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A voice stilled too soon

"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles, CEO Sports Network


The above headline was the first reaction when learning of the sudden passing of Harry Kalas. You gotta be kidding! To the best of my knowledge there had not been any stories, facts, rumors, medical reports, ongoing updates of any sort indicating that Harry was ill, suffering from any malaise that could take him so suddenly from his family and the world of sports.

"Legend" is a term used too easily, off the cuff, a descriptive adjective that takes talent to another level when that should not be the case. But we all just nod, smile and accept it from whatever the source may be because we know better. However, Harry Kalas was, and is, a legendary broadcaster. He was much more than that. No, he was not someone whom I could call friend or invite out to have a gin and tonic after the game. But he was someone I had met on a number of occasions when I was broadcasting and his most notable characteristic was not his talent; it was his being. Casual, friendly, informative, as down to earth as anyone whom I had ever met in the world of sports.

We ran into one another three or four times, at airports, after I had turned to the world of business over broadcasting, and he always stopped to say "Hi!" and ask how I was doing during whatever moments we had before catching our respective flights. That spoke volumes of Harry Kalas.

Harry Kalas was not just the voice of the Phillies, but the voice of the city.
Through the years I often remarked that there are, through some miracle of nature, voices that are created in the womb and then, recognizing what could be, natural forces of the universe, God or otherwise, as you choose to believe, create a body around them. Their ubiquity, substance and character flow forth as a matter of due course and individuality. Harry Kalas will be remembered as one of those special people.

In Philadelphia it was John Facenda, on the national stage Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow. Is there any voice more distinctive than that of James Earl Jones? When I was a youngster in New York City, it was almost sacrilegious not to listen to the voice of William B. William on WNEW, possibly the most heralded disc jockey in the nation.

Harry Kalas was taken too soon. There is no doubt about that. He will not be replaced. Another will fill the vacancy but it will not be the same. It never is. That is the tribute to the man Philadelphians have often referred to as "the voice." Not just of the Phillies, whose games he has covered for 38 years, but of the city.

A Hall of Fame broadcaster about whom many will not recall his stints as an NFL announcer for Westwood One Radio or as the voice-over narrator for NFL Films. It was said of Frank Sinatra, when he was alive, that all he needed was one take in the recording studio; it has been said that Kalas was much the same when preparing features for Inside the NFL. He was the consummate professional.

"That baby is outta here!" It is the defining description of a home run by Kalas and has to be put away for posterity, not to be utilized by anyone else at any time. It actually originated in the mid-1970's when, standing around the batting cage during batting practice one day, Philly slugger Greg Luzinski hit a ball into the upper deck and Philly shortstop Larry Bowa reacted with the words, "Wow! That's way outta here." Kalas liked the ring of that and used it ever since.

He might have been nicknamed "Harry the K" by some, perhaps by many on a given day but, in reality, he was, and still is, Harry Kalas...despite the restaurant built into the main base scoreboard at Citizens Bank Park..."Harry the K's."

An announcer is an author, he is the publisher of a split second book, he creates a visual that miraculously transports you to the event itself and is so descriptive that you can feel the pressure, the exultation, the disappointment. And, he has to do that in about a second without preparation of any sort.

The best of them walk that narrow line of rooting for the home team and being as objective as possible. They are few and far between. The mute button is for those that you find...being a fan of that team aside concerning yourself...on the Fox Network. Harry Kalas loved the game of baseball, sports in general, almost as much as he loved the Phillies. It was close but he was the pro that simply understood.

There are not many of them, and they are sorely missed when they are no longer with us. When I lived in New York as a youth, it was Mel Allen, whose signature phrase was, "Going, going, gone!" Harry Caray who, with apologies to Phil Rizzuto, is credited (in Chicago at least) with coining the phrase, "Holy Cow!" New Yorkers would take umbrage with that however. Curt Gowdy, the longtime voice of the Boston Red Sox, Jack Buck for the St. Louis Cardinal, Vin Scully, Red Barber, Dave Niehous, Ernie Harwell, By Saam, Bob Wolff and a scant few others. All storied sports figures, announcers that made the game something special. Harry Kalas is in the starting line-up of that group. Of that there is no doubt.

The game lives on, the Phillies will dedicate the rest of their season to Kalas, there will be a memorial tribute to him in Philadelphia, a monument in front of Citizens would be appropriate in the months to come and he will be missed, sorely so. But, he will be remembered as much for his "It's outta here!" as for who he was, one of the nicest guys in sports, complete professional and extraordinary human being. The accolades will flow in as though the dam of near deification had burst but they are all well-deserved.

If there is a Field of Dreams somewhere, they just acquired a new announcer to sit in from time to time and make a few home runs more notable than they were the day before.