DIBIASE: Passing of Kalas leaves odd silence for Phillies fans

Justin Dibiase

Philadelphia lost a brother Monday. The city also lost a father, an uncle, a grandfather and a friend.

From somewhere within the cavernous and often empty Veterans Stadium, a deep voice would bellow “Outta here!, home run MICK-ey MOR-an-DI-ni!” It was a warm, leathery voice intensified by countless tobacco products but undoubtedly filled with love for the Phillies and the game of baseball.

Hired by the Phillies in 1971, the Illinois-born Harry Kalas soon won the hearts of the Phillies faithful after replacing the popular Bill Campbell in the booth. “Harry the K” was partnered with former Phillies centerfielder and Hall-of-Famer Richie “Whitey” Ashburn. The duo instantly became best friends, and their harmony on the air was nothing short of divine. Kalas’ baritone play-by-play would be followed by Ashburn’s witty color commentary.

They would have nights like the one Harry detailed in his Hall-of-Fame induction speech in 2002. On one of the more boring nights of the season, a hungry Ashburn would wonder aloud on the air “if the people from Celebre’s Pizza are listening.”

“And sure enough, 15 minutes later, we’d have pizzas being delivered up to the booth,” Kalas said. After a few free pizzas, Ashburn and Kalas were told never to mention Celebre’s Pizza again on the air since they were not a paying sponsor. They were told free on-air plugs were okay for birthdays and anniversaries but not for pizza.

A couple games later, another dull game crept on and Ashburn gave an unexpected birthday message. “I’d like to send out very special birthday wishes tonight to the Celebre twins – Plain and Pepperoni,” he said.

For many, the sounds of summer were not defined by the crashing of waves and the humming of lawnmowers but by the harmony of Harry and Whitey. Kalas lost his long-time friend in the fall of 1997 after broadcasting a game together at Shea Stadium in New York.

The next night Kalas could barely get through an inning of broadcasting without his quivering voice failing him. The game consoled Harry, and Harry consoled us.

It was a similar sentiment when baseball returned to America and Philadelphia on September 17, 2001, just six days after the terrorist attacks that killed thousands. Kalas was there to greet us with open arms. He struggled to find words during the Phillies game that night, and now, eight years later, those closest to him struggle to find words that sum up the extraordinary life of one of baseball’s good guys.

What made Kalas so beloved by baseball fans was not just his inviting voice or his approachable personality, but it was the fact that Harry was one of us, just a guy who loved the game. He never once set foot on a professional baseball diamond as a player. He worked his way through the ranks, serving our country for two years in the Army. Like those who loved him, Kalas was a man with faults. He spoke publically about his troubles with alcohol and his misdoings in marriage.

He was there to sing his signature rendition of “High Hopes” to Phillies players and personnel during the magical seasons of ’93, ’07 and ’08. It is a memory that ’93 team member and current Phillies radio broadcaster Larry Andersen will never forget.

“I don’t think I ever want to hear that song again,” Andersen said on Monday, while holding back tears.

After 37 faithful years of service to the Phillies, Kalas was finally given a chance to call a Phillies World Series Championship this past November. He was unable to call the 1980 Phillies championship because of network agreements that prevented local announcers from calling World Series games.

During his tenure with the Phillies, Kalas called six no-hitters, Mike Schmidt’s 500th homerun and the opening of Veterans Stadium and Citizens Bank Park.

It is in these moments that his voice will resonate through the ages, but for those of us lucky enough to hear him on a daily basis, memories of Harry will consist of lazy Sunday afternoons with planes whizzing by overhead, a pot of pasta sauce on the stove and Harry’s low-pitched voice emanating from the television like a tuba in a concert hall.

Kalas was in the broadcast booth at Nationals Park in Washington on Monday when he collapsed. Shortly after, the 73-year-old Kalas passed away in a nearby hospital. It seems only fitting that a man who came into the lives and hearts of fans through the booth would exit the same way.

Hours after Kalas passed away, the Phillies found themselves in a dogfight with the Washington Nationals. The score was 4-4 in the top of seventh when Ryan Howard stepped to the plate. Howard sent a majestic shot to deep center field. The volume on the television was up, the picture was clear, but there was no Harry, no “Watch that baby!” and no “Outta Here!” When Howard touched home plate, he glanced up at the Phillies television booth, and reality once again set in. It was a somber homerun for the grieving team.

Sometimes when athletes and other personalities from sports pass on, it is easy to forget their careers and accomplishments. Most are just names in a record book, waiting to be unearthed by some trivia game or sports historian. Harry Kalas, however, leaves behind a life of baseball that is, simply put, unforgettable.


Justin DiBiase is a senior civil engineering major from Franklinville, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].