How could it not? I never met the man, but I knew him well. All of Philadelphia did. He was someone who we could always count on — a consummate professional, yes, but also a passionate partisan whose emotional investment in the Fightin’ Phils made every single game a joy to listen to. In so many ways, he WAS the Phillies — a baseball roster may be an amorphous, ever-changing organism, but Harry wasn’t going anywhere. He would never leave us.
Until, you know, he did. And it’s a very difficult thing to accept.
Tributes to Harry have already deluged both local and national media — in newspapers, the blogosphere, on TV, and, of course, on the radio. It’s just 24 hours after his death, and already what I’m doing here feels superfluous. How can I possibly add anything new to the discussion?
But that’s not the point. Harry’s passing is such an epochal event in Philadelphia because he meant so much to so many of us — he was the voice of summer, the voice of our childhoods, the voice that served as an immediate reminder that, right now, there’s a baseball game going on. Just forget about everything else and enjoy it.
In this divisive world, there’s comfort in this unanimity of sentiment. He meant the same thing to so many, meaning that our individual experiences were also collective ones. So when I tell people that my brothers and I narrated our wiffle ball exploits in the voice of Harry Kalas, or that we referred to our favorite players in a drawn-out, baritone drawl — there’s an immediate understanding there. We all did stuff like that. It was part of growing up in (or around) Philadelphia, part of growing up a Phillies fan. It was who we were, and who we are.
In the aftermath of Harry’s death, there has been an understandable emphasis on his “classic” calls — the 1980 run to the World Series, Schmidt’s 500th home run, the ’93 pennant clincher, and, of course, the final out of the 2008 World Series. These audio snippets will live on forever, and deservedly so.
But Harry’s appeal was that he lent an authority and a sense of drama to every game, no matter how meaningless. The Kalas calls that will stick with me the longest are those that occurred in the regular season, during the lean years of the late 80s and early 90s, when one had to take everything on a game-by-game basis and not worry about the bigger picture.
During those times, Harry provided me with many of my most enduring baseball memories. His calls were so exciting that I would stay up late to listen to the post-game show, taping the highlights onto a blank cassette. One call in particular always stayed with me, and I’m not really sure why. It occurred in 1991 against the Expos, and those familiar with Harry’s excitable style will have no problem reading these words in the way that he would have spoken them.
“Swing and a base hit to right field! Hayes scores! Thon scores! Holding at third — No! — Dykstra runs through a stop sign, he scores! The ball gets loose in the infield, and the Phillies have taken a 4-3 lead, in the bottom of the seventh, on an RBI double by Ricky Jordan.”
This is my favorite moment, and I’m providing it in order to make the point that Harry did this every day. He could take something as mundane as a baseball game between two losing teams in the dog days of summer and turn it into a life-long memory, one guaranteed to create a smile at the mere thought of it.
That is true artistry, and that is why this is such a tremendous loss — to all of Philadelphia, and all of baseball.
Goodbye, Harry. I will always miss you, and I will never forget you.