Saying goodbye to Kalas
As we sat in the visiting manager’s office at Citizens Bank Park last Wednesday, Harry Kalas entered and said, “Hey Coxxy” with that same distinctive and distinguished voice that sports fans have recognized for so many years.
Walking and talking a little slower than he had in the past, Kalas beemed with excitement as he talked to Braves manager Bobby Cox about the dawn of a new season. A few hours later, he’d throw out the ceremonial first pitch and receive his 2008 World Series ring with the rest of the Phillies family that justifiably viewed him as a father figure.
During their short exchange, Cox asked Kalas how much he’d enjoyed this most recent Phillies world championship. With a youthful excitement that didn’t necessarily coordinate with his 73-year-old soul, the long-time broadcaster spoke about how this World Series title was actually much more enjoyable than the first one he’d experienced in Philadelphia in 1980.
Kalas talked about how the 1980 team had simply accomplished what they’d originally envisioned would have occurred in 1978 or ’79. Then he spoke about the delight he experienced while watching Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels make their surprising dominant run through this most recent October.
Many of us who weren’t raised in Philadelphia knew him as the owner of that voice that only improved the quality of the video supplied by NFL Films. The players, broadcasters, coaches, front office employees and fans who had the opportunity to recognize him as more than simply a broadcaster, knew him as man who definitely improved the game of baseball.
When I spoke to Pete Van Wieren and Chip Caray this afternoon, it was obvious that that they’d lost much more than a colleague.
“He was not only a great broadcaster, but also a dear friend,” Van Wieren said. “We had the opportunity to spend many years broadcasting together and enjoying other activities away from the broadcast booth. This is very sad news. There are certain broadcasters that are much more than just voices for their team. Some of them are iconic figures for the game and Harry was one of those broadcasters.
“I don’t know anybody who didn’t like him. He was much more than just a broadcaster for the team. We often sat together for dinner in the press room, whether we were in Philadelphia or Atlanta. He was just a great guy. He always had great questions to ask about our team and insight to provide about his own. He’ll definitely be missed.”
Caray recognized Kalas as an inspiration and one of the many dear friends who showed genuine support when his father, Skip Caray, passed away last year.
“The thing that makes broadcasters unique is the richness of their voice and their passion for the game,” Chip Caray said. “Harry had both of those qualities. When you think of the greatest ambassadors of the game, Harry was certainly one of those guys. The passion he had while calling games for Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski and so many other great Phillies players was a real inspiration for young broadcasters, like myself.
“When I think of Harry, I think of friendliness and class. When my dad died, he gave me a hug and a handshake that I’ll never forget. He was truly a treasure. He was a mentor and a friend. People will say that the game won’t be the same without him and it won’t.”
Personally, I’ll always remember Kalas as a man who always provided a friendly “hello” while displaying a seemingly eternal smile.
The last time I saw Kalas was after the Phillies had claimed their comeback win over the Braves last Wednesday. As I exited the elevator, he was standing there in the hallway displaying that same old smile.
We’ve talked a lot about the ridiculous events that led to the Braves blowing a seven-run lead that afternoon. But it was that ugly eight-run seventh inning endured by the Atlanta bullpen that allowed a true Philadelphia icon to enjoy his final day in his home ballpark.
The Braves won the final game that Skip called at Turner Field last year and the Phillies allowed Kalas to enjoy the epic comeback during his final hours in Philadelphia.
In some ways, you have to wonder if baseball gods truly do take care of those who have served the game so admirably.