The man is gone, the voice remains

Remembering Harry Kalas

By Patrick P. McNally

He was the voice of our springs and summers. Sometimes, on those very special years, he became the voice of our autumns.

His was the voice that crackled in the thousands of radios on the beaches in South Jersey, as familiar as the Fudgy-Wudgy man or the boys who hawked the Daily News. For almost four decades, we watched the Phillies. But we listened to Harry.

Harry Kalas, fittingly, died while preparing to broadcast another baseball game. That day, he was in our Nation’s capital. But it could have been any of the cities that Kalas traveled to during his time announcing the Phillies, and before that, the Houston Astros. For as much as he will be remembered for the home games at Veteran’s Stadium and Citizen’s Bank Park, Harry Kalas spent half of his seasons as America’s guest.

But his descriptions of the games through the airwaves made it seem like he was still here, in our living rooms. Like many Phillies fans, I have my memories of Harry Kalas. Not surprisingly, most of those are remembered from the other side of a radio speaker.

The first time I really remember hearing Harry Kalas was June 23, 1971. On that night, Rick Wise pitched a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds. He also hit two home runs.  Kalas, in his first year with the Phillies after being hired from Houston, called that final catch by John Vukovich of Pete Rose’s screaming line drive.

After that, his rise in our consciousness coincided with the Phillies’ rise in the standings. After the team won a World Series, their fortunes fell while the stock of Kalas and his partner Rich Ashburn continued to rise. Through the good times and bad, his voice continued to mark the season. Harry Kalas kept me awake during drives on the Boulevard or expressway, after covering civic association meetings or basketball games. I remember that Saturday in May when I pulled my car to the curb, so I could listen to Harry call Mike Schmidt’s 500th home run.

My newborn son was on my lap when I heard him call Mitch Williams’ strikeout pitch against Atlanta in 1993. I, like many people in the region, turned off the national television talking heads during the playoffs and World Series this past season, preferring to hear Harry tell the tale.

Once, I was sitting in the dugout of the old Vet Stadium, after photographing batting practice for my local paper. Earlier, I had listened while Harry, tape recorder in hand, had interviewed the manager. During that exchange, I also watched Rich Ashburn, foot on the edge of the dugout and head resting on his chin, watch batting practice. You can’t buy moments like that.

Of course, I was too afraid to talk to either of them. After all, I was an invited guest of the club. In so many ways, they were the club. But some time later, a voice boomed “Where is His Whiteness?” Harry Kalas asked, while looking directly in my direction. I mumbled that Ashburn was there a minute ago, but left. “Thanks,” Kalas answered back.

Thanks. Now why is that still such a big deal to me? My guess is that while I was not in my environment, Harry Kalas didn’t make me feel out of place. He talked to me like I was supposed to be there, and that was good enough for me.

Baseball will go on, and there will be other voices to tell the tales of the summer game. But for awhile, they seem hollower than the man whose voice will remain forever recorded in the memories of fans throughout the area. As his old friend Mr. Ashburn would say, “Hard to believe.”

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