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Monday, April 13, 2009

So Long, Harry

I'm not the world's biggest Phillies fan, but I grew up outside of Philadelphia, and my formative baseball years were spent listening to Harry Kalas call games in the 1980s -- a stretch of seasons in which there was no other reason to watch Phillies baseball except to hear Harry.

So no, I'm not the biggest Phillies fan, but I'm a huge Harry Kalas fan. He, as much as anyone else, introduced me to baseball.

Calling games in which Ricky Jordan and Von Hayes and Steve Jeltz were the marquee names on the lineup card, Harry taught me more about the game and its history than I could have ever learned reading the backs of baseball cards. And I read a lot of them.

With a voice as distinctive as anyone to ever sit behind a mic, Harry had a way of turning even the mundane into something dramatic, and when something truly monumental happened -- like Mike Schmidt's 500th homer, which I remember like it was yesterday -- Harry provided the perfect soundtrack, the sounds that reside in your memory forever. "Home. Run. Michael. Jack. Schmidt." Each word seemed to hang in the air with as much drama as the moment required. His voice was as essential as actually watching that ball soar over the left-center field fence.

I'll never forget Harry and Richie Ashburn arguing over the answer to the trivia question during a boring Tuesday night broadcast. Or even better, the nights when Harry's was the only voice you heard, because he was carrying the broadcast while Ashburn was eating a pizza he had delivered to the booth. Ah, but the two always managed to thank the elderly female Phillies fans or the grizzled owners of an old Italian eatery looking for free advertisement -- all of whom were happy to deliver something delicious to the city's best announcers.

I remember meeting Harry at Veterans Stadium when I was about 10 years old and thinking I was in the company of the most famous man in the world. And he treated me like he was honestly excited to meet me, too.

A few months ago, I was flipping through the channels on TV and came across a rebroadcast of a Phillies game against the Astros from 1987 on ESPN Classic. There was nothing remotely special about the game, unless a Milt Thompson home run constituted something special.

Still, I stopped what I was doing and watched every inning of the game, partly for the Day-Glo uniforms, partly to have a few Don Carmen jokes to text my friends, but mostly just to hear Harry and remember what it was like watching those games when they happened live. It was like walking down the street and bumping into an old friend you hadn't seen in years.

It's a funny thing for sports fans. The guys who you grow up listening to on the radio or on TV -- from Larry Munson to Harry Kalas -- they're a real part of your lives. They become a part of who you are. They're family.

After Harry died Monday -- at the ballpark, of course -- my first thought was that I was immensely thankful that he had a chance to call the final out of the Phillies' World Series title last year.

But more importantly, I'm thankful I had a chance to hear him call all those otherwise meaningless Tuesday night games against the Pirates or Expos or Padres for so many years.

Those games that meant so little in the standings meant the world to me. They instilled the passion for sports that brought me to where I am today. They're some of my happiest memories of growing up.

Thanks, Harry.


Anonymous said...

Well said, very sad day for Phillies fans. As a Philly native and UGA alum, Harry is to the Phillies what Larry Munson is to the Dawg Nation. At least Harry got to go out on top.

“Outta Here!” – best home run call ever. Also was a fan of his work at NFL Films and the always-entertaining Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet.

Harry, enjoy the Herr’s potato chips in heaven and we’ll miss you here.

Jason said...

I know what you're feeling, dude. When Skip Caray died last year it was a pretty jarring experience. I think I even shed a few during Skip's memorial service.

Never lived in Philly so I wasn't able to hear Harry call Phillies games but I've had HBO since I was a kid and always watched Inside the NFL and hearing Harry do the voice-overs during each week's highlights made each game sound so important that even when they got around to doing the Falcon highlights - those games even sounded like they mattered.

Here's to the voices of our youth...may they always be remembered.

David Hale said...

Thanks for the great posts, guys. Very well said.

Erik C. Kriebel said...

David -
Thanks for writing this post. I grew up in Media, Pa outside Philly. I spent every summer from about 6 to 13 (when I moved to atlanta) listening to Phillies games on my radio. It was a rare occasion as a little kid that I got to stay up and watch an entire Phillies game on TV. That meant I spent a great deal of nights in the summer listening to Harry and Richie call the games. Most nights things didn't go the way of the Phillies. In 1993 that was different, that year I forced my family to listen to the Phillies broadcasts while watching the games on TV. Harry made some awful years of baseball more than bareable he made each game feel meaningful. When I was 9 Harry was gracious enough to come to the Media Little League Opening day and announce the names of each player playing that season. If there is one moment in my life I wish I had owned a tape recorder that was it. Harry Kalas, announcing your name as a little leaguer was awesome. Last year I watched the Phillies win the World Series, the first title I saw any team from Philly win in my lifetime. I bought the package from the MLB network to listen to the Phillies broadcasts on my laptop. I couldnt listen to the Philles broadcast the night they won it all but I probably watched the clip of Harry in the booth on youtube about 100 times the next day. You have to understand Harry WAS Phillies baseball.

I would love to pen some great line about what Phillies games will sound like from now with out Harry. I can't, its just going to plain suck for a while.

Even if it was the day after I'm just glad I go to hear him make the world series call this past October. Im glad that is the call that will always be played when we see Brad Lidge throw that last strike.

Harry will be missed.