Thursday, April 16, 2009

Harry and Me

I was 10 years old in 1971 when the Phillies moved into gleaming new Veterans Stadium.  My father took me to a game there that year, my first in person (old Connie Mack Stadium was in a really bad part of town, and you took your life into your hands to go there).  I got to see the dreadful Phillies lose to the awesome Big Red Machine, and saw Johnny Bench hit a homer into the upper deck of the Vet for the first time.

Along with the new stadium, the Phillies got a new lead broadcaster in 1971.  When Bill Giles came over from the Houston Astros that year, he brought Harry Kalas with him.  Harry had the unenviable task of following the enormously popular Bill Campbell, and the fans were not inclined to accept him.  However, his mellifluous baritone and easy delivery soon won over the fans, who appreciated his chemistry with color man Richie Ashburn.  In fact, Harry and Richie soon became the best of friends--more like brothers--with a chemistry like none other.  

Before long, Harry became the voice of summer.  As I grew up, Harry and Richie--he called him His Whiteness--were always there.  I wish I could count the times that I heard those two call games.  At first, the Phillies were dreadful.  And then, they got good.  Harry dubbed third baseman Mike Schmidt "Michael Jack" and got to call every one of Schmidt's 548 career homers--"Watch that baby--outta here!" Or how he would drag out the enunciation of some names: "Mic-key Mor-an-dini".  He was unique.

In 1980, the Phillies won their first World Series championship, and because of the broadcasting contract between the network and major league baseball, Harry didn't get to call it.  That was sad, and for years, I wondered if he would ever get another chance.  Luckily, he did--last fall.  Although Harry's voice didn't betray it, you could tell his heart was racing as he said, "Struck him out!  The Phillies are the world champions of baseball!"  A World Series championship without was something you couldn't even imagine.

Ashburn died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1997, and Harry's loss was palpable.  You could feel his pain at losing his best friend.  But, he picked up the pieces and went on.  One thing was a constant--Harry Kalas.  He transformed himself from the voice of Philadelphia baseball to baseball itself.  Harry was the Philadelphia Phillies.  Players came and went, but one thing was constant--Harry.

We lost Harry on Monday of this week.  He died as he should have: in the broadcast booth, getting ready to call another Phillies game.  And with him died another piece of my childhood.  ESPN's Jayson Stark, who spent 28 years covering the Phillies, summed it up best when he said that the thought of watching or listening to a Phillies game without Harry was inconceivable.  We lost the voice of Philadelphia.  We lost the voice of summer.  And it will never be the same again.

Rest in peace, Harry.  You will be missed by this Phillies fan.

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