PHILADELPHIA -- Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas, an Army Veteran and the treasured voice of the Philadelphia Phillies, died in Washington this past April in a fitting way for a dedicated baseball man – preparing to call a baseball game for his longtime team.
Kalas, 73, had been looking at the Philadelphia Phillies’ lineup and talking to players inside the visitors’ clubhouse at the Washington Nationals Park just minutes before he took the elevator to the Phillies’ broadcast booth, where he was found unconscious. His passing marked a historic 44 years of calling baseball games, 39 with the Phillies.
“He was a Philadelphia institution who made the game for countless fans. The entire professional baseball family is the less with his loss,” said Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell.
The Phillies played their game against the Nationals and won, 9-8, but that hardly mattered. Kalas, a Philadelphia icon, had passed.
"We lost our voice," said Phillies president David Montgomery, who greeted fans as they entered through third base during an emotional 90-minute on-field tribute on April 18. Only the legendary Babe Ruth and fellow broadcaster Jack Buck are the only other men to have had their caskets on displayed in a Major League Baseball Stadium.
Former players traveled from across the country for the ceremony. Mike Schmidt, Darren Daulton, Garry Maddox, Mitch Williams and John Kruk were among those in attendance. Pennsylvania Gov. Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski, Saint Joseph’s basketball coach Phil Martelli and Temple basketball coach Fran Dunphy also attended.
Kalas was a Hall of Fame talent with a renowned voice and delivery. He was inducted into the broadcaster’s wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 2002, having won the Ford C. Frick Award, which is presented to broadcasters who made major contributions to baseball.
Fans across the country might have known him better as the voice for NFL Films or his voice-over work in commercials. But baseball is what Kalas loved the most, and the baseball community expressed their condolences en force Monday.
"Major League Baseball has lost one of the great voices of our generation," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Harry Kalas was an outstanding ambassador for the game ... Baseball announcers have a special bond with their audience, and Harry represented the best of baseball not only to the fans of the Phillies, but to fans everywhere."
Army Afternoons in Hawaii
The son of a Methodist minister, Kalas was born March 26, 1936, in Chicago and graduated from the University of Iowa in 1959 with a degree in speech, radio and television. He was drafted into the Army soon after he graduated.
He spent two years in the Army stationed in Hawaii, then, in 1961, he became sports director at Hawaii radio station KGU and also broadcast games for the Hawaii Islanders of the Pacific Coast League and the University of Hawaii. Kalas was a member of the Houston Astros’ broadcast team from 1965-70 before joining the Phillies.
"Harry was a special friend of mine and my family for 44 years," said Phillies chairman Bill Giles, who hired Kalas. "Baseball broadcasters become an integral part of baseball fans’ families. They are in the homes of fans every day for the entire season."
Everybody liked Kalas, and He Seemed to Like EverybodyKalas had such status with the Phillies that he sat in the back of the team’s charter flights, which typically is reserved for players.
"He came up to me today, I think right before he was about to head up to the booth and asked me if I would have his step-daughter be my guest to go to the White House," Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said. "I told him, ’Yeah, that’s no problem. Absolutely no problem.’ He was happy about it."
The death of Kalas was so disruptive, that the Phillies had to postpone their visit with President Obama, to commemorate their 2008 World Series championship.
"I know I can speak for the Phillies when I say Harry Kalas is loved by everyone," Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt said. "All of us could relate to our daily confrontations with his smile, his charm, and his warmth. He spread his passion for people, and baseball, all over the country for almost 50 years."
Image Credit: NBC Philly, http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Fans-Remember-Harry-Kalas-255107021.html