Harry Kalas: Perfection

Remembering a man who taught generations of fans to love baseball.

By G.W. Miller III
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 4 | Posted Apr. 13, 2009

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Following the Phillies World Series win, Harry Kalas sang "High Hopes" to a cheering throng of fans.

Photo by Photo by Flickr user jpe118. Used under a Creative Commons license.

There was a time when the Phillies gave away baseball bats to young fans entering Veteran’s Stadium.

I remember being a 5-year-old dragging a long, heavy wooden Phillies bat around the concrete stadium in 1976. I was dismayed when my father and I arrived at our seats and I picked up the bat, only to find that the end had been filed down at an angle by the concrete floor. I think I cried.

Everything became fine again when my father propped up his feet on the seat in front on him and rested a small radio in his lap. After a few seconds of scratchy static, the familiar sounds of Harry Kalas, Andy Musser and Richie Ashburn wafted around us as though they were sitting in the empty yellow seats next to us.

That was perfection. Harry the K giving the play by play. Richie tossing in random anecdotes. Andy Musser offering his shrill commentary. And my father teaching me about the game in between.

It was days like that that established my love of the game, and a dedication to the Phillies.

But life goes on. I grew up, got a job. My father eventually moved out of the area. Richie passed away in 1997. Andy Musser retired in 2001. Harry persisted past retirement age, right up until the hour of his death—they literally carried his body out of the press box.

In a city so reluctant to change, one of the great constants has been Harry Kalas, an Illinois native who was enshrined in Cooperstown in 2002.

Mayors and mafia figures have come and gone. The skyline has steadily been altered. Stadiums have been torn down and new ones erected. Our star athletes have changed so constantly over the years it’s hard to keep track. Fourteen different people managed the Phillies during Harry’s tenure with the team.

All along, his slow, velvet barritone dragging out the key syllables was the sweet soundtrack to our sporting life—in ballgames, in NFL highlight films and, awkwardly, in the trailers for Kung Fu Hustle and Leatherheads.

“The 0-2 pitch,” he offered last October as Brad Lidge brought the season to a close.

“Struck ‘eeeeem out,” Kalas roared with the enthusiasm of a fan. “The Philadelphia Phillies are the 2008 … World Champions of baseballllllll! Brad Lidge does it again, stays perfect for the 2008 season.”

Some people may find solace in the fact that Harry passed after the Phillies finally won another championship. But for me, it never mattered if the Phillies won. It probably mattered to Harry -- but it's worth noting that when he was inducted as a broadcaster into the Hall of Fame, he wore the National League Championship ring of the 1993 team—the one that melted down so memorably in that year's World Series. And when the Phils finally did win, there was Harry, on the field, leading the fans in a rendition of "High Hopes," the perfect song for a city—and a team—that seemed to be destiny's sucker for so long.

I’ve always loved listening to Harry. I would have listened to Harry read a law school textbook. We spent many years together, connected by airwaves, often when the best thing about the Phillies was Harry—and, maybe, the Phanatic.

And anytime I hear his voice, I’ll always remember those innocent times when baseball teams could give away bats at the stadium.

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1. Greg Stenz said... on Apr 13, 2009 at 07:01PM

“Very nicely said! He was the voice of my childhood, the one I listened to at home, the ball game, the beach - his voice was everywhere, as you recognized. Unmistakable Harry the K!

Nice article!”

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2. Tony Desderio said... on Apr 14, 2009 at 05:54AM

“Well done George. Your story took me back to my youth and to my love of the great game of baseball. We will miss you Harry. Rest in peace.”

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3. Tony Desderio said... on Apr 14, 2009 at 05:54AM

“Well done George. Your story took me back to my youth and to my love of the great game of baseball. We will miss you Harry. Rest in peace.”

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4. Dad said... on Apr 14, 2009 at 09:44AM

“George, I remember the day well. It was a summer day, bright sunshine and blue skys. It was bat give away day and the red slugger was a "Richie Allen special" with gold lettering. We sat upper deck directly behind home plate, I believe it was in the 400 section. We were so high, I was afraid you would look over and tumble down below.
It was a great day, you and me at the ball park, and I still have the radio!
Dad-”

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