In the last few months, I tried to get in touch with Harry Kalas. My keeper league was about to have its second annual draft, and I wanted to get him to record the order of the draft to play before we started, like our collection of geeks was a batting order.
If nothing else, I wanted to hear him say all of our team names with that dry chuckle in his voice, the one that was always present when he said names like "Neee-No Ess-Pah-No-Sa." (A flammable pitcher of my youth, but a name that Harry just loved, by all accounts.)
But more than anything, I just wanted to hear Harry Kalas say my name.
You know, like when I was a kid, and Harry was the play by play guy when we were playing pick up games, and I was the star second baseman for my home town team.
The Phillies never followed up, and I didn't mention it to the entire league, because, well, I wanted to get it done for the next year. And so it goes.
Kalas was, after the passing of his equally beloved color partner Richie "Whitey" Ashburn a decade ago, the most loved man in the greater Philadelphia region. He certainly was the most impersonated. At the same league draft, one of my owners spent much of the draft saying off-color things in his reasonably good Harry voice. Even after hours of this, no one told him to stop.
It also never struck me as all that impossible to happen, because, well, Kalas just seemed so incredibly approachable. He voiced the Puppy Bowl and Campbell's Soup commercials, all kinds of other voiceovers, and even did quick one-offs for people's weddings in the Philadelphia area. He knew that he was, like Jack Buck in St. Louis, Vin Scully in Los Angeles, Bill King in Oakland and a few dozen other people who people all over the country can easily volunteer, someone who belonged to the town where he lived and worked.
More importantly, he was comfortable in that. You know, kind of like the team, or at least, how the team should be.
People remember the boyish joy of Kalas's "Outta here!" home run calls, but there was so much more to him than that. He consistently gave you the pitch type, location and speed if he was on the radio, but not on television. He almost never lost track of the outs or count. When the game was close, nothing on this earth could have made him start talking about some other game, personality or topic of debate that didn't have a clear and obvious relationship to the game that was in front of you. He also had that clean and clear virtue of appreciating great plays and performances, regardless of the laundry of the wearer.
Which isn't to say that you couldn't tell when the Phils lost, or played badly, or irritated him. There was always this small note of defeat in his voice, like a 14-year-old boy trying to be magnanimous but failing, when the Phils would blow a game. Players come and players go, but you never got the feeling that winning wasn't great and losing didn't suck from Harry. He wasn't cool, or post-modern, or snarky, or beholden to a catch phrase. When he disagreed with an umpire, it never got over-the-top or grating; he was just, well, too good of a man to go to those places. He was the best kind of fan, and in an age when we multi-task and watch the time commitment on a million things, there was just something timeless and easy about listening to him call a game.
Baseball is, of course, unique in the regard that a dedicated fan will spend hundreds of hours of years and thousands of hours in a lifetime with a long-tenured play by play man. It's possible, of course, to be a completely different person than what you appear to be on radio and television, but Kalas was with us all for just short of 40 years, with his son following him into his profession. (A small note to the Phillies: Hire Todd Kalas away from the Rays. Today. It'll help.) It's very possible that longtime Phillies fans have heard Kalas more than any other person in their life.
And then there was, of course, that voice, lush and warm and consistent, a simple pleasure even when you heard it attached to something that was wildly *not* baseball. My ex-wife wasn't a sports or baseball fan, and she loved his voice. How could you not?
Here is the awful, awful truth about the relationship that you have with the beloved baseball play by play man that you listened to in your formative years. You never really get over his passing. Millions of people are now feeling this way, and for those of us who are of a certain age, we all just got about ten to twenty years older. Which isn't fair, because it remembers his life in sadness rather than in joy, but it also probably can't be helped. It's tough to be positive about loss.
He died today in the pre-game in Washington, a game that the Phillies would win. One of his favorite players, Jamie Moyer, got the win. The last game he called was in Colorado, where last year's NLCS hero, Matt Stairs, hit a game-winning pinch hit home run. His last season, of course, ended with the Phillies' second championship ever, and the audio file of that inning will be on my computer for the rest of my life.
And while it might have been more poetic had he passed on in the off-season, with his last public words being tied to a championship, I'm sure that he's happier having seen a few games more. That, and making sure that the moment that gave the team's fans such happiness wouldn't be lessened by his passing.
A final point: I'm not a Phillies fan, at least not much of one.
But a Harry Kalas fan?
Yes, yes, a million times, yes.