It’s the early to mid-nineties and the Phillies are on another west coast trip. Remember, this was before the unbalanced schedule, and us East Coast fans had to endure at least four of these trips a summer. It’s well past my bedtime and despite the sweltering heat on a night in the dead middle of August, I have my head under both the pillow and covers. My Phillies baseball radio is turned as low as possible and rests under the pillow next to my ear. The last thing I want is for my parents to wake up and find me wide-eyed and alert on the wrong side of midnight. How could I sleep, though? Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn are wrapping up another game by interviewing a player for the Star of the Game Show. That radio will be on until Harry signs off, and a not a moment sooner.
Is this my story? Yes, but it is not mine alone. I am merely one of millions who spent a decent chunk of their summer glued to the radio to listen to Harry the K call a game. If baseball was my childhood summers, Harry was the narrator. How many times did I take batting practice with my dad, imagining Harry’s voice detailing each of my hits? Did I ever play a game of home run derby where we all didn’t imitate him the best we could, and belted out “Swing and a long drive to deep left field, and that ball is outta heeeerrrre!” each time we smacked the ball past that big oak tree?
If you’re a Phillies fan, you can pretty much stop reading there. I will let you drift off imagining whatever other memories you had of Harry; whether it be one of the six no-hitters he called, one of Michael Jack Schmidt’s 548 home runs, Mitchy-Poo striking out Bill Pecota in game six of the 1993 NLCS, or Brad Lidge setting down Eric Hinske on a cold evening last October in game five of the World Series. If you’re a Phillies fan, you already get it, and you’ve already shed your tears.
For those not lucky enough to be Philly sports fans, it will probably need more explaining. Not to diminish the likes of Vin Scully or Mel Allen, but Harry Kalas was the greatest baseball announcer of all-time. Scully and Allen’s voices, intelligence on the game, and entertainment were not short of Kalas’, but Harry had a certain difficulty that Scully and Allen didn’t experience nearly as much of: really, really bad teams. When you look at the Dodgers and Yankees, it is true that both have had down years during their famous announcers’ careers, but nothing like what Kalas dealt with. The legend joined the Phillies prior to the 1971 season, and called games during 19 losing seasons, including 13 in 14 years.
Why does this make him better than any other broadcaster? It takes more talent to keep the fan listening when your team is God-awful. Go back to the beginning of this article. Remember the previous Star of the Game Show I mentioned? Odds are, most nights that star came from the other team. I still listened. So did millions of other fans. Yeah, we were bummed when the Phillies lost another game during another dreadful season, but we didn’t dare turn off Harry Kalas. We knew, no matter how young we were, that it would be a sin to shut down those Golden Pipes for the night, before he did.
I grew up with both grandparents and several uncles all within a 10-20 minute drive, yet Harry Kalas owned the second most recognizable male voice, only being beaten out by my own father. That voice is now silenced on this earth. I choose to believe, though, that Harry is now having his first opportunity to call a game in which Richie Ashburn is playing. And if Whitey can notch a couple hits and score a few runs, it’s going to be a heck of a Star of the Game Show.