Harry Kalas Was Baseball

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


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 Chuck P

    Phillies Fan / Dhall… you paralleled a great point. Harry was, indeed, a family figure. You kind of felt like he was right there speaking to you… feeling what you were feeling. You could tell that he always did his best to calm our nerves in those counltess late and close situations and feed our energy when the team gave us something to cheer about. A pro’s pro, as Steve Sabol said.

    Tim, I appreciate your understanding… I do apologize for sounding arrogant/ignorant/disrespectful. Remorse has a way of manifesting itself into something that can be malicious. The be all end all… there will never be another Harry Kalas and for a long-time, it will feel like there’s something missing when I turn on the broadcast.

  • Posts: 0 Joe

    I love idea of the high hopes song after phillies games, and not just after wins. It would be a nice tradition to start in Harry’s honor since he was ever the optimist as we PHILLIES fans are.

  • Posts: 0 Justin

    Tim i was not bashing Wheels for his on air talk yesterday as I was unable to watch it, the only thing I was making reference to was that I don’t think I can handle 9 innings of Wheeler, I would rather have Franzke/Tom McCarthy and LA plus Sarge do split TV and Radio like Harry would do then listen to Wheels for 9 inning. Harry as everyone can attest had a way of painting a picture of the game if you were listening on the radio or making a homerun sound like it was jumping out of the ballpark when hit by the home team. Wheeler doesn’t have that skill, Frankze does from what I’ve been able to hear and McCarthy talks about baseball from a good wealth of knowledge, i liken Wheels to Joe Theismann as a guy that commentates on exactly what he sees and doesn’t expand. It may sound like bashing but I’m not bashing the man for working his way from an intern to an announcer for the amount of years he’s done it, that’s a great feat, i just don’t care for him.

  • Posts: 0 Don M

    I think if we did HIGH HOPES after EVERY game, or in the 7th-Inning-Stretch of EVERY game.. it loses it’s appeal.

    I think if we play it/sing it after every WIN, it makes us want to win even more, just to hear that song, and how great it can be.

    If we hear it every single game it becomes just another thing, and not anything really special, or all that unique..

    I heard that they might do 7th Inning Stretch, for just this season..

    While that is a great idea, let’s celebrate our victories, because THAT is when Harry would really belt the song out.. in celebration!

  • Posts: 0 Jon

    Since I became a true Phillies fan when I was about 10, only two things were always certain for me year after year: Pat Burrell and Harry Kalas. Now, in six short months, they are both gone. As much as my feelings towards Burrell were a rollercoaster of love-hate, my feelings towards Harry couldn’t have been more solid. There is and will never be anyone in the world that could call a game like Harry. The special thing about him was that he shared the love that all of us have for our Phillies. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had tears in my eyes, listening to him call the final inning last October on the radio with the FOX commentators on mute. It is something I will never forget, and Harry was a major part of it. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before Citizens Bank Way is changed to something of the sort of Kalas Blvd. Harry was and is the Phillies, and nothing is going to change that in my mind.

  • Posts: 0 MH

    As a Mets fan who grew up in northeast Pa (and still visits often), I offer Phillies fans my condolences on the loss of your great broadcaster. I imagine you feel the way many Mets felt when Bob Murphy died a few years back. Listening to Mets broadcasts has never been quite the same since Murph died. Listening to Phillies TV broadcasts will never be quite the same for you folks,,, nor for myself on my visits to NEPA…There is always a certain comfort in having that “voice” there…the world feels a little colder without it.

  • Posts: 0 ryan

    harry is the voice of my childhood. the voice of summer. the voice of NFL films and inside the NFL. i think of his voice and reminded of my grandfather , who loved to listed to the game on the radio. summertime sitting on the porch listening to harry. i can’t imagine phillies baseball without harry. he IS the phillies

  • Posts: 0 ryan

    i am happy knowing that harry is upstairs at God’s tavern, or maybe as Bill Conlin put it, at God’s golf course, with a scotch in one hand and a cigar in the other hand. just shooting the breeze with his best friend Whitey.

  • Posts: 0 Richie Allen

    Does anyone know what exactly happened to Harry medically?I felt so bad for him the last few years because he looked so washed out and tired.No one ever mentioned anything ,even though he arrived late in spring training because of “medical reasons”.
    I heard the Phils were going to let him do limited work this year and maybe take off some road trips.
    But true to form,this guy loved his work and the Phils so much,he went out the way he wanted.
    We were lucky to have him as long as we did.

  • Posts: 0 Chuck P

    Richie, he had heart surgery in January/February…


    This is a great piece by Paul Hagen.

  • Posts: 0 Brian of CO

    First in response to Mike at 1157 am. I would say I was exactly the same way. I know some people dont understand what us Phillies Phans are like or why we take things so hard sometimes. But I can honestly say I cried when Mike Schmidt retired as well, but hey, I was also 9 years old, so I would say thats acceptable, I cried last October after “The Philadelphia Phillies are the 2008 World Champions of Baseball” and yes, even at this age, I did weap a bit yesterday. He had been announcing far longer than I have been alive, so he is all I ever knew. And for MH the Mets fan. Wow, it really says alot about Harry the K when Mets fans and Phillies Phans can let go of alittle rivalry to say things like that. It just wont be the same.

  • Posts: 0 Brian of CO

    Richie Allen, I agree. Harry Kalas refused to take a lesser work schedule because of his love of the game, The Phillies, The Players, and I would think the phans. As morbid as this sounds, this probably was the way he wanted to go, while not alone like apparently he was, but more passing at a baseball park.

  • Posts: 0 TJ

    I assume I’m one of the younger ones 18 but I met Harry when I was 9 years old in 1999. Very cool guy. He had a unique passion for the game that I can admire now.

    Is anyone going to the first game back from the road trip? I want to be there for the Kalas tribute they will surely do.

  • Posts: 0 Richie Allen

    Thanks guys…I dont know why it makes me feel better to know,But I had to know.
    And to Brian of Co,the older I get,the more things get to me emotionally.But there was something about Harry that really makes you feel sad now that he is gone.
    I dont think it will register until the next game in the 7-8-9 innings when the voice isnt there.

  • [...] Malcolm says Harry was fam. To me, Harry is part of my family. He is my fifth uncle, my summer retreat. He is Phillies [...]

  • [...] Tim Malcolm, Phillies Nation: "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." [...]

  • Posts: 0 nick

    Tim this was a great tribute to Harry I had tears in my eyes reading this. I feel the same way you do my earliest memories of life are my mom and dad and other family members and then Harry Kalas and watching the phils……at five years old i would entertain the neighbors by hitting the wiffle ball up in the air and saying outttaaaa heeerreee Michael Jack Schimdt he truly was the voice of summer and the voice of the phils.

    Tonight if anyone wants to check out me and my fathers tribute to Harry you can listen to our show http://wifi1460am.com click on listen live ….

  • Posts: 0 Justin

    Word has come out that Harry died from heart disease, something all Phils phans knew he underwent surgery for this past offseason. From ESPN.com

    “NFL Films takes a look back at the career of legendary broadcaster Harry Kalas.
    A spokeswoman at the Washington D.C. chief medical examiner’s office said Kalas, who died Monday, had high blood pressure and suffered from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The disease, in which plaque buildup restricts blood flow in arteries, is a major cause of heart attacks and strokes.”

  • Posts: 0 philajen

  • Posts: 0 shag beta sigma delta

    It is truly sad day. I started watching and listening to the phillies the same year Harry the K started broadcasting 1971 I remember coming home from church and going right to the TV UHF channel 17. He was the Phillies to me. Moving to Vermont a 15 years ago I missed listening to him call games, But I would schedule trips home around the time a game would be starting at the point where I could get it on the radio somewhere near 287 in NJ. For the first half hour or so it would come in and out but I just keept on turning it up. His calls will be sorly missed. “Outta Here Micheal Jack Schmidt” I will always cherrish the memories of listening to him and Whitty.

  • Posts: 0 Patrick

    Miss ya, Harry. Thanks for the memories.

  • Posts: 0 Tyler

    being only 16 (nearly 4 when Whitey died) I don’t remember Harry and Whitey as all are saying, but the first thing that came to my mind when i heard last nite from my grandma cuz im on vaca was that now harry and whitey, two phils legends and friends, are once again together. I grew up listening to harry and will never ever forget his voice. When i have kids, i will make sure i play that clip of him calling that 3rd strike to hinske by lidge. that will get so many more hits on youtube now that he has passed.

    My greatest condolences to the kalas phamily and the rest of the phitin phils phamily because we were all impacted by this horrible news.

  • Posts: 0 Robert

    Words can not describe how I felt yesterday when I got the email on my blackberry that Harry had passed away! I started to tear up .
    Harry , I thank you from the bottom of my heart for keeping me close to home as I live across the Atlantic. To listen to you every night made me feel like i was at the game.
    My dad is a season ticket holder and I remember when I was a kid , on school nights that i was there we used to leave a little early and we used to listen to Harry calling the game on the way back to the Lehigh Valley…. The intensity was amazing…..
    My heart felt condolences go out to the Kalas Family and to all the phillies fans around the world , who truly have lost a pretty amazing free spirited guy….. God Bless you and yours Harry!

  • Posts: 0 Rich Corr

    Tim, THANK YOU for an outstanding article that sums up our feelings….
    Phillies baseball because of Harry (& Whitey) was my daily refuge from life’s struggles. You could “Zone”out and Harry would provide the tonic to relax and get things in perspective.

    I’d like to see Scott F. and LA get some of the TV time as I think he has the voice and demeanor to help us thru this extremely diffucult time….

    Thanks again Tim…

  • Posts: 0 Shawn Victorino

    I think we should get something going for a post game celebration in the stands for harry. like 610 said, if they win we should sing High Hopes, I think that would be awesome, if only there was a way to let everyone in the stands know!!

  • Posts: 0 Jp

    Nice idea shawn vic! I think we need to bring harry into every phils home game. It would be great if the WHOLE stadium sung “high hopes” or yelled “outta here!” after a phillies home run! He left such a mark on us as fans, that i feel it’s up to us to preserve his memory every game!

  • Posts: 0 Manny

    philajen, that is one of my favorites, too! LONG DRIVEEE… IT IS OUTTA HEREEE! PAT BURRELL!! PAT BURRELLLL!
    I’m gonna miss this

  • Posts: 0 MBell

    I am a 4th generation Phillies fan. When I heard the news about our beloved Harry the K, I cried. I feel like I have lost the voice of my childhood, but I know the the world of baseball will, in time, heal all wounds. Thanks, Harry, for all your dedication to the team, the stadium, and the city that we all love so much.

  • Posts: 0 TJ

    High Hopes during the 7th inning stretch is another idea I heard.

  • Posts: 0 Ellen Wright

    I have listened to Harry since Vet stadium opened in 1971…the year I graduated from high school. I was at that opening game and remember his voice distinctly. My daughter, Danielle, has grown up with Harry and had the privilege of meeting him in Atlantic City with me several years ago, I believe when she was in high school. This was a pre-season Meet the Phillies event just before their trip to Clearwater. Danielle was taking a photography class and was trying out her new camera. Both Harry and Larry Andersen posed for her, talked with her and encouraged her. Harry spent a great deal of time…and patience…as she re-adjusted the camera for each shot. He…and Larry…were very kind to her. I know that there were Phillies players there, too, but I don’t even remember who. Harry had such an positive impact upon us both. Unfortunately, most of the pictures came out somewhat out of focus, but you can still tell that its Harry…(and Larry)…a memory to have and to hold of the voice that was the Philadelphia Phillies. Thank you, Harry! We’re going to miss you! It is a sad day for all of us.

  • Posts: 0 MikeMc26

    Godspeed Harry Kalas, you will be missed dearly. Thank you for all of my great Phillies memories…

  • Posts: 0 idiotbox

    wow. I read almost everything there was on Philly.com and I have to say, your tribute to harry was the best. I am 30 years old. Harry has always been “our guy” to me. I feel today and the last couple days like my Great Uncle died. It’s just a terrible loss. I know the void i feel inside is echoed throughout the Delaware Valley and beyond. It’s a testament to the contribution Harry made to enriching our lives.

  • Posts: 0 Don M

    I’m not sure exactly when it was.. I kinda think it was a Burrell HR.. but Harry’s call was:

    “.. (hit).. watch THIS one…” …

    I can’t remember, I think it was Burrell, and I think it might have been the HR at the Vet where he hit it, and then pointed to the bench as he was running to 1st (game winner?)

  • [...] weather.  Thinking of that I see my father on the patio, Harry Kalas … or By Saam … droning as he smokes and snoozes after a day at work.  (Mom is prowling [...]

  • Interesting I think all students should be able to take a few educational tours abroad

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