The Collegian
Monday, April 15, 2024

To Harry Kalas, With Love

Last week I learned that Harry Kalas, the voice of the Philadelphia Phillies, passed away while preparing to call a Phillies victory over the Washington Nationals. He was found, unconscious, on the floor of the booth. I cannot find words to express the sorrow that news brought me. Harry was not just the voice of my summers, he was the voice of baseball.

I fell in love with baseball in 1993. I was 9 years old when the Phillies made an unforgettable run at the World Series, defeating the Braves in the NLCS and losing on a bad pitch from closer Mitch Williams in game six of the World Series with Toronto. I fell in love with Lenny "The Dude" Dykstra, Darren "Dutch" Dalton, Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams, John Kruk, Kurt Schilling, Tommy Green and the rest of the mullet-sporting rednecks that composed "Macho Row." But more than the players, I fell in love with the voice I listened to every night, often defying my parents' orders to go to bed, calling every pitch and swing during that magic season: Harry Kalas.

"A long drive into deep left field! Fair or foul? That ball is ... OUTTA HERE! HOME RUN LENNY DYKSTRA!"

And that's how it went, season in and season out. I grew up, had my first kiss, got hit by a car, which shattered my leg, got kicked out of middle school, nearly failed out of high school, nearly got expelled from high school, scored 980 on my SATs and graduated because of an incredible act of grace from a charitable Algebra teacher. I watched my beloved country attacked and watched thousands die only weeks after I had enlisted in the Navy. But through it all, each summer, I had my Phillies and I had Harry.

I never watched the games on TV because my parents didn't have cable. So, I grew up listening to the games on the radio. I think my abiding love of the game is partly due to Harry. His energy and enthusiasm for the game were infectious. To a game that can be terribly monotonous, Harry brought electricity that I could not help but be affected by. No matter how many times Greg Maddux tossed over to first trying to pick off Doug Glanville, I was always on the edge of my seat because I was waiting for the moment when I'd hear Scott Rolen's bat crack and hear Harry's voice begin to escalate - his rich, baritone voice conveying the action perfectly.

"It's up the middle, a base hit! Rolling all the way to the wall. Rolen is rounding first. Being waved around third is Glanville, here's the throw from Jones and he is ... SAFE AT HOME! It's now THREE to one, Phillies! Rolen is safe at third and all with two outs. What a great piece of hitting Wheels."

Harry had an ability, in just a few sentences, to describe exactly what was going on in a game. Though his job required him to talk continuously through the innings, he was a master of concision. Perhaps his influence extends not only into my love of baseball but my love of journalism, where concision is a commandment.

This outpouring of emotion was felt, not just by me, but also by millions of Phillies Phans. It was apparent in recent years that Harry wasn't the same. He sounded different; he sounded older, weaker. But he stuck it out and called the games each day the Phillies took the field, and Philadelphians would not have had it any other way.

It's a funny thing being a Phanatic. The players change each year. Kurt Schilling left and went on to win two World Series - one with Arizona and one with Boston - and retired this year. John Kruk is an ESPN commentator. Doug Glanville writes a baseball blog for The New York Times. "The Dude" owns a car-wash chain in California. "Wild Thing" hosts a radio show aptly named "The Wild Pitch," which runs an hour before each Phillies game. It's really not the players we are devoted to. Phillies Phans would cheer Alex Rodriguez if he were to put on the red pinstripes. Just ask Turk Wendell, a relief pitcher who had a propensity for giving up home runs. One outing, his last outing, he gave up a home run and was booed so mercilessly that he turned to the fans and flipped them the middle finger. He was released shortly after.

No, it's the organization that we love. It's those red pinstripes and dollar dogs at Citizens Bank Park. It's booing the Mets, the Yankees or a wayward Phillie who isn't performing up to potential. It's once every 28 years, flooding Broad Street, delirious with joy because the Phillies are "World F*cking Champions," as Chase Utley put it. It's watching the game and cheering the Phils the day after they have been eliminated from playoff contention. And, because no man embodied the Phillies as he did, it's Harry Kalas.

Last week, as I found myself crying for a man whom I only knew by his voice, I am comforted by knowing that he died where Philadelphia and I loved him best: in the broadcast booth, the place he filled for more than 40 years. I've heard that a ball is "outta here" for the last time, and that is incredibly sad. So, there is nothing for it but to keep on cheering the team he loved, keep on booing, keep on eating too many dollar dogs, keep on believing that this is our year. Goodbye, Harry. I miss you.

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