In the world of sports, legendary broadcasters become like family to their team’s fan base. For whatever reason, the connection baseball broadcasters have to their team’s fans is different than in other sports.
The Chicago Cubs had Harry Caray, the St. Louis Cardinals had Jack Buck, the Los Angeles Dodgers have Vin Scully, the Detroit Tigers had Ernie Harwell, and so on. I could go on and on and name many more, but you get the idea.
In Philadelphia, there is one name that was synonymous with Phillies baseball; one name that, when someone said the word “Phillies”, it was the first thing that came to your head.
In 1970, Phillies broadcaster Bill Campbell, who, along side By Saam, called Phillies games since 1963, left and was later replaced by Houston Astros broadcaster Harry Kalas. He was not welcomed warmly due to the popularity of Bill Campbell, but it did not take him long to win over fans with his smooth baritone voice and passionate love of the game of baseball.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Kalas remained the tv play-by-play voice for the Phillies for the next 38 years until the afternoon of April 13, 2009, 5 years ago today.
Kalas was preparing to call a game between the Phillies and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington D.C when he collapsed in the broadcast booth and died shortly after.
In a matter of just under two hours, the voice of Phillies baseball for nearly four decades, and, for some fans, generations, went silent. Kalas was 73 years old.
Kalas’ sudden death was met with an unbelievable amount of shock and sadness. “We lost our voice today.” Phillies owner David Montgomery said, soft-spoken and visibly shaken, shortly after news broke of Kalas’ death. Former Phillies pitcher and current radio color commentator Larry Andersen tearfully spoke about Harry leading the 1993 team in “High Hopes”, the song he would often sing in celebration after a big Phillies win.
As a tribute to Kalas, Tom McCarthy and the rest of the Phillies TV broadcasting team remained silent during the first inning of the Phillies – Nationals game in Washington DC which took place the day he died. There was a brief uncertainty as to whether or not the game would be postponed. However the Phillies all agreed that Harry would have wanted the game to go on as scheduled. So, after a moment of silence was observed before the game, that’s exactly what happened.
A memorial service was held at Citizens Bank Park and his casket was placed behind home plate, an honor that only Babe Ruth and longtime St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck had received prior to this. Thousands of fans showed up, many in tears by the end of the ceremony.
Every Phillies fan has their memories of Harry and their favorite calls of his. One memory in particular sticks out to me when it comes to Harry Kalas and it happened back when I was around 12 years old.
My dad, a dentist, had gone down to Clearwater, Florida that spring during Spring Training to examine some of the players and coaches regarding chewing tobacco and oral cancer. Later that season, a group he worked with was presenting a check along with a couple of players before the game and my dad was one of the people who was on the field at Veterans Stadium (“The Vet”, as fans called it) presenting the check.
My mom and brothers were also there and we had press box seats for the game. During the game, I had to go to the bathroom so my dad and I went to the bathroom and as I was finishing up, an older man walked up next to me to use the bathroom. He turned and said “How are you doing son?” When he walked in, I recognized him, but I wasn’t entirely sure it was him until he turned and said hello in that familiar baritone voice.
When I left the bathroom, I turned to my dad and said, softly, “Dad, that was Harry Kalas.”
It lasted all of about three minutes, but I will never forget it.
He had such a tremendous impact on Phillies fans and players, past and present, that when he passed away, it almost felt like you had lost a member of your family. His legacy lives on through his three sons, as well as at Citizens Bank Park, where the TV broadcast booth is named in his honor.
Many fans and current and former Phillies alike remember Kalas for his love of baseball, his legendary baritone voice that was the sound of many summers, his singing of “High Hopes” and his long list of memorable quotes and calls from some of the Phillies’ most memorable moments.
His most famous call actually started with Phillies shortstop (and later manager and coach) Larry Bowa and batting practice. Kalas, who was in his early stages as Phillies broadcaster and still in search of a famous “catch phrase” for home runs, was standing behind the batting cage as Greg “The Bull” Luzinski took batting practice. Luzinski, who was known for his mammoth home runs, crushed a ball into the upper deck of The Vet. Larry Bowa reacted in amazement and said “Wow! That’s way outta here.” Kalas thought that “it had a nice ring to it”.
Just like that, Harry had a catch phrase and continued to use it up until his death.
Having heard Harry say in excitement “That ball is OUTTA HERE!” many, many times, I have to say, and I think I speak for every Phillies fan, it does have a nice ring to it.
Perhaps his best call came in October of 2008 in Game 5 of the World Series.
In 1980, the Phillies defeated the Kansas City Royals 4 games to 2 to win their first ever World Series Championship. However, due to broadcasting rules at the time, local announcers were not allowed to call the game. So, despite the Championship, Kalas did get to call the final out.
Fast forward 28 years to 2008. At long last, Harry Kalas finally got to call his beloved Phillies “World Champions”:
“One strike away; nothing-and-two, the count to Hinske. Fans on the their feet; rally towels are being waved. Brad Lidge stretches. The 0-2 pitch — swing and a miss, struck him out! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball! Brad Lidge does it again, and stays perfect for the 2008 season! 48-for-48 in save opportunities, and let the city celebrate! Don’t let the 48-hour wait diminish the euphoria of this moment, and the celebration. And it has been 28 years since the Phillies have enjoyed a World Championship; 25 years in this city that a team that has enjoyed a World Championship, and the fans are ready to celebrate. What a night!”
Those are just two memorable Harry Kalas moments. If you were to ask 100 fans about Harry Kalas, many would have similar favorite moments, but all of those fans will have their own individual memories and memorable moments of Harry. They all paid tribute in their own way.
On a personal note, I want to thank Harry for bringing us Phillies baseball in a way no one else could. My early years as a Phillies fan were during a 14-year playoff drought. Harry made those “dark years” that much brighter. Whether I am playing an MLB video game or playing wiffle ball with friends, I would often imitate his home run call in my head (and even out loud as well.)
It just goes to show you: Harry Kalas may be gone, but he has never, and will never, be forgotten.
Take it away Harry: