Bob Ford wrote a wonderful piece about the death of Harry Kalas for the Inquirer this morning, noting that the loss of Harry was akin to losing other Philadelphia staples such as the Liberty Bell, the Art Museum Steps, or Boathouse Row. Harry was as much Philadelphia as he was a Philadelphian, and Bob articulated it with great skill. But it goes even deeper than that. If the following post seems to be backpacking off of Ford’s style a bit…well, it probably is. And I am not attempting to over-eulogize here, having provided one yesterday. But he touched on something in his article that I thought had legs, at least for one more delve into the soul of this town and game.
There will be no Summer for us this year – Spring, with its nippy breezes and frequent downpours and tentative warmth will have to settle in for longer this year. Try as it may to birth Summer – to nurture and develop its passionately sprouting vegetation, its long, sticky days, its yawning sunrises and fiery sunsets – Spring instead will dejectedly abort it before its infancy.
There will be no Summer for us this year, which will change our routine. The parking lot will be a somber place before games, patrons either arriving shortly before opening pitch, or sitting inside their cars, eating pre-made ham sandwiches, individual-sized bags of potato chips, and drinking from bottles of water and boxes of juice. Gone will be the crackling grills, the clckkkkk of beer tabs being opened, the whooshing nature of bean bags and metallic rings and small quates being tossed toward strangely-molded crates and wooden shelves. No pre-game talk will meander through the static of small radios; no music will come blaring from car speakers.
There will be no Summer for us this year, and I fear it will deeply affect our perceptions. Crackerjacks will taste like popcorn and peanuts, and hot dogs will lose their appeal and be chastised as greasy, processed meat. Lukewarm beer sweating on plastic cups will be disregarded on concrete steps, patrons insisting they had been ripped off and sold highly-priced water. Peanuts and sunflower seeds will remain shelled and ignored, or will be bought shell-less and heckled with artificial flavors, ushers across the ballpark scratching their brow as they walk along spotlessly clean rows. Cheeks will remain flatly pressed against faces, wads left in pockets or never purchased to begin with, suddenly tasting of glass rather than apple-stained tobacco. During the seventh inning, patrons will quietly flex the muscles in their legs, remaining in their seats.
There will be no Summer for us this year, and it will likely change the neighborhood. Where will the old men sit, having abandoned their front sidewalk, their folding chairs, their cigars, their tiny, bellowing radios? What happened to the clatter in the bar? Where did the chitting and the chatting folks go? Where are the rising yells and the withdrawing moans and the clank of freshly renewed pitchers set in the middle of tables? Why are so many of our televisions silent?
There will be no Summer for us this year, and it might reveal a few ghosts. Mighty Casey will strike out again, but lawyers will discover that Babe Ruth didn’t actually call his shot. Along similar lines, sociologists will discover that Bobby Thomson’s home run was in fact not heard ’round the world. “(Dizzy)” will be removed from the plaque of Jay Hanna Dean, as will “The Say Hey Kid” from the one of Willie Mays. The ivy will be stripped from Wrigley’s walls, and the Green Monster will be lambasted and scorned as “frivolous.” Scientists will disprove that cities such as Boston or Chicago or Philly were cursed, insist that Carlton Fisk was ridiculous in trying to coax a fly ball fair, and rampantly deny that Mark Fidrych was a bird.
There will be no Summer for us this year, sadly changing the game. Balls will be balls and strikes will be strikes, and we’ll all just live with it. Fans will not wrack their brains, desperately conjuring up what they hope to be clever insults directed at impervious umpires. Managers will not storm out of the dugout and kick dirt at “Blue” or bump bellies with him, ignoring the urge to yell whatever it is they yell back and forth at one another. Baserunners will avoid making contact to break up double-plays or to dislodge the ball from a catcher on a play at the plate. Batters will ignore idiosyncratic routines before they hit; pitchers will move at an industrious, mechanical, predictable pace. There will be no huddles by the mound, and balks will be monitored by a computer program specifically designed to recognize them, alerting the umpires when they occur. Leads will be precisely measured and never intended to taunt opposing pitchers; more than one pick-off attempt or step-off-the-rubber will be considered a “delay of game.” Pitching behind batters or plunking them will be swiftly handled with fines, suspensions and anger-management courses; bench-clearing brawls will be broken up by mace-wielding cops and mediated by shrinks.
There will be no Summer for us this year, so Fall had best wake up from its slumber and begin to cool us down earlier this year. It won’t take much work to color the leaves, or to introduce bluster back into the air. Spring and Fall will finally meet, and we’ll seamlessly move from one to the other, only vaguely curious of of something we seemed to miss.
There will be no Summer for us this year; the soundtrack we knew it by went silent. Who will narrate its charm, its beauty, its passionate bravado? Who will gently coax us through the burnt-orange evenings, the heat-blanketed afternoons of weekend games? Where is that Voice that evokes the sensation of Summer itself, that revitalizes memories of Baseball lore and renews our fascination with the game’s offbeat idiosyncrasies?
Where is the Voice that perfectly endeared itself to our traditions?
There will be no Summer for us this year, at least not as we’ve always known it. This will be a new sort of Summer, a Summer of limbo, of recollection, of mug-hugging toasts and sentimental renditions of “High Hopes,” of the fading sound of “Outtaaaaa heeeeeere…” as it catches a breeze and wisps away in the air. This will be the epilogue of Summer as we know it, a book of 37 wonderful chapters coming to its close. Next year we will begin a new novel, hoping against hope that it will not resort to simple novelty. We expect more than that.
May we remember the Summer as we knew it fondly, keeping that Voice in our heads, and more importantly, in our hearts. That’s the Voice of Philadelphia, the Voice of Baseball and its many charms.
May we always remember the Voice that narrated our Summers.