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A great voice to speak no more
Submitted by Kevin Wuzzardo on Mon, 04/13/2009 - 2:19pm.
In July 1989 my parents took me and my sister to Atlanta so we could see our beloved Philadelphia Phillies play the Atlanta Braves. We went to two games that weekend, and before a sweltering Sunday afternoon game I stood behind the Phillies dugout getting autographs. While most of the fans just wanted the players, I had to have the signature of Harry Kalas, the Phillies legendary broadcasters. As Kalas signed a baseball I'd tossed him, a photographer snapped a picture of pitcher Roger McDowell signing an autograph for someone else. It wound up on the back off McDowell's 1990 Upper Deck baseball card. On the left edge is a chubby, 11-year-old me. Just behind McDowell is the top of Kalas's head.
That baseball card has been one of the greatest highlights of my life for nearly two decades now. But my love for Harry Kalas goes far beyond him signing a ball for me that day or the program he signed for me at a Spring Training game in 2003 with the inscription "HOF 2002" signifying his enshrinement in Cooperstown the previous summer. For me, and for a couple generations of Phillies fans, Harry Kalas was the voice of summer.
Harry Kalas passed out in the broadcast booth at Nationals Park in Washington, DC, just hours before the World Champion Phillies were to play in the Nats' home opener. He was pronounced dead at a Washington hospital a short time later. I am in shock, mourning and tears. And I know I'm not alone.
I spent many a childhood night in South Carolina fine-tuning a radio to find 1210 AM from Philadelphia to listen to Harry and his broadcast partners call Phillies games. During summer trips to see family and friends in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I would try to watch and listen to as many Phillies games as I could. The teams were often bad, but the broadcasting was fantastic.
Harry Kalas had one of those voices that are truly wonderful. You could listen to this guy read the phone book. I used to watch Inside the NFL simply to hear him voice the NFL Films highlights. He got that job after former Philadelphia newsman John Facenda (AKA "The Voice of God"). Harry's was surely the only voice that could replace Facenda's legendary sound. Kalas admitted he started smoking at a young age, and that likely added to the rough edges that accented the silky smoothness richness of his baritone. As a wanna-be broadcaster, I dreamed of sounding like Kalas, of being able to call a home run like Harry with his legendary "That ball's outta here!"
When Mike Schmidt hit his 500th home run in 1987, people, including Schmidt's Phillies teammates, were as interested in Harry's call, which I know by heart, as they were in Schmitty's homer. MLB broadcast restrictions used to preclude the teams in the World Series from having their radio partners broadcast the most important games in their history. That went on for decades until the Phillies won it all in 1980 without Harry Kalas being able to call the games. The Phillies made a record (which I own, but have never been able to listen to, and which Harry autographed) of Kalas recreating the final game of that Series. MLB then changed the rule, letting local broadcasters to carry the games. Twenty-eight years later when the Phillies marched to their second World Championship in October, the final out of each round with Harry's voice was replayed over and over, especially the World Series clincher. That's how much Harry Kalas meant to the Phillies, their fans and the city of Philadelphia.
If you thought the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart had a big effect on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, it will surely be nothing compared to what Harry's death will mean to the Phillies. The Angels cancelled their game the night after Adenhart died. As I write this, the Phillies are beginning play against the Nationals. Perhaps fittingly Jamie Moyer, a Philadelphia-area native who grew up a Phillies fan and skipped school to attend the 1980 World Series parade, is the Phillies starting pitcher. The Phillies announcers are in tears as they try to begin the broadcast. I don't know how they'll make it a full nine innings. I'm not sure how I will, and I met the man just a couple of times.
Harry Kalas is, like a home run by Michael Jack Schmidt, "Outta here." He died doing what he loved. May we all be so lucky. He will be forever missed by those of us who love him so much. Our lives have been touched by a heart and voice of gold, and we are better for it. But today, there is significantly less worth listening to in our world. After all, everything sounded better when Harry Kalas said it.
By: Kevin Wuzzardo