Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reflections on the Passing of Harry Kalas, Part 1 - Sadly, We Will No Longer Hear Harry the K's "Mahogany Voice"

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 are Part 2 and Part 3 of Reflections on the Passing of Harry Kalas...)

Today, I am going to change subjects, and make some observations and reflections on the untimely passing of the legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, which happened in Washington, DC, in the early afternoon on Monday. Kalas was preparing for the Washington Nationals' home opener against the Phillies, which was to begin at 3:05 PM.

Tragically, he collapsed in the visitors' broadcast booth, and despite being rushed to the nearby George Washington University hospital, passed away.

Anyone who has spent time living in Greater Philadelphia, is aware of Harry Kalas, and how much he has meant to this city and region for so many decades. Of course, some of you, although you graduated from, or currently attend, Villanova University, aren't from here originally.
But, as all of you are sports enthusiasts, you're all undoubtedly familiar with him and his tremendous talent.

But for someone like myself, who has been a lifelong - and ardent - Phillies fan, the effect of Harry's passing was like being struck by a boulder. When I received the news, my initial reaction was to think that the news was a mistake - because, simply put, Harry Kalas was immortal, and not just in the metaphorical sense as a broadcasting legend enshrined in Cooperstown.

Harry's "Mahogany Voice"

I will refer to him as "Harry", not because I knew him personally, which I did not- unfortunately. The reason being that more so than any other broadcaster, his ubiquitous presence and talent meant that every fan felt like he/she did know him...

The title of this post came from a
Philadelphia Inquirer article that I read a long time ago. I wish that I could remember whom the author was, to give him/her credit. I speculate that it was either around the time that Harry was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002, an honor that he richly deserved, or when his good friend Richie Ashburn, another Phillies legend, passed in September 1997.

The author quoted Harry as-
"saying, in his mahogany voice..."
The phrase has stuck with me, ever since, with Harry, because it was the perfect metaphor. The effect of listening to him, while he was broadcasting, did have the properties of mahogany - classic, creating a comfortable ambience, and (of course) flawless. That was Harry, concisely summarized in five words.

In addition, I did not perceive Harry, as being as old as he actually was (73 years old). I don't think that he looks 73 in the photo at the top of this post, from earlier this month. Also, this may have largely been due to having seen-
  • the many tributes to Veterans Stadium that aired, when Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, was seeing, in the clips, how youthful he looked, when the Vet had opened 33 years earlier. I wouldn't have thought he was 35, when the Vet opened.
  • and the many looks back at the 1980 World Series champions, when the Phillies triumphed once more in the Fall Classic in 2008. I wouldn't have thought Harry was 44, from the clips from the 1980 season.
"The Best There Ever Was, The Best There Ever Will Be."

This is the caption on Michael Jordan's statue outside the United Center, the venue for the NBA's Bulls in Chicago. The statement fits Harry as well.

There have been many broadcasters, of course, and it's very difficult to make absolute comparisons and state that one iss clearly better than another. But although I haven't heard everyone who's ever done Phillies games, or anyone who's ever done one of the other sports, I can state categorically that Harry Kalas was-
  • the best Phillies broadcaster, ever;
  • the best the Philadelphia has ever seen for any sport, at any time;
  • among the best, ever, in sports, at a national level.
We have to remember that Harry's voice was well-known nationally, and was familiar to sports fans who had never set foot in Philadelphia. His best-known outside work, of course, was his stellar role as the voice of NFL Films, but he did Notre Dame football, commercials, movie trailers - he did pretty much everything.

Moreover, ironically, Harry wasn't actually from Philadelphia - he grew up in suburban Chicago. And the Phillies weren't even his first major-league baseball team. He had served, among many other broadcasting positions, as a Houston Astros broadcaster - as a charter member of their broadcast team. He initially came to Philadelphia because Bill Giles, the team's largest single owner, had worked in the Astros' front office and when he came to Philadelphia, he suggested that the Phillies hire this young broadcaster, whom he knew from his days in Houston.

More in Part 2...

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