions of a team that always let us down.

Harry never let us down.

Even if we had the opportunity to meet the man, he didn’t let us down. I attended a Philadelphia Sportswriters Banquet years ago, and during an intermission my brother took me outside for a cigarette. As we stood outside, I – no more than 12 – noticed him, that iconic image: Clean black tuxedo, well-quaffed gray hair, a cigarette in one hand, a glass of scotch in another. All alone, he contemplated the night sky. My brother and I walked past him, and I let it out, as if showing my father I could ride a bicycle:

“Long drive … watch that baby … outta here!”

He glanced over, chuckled and tipped his head to me. I could have floated in air.

That wasn’t my first run in with Harry. At age 6 he mulled over my scorecard during Terry Mulholland’s no hitter. Upon learning this news, no longer was the greatest joy that I witnessed a no hitter, but that Harry Kalas spoke about me on the air. That voice spent a few seconds with me.

Since those moments, I cherished Harry as he had grown older and, sadly, sicklier. We all knew it, and we all recognized it, but we didn’t dare speak about it. Scott Franzke denied ever thinking Harry would leave the booth. Even though we mocked his missed calls and premature vocal rises, we never, ever wanted him to leave the booth. Not our voice. Not our baseball.

Harry Kalas was baseball. And he was Philadelphia. He was as much part of the city as William Penn’s hat. As much part of the city as the green of the Walt Whitman Bridge. We would hear him on NFL Films and think “he’s our guy.” We would hear others speak about the golden voice and think “he’s our guy.” Our pride for Harry was greater than maybe our pride for the Phillies themselves.

Of course, that pride grew in 2008, the special season that redeemed our faith in the local baseball club. And when Brad Lidge uncorked that final slider, it was Harry’s call we longed to hear:

“The oh-two pitch – swing and a miss! Struck him out! The Philadelphia Phillies are two-thousand eight world champions of baseball!”

Just as we knew he’d call it. And it remains our lasting memory of Harry. It joins the bin with his iconic call of Mike Schmidt’s 500th home run as his greatest moments. There are numerous others, from Pat Burrell’s defiant home run off Brian Wilson last season, to Garry Maddox’s final out of the 1980 National League Championship Series. The phrases are etched in our minds: “Long drive!” “Struck ‘em out!” “Could it be?!” “This ball’s outta here!” The character follows.

And what a character. We knew Harry loved a good drink, and we knew Harry loved a good time. Even at his most downtrodden when calling a game, he sounded somewhat optimistic. With Ashburn, he played the surprised straight man to Whitey’s guffaw and bluster. Together, they played like two uncles, men you knew instantly. And even after Richie died, Harry remained warm and cordial, sometimes straight to Larry Andersen’s dumbfounded northwestern everyman. But more than anything he grew into an exalted man, the kind of legendary person that Philadelphians hardly find. His name adorned a Citizens Bank Park restaurant. Yes, he was baseball.

In simpler times, though, Harry was the lazy summer afternoon, the chilly summer night, the open cornfields of Iowa, the steel and brick of Philadelphia. He was soothing even in the darkest days. He kept us coming back to the team no matter how bad it seemed. Not many can do such a thing.

To me, Harry is part of my family. He is my fifth uncle, my summer retreat. He is Phillies baseball. Throughout the 24 years of my life, there have been few constants, and besides my family, there has been the Phillies, and there has been Harry Kalas. For millions across the Delaware Valley and beyond, the feeling is exactly similar. So listening today was tough – Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler, and Gary Matthews and Larry Andersen filled the gaps well, but there was no voice. There was no regal baritone serenading me to the field. There was no optimistic tingle in the hearty chords. There was no “High Hopes.” There was no “outta here.”

In a way, there was no baseball.

But baseball proceeds. There will be a game Wednesday. And a game Thursday. And so on until the season ends, and another season begins. And so on. And we will proceed without Harry, without the voice. At some point, a new voice will emerge. Who knows which voice fills our lazy summer afternoons and chilly summer nights. Who knows which voice fills our stoops and living rooms. Maybe that voice will engage millions more the way Harry engaged us, but it sure won’t be the same. Not at all.

For yes, Harry Kalas was baseball in Philadelphia. He was my baseball. He was my voice. He was my uncle. And he was our friend.

Avatar of Tim Malcolm

About Tim Malcolm

Tim Malcolm has written 1947 articles on Phillies Nation.

 
 
  • Posts: 0 Phil

    This was amazing Tim. Everything I’ve been feeling.

     
  • Posts: 0 GWFightinsFan

    Wonderful tribute, Tim. Couldn’t have said it better myself…Harry you will be missed…. :-(

     
  • Posts: 0 Mike

    Great article Tim. I was at work when I heard the news. Im 37 years old. I started to cry in the bathroom. Harry was baseball. God I remember when I was a kid sneaking the radio under the blankets so my parents thought I was sleeping. His voice meant one thing, to escape reality for a few hours. I am so thankful he got a chance to see them win another one last season. I know Harry loved this team, these young players. Harry you were the greatest. Thank you for all those summers. May you and whitey keep calling the games from up above. You both will be missed forever. Godbless…..

     
  • Posts: 0 Johnny Snowden

    So beautiful tim. Got my first radio when I was 5 back in 1987 and from then on, at least 162 days or nights a year wherever I was, he was on. I just … thank you for writing what I, what we all feel.

     
  • Posts: 0 FinePlay

    Perfect piece, Tim.

    We will miss you, Harry.

     
  • Posts: 0 TIFF

    very well written Tim, I’m sitting here at work with tears in my eyes. Thank you. Harry the K will be sorely missed.

     
  • Posts: 0 Phil

    They’re going to be playing yesterday’s Rockies game tonight on CSN since it was the last game Harry Kalas ever called.

     
  • Posts: 130 Amanda Orr

    Avatar of Amanda Orr

    Great article Tim. Harry will be missed. His calls are the best, and watching the fightins will never be the same.

     
  • Posts: 0 Elizabeth

    Thanks-what a beautiful tribute. Baseball will never be the same.

     
  • Posts: 0 Keith

    RIP Harry, u were the best.

     
  • Posts: 0 John

    Great Piece, Tim.
    On behalf of all Braves fans, we offer our deepest condolences.
    Though when the game is played we’re considered the opposition, it goes without saying that the game of baseball has lost one of the all-time greats.
    – John from Tomahawktake.com

     
  • Posts: 0 tim mccarver sucks

    Great job Tim. This is a great tribute to a great man who was a hero to all phans. He was the reason when the team wasnt to good we watched. I’ll miss him and thoughts and prayers goes out to his family and the phillies.

     
  • Posts: 0 Sara

    it’s so hard to put into words what harry kalas has meant to my life, but your words were so wonderful to read. my mother used to have a “tv off at 10″ rule, so i kept a little radio at the head of my bed and would turn it on as soon as we had to turn the tv off to listen to the rest of the game as i fell asleep each night. i can’t even begin to count the number of nights i fell asleep to the sound of his voice. i feel like he’s been everywhere with me, throughout my childhood and into my adult life, there with me every step of the way.

    thank you for this.

     
  • Posts: 0 Jeff

    No, HARRY K YOU ARE THE MAN…

     
  • Posts: 0 VA Steve

    Harry was not only baseball, more importantly he was Philadelphia Baseball. We, as passionate fans, are so blessed to have had Harry behind the mic all of these years. Being 45 years old and listening to Phillies baseball for nearly 40, Harry is like a brother to all of us. The lean years, the playoff years, the championship years, he was there, often times with Whitey. His voice will forever resonate within me, and while the Phillies and baseball will go on, Phillies broadcasts will never the same. Thanks so much Harry, you have joined Whitey in a better place. My you bring the same joy to the baseball gods!

    I will be at the Nats-Phillies game on Thursday, and as I look up at the press box, I know you will be looking down at your World Champions. God rest your soul!

     
  • Posts: 0 ED

    Tim awonderful eulogy, It would be great if all of us could live alife like Harry. I dont think a better set of words could express what you said. You should offer this piece to the world of baseball and beyond. Thanks

     
  • Posts: 0 Mike

    NO, HARRY K YOU ARE THE MAN

     
  • Posts: 0 shermite

    Beautiful sentiment….you’ve said it all here…

     
  • Posts: 0 Lori

    Beautifully said Tim, your Grandmom would be proud…she’s the first person I thought of when I heard the news. They’re sharing a drink at a baseball game in the sky! Love ya, Aunt Lori

     
  • Posts: 0 Mazinman

    Very well said Tim. I hope the Phillies have something planned to honor the man in CBP were we can all be a part of it.

     
  • Posts: 0 Becca

    great piece i couldnt have said it better myself. im reading all these comments of people who are older than me and i find myself feeling jealous that they got to listen to him for so long. i only had 18 years to listen to his wonderful voice, but no matter how long it was too short for everyone. he will be missed. harry kalas, you are the man.

     
  • Posts: 0 Rich

    Tim, I think you and I are about the same age. Harry Kalas is the only voice we’ve ever known. That I got to hear him call that last out of the World Series feels extra rewarding tonight. It’s the saddest day I’ve ever had as a Phillies fan.

     
  • Posts: 0 TS

    Well said, Tim. I’m sorry to say I don’t have quite the history you do with Harry the K – I was raised in the Philadelphia area with a father who was a Pirates fan (recently a converted Phillies fan) and in my early teens as a baseball fanatic I found it hard to follow the disappointing Phillies. However the past 6 years or so Harry’s been the voice of my summer and I couldn’t help but get a little choked up while watching today’s Post Game Live. You can tell he was a genuinely nice man. He’ll certainly be missed.

     
  • Posts: 0 David

    Thanks for your thoughts, Tim. I was at the game today when I heard. At first I couldn’t believe it. I felt like my favorite Uncle had died. I was in shock. When I told other random Phillies fans the sad news, they had the same reaction. Harry was part of the Delaware Valley Family. I can recall fondly sitting the backyard on a warm summer’s day in Wilmington grilling burgers with my dad with that voice, that wonderful, gift of God voice, in the background. Part of my childhood went away today forever. I’m sure everyone will agree, that it was great that Harry got to call the World Champs final out last year. We’ve been blessed for him to be a part of our lives.

     
  • Posts: 0 SJ Mike

    I was at the game for Jim Thome’s 400th homerun. I then stood through several hours’ worth of rain delays until the end of the game. As soon as I got home though, the first thing I did was look up and listen to Harry’s call “Could it be? Number 400! Take a bow, Big Man!”

    This was true for any Phils game I was at where something big and exciting happened. I had to make sure I heard Harry’s call when I got home from the ballpark.

     
  • Posts: 0 Richie Allen

    I really got into Phillies baseball in the early 70′s,started noticing Harry’s voice at about age 12 or 13.Sooo professional.The phillies had very bad teams then,but Harry and Richie Ashburn had that something that was just right on a summer night on the radio while hanging with good friends.
    I cant describe exactly what it was,only that it kept me interested in the Phils to this day.
    I’m going to miss him,we are all going to miss him.There is no replacement.
    He wasnt just a voice,he was like a monument in the booth.

     
  • Posts: 0 Keith

    Nice piece, Tim. No sadness for me though. Harry was the someone we can think of whenever we hear the phrase “a life well lived”. A good man that led a good and charmed life. We should all be so lucky.

     
  • Posts: 0 Chooch's Cooches

    MLB’s new campaign slogan is “THis is beyond baseball.” It couldn’t be more true today.

     
  • Posts: 0 Mark

    Tim, I remeber that Sports Writer Banquet, those Sunday afternoons and how about on the beach in Wildwood. You couldnt have said it any better, he will be missed, he will always be part of us, the Phillies will never be the same. It feels like a piece of us has moved on. I can see Harry, Whitey and Granny, drinking there Schmitts and Harry describing what it was like to be a Phillies Phan last October…..Love Ya Bro

     
  • Posts: 0 Sean

    Well said, brother. He brought us all together and knew how to take us through the emotions we were always feeling.

    My goodbye to Harry: http://www.27pitches.com/2009/04/goodbye_harry.

     
  • Posts: 0 Cole Lat

    Hey guys,
    I’ve been checking this website religiously for about a year now but this is my first post. First off tim what a wonderful article you’ve echoed all of our sentiments perfectly. It brought a tear to my eye reading all of the comments from today and how Harry was such a big part of all of your lives. I was listening to espn radio today on my way back to school (st john’s university) and as soon as they announced that harry had been found passed out in the announce booth I called my best friend, who is also a hardcore phils fan, at work and the first words out of my mouth were “i hope you’re not busy. Are you ready to cry?” Only being 22 years old harry kalas is the phillies to me. It’s hard to imagine that i’ll never hear him give another “long drive.. outta hear” call for a howard long ball or a “chase utley you are the man” after a diving stop by our second baseman.
    Today is a sad day to be a phillies fan for sure
    RIP Harry thank you for all the memories and for touching all of our lives
    You will be greatly missed!

     
  • Posts: 0 Estebomb

    Fantastic article Tim. Thank you.

     
  • Posts: 0 Andrew

    Great article. Love your writing. Harry, you will be missed.

     
  • Posts: 0 Paula

    Tim, you’ve eloquently stated what I’ve been feeling since I heard the news this evening. I was born in 1980, so I’ve always joked that I’m contractually obligated to be a Phillies fan, but what kept me close to the game, even during the losing seasons, was Harry’s voice. My mom said that she’s not sure she can watch or listen to games now, especially since our family shared the 2008 World Series call by muting the television to hear Harry call the final out. I think I can, but it will be so different. I talked to a student of mine last year who preferred Tom McCarthy to call the game, and I had to “correct” him and tell him why I preferred Harry; calling him “The Voice” is as close as anyone can get in words to describing him, but even that doesn’t come close. Right now I’m devastated by the loss of Harry Kalas, but at least I have wonderful auditory memories to recall for the rest of my life.

     
  • Posts: 0 Gavin

    How can you improve on perfection?

    I still cant imagine turning on the Phils without hearing his voice. Harry was my favorite Philly of all time. For 32 years I’ve rooted for the Phils (I’m 35). No matter how bad they were, Harry was still the best. No matter who came and who left, Harry was always there for us. No matter how we lost or if we won, Harry was there to share it with us and you knew he was as big a fan as you were.

    I just watched the WS video and listening to his calls. They are poetry. They flow. They are perfection. You’re going to be missed more than I think even we know tonight. My saddest day ever as a Fightin’ Phil.

     
  • Posts: 0 Isaiah

    Hey if anyone can get the audio of his last calls up here, that’d be great. Thanks.

     
  • Posts: 0 dan48

    wow tim, just got really dusty here

     
  • Posts: 0 jcfriedl

    http://www.vimeo.com/4139277 …from the broadcast today.

     
  • Posts: 0 t

    we all lost a friend

     
  • Posts: 0 SJ Mike

    jcfriedl, your video there is private. Can’t view it.

     
  • Posts: 0 Jim

    Thank you Harry.

     
  • Posts: 0 GreysFan

    I have to echo several other’s thoughts. I am nearly 59 years old and have rarely been moved to tears by the death of someone I didn’t know personally, but one time was when Whitey died and again today for Harry Kalas. I was born in Philly in 1950 and the Phillies have been in blood every since, but I only lived there for a few years in my childhood and then a few more in my 20′s. As a result, I’ve always been mostly a radio (and occasional tv) fan. As a kid, that meant the great By Saam, Bill Campbell, and then Whitey, but Harry has been the voice of the Phillies for me for nearly 40 years. His calls were always one of the great pleasures in all of baseball for me, and whenever possible I’d listen to the highlights over and over. I can hear his voice in my head almost as if the radio was on and if I close my eyes I can see those long drives flying outta here. Watch that baby!

    I’ll miss you Harry. Thank you.

     
  • Posts: 0 Gregger

    just wasnt the same today hearing somehow else call the final out. I think we all feel like we grew up with harry cause in reality we did. Spent 3 hours a day with him all summer every summer

     
  • Posts: 0 Brian

    I can remember sitting in Section 112 during Game 5 (Part 2) in October, 5 rows from the field. Great seats and great friends around and one of the first thoughts that came to me while I was celebrating the final strike was “man, I wish I could hear Harry right now”.

     
  • Posts: 0 Mazinman

    It dawns on me that Harry began his love of baseball as a Senators fan so his life truly came full circle. He passed away where his lifelong love was born. Not only that but it was in the booth where he practiced his trade better than anyone else. What a way to go.

     
  • Posts: 0 cm

    Let’s repeat for Harry!

     
  • Posts: 0 Grrrumpy Miner

    Like a Ming Vase and Bob Murphy,Harry Kalas is IRREPLACEABLE.Harry Kalas WAS the Philadelphia Phillies.Make no mistake,I can still hear that voice from NFL Films and the words “Lambeau Field,the frozen tundra”.Two great voices passed on within a year..Don Lafontaine (the movie voice guy) and Harry Kalas.God Bless You Harry.

     
  • Posts: 0 phillyjoe

    This hurts more than any phillies blown game ever could. I cant believe well never here him call another game. RIP harry

     
  • Posts: 0 GWFightinsFan

    I feel compelled to mention this personal note about how Harry touched my life…a few years back, I had just gotten out of the military and moved back home. Most of my friends from high school had moved away and I had few friends and felt rather alone in the world. More than that, I had a really bad breakup with my girlfriend at the time, and began to sink into a deep depression. I had little good going on in my life at the time. (Those of you who have spent time in the military then gotten out might know what I mean, it was a sepeation anxiety of sorts, I was lost in the civilian world) While it may sound silly, one of the few things I had, day in and day out were the Phillies, and Harry was there every day to talk baseball with me. Even if he couldn’t hear me talk, I knew he felt the same highs and lows that I did whenever Ryan Howard hit a home run or when Pat Burrell would strike out. It was a tough time in my life, and Harry’s familiar voice somehow made it just a little bit better. Those famous calls such as “that ball is outta here!!” or “swing and a miss he struck him out!!!” or “chase utley, you are the man!!” will always be a part of me and my fondest memories. So thank you Harry, for being there during my whole life being a Phillies fan, and especially for being there when I needed you the most. RIP Harry, you will be missed more than I could possibly say…

     
  • Posts: 0 Bryan Rutt

    So very sad, so very sudden. The last vestige of baseball as I knew it from my childhood is gone. We have lost one of the Greats, and we have lost a friend. RIP Harry.

    Thank you, Tim, for this well-written piece. This site is where I learned the sad news today. Thank you for your efforts on this very sad day.

    Here are the thoughts I wrote in my blog:
    http://bryanrutt.blogspot.com/2009/04/on-passing-of-harry-kalas.html

    -Bryan

     
 
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