Instead of profiling one of today’s baseball broadcasters, I have been requested by Miss M. A. Middleton of Brookhaven, PA. to write my memories of Harry Kalas, the longtime voice of the Phillies. I first heard Harry Norbert Kalas in his first year with the Phillies, 1971. At that time Byrum “By” Saam was the main voice, and to be honest it was his voiceand his soft Texas drawl I first noticed and paid attention to. It took a few years for me to appreciate Harry for the announcer he was-as it did for me to appreciate Vin Scully and Ernie Harwell. It took a lot of locals a while to appreciate Harry, as he replaced Philadelphia sports icon Bill Campbell.
In an interview in spring training decades later, Harry told me how he became a baseball fan. His dad took him to Comiskey Park on a rainy day when the White Sox were due to play the Senators. Harry was allowed to hang around the dugout while the tarp remained on the field. Washington’s Mickey Vernon tossed him a baseball, and the stage was set. After a stint as an artillery man in the Army, (can you picture him launching a shell and hollering “That’s way outa here”) he broadcast for AAA Hawaii, then the Houston Astros before arriving in Philadelphia.
The Phillies hadn’t made the World Series since 1950. When they finally did in 1980, to the shock of local fans, they didn’t hear Harry or his sidekick and good friend Richie Ashburn. They heard the national radio broadcast. Philadelphia fans have never been known to stay silent if they want to express their displeasure. This time it worked. They wrote enough outraged letters to the Commissioner’s office that the rule was changed. From 1981 on, local broadcasters have been able to carry the World Series on their team’s flagship station. That meant Harry could broadcast the World Series of 1983, 1993 and 2008 in Philadelphia.
Harry Kalas had many trademarks. Just for starters, there was his big cigar, and his singing of “High Hopes” whenever requested to do so, as Harry Caray sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” in Chicago. Then there was the way he said “Michael Jack Schmidt,” when the Phillies’ third baseman launched one of his 548 career home runs. Other announcers had used players’ middle names. Ernie Harwell was known for saying “Dennis Dale McClain,” in 1968 when Denny McClain won 31 games. I used middle names as a broadcaster, and am still fascinated to find out that C. C. Sabathia stands for Carsten Charles. But there was something special about Harry Kalas’ delivery of the name of his famous third baseman. I was there on a freezing wet night at old Veterans’ Stadium when Schmidt’s number was retired-the only such ceremony I have attended. It would have been unimaginable for anyone but Harry to be master of ceremonies, so all in attendance and all listening on radio could hear him call out ‘Michael Jack Schmidt,” one last time for the guest of honor.
Above all Kalas trademarks was his kindness to the little guy. I was allowed to interview him several times although I never got beyond AA baseball. It meant nothing to him who somebody was-if you met Harry you felt like his friend. That is why the week of April 13-18, 2009 was such a painful week in the baseball world and particularly in Philadelphia. I won’t forget that Monday afternoon, April 13, 2009 as long as I live. My then wife was using our computer at the time. In the best Paul Revere tradition, she hollered down the stairs, “Harry Kalas has collapsed.” I normally moved slowly through life, but when that shout reached me I sprung into action like a minuteman hearing the yell ‘The British are coming.” I was upstairs in a blink, eased my wife away from the computer and basically didn’t let her use it again until after the funeral. During that week while recording the flood of tributes, I got a feel for how Philadelphians great and small loved Harry Kalas. They had lost a friend who had gone with them to the Jersey shore, the Poconos, or wherever they might vacation that his signal could reach. Whether his voice thundered out from a clear signal, or whether it could be barely heard through static, his voice was heard and his fans listened. With his death in Washington, they had lost a friend. So had I.0