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Harry Kalas: Perfection

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


From the April 15, 2009 Philadelphia Weekly.

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 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.

And now Harry has left us.

He collapsed in the broadcast booth in Washington DC just hours before the Phillies were set to play the Nationals on Monday. He reportedly died shortly after arriving at George Washington University Hospital. He was 73, and had served as the voice of the Phillies since 1971.

Team president David Montgomery announced Harry's death, saying, "We have lost our voice."

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.

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.

(The images above were the covers of the Philadelphia Daily News on the days after Harry passed away. I shot the images when I worked for the Daily News.)