Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Harry's Ubiquitous Presence - Reflections on the Passing of Harry Kalas, Part 2

From this Yahoo page - there is an entire slideshow of Harry Kalas photos on this page... Harry's gesture in this photo, was likely intended to remind fans of Brad Lidge's celebration of the World Series triumph on October 29, 2008...
Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas solicits applause after throwing the first pitch before the start of the MLB National League baseball game between the Phillies and the Atlanta Braves in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 8, 2009. Kalas, a veteran of decades behind the microphone who called more than 5,000 Phillies games since 1971, died on April 13, 2009. Picture taken April 8, 2009. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer (UNITED STATES SPORT BASEBALL OBITUARY)
To the Phillies faithful-

Here is Part 1 and Part 3 of Reflections on the Passing of Harry Kalas...

Harry's Ubiquitous Presence, From April to October

It was noted in yesterday's tributes, that-
"players, managers, and coaches, come and go, but the broadcasters stay".
Broadcasters linger far longer than players or coaches. As for the best ones, they often enjoy a lifetime with the fans of their team. Many Philadelphians, including myself, have no memory of anyone other than Harry, serving as the main play-by-play voice of the team.

In thinking about this fact, I realized, that given how often the Phillies play, that Harry Kalas was probably seen and heard more often in Philadelphia, on an everyday basis- than any other sports figure, in any sport, over the past four decades.

Even a star Phillies player will only be in town for a few years. At most, in the case of the best and most popular players - it will be generally fifteen years, tops, and even that's very rare. And Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins aren't the focus for the entire broadcast - only when they're at the plate or making a play at the field. In contrast, Harry was on for the entire time, either on TV or radio... And the broadcasters for the other sports, since they have games far less often than baseball, are seen and heard far less.

To use our own common passion of Villanova basketball, as the most convenient example...

Our season is short, with 30-35 games (if we have a good season, and depending on whether we're in a holiday tournament...)

Even in this age of 21st-century online media, with the blogs such as this one and those other fine Villanova blogs, which you see on the right sidebar - nonetheless, we see far less of Jay Wright and Scottie Reynolds, than we saw of Harry Kalas, in any given year. (Writing about Harry Kalas in the past tense, for the first time, is both difficult and unpleasant: "we saw of Harry Kalas" rather than "we see of Harry Kalas".)

It was reported yesterday, that Harry did, in fact, do Big Five basketball games, in addition to his many other broadcasting jobs. The outstanding documentary, Palestra: Cathedral of Basketball, has, on their site, a brief video clip of Harry on the Palestra, accessed from their cast biography page... (and if you haven't seen the movie, try to find some time to watch it, as it's incredible...)

I've been doing some digging online, trying to find the exact years, when Harry did Big Five games at the Palestra... but I haven't been able to find them yet... if I do, I'll update and include them...

In trying to explain my avid interest in baseball one time, when it was pointed out to me that the sheer volume of games and the slowness of action, made a poor comparison to (let's say) college basketball, the best way I could try to explain it was this:

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was a prolific author in addition to being one of the greatest figures of world history, wrote once of what it was like to write one of his books:
"One lived with it. It became a companion."
With baseball, you flip it on, whenever you are doing something else - in the car, reading (in my case, often writing on a variety of subjects), organizing, etc. That is what Phillies baseball is like, and for me and virtually all other Phillies fans, there is no way to distinguish Phillies baseball from Harry Kalas. There is no way to conclusively determine where one ends, and the other begins. They are inextricably intertwined. One and the same.

It was reported that Harry called over 6,000 Phillies games, over the course of 39 years. It's an astounding number, and one which clearly testifies to why he is held in such high regard, by Philadelphians in general, and avid Phillies fans in particular.

So this is one of the major reasons why yesterday's news came as such a shock. One moment, everything is normal - Harry is at the World Series ring ceremony, etc. - and the next moment, you hear the awful news that there will never be another Phillies game, where he will do the play-by-play...

"Our Entertainment, Diversion, and Shared Experiences"

The NBC sportscaster Bob Costas - a now-legendary sportscaster himself - said once, in another quote, on the value of sports in society, something to the effect that:
"Sports exist for our entertainment, diversion, and shared experiences."
I agree with him completely. In fact, I think it is the best argument I have heard to justify the enormous emphasis and role that sports play in our world. Even in our increasingly fragmented marketplace, where the word narrowcasting is beginning to replace broadcasting, when each individual person is often seeking a unique entertainment experience, mass-appeal spectator sports continue to play an extremely important role.

We see it in episodes of great joy and euphoria, of which the most recent obvious examples are the World Series championship in 2008 and the just-concluded Final Four appearance by the Villanova Wildcats. And we see it in episodes of sadness, such as the one we're currently experiencing with Harry.

Another Aspect of Harry's Legacy - "He Sure Made a Lot of People Happy"

Harry leaves a remarkable legacy, as the most prominent sportscaster in Philadelphia history and one of the most prominent of his era, nationally. During 39 years with the Phillies and 25 years with NFL Films (and his countless other broadcasting gigs) his voice will live on forever, and as new technologies permit more and more people to access archives, his voice will never be silenced. The Hall of Fame broadcaster will live forever.

That having been said, I'd like to note that there is another aspect of Harry's legacy...

I heard Scott Palmer, the former WPVI/6ABC sportscaster and now head of media relations for the Phillies, while concluding an interview with his former colleagues yesterday amidst the terrible news, say:
"He sure made a lot of people happy."
That is also a great legacy. It's not just that Harry was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Very, very few of us are going to have legacies like Harry Kalas. He was a guy who loved what he did - who in fact, died doing what he loved, at the ballpark in Washington yesterday. And the magic that he produced, when he took his unparalleled talent on the air, regardless of what sport he was broadcasting - it's incredible to comprehend, in retrospect.

How many of us will be able to say, that during our time on this earth, that we made millions of people happy?

And Harry's various audiences, for all sports, totalled well into the millions - it's not an exaggeration. Even those Philadelphians who weren't interested in sports in general, or baseball in particular, undoubtedly recognized his voice.

And it wasn't even just when he was on the air. What's stunning, in the mourning process into which the Philadelphia region has now been plunged, is the fact that there is a clear consensus belief from other broadcasters, players, and others who knew him well, that-

Harry, while off the air, made time - right till the very end - for the lowliest and humblest of fans, whether it was picture requests, autograph requests, or simply conversation. He was just a really great guy, in addition to being an unsurpassed voice on the airwaves.

I finish up with Harry's Legacy and Conclusion, in Part 3...

There are two ways you can contact Villanova Viewpoint. One is by commenting on this blog. Comments are encouraged. Also, you can e-mail villanova.viewpoint@yahoo.com (Important note: This is a different e-mail address than before. Please use this new one.)

No comments: