From the Sidelines: MLB loses friend, icon with passing of Harry Kalas

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April 17, 2009

12:37 AM

Sometimes a commentator is too biased. Sometimes too dry. Sometimes too indifferent or too verbose. Harry Kalas was none of these. The legendary analyst weaved his inner fan together with a professionalism admired by his peers and followers for nearly five decades. Kalas bestowed his voice to baseball fans everywhere, mainly forging his words into the hearts of the Philadelphia Phillies’ faithful.

Tragically, Kalas died of heart disease Monday, at the age of 73, in a press box only a few short hours before the opening pitch between his beloved Phillies and the Washington Nationals.

Kalas sat in the Phillies television booth for 38 years and was the long standing voice behind NFL films productions. If you are not from the City of Brotherly Love, it is difficult to comprehend how much Kalas influenced the lives of Phillies fans. Roughly, what Sam Sadler is to the College of William and Mary, Harry Kalas was to the city of Philadelphia. Both worked for greater organizations, yet the people they served, the students and the fans, considered the men as their own.

Kalas was able to remove himself from the booth and tell the game like it was. Taking in a ballgame with him at the mic made you feel like the Hall of Fame broadcaster was seated on your couch or in the bleacher next to you, ready for the high-five or the more-than-likely sigh of disappointment.

Ray Didinger of csnphilly.com may have encapsulated Kalas’s aura best, writing, “Harry may have called the game from the press box, but his heart was really in the stands with the guys from South Philly.”
Kalas upheld the journalistic ethic of fairness, but combined his love for the game and his Phils to create a telecast no one could top.

As an avid sports fanatic from Philadelphia, Kalas’s influence in the surrounding region was clearly visible.
While I never played organized Little League baseball, neighborhood games and gym classes provided a way to view Kalas’s presence. When someone would smack a long-ball, the batter would inevitably yell Kalas’s trademark home run saying; It’s “outta here.” The slogan grew to be as much his as it was Philadelphia’s.

His voice was uniquely smooth. His tone was one of quiet confidence. He was the sound of reassurance for Phillies fans through many, many years of defeat. And in what turned out to be his final full season in the box, Kalas’s final call of game five of the 2008 World Series was one of his finest.

Given a choice, I would have chosen to hear Kalas’s words over seeing the final pitch. It was this bond, this trust, this relationship between the fans, the players and their commentator, which will never be broken.

Baseball announcers are of a different breed, and few rise to Kalas’s prominence. Harry Carry in Chicago and Mel Allen in New York may be his only true peers. Baseball commentators are in your home 162 days a year, or maybe more for playoffs — something Kalas rarely had the privilege of dealing with. It may have been the sheer amount of time spent with Kalas’s voice echoing in the background, but more likely, it was his love of life and baseball that allowed his relationship with his city to flourish.

Kalas embodied the saying, ‘If you love your job, you will never have to work a day in your life.’ It’s a lesson we should all follow.

Major League Baseball lost a legend Monday, a friend that Philadelphia will not soon replace.

Chris Weidman said ‘outta here’ as a kid. Thanks Harry. E-mail him at [email protected]

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