On April 13, 2009, Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas passed away while preparing for a contest between the Washington Nationals and the Phillies. Kalas had spent nearly 38 years of his 73 on earth as the voice of the Phillies, replacing the popular Bill Campbell for the 1971 season. Kalas was with the Phillies for the opening and closing of Veteran’s Stadium, the opening of Citizen’s Bank Park, and for six no-hitters, six NLCS’s, and three World Series. Because MLB rules prohibited local stations from broadcasting the World Series with their own broadcast teams in 1980, Kalas would have to wait until the conclusion of his final full season, 2008, to call a Phillies’ World Series win live.
It was worth the wait.
Kalas, christened “Harry the K” by Larry Christenson, and his smooth, baritone voice were the perfect background noise for summer days and were the soundtrack of my, and many others’, youth. Kalas made listening to the Phillies on the radio or tuning in on Prism and Channel 17 pleasurable, even through seasons like the 67-95 1989 campaign or 65-97 2000 campaign. Even though very few of us that listened to Kalas had the opportunity to meet him or spend significant time with him, Kalas came across over the airwaves like an old friend. Kalas spoke with the wisdom of a father, the humor of an uncle, and he and Whitey allowed us to join in on their sincere friendship.
So many people have their own Harry the K memories. If it is OK with everyone, I would like to share my own. I started as a college freshman at NYU in the fall of 2005 in media and communications with a concentration in television. My goal? To become a sports television personality. Originally from Allentown, my family moved to the Ocala National Forrest during my freshman year. Tucked 20 miles away from the nearest grocery store, I had very few options of things to do. I had begun traveling to Orlando to work at WMFE as a newsreader while staying with my brother.
On a weekend where I went to gather some things to take to Orlando with me back to my brother’s, I heard John Tesh on the radio suggest that if you wanted to be successful at something, find a way to talk to the person you admire the most that is most successful in the field you aspire to be in. That person for me was, and will be, Harry Kalas. I wrote a brief letter expressing my adoration with a SASE enclosed should the Hall of Fame broadcaster decide he wanted to write back and sent it out on Saturday.
That Tuesday, I took my mom’s Vespa-like scooter to the gym. It would be a 26 mile ride each way in the near 100-degree heat but I felt up to the task. I did not make it to the gym. No, that day the hot pavement helped wreck my back tire and an unknown slow leak led to a now-flat tire and caused me to fish tail. I suffered a pretty bad concussion and lost my front teeth. For that, I am thankful. It could have been worse. I spent one night in Shands hospital and felt I was living out Kanye West’s “Through the Wire”.
I was released the next morning and was on a heavy diet of Ensure and protein shakes, mostly because that’s all I could handle. That Saturday, a large pale envelope came with Citizens Bank Park’s return address. I thought my mom was playing some sort of joke on me. She wasn’t: Harry the K had written back.
It was brief and short but it felt as sincere as when he wished folks Happy Birthday over the air or when his voice perked up when the Phillies won a come-from-behind slug fest late in the game. He gave me two pieces of advice: always do your homework and be yourself.
I never got to meet Harry Kalas but if his brief note was any indication of the type of man he was, he must have been extraordinary; his talents and character extending beyond broadcasting. Sitting in a room, toothless, 1,000 miles away from my friends from high school and 1,100 away from my new friends I made in college, Kalas came to the rescue, just like he did during those long summers down the shore in my teenage years when the Phillies just weren’t very good.
In 2008, I skipped a mid-term, work, and baseball practice to get to the World Series parade. Of all the photos I took from that day, lined up right next to the Steve Carlton statue, the ones that came out the best were those of Kalas. And in many ways, that is a fitting tribute. Of all the names that had come and gone through my lifetime, there had been two constants in South Philly: the name on the front of the jersey and Harry the K in the booth.
In 2002, Kalas was named the Ford C. Frick Award winner and inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. In 2009, Kalas became only one of 13 sportscasters to ever be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. After Kalas’ death, the Phillies’ T.V. booth was renamed “The Harry Kalas Broadcast Booth”. Of course, it is right next to “The Richie ‘Whitey’ Ashburn Broadcast Booth” for the radio team.
In tribute to Harry, here are some of his most memorable calls: