Harry Kalas: Baseball's Legendary Voice is Silenced
One of the great voices in the history of American sports has been silenced forever. Harry Kalas died doing what he had done better than almost anyone for forty-three years. Harry Kalas died doing what he loved, and what he was born to do. Harry Kalas died today at the ballpark preparing to broadcast a baseball game.
Most kids want to be the guy who hits the home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the World Series. Not me. I wanted to be the guy on the radio who called the game winner. I was always more in awe of Russ Hodges than Bobby Thomson. As a kid I remember turning the volume down on the Saturday Game of the Week and pretending to be both Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek.
After college most of my friends went on to graduate school to hone their skills for their chosen craft or field. After bumbling around the restaurant circuit for a few years, I ended up in a Major League Baseball broadcast booth as an engineer/producer, and although I may not have realized it at the time, it was my graduate school and Harry Kalas was my unknowing professor.
Harry is one of the top twenty greatest baseball announcers of all-time. He is Jackie Robinson and Frank Robinson. He is the Big Unit, The Georgia Peach, and Mordecai "Three Fingers" Brown all rolled into one. His voice is a legend and has been the soundtrack of summer for generations of Philadelphia Baseball Fans.
Harry was incredibly skilled and talented as a broadcaster, but it was his amazing affability that made him an ambassador not just for the Phillies but for the entire City of Philadelphia. Upon meeting him, he made you feel like you were reuniting with a childhood friend because in most cases you were. If you grew up in Philadelphia; you grew up with Harry Kalas.
For two seasons in the early 1990's, I sat in the producer's seat and watched Harry and his partners Andy Musser, Whitey Ashburn, and Chris Wheeler orchestrate through nine innings night after Philadelphia summer night.
Some nights lasted longer than others. There was that Friday double-header in August 1993 against the Padres when it just wouldn't stop raining. I'll never forget the look on Harry's face when pitcher Mitch Williams came to the plate at 4:30 in the morning in the bottom of the tenth inning of the second game. Harry's call as Williams slapped the ball into centerfield was of course classic, "The game is over on an RBI hit by Mitchyyy-Pooooo."
It was a great call and a perfect example of why Harry is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Harry had an incredible sense of the moment. He understood the intricacies of the game, but would never bog you down with minutiae. More than anything, Harry was a storyteller.
A storyteller who happened to have an incredible voice. A voice that was strong yet soothing; melodic but never sing-songy. Harry's voice was unique. Harry's voice will always be synonymous with Philadelphia Baseball.
After leaving my job with the Phillies, I was fortunate to get a chance to do what I always wanted to do. Rarely a game went by when I was broadcasting University of Delaware games or Wilmington Blue Rocks games that I didn't channel something learned from Harry, Andy, or Whitey. For that I will be forever grateful. To have known Harry and to have been fortunate enough to observe him work was truly an honor.
Even though I no longer own a cassette player, I still have a tape of Harry describing a fowl ball off the bat of Mickey Morandini at the old Veterans Stadium. You can hear the ball hit the bat and then Harry's voice briefly fade while he ducks out of the way as the ball screams passed his head ricocheting off the back wall of the broadcast booth. Harry without missing a beat declares that it was, "Snared by Bill Komissaroff our engineer!"
I remember one hangover Sunday summer morning before a Phillies game in August. I was setting up the equipment and Harry was smoking a Parliament cigarette. He looked over at me, broke the silenc,e and opined in that deep, slow Harry voice, "Billy, I'd smoke these things in my sleep if I could just find someone to flick my ash." Classic Harry.
Harry will be remembered best for his call of Mike Schmidt's 500th home run or for the Phillies World Series win last year. But for me it was about the way he connected with the people who were listening to him plus the amazing chemistry he had both on and off the air with Ashburn.
Baseball will never be the same.
Bill Komissaroff April 13, 2009
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