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Remembering Harry Kalas Five Years Later

Posted by Ian Riccaboni, Sun, April 13, 2014 12:58 PM | Comments: 11
Harry Kalas Tribute

On April 13, 2009, Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas passed away while preparing for a contest between the Washington Nationals and the Phillies. Kalas had spent nearly 38 years of his 73 on earth as the voice of the Phillies, replacing the popular Bill Campbell for the 1971 season. Kalas was with the Phillies for the opening and closing of Veteran’s Stadium, the opening of Citizen’s Bank Park, and for six no-hitters, six NLCS’s, and three World Series. Because MLB rules prohibited local stations from broadcasting the World Series with their own broadcast teams in 1980, Kalas would have to wait until the conclusion of his final full season, 2008, to call a Phillies’ World Series win live.

It was worth the wait.

Kalas, christened “Harry the K” by Larry Christenson, and his smooth, baritone voice were the perfect background noise for summer days and were the soundtrack of my, and many others’, youth. Kalas made listening to the Phillies on the radio or tuning in on Prism and Channel 17 pleasurable, even through seasons like the 67-95 1989 campaign or 65-97 2000 campaign. Even though very few of us that listened to Kalas had the opportunity to meet him or spend significant time with him, Kalas came across over the airwaves like an old friend. Kalas spoke with the wisdom of a father, the humor of an uncle, and he and Whitey allowed us to join in on their sincere friendship.

So many people have their own Harry the K memories. If it is OK with everyone, I would like to share my own. I started as a college freshman at NYU in the fall of 2005 in media and communications with a concentration in television. My goal? To become a sports television personality. Originally from Allentown, my family moved to the Ocala National Forrest during my freshman year. Tucked 20 miles away from the nearest grocery store, I had very few options of things to do. I had begun traveling to Orlando to work at WMFE as a newsreader while staying with my brother.

On a weekend where I went to gather some things to take to Orlando with me back to my brother’s, I heard John Tesh on the radio suggest that if you wanted to be successful at something, find a way to talk to the person you admire the most that is most successful in the field you aspire to be in. That person for me was, and will be, Harry Kalas. I wrote a brief letter expressing my adoration with a SASE enclosed should the Hall of Fame broadcaster decide he wanted to write back and sent it out on Saturday.

That Tuesday, I took my mom’s Vespa-like scooter to the gym. It would be a 26 mile ride each way in the near 100-degree heat but I felt up to the task. I did not make it to the gym. No, that day the hot pavement helped wreck my back tire and an unknown slow leak led to a now-flat tire and caused me to fish tail. I suffered a pretty bad concussion and lost my front teeth. For that, I am thankful. It could have been worse. I spent one night in Shands hospital and felt I was living out Kanye West’s “Through the Wire”.

I was released the next morning and was on a heavy diet of Ensure and protein shakes, mostly because that’s all I could handle. That Saturday, a large pale envelope came with Citizens Bank Park’s return address. I thought my mom was playing some sort of joke on me. She wasn’t: Harry the K had written back.

It was brief and short but it felt as sincere as when he wished folks Happy Birthday over the air or when his voice perked up when the Phillies won a come-from-behind slug fest late in the game. He gave me two pieces of advice: always do your homework and be yourself.HarryKalasletterhiresHarryKalasPostcardhires

 

I never got to meet Harry Kalas but if his brief note was any indication of the type of man he was, he must have been extraordinary; his talents and character extending beyond broadcasting. Sitting in a room, toothless, 1,000 miles away from my friends from high school and 1,100 away from my new friends I made in college, Kalas came to the rescue, just like he did during those long summers down the shore in my teenage years when the Phillies just weren’t very good.

In 2008, I skipped a mid-term, work, and baseball practice to get to the World Series parade. Of all the photos I took from that day, lined up right next to the Steve Carlton statue, the ones that came out the best were those of Kalas. And in many ways, that is a fitting tribute. Of all the names that had come and gone through my lifetime, there had been two constants in South Philly: the name on the front of the jersey and Harry the K in the booth.

In 2002, Kalas was named the Ford C. Frick Award winner and inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. In 2009, Kalas became only one of 13 sportscasters to ever be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. After Kalas’ death, the Phillies’ T.V. booth was renamed “The Harry Kalas Broadcast Booth”. Of course, it is right next to “The Richie ‘Whitey’ Ashburn Broadcast Booth” for the radio team.

In tribute to Harry, here are some of his most memorable calls:

Avatar of Ian Riccaboni

About Ian Riccaboni

Ian Riccaboni has written 821 articles on Phillies Nation.

Ian's athletic achievements include getting stuffed by NBA center Aaron Gray in high school and hitting .179 over four years for NYU against D-III, NAIA, JuCo, and NCBA schools. Ian hopes his athletic successes will help him achieve his dream of becoming the underground Bob Uecker.

 
 
  • Posts: 0 Joe

    well, im tearing up, miss this man a lot

     
  • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

    I’ll tell you up front that this message I’m embarking on is poorly placed. Sort of. It is not intended to take a thing away from Harry, who like an incredible amount of people, I have fond memories of. I mean SUPER incredible. But in a way, it’s very rightfully placed because it reminds of a largely forgotten man, probably more victimized by the passing of time than any greatness he demonstrated, and probably not because of any limelight that swept Harry’s way.

    I thought of him this week when the Phils were struggling, and there didn’t appear any life emminating from CBP, and competing radiated as a chore of major proportions. When By Saam called Phillies baseball, the brand of baseball was twice, maybe more as bad as what we’ve dealt with the last however many games, but when By’s mike opened, even before he told us for years about the game being brought to us by Atlantic, P Ballentine and Sons, and my goodness…the 3rd sponsor escapes me at this second (Idiot…how could you forget the Tasty Baking Company), the enthusiasm behind his opening, “It’s Philadelphia Phillies baseball time” resonates to this day. Maybe it had something to do with youthful ears attached to that voice, the newness of being a baseball and Phillies fan, but even though I missed most of By’s work, between the Phils, and the A’s, I knew greatness when I heard it. And if you think this is one person’s prejudicial opinion, guess again, because for the first ever division clincher in 1976, By was invited back for the telecast of the last game as a tribute. Yeah, 1964, for it’s pain had some great times to listen to Byrum, but there wasn’t no messing with my 1976 Phillies. And By was there for that clincher.

    It’s not that By is head and shoulders above the rest. I easily could express similar sentiment about Bill Campbell, and without question, the greatness of sidekick Whitey. But there was something “anchorish” about By, and while like all, and I mean all, the memory of Harry is the one that really tugs at your heart, there’s something that just kinda sorta doesn’t feel right about By seeming like such a forgotten memory to the Philadelphia baseball consciousness. So I join with all in feeling the sadness, yet joy of shock that Harry left us half a decade ago now, and recall the incredible clarity of many, many fine moments. And I loved Andy Musser, too, although his greatness was basketball more than baseball. But the whole thing about the day triggers memories of Byrum Saam, and how truly blessed we’ve been to have so much more good announcers than bad, and with all my love for Harry, I don’t feel an ounce of guilt by thinking of By this day. And I promise you, Harry would thoroughly understand my sentiment.. And not just because Harry was such a nice man. More because he was smart.

    I’ll leave with an hk.

     
    • Posts: 0 jobangone

      The By Saam comments struck a cord with me and in the mid fifties they had another great voice named Gene Kelly. Oh and by the way, Phillies cigars were another big sponsor of the Phils.

       
      • Posts: 0 wbramh

        The broadcast team was By Saam, Gene Kelly and Claude Herring. Saam was the broadcaster for the A’s and came over to the Phils booth when the former bolted out of town.

        As for Phillies Cigars, the team was actually named after their sponsor and not the diminutive of the city they played in. Fortunately, the original name connection has faded, otherwise the name “Phillies” might be facing a “Redskins” type of backlash today.

         
      • Posts: 877 schmenkman

        Avatar of schmenkman

        wb, sometimes I can’t tell if you’re kidding, but just in case you’re not, Phillies cigars were introduced in 1910.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillies_(cigar)

        The baseball team were called interchangeably the Quakers or the Philadelphians (shortened to Phillies) through the 1880s, before officially changing their name to the Phillies in 1890.

         
      • Posts: 0 wbramh

        Schmenk: Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m kidding.

         
  • Posts: 5233 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    Wonderful tribute Ian, and wow- nice letter and pic.

    Many of you know that I live in the Baltimore area where Phillies TV and radio were non- existent. I spent many evenings trying to get the Phillies radio signal in my car. It wasn’t always easy to hear Saam, Ashburn, and Musser, who were great, but their voices just couldn’t cut through the static the way Harry’s did.

    I think my favorite memory was Harry calling the Schmidt homer in extras at Montreal to clinch the division- ( 1980? not sure) How I wish I could hear that moment again. But there were so many other Harry snippets- Ted Sizemore’s clutch hitting “time and time again” – Utley “you are the man” and of course “Swing and a long drive!”

     
  • Posts: 0 Bellkirk

    Awesome.

     
  • Posts: 0 Kelly Betz

    Sir, great article on Harry. However, you were off by one NLCS and one World Series. NLCS with Harry…. 1976, 77, 78, 80, 83, 93, 2008. World Series… 1980, 83, 93, 2008.

     
    • Posts: 442 Ian Riccaboni

      Avatar of Ian Riccaboni

      Hi Kelly,

      Thank you for reading! I appreciate the compliment.

      In 1980, there were restrictions placed on local broadcasts and unfortunately, Harry was unable to call that World Series. Additionally, similar restrictions were in place to prevent him from calling one of the NLCSs, of which, I can’t recall off the top of my head.

      Here is a great article on the 1980 opportunity that escaped Kalas: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/28/sports/baseball/28why.html?_r=0

       
  • Posts: 0 wbramh

    Ian: A terrific story about Harry. Very personal and moving. Thanks so much for sharing it.

    Here’s one I wrote about Harry a day or two after his passing…

    My family lives and dies with the Phillies… Literally! 


    On that evening in 1950 when the Phillies won the National league Pennant, my baseball-crazy immigrant grandfather stayed up late to listen to the clinching game against the Pirates. He died in his sleep just hours later. 
It took another 26 years before the Phils were to win anything again. To be exact, September 26th, 1976 – the day their biggest fan died – my father. 


    Despite winning more division championships and four more trips to the World Series, I have survived the family curse – so far. Yet on Monday afternoon, I felt as if part of me died in the broadcast booth.

    To hardcore baseball fans through the ages, the names Gehrig and Dickey or Hodges and Campanella conjure indelible memories. Like Bobby Thomson’s “Shot heard ’round the World,” the memories are often born from athletic feats lasting mere seconds – but to a true fan, these images burn bright for a lifetime.

    For Phillies fans it was “Robbie” and “Whitey,” then “Lefty” and “Michael Jack.” Now it’s “Chase” and “Ryan.” Yet one name transcends the fleeting exploits of our evolving warriors in red pinstripes – and he never put on a pair of cleats. His name was Harry Kalas.

    The great Byrum Saam had been the voice of the team for decades but never the heart. By had the unfortunate job of announcing games during one of the Phillies most dismal decades. His easy delivery with that hint of residual Texas twang soothed our pain after every excruciating loss to the rest of the league. With an effortless modulation, By could turn a “laugher” over the home team into a pleasant afternoon stroll in the park. By’s steady voice allowed us diehard fans to weather the botchings of our boys of summer with a Zen-like neutrality.

    Then Harry arrived on the scene.
    Harry was a romantic, and he loved the game of baseball. He was a upstart announcer whose previous experience was broadcasting games for the even more hapless and upstart Houston Astros. To one 23 year old Phillies fan, Harry Kalas was an interloper – a carpetbagger with a microphone. He was the voice of somebody else’s losing team – a team that wore ugly orange uniforms and played baseball under a roof that extinguished vegetation while bearing new life in the form of ground rule doubles.

    Harry was not our passively beloved By Saam. 
When “Michael Jack” (Harry’s sobriquet for Mike Schmidt) hit a home run, the ball was 
”OUTTTTA HERRRRRE!” 
When Steve Carlton blew a nasty 3rd strike past a stunned batter, it was 
”STRIKE THRRRREEEE LEFTY GOT ‘EM WITH THE SLIDER!!!!”

    Suddenly, Philadelphia baseball games, win or lose, had joy and pathos – and were downright fun – even on the dastardly Astroturf that followed Harry to Philadelphia! 
If you didn’t notice his ruddy face and big smile, you couldn’t miss Harry’s gigantic voice. Not unlike his life’s journey, his deep dulcet tones seemed to start in Illinois and end in Washington. His voice reflected a life richly marinated in smoke and booze, but more so, unadulterated enthusiasm.

    A dozen seasons had passed before I had the opportunity to meet and work with Harry.
    From the start, we chatted like old friends. Harry was like that with friends and strangers alike. We were two men who shared a common mistress – baseball.
    When Harry wasn’t broadcasting baseball, he was talking baseball.
    One day, I was recording some radio spots for the Phillies and Harry was the voice.
    We didn’t have much time to talk before the session, but instinctively, Harry knew we shared a common passion. His instincts about baseball and baseball people were incredible. He loved the game and the game loved him back. “What are you doing after the session?” he asked me in that same big voice that officially ushered in the Spring. Surprised by the question, I found myself tongue-tied. Before I could get out more than a grunt, Harry quickly filled the void. “Why don’t we go next door for lunch?” which in Harry’s language meant let’s have a drink and maybe something to eat. Within the hour Harry and I were best friends mapping out the future – that is, the upcoming baseball season.

    From our 40th floor booth we could crane our necks southward and catch an occasional glimpse of the still-shuttered Vet through the afternoon rush hour haze. Hidden behind the low-hanging orange cloud and too far off to see, hundreds of workers were busy converting the multipurpose stadium for the upcoming baseball season. As I thought about the feverish work being done behind the wall of tinted fog, Harry wasted no time. With his deliberately-paced projection that could reach half-way to the stadium, he said, “So WALLY – tell me! Whaddyaaah thinnk of the Phillll’s chaanncess THISss yearrr?
    Again, it seemed to take me an eternity to answer.
    Harry Kalas, the voice of the Phillies, the grand eloquent spokesman for my life’s great passion was asking ME for a play-by-play of the upcoming season.
    “Well,” I uncontrollably blurted out – “I just can’t see them finishing higher than third place.”
    I found myself simultaneously overwhelmed by the source of the question and underwhelmed by my own response. Had I let Harry down with my dour prediction? Did I just single-handedly put a hex on the entire season? Like most baseball nuts – I’m hopelessly superstitious. In reality, I was being generous with my prediction. It was going to be a tough rebuilding year after the team’s pennant-winning ’83 season, but still, I wished the opinion had never slipped out of my mouth.

    Now it was Harry’s turn to ponderously ponder a response. His forehead wrinkled up aa he seemed to struggle for the right words.
    Just then, the maitre d’ pulled up a corded phone to our table. Table-side phones in the pre-cellular World were a luxurious phenomenon that I had never experienced. Expecting the call was for Harry, I barely paid attention to the Maitre D’s announcement as she spoke my name, instead. Harry held his response to my season-ending prediction of doom as I mustered a delayed and shy “Hello” to the mystery caller.
    Thanks to an eavesdropping snitch back at the recording studio, my fiancé had tracked me down to remind me that I had volunteered to drive her to her best friend’s wedding shower and needed to be home within the half hour.
    My professional consultation with Harry was officially over. I never even had a chance to to hear his response to my prediction for the season or hand him my starting lineup – the lineup that I knew could keep the team in contention if only they would listen – and only Harry had the clout to convince them in my stead.

    Not long after, I did have the opportunity to have another lunch with Harry, and this time he dragged along Richie Ashburn, his broadcast partner and my Phillies player of all time.
    There I was, two future hall-of-famers, a lobster lunch and me. We barely talked baseball. Most of lunch was devoted to Whitey reciting his favorite spoonerisms and he kept Harry and me in stitches.

    So I suppose there’s more to life than baseball, but given the choice, I’d rather live it with those who share my passion.
    Rest in Peace, Harry.
    You were never out of first place.

     
 
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