This week Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas passed away doing what he loved to do - preparing to call a baseball game. Harry was more than the voice of the Phillies for 38 seasons. For generations of fans he was a central part of the team’s identity.
There’s very little I can add to the stories we’ve been hearing over the past several days. Because Harry was such a man of the people, there are so many people who have had the pleasure of his company. Because he was so grounded, everyone who met him came away with the same feeling that I have always had about him: he was just a sweetheart. How many stories have you heard this week involving Harry making a recording for someone’s voicemail/answering machine/wedding rehearsal dinner? Or involving him setting down for a bit at someone’s table and joining them for a drink or two? That’s because he never said no! Not only was he there for us in the booth, but he was, in so many cases, physically there, right in front of us, brightening our days.
Harry and I lived fairly close to one another, and I would see him regularly in our local Wawa. He’d shuffle in, grab a 24oz cup, give it a pour while asking Steve who tends the coffee, or Palma at the register, or Bob the manager or Tom the deli guy what was going on with them. The pride we all felt that Harry Kalas was stopping in our Wawa! Holy Smokes. No big deal to Harry. He’d have that smile across his face and sparkling eyes that always seemed to say "You would not believe the time I’ve just been having!" He’d ask me: "Michael, what do you think of the boys this year?" As if I had any insight that might possibly help him, this Hall of Famer who only called the games every single day.
One thing that might have been masked a bit by Harry’s tremendous basso profundo, was his knowledge of the game. It was so easy to get lost in his smooth, seemingly effortless play calling that sometimes you’d lose sight of the fact that this man knew THE GAME. Harry not only knew the statistics and background of every Phillies player and opponent, but he also knew the strategy of the game as well as anyone on the field. When then Phillies closer Billy Wagner gave up a three run home run to his former team, the Houston Astros, that would ultimately cause his new team to lose the division by one game, Harry could not hide his disgust. "I cannot believe this," he said. "The runs are all unearned, but so what!" indicating his displeasure with Wagner who talked a good game but was unable to pitch one, at that moment.
Who hasn’t at one time or another while at a Phillies game, looked up toward the booth to see where Harry was, maybe even try to get his attention? Who hasn’t tried to get that bag of peanuts he’d toss down to the fans during the game? I had the honor of sitting in his chair, in that booth at Citizens Bank Park, when Mitch Williams and I narrated Comcast SportsNet’s coverage of the Phillies championship parade last October. It was a career highlight for me. The next time I saw Harry, I mentioned that I’d been in there and what an honor it was and what a great time he must have sitting there with the best view in the house, calling Phillies games. "It’s a pretty great view, isn’t it?" he said with that I’ve-got-a-secret smile. Not as good as ours has been looking up at that booth and knowing he’d be there. What will we do now?