It is with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes as I listen to Phillies team president David Montgomery announce “We lost our voice today.” The death of Hall of Fame announcer Harry Kalas at 73, just a couple of hours before he was scheduled to cover the Phillies/Nationals game has shocked and saddened the City of Philadelphia. Despite complaining of breathing problems recently, he seemed to be fine calling the Phillies win over the Rockies in Colorado on Easter Sunday.
The Phillies were in Washington, D.C. on Easter Monday for their game against the Washington Nationals. WPVI Action News reporter Dan Cuellar said that Harry Kalas was found unconscious in the press box by a news director, and was rushed to nearby George Washington University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1:20 p.m. “A little bit of each of us died today,” Cuellar commented.
Those who risked the rage of their wives and mothers by scarfing down Easter dinner in order to catch Harry’s last call — are glad they did.
A moment of silence preceded the April 14th Phillies-Nationals game, and despite their grief, the Phillies managed to win the game, 9 to 8. At one point, centerfielder Shane Victorino pointed to Kalas’ post, the Press Box, and hit a solo home run. The Phillies cancelled their April 14th date at the White House to remember Harry.
His trademark shout of “That ball’s outta heeeeerreeee!” brought us all to our feet as our Phillies brought home the pennant last year, and a Phillies game will never be the same to diehard Philadelphians who grew up with Harry Kalas. Kalas has been announcing for the Phillies since 1971, and Phillies’ fans were enraged in 1980 when broadcasting rules forbad Kalas from announcing that year’s series, an outrage that was instrumental in changing the rules.
Ironically, Kalas’ son Todd was an announcer for the Tampa Bay Rays during last year’s World Series between the Phillies and Tampa Bay. In an interview back then, Kalas said “Well, my son’s with the Rays, I’m with the Phillies, so somebody in the family is gonna be a winner. Hopefully it’ll be me.”
Baseball Commissioner Bud Seleg said, “Major League Baseball has lost one of the great voices of our generation. Baseball announcers have a special bond with their audience, and Harry represented the best of baseball not only to the fans of the Phillies, but to fans everywhere.”
One fan interviewed on the street recalled meeting him in a rest area where Harry Kalas was leading fans in cheers, and said that, for the five seconds he actually talked to him, he seemed like the “sweetest man alive.” Another visibly taken aback fan remarked “Wow, that’s….shocking!” And still another said he “… just can’t image a Phillies game without the voice of Harry Kalas.” Scott Franzke, a Phillies radio broadcaster, said, “Players come and go, but “Outta here!”– that’s forever.”
Harry was always there, seeing Philly through its heartaches and joys. He has left a lasting impression on a generation of Phillies fans and his memory will last forever.
Calling Kalas a “superb professional,” Action News reporter Vernon Odom was at Chickie’s and Pete’s sports bar in South Philadelphia the afternoon of Kalas’ death, and interviewed former Phillies slugger Greg Luzinski and former Phillies announcer Bill Campbell. Luzinski said “We came up together. In my mind he WAS the Philadelphia Phillies. I’ve never heard a voice like his and I never will again. He was not only a great person, but a great friend.” He also commented that he never heard Kalas say a bad word about anybody. veteran Phillies announcer Bill Campbell recalled Kalas as a hard worker, always prepared, and as a great guy.
A choked-up Gary Papa, ABC’s Action News sportscaster, said “Harry was baseball.” A visibly saddened newscaster Jim Gardner said he left a void that will be impossible to fill.
Born March 26, 1936, Harry Kalas was a native of Naperville, Ill., the son of a Methodist minister. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 1959 with a degree in speech, radio and television, and was soon drafted into the Army. He began his career in 1961 as the sports director at Hawaii radio station KGU, also broadcasted games for the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii Islanders of the Pacific Coast League. His major league debut was in 1965 with the Houston Astros, and in 1971 he was hired by the Phillies in to replace Bill Campbell.
He used to tell the story of how his love of baseball began, the night his father took him to Comiskey Park to see the Chicago White Sox play the Washington Senators. Before the game, Mickey Vernon, waiting out a rain delay, “saw this wide-eyed kid – me – picked me up, took me in the dugout, gave me a baseball, introduced me to his teammates, and thus began my love of baseball and the Washington Senators.”
Harry Kalas’ popularity was such that a restaurant at the new Citibank stadium was named “Harry the K’s.” He received the Ford C. Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002 for his contributions to the game. His distinctive game calling style, especially his excited utterance of “Outta heeerre,” was mimicked by many other announcers.
I’m listening to the TV as my dumbstruck and heartbroken husband watches the special on TV downstairs, and all I can hear is Harry’s voice calling out all of his trademark calls. “Outta here,” Struck hm out,” “Swing … and a miss,” …. In Philadelphia, Harry was baseball, Harry was summertime, Harry was Philadelphia, Harry WAS the Phillies. I’m just glad that, before he died, he got to say these words:
“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…ooouuut! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball!”
Harry Kalas deserved that honor.