Harold Norbert Kalas
March 26, 1936 - April 13, 2009
The Voice of the Phillies
Harry Kalas was not the most famous sportscaster around, at least in a national sense. He didn't have the name recognition of Harry Caray or Howard Cosell. However, Kalas, a native of Naperville, Illinois, was every bit a Philadelphia institution as Ben Franklin, the Liberty Bell, or Tastykakes. For thirty-eight years, Kalas was the voice of the Philadelphia Phillies, and since the mid-1970's was one of the main voices of NFL Films. And, yes, his was the voice you heard during the Puppy Bowl.
The son of a Methodist minister of Greek descent, Harry Kalas graduated from the University of Iowa in 1959, then served two years in the U.S. Army stationed in Hawai'i. In 1962, Kalas began to announce for the Hawaii Islanders, a AAA-affiliate of the Kansas City Athletics, moving to the big leagues when the Houston Astros hired him before the 1965 season. Spending his first six years broadcasting from the brand-new Houston Astrodome, Kalas would announce such moments as Eddie Mathews' 500th home run in 1967, as well as Cesar Cedeno's first homer in 1970.
In 1971, Kalas became the announcer of the Philadelphia Phillies, and was the master of ceremonies when Veterans Stadium opened that April. Over the years, he would be joined in the booth by many people, but Kalas is most remembered for his 26-year partnership with color commentator and Hall of Fame centerfielder Richie Ashburn, who he used to call "His Whiteness". The Phillies improved over the years, winning four National League East titles in five years under the leadership of Mike Schmidt, Garry Maddox, and Larry Bowa. However, the Phils could not succeed in the NLCS until after acquiring Pete Rose in 1979. Ashburn and Kalas (along with Andy Musser) would finally announce a pennant winner in 1980, after the Phils beat the Houston Astros in what is widely regarded to be the greatest League Championship Series of all time. However, Major League Baseball did not allow a club's broadcasters to announce the World Series, and Kalas would have to settle for re-enacting Tug McGraw's World Championship-clinching strikeout. In 2003, during the closing ceremonies of Veterans Stadium, Kalas would repeat his re-enactment, when McGraw (who would succumb to a brain tumor three months later) mimicked his last pitch.
Over the years, Kalas came to be known for his catchphrase, "This ball is outta heeeerrreee..." While in a 2007 interview, he claimed to start saying this during the mid 1970's, influenced by the slugging power of Greg Luzinski, there is evidence that he used at least a variation of it during his years with Houston. The most memorable use of this was when "Michael Jack Schmidt" hit his five-hundreth home run in 1987. Other memorable calls included many associated with the Phillies' pennant-winning season in 1993. That July, a twi-night doubleheader at The Vet against San Diego was delayed by rain, and did not end until well past four in the morning, with closer Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams driving in the winning run in the tenth inning. Kalas' use of Williams' clubhouse nickname, "Mitchie-Poo" turned a great game into a legendary one. When the Phillies clinched the National League East in 1993, Kalas led the team in a drunken rendition of "High Hopes", which he would repeat on at least two different occasions.
The Phillies would lose the 1993 World Series in a heartbreaker to the Toronto Blue Jays, and would not make another run for the playoffs for nearly a decade. In September of 1997, Richie Ashburn died in a New York City hotel room after broadcasting a game against the New York Mets, leaving Harry Kalas to broadcast with Chris "Wheels" Wheeler, with whom he had a contentious professional relationship with, and former Phillie Larry Andersen, among others. For a while in the mid-1990's, Harry's son Todd joined the Phillies broadcast team.
In 2002, Harry Kalas was awarded the Ford C. Frick Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and would join the Phils in opening Citizens Bank Park in 2004. By this time, the Phillies had built the nucleus of a championship team, and Kalas was there, ushering in the catchphrase "Chase Utley, YOU ARE THE MAN!!!" when the young second baseman started to become a star. In 2007, the Phillies came from behind to win the NL East title, led by 2007 NL MVP Jimmy Rollins and 2006 NL MVP Ryan Howard. While they were swept by the Colorado Rockies, they would be back the next year, and how!
While Harry was able to announce the 1983 and 1993 World Series, he finally was able to call a World Series win for the Phils in his final full season, 2008. Ironically, the Phillies would face the Tampa Bay Rays, who had hired Todd Kalas as an in-game analyst when they began playing in 1998. For part of one game, they worked the booth together, joined by Harry's younger son Kane. On October 29, 2008, after twenty-eight years and a two-day rain delay, Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to clinch the World Series, and Harry Kalas would make the call of his life:
"The 0-2 pitch, SWING AND A MISS!!! STRUCK HIM OUT!!! THE PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES ARE 2008 WORLD CHAMPIONS OF BASEBALL!!! Brad Lidge does it again...and watch the city celebrate! Don't let the forty-eight hour wait diminish the euphoria of this moment and this celebration!..."
Kalas was among those cheered as the Phillies marched through Broad Street two days later. While his decline in health had been noticable, there was no doubt he would be there when the Phils tried to repeat as World Champions. During the offseason, Kalas underwent surgery; its nature was never disclosed and was considered "minor", but had missed much of Spring Training. He had returned in time for Opening Day, and threw the first pitch the final game of the opening series. In what turned out to be his final game, on April 12, 2009, Kalas made the call on Matt Stairs' game winning home run against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.
On Monday, April 13, 2009, the Philadelphia Phillies were preparing to play in Washington, D.C. against the Nationals. Sometime around 12:30 pm, Harry Kalas was found unconscious in the broadcasting booth, and was taken to George Washington University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at around 1:20pm of heart disease. The Phillies went on to win the game against the lowly Nats, with players smoking cigarettes in tribute to Harry the K during the moment of silence. Shane Victorino pointed to the broadcast booth at Nationals Park in honor of Kalas after hitting a home run in the third inning. While plans for a private funeral and burial were being made, the Phillies scheduled a public viewing at Citizens Bank Park for April 18.
Kalas' death was just one in a week filled with tragedy in the baseball world, with the car accident death of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart on April 9, and the farm accident death of 1976 AL Rookie of the Year Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, also on April 13. In addition to Scott and Kane, Harry Kalas is survived by his wife and another son, as well as millions of people who grew up with his rich, baritone voice.
Sources (other than decades of being a dedicated Phillie Phanatic):
- http://astrosdaily.com/audio/70cedenohr.mp3 (A sample of Harry Kalas from his Houston days).
- http://onthedlpodcast.com/clips/phils_champs_harry.mp3 (Kalas' call from Game 5 of the 2008 World Series).