There have been a whole lot of positives so far in this young 2010 season for the Phillies, but today is not one of them. Today the Delaware Valley is reminded of the untimely and tragic death of its adopted son-turned-surrogate-grandfather Harry Kalas.
The voice of Philadelphia if ever there was one, Harry brought together fans across generations and classes, across eras of Phillies baseball and years of NFL season recaps. His voice presided over the summer and boomed on Chunky Soup commercials, and the Phillies had a 3011-3145 record over the course of his 38 years with the team from 1971 through April 13, 2009.
His career included 10 playoff berths for the Phils, saw two new stadiums open, and witnessed 12 different managers pass through on a permanent basis. By the time he won the Ford C. Frick Award and got himself a spot in the baseball Hall of Fame, Harry had become a spectacle bigger than the game and a old dependable friend with which we shared all of the Phillies’ successes and (mostly) failures.
Everyone heard the news that day within a few hours that Harry was gone. That baseball would never again sound the way it always had and that which we all feared when we heard about his offseason sickness had come true.
I remember being in my room at school and checking out this crazy new thing called Twitter. The Phils had a game coming up that day against the Nationals, and I thought it would be interesting to see what Todd Zolecki had to say about the game so I clicked over to his account. (Note: at the time I was still resisting the idea that Twitter would ever catch on, so I just clicked on the Twitter feeds of people I knew were good instead of “following” them.) Anyway, when I clicked over the first time, Zolecki had tweeted something about Harry’s collapse and that he was on the way to the Emergency Room. Next, probably less than an hour later, I saw the message that said he had died and I had no idea what to do or say. I think this video (well, the audio) of the usually-smooth and congenial Scott Franske and Larry Andersen groping for words and stumbling over emotions captures the sentiment of the day.
Then again, not everyone was so tactful and poignant. Some people tried to pay tribute to the Voice – and admirably so – but came up with bizarre piano songs that sound more like a sad song from a fourth-rate Disney movie than a worthy tribute to a man so well know for his poise and grasp of the moment. This video is an example of that second group. Feel free to laugh at it, this cheesy little number ranks up there with “He Wore Number 1” from the Richie Ashburn memorial DVD for “Song most likely to make Celine Dion Vomit.”
I called my dad and broke the news to him a few minutes later and it was a strange conversation. I grew up doing Harry Kalas (and Merrill Reese) impressions with my dad and constantly goofing on broadcasters. I can honestly say that I haven’t heard a Harry impersonation from him since that day. It wouldn’t feel right to do one.
What did feel right all season long was the way the Phillies paid tribute to their fallen hero. Between the HK patches, the banner in left field, the retired “number,” the Phillies players chain-smoking a cigarette during pre-game introductions the next day, and the blazer and shoes perched constantly in the dugout along with the team, the Phillies did a whole lot to honor his memory. I think my favorite one is the playing of Harry’s rendition of “High Hopes” after every home win. I mean seriously, who had ever even heard that song before Harry started singing after big wins? And now, it’s like the Phillies version of a fight song, with drunken fans slurring their way through it every time the Phillies treat them to a win, a division title, a playoff series win, a National League Championship, or a World F—ing Championship.
And that’s all Harry would have wanted, it would seem. He loved and understood the fans in Philadelphia more than anyone else in recent memory, and would defend us against any criticism. And not in that combative “shut up you just don’t get it” Mike Missanelli kind of way. He just genuinely enjoyed what he did and the people who made it possible. Namely, the fans.
The team immortalized their voice through the new postgame tradition. If only they could have immortalized the man himself. We’re all rooting for the Phillies this year, and getting used to T-Mac I suppose (though our boy Franske’s gotta be due for a call-up of some kind soon), but that doesn’t make it any less weird when there’s a home run hit and we don’t here the classic “Outta here” home run call, or my dad’s favorite “Swing and a miss ‘ee struck ‘eem ouuutt.”
Rest in peace, Harry. We’ll see you after the next Phils win.