It happened in the top of the third. Shane Victorino led off the inning, and CRACK – the ball soared toward deep right-field, destined for the stands. I was waiting for the call. “This one is well struck…it’s got a chance…watch this ba-by, outtaaaaa heeeeeere. Home run, Shane Victor-ino”
But not today. Not ever again.
Harry Kalas, at the age of 73, has passed away.
In the course of my 24 years, I’ve watched a lot of baseball, almost all of them Phillies games. And for just about every one, it was the golden-tinged pipes of Harry Kalas that would deliver the action.
It is strange, watching this game against the Nationals, to not hear that voice, the voice that accompanied me through hazy summer nights, the voice that would rise and fall with every pitch, hit and catch, the voice that called the action with the expertise and grace of a professional, and the passion and wonderment of a fan.
That was the thing about Harry – it wasn’t just some job, some gig to pay the bills. You always sensed that it was his life, that he absolutely loved every moment of it, and it translated into every call he made. If he was the voice of the Phillies, then he was the heart of the Philadelphia fans.
Over the next few days and weeks and probably even months, we’ll look back on his career here in Philadelphia, fondly retelling stories and recounting our favorite calls. Sometimes in death, the living look back on the deceased with a newfound sense of endearment and respect, the old cliche that you don’t know what you have until it is gone rearing its ugly head at the most tragic of moments.
But with Harry, we always knew what we had.
As voices go – at least for sports announcers – his was the Statue of David, Starry Night, or, seeing as he was announcing in Philadelphia, perhaps “Rhapsody in Blue”. Yes, “Rhapsody in Blue” nails it – steeped in the pillars of classical music, but bravely infusing colorful splashes of jazz and, more importantly, the proper mix of pathos and joy.
That was Harry – he knew the game, was well-versed in its history, but embraced its changing nature and its changing athletes. He was old-school, but he was cool, too, his exclamations of “Chase Utley, you are the MAN” the perfect way of expressing his gratitude toward the gritty and exciting nature with which Utley plays.
His calls always just felt right, always fit, always perfectly mirrored the way you were experiencing the developments he described.
And that voice; how beautiful and immortal those pipes were. They sounded like top-shelf scotch and a long, slowly-drawn cigar. His game was obviously baseball, but he could have announced a spelling bee, and you would have watched with hairs standing on end. You could imagine him standing in the booth and pumping his fist after a strikeout to seal the Phils win, his call of “Struuuck him out, Phillies win,” bringing a smile to your face every time.
I didn’t know the man personally, but I felt like I did. I grew up on that voice.
What more can you say? The hardest part might be that, were this someone else that left us from the Phillies organization, it would have been Harry who would have given us the words we needed to hear, Harry who would have respectfully led us through our sorrow.
Harry, what would you have us say now?
He’d probably smile, and maybe put his hand on our shoulder, and say nothing more then “Play ball,” his eyes glistening with memories of the game he loved.
We’ll try, Harry, but it sure won’t be easy without you.
We’ll miss you, Harry Kalas. You were a legend, a professional, a baseball aficienado, a hell of a talent, and in Philadelphia, even to countless people who never knew you beyond your work in the booth, a friend. You were one of us, and though we mourn now, we will remember you fondly.
My deepest sympathies go out to his family, friends, and all of those he touched.
May you rest in peace, Harry.