At home at fenway

Keeping on eye on Dustin, Papi, Youk & a few good books

Wild About Harry 4 Ever

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 9, 2012


The imperfectly perfect life of Harry Kalas was a non-stop show.  He was the man in the bar that draws a crowd and stays until last call.  The man who never uttered a disparaging word about anyone.  A drinker and an addicted smoker.  A force of nature with a marvelous baritone voice.  He loved everyone. He followed the fun where it led him, which in Harry’s case was into the hearts of nearly everyone he ever met, including ballplayers, bartenders and pop icons.

HARRY THE K, the remarkable life of Harry Kalas.  Randy Miller.  2010.  Running Press.

He was a young man that wanted a degree but got the boot after freshman year from Cornell College, then subsequently graduated on time after partying through 3 more years at IOWA.

He was a man who never wanted to hurt anyone but somehow dumped his wife at age 49 for a younger woman, choosing a Partier (like himself) over a classic Mom and Wife.

Harry was born in 1936, the son of Harry Sr., at the time the Minister at Trinity Evangelical Church in Chicago.  His first home was three blocks from Wrigley Field.  But it was a certain Washington Senator that made Harry into a hard core baseball fan.  Under a drizzling sky at Comiskey Park in 1946, 10 year old Harry was seated next to the visiting Washington dugout.  Batting Practice was rained out.  Senator first baseman Mickey Vernon noticed the boy and pulled him into the dugout.  Vernon, a 7x AS and 2x batting champion, entertained little Kalas for 10 minutes, introducing him to players and giving him a ball.

Vernon touched Kalas’ heart.  Incredibly, they reconnected 25 years later in 1971 and remained in contact for the rest of their lives, speaking on the phone and visiting regularly.

Baseball was Harry’s #1 sport.  His true love.  He would become one of the hardest working and best prepared Baseball announcers in the U.S.. But he was also damn good at announcing football and hoops.

Harry’s career must rank as one of the most productive in history.  He broadcast collegiate sports at Iowa, simultaneously working high school basketball for a Quad Cities radio station.  He did play-by-play for High School Football & Hoops on KGU Radio in Hawaii, and later announced PCL AAA Hawaiian Islanders games from 1961 to 1964.  In 1965, he arrived in Houston to broadcast MLB games from the spankin’ new “5th Wonder of the World”, the Houston Astrodome, and worked University of Houston Football games as well.  In 1971, Harry joined the Phillies broadcast team, first picking up Eagles Games in the offseason, and then traveling widely to do NFL games from San Francisco to New York, plus Notre Dame Football & Basketball games. He also broadcast Philadelphia Big 5 Basketball (LaSalle, Penn, St Joseph’s, Temple & Nova.) 

And he was continuously busy with commercial work.  Beginning in 1975 Harry became the #2 voice to John Facenda at NFL Films, where he worked until his death in 2009 on such programs as NFL Review and Preview, Pro Magazine, NFL Films Presents, and This is the NFL.  His gigs included work for General Motors, Campbell Soup, Coors Light, Animal Planet, movie trailers, narrated self-guided tours at the U.S. Mint, character profiles on the Cartoon Network and much more.

His resonant voice, keen intelligence, and social graces magnetically drew work to Harry just as they enchanted new friends.

His national identity will always be linked to his work with the Phillies and NFL Films, but it was in the  Philadelphia market where his fame first grew.  It is where his family took root, where he melded with the community and where Harry came to represent Philadelphia itself. 

He came to the Phillies in 1971, when they were a last place team in the NL East.  That’s where they stayed until 1974, when they rode Carlton, Schmidt & Luzinski to the start of 9 consecutive winning seasons, including 5 NL East Flags. Harry saw the transformation. The opening of The Vet. The firing of Frank Lucchesi.  The hiring of Danny Ozark.  The arrival of Pete Rose and the first world championship in 88 years of Philly baseball.   The Pennant in ’93.  The World Championship in 2008.

But it wasn’t all sunshine.  Far from it.

1993 was a sandwich year.  A Pennant, preceded by 6 losing seasons and followed by 7 more of them.  Those Kruk-Dykstra-Schilling Phils won at a .599 clip.  But the 13 years adjacent years carried an average winning percentage of .444, including 6 last place finishes.

Harry was the heart and voice of Philly baseball through bad and good.

After Harry’s sudden death in April 2009, his wife, Eileen received a poignant sympathy card that spoke to Harry’s ability to carry Phillienation through the ups and downs.  It came from 13-year-old Tyler Fortna.

“His voice always gave me inspiration.  I always wanted to be like him when I grew up, but I know I will never be like him.  When I watched Phillie games, Harry made me feel like they were winning when they were losing.”

The Man never stopped working, even as he aged.   He stood in stark contrast to Vin Scully, 9 years older than Harry, who premeditatedly cut down his gigs to select Dodger home games as he aged. Meanwhile, Harry almost never said No.  He continued with his weekly work with NFL Films, the commercial work  and the March-to-October Baseball grind.  He would NOT allow himself to miss any of it, not even after developing heart problems in 2007.

After learning that he had suffered 4 silent heart attacks and that he needed vascular surgery to compensate for dead heart tissue, Harry postponed the surgery for 14 months.  During those months, the Phillies won the 2008 Series, celebrated, and prepared to defend their title.

Harry was the Master of Ceremonies at the celebration but dropped dead just 6 games into the title defense. He passed in the broadcast booth at Nationals Park while filling out his scorecard.  He wrote in the first 4 names in the Nationals lineup and suffered a massive fatal heart attack. The fourth name he filled out was Adam Dunn.  Ironically, he wrote Dunn, and was done.

Harry couldn’t stop working.  He couldn’t stop living and he couldn’t stop giving. 

Miller notes that Harry taught his children, sons Todd, Brad and Kane, to befriend people of all races, religions and classes….Harry kept an emotional keel and never lashed out in anger….Harry always went out of his way to help strangers while expecting nothing in return.

He was a special guy.

As young Tyler Fortna wrote in that sympathy card, “I met him when I was 7….I told him that I wanted Baseball.  And he said, ‘Long drive, deep to center, that ball is outta here !  Home Run, Tyler Fortna ! Thank you for all of Harry’s memories, the great calls.  He’s the best broadcaster ever.  He’s up in Heaven now and still calling the Phillies.”.

Asides & Nuggets:

Harry’s Frat at IOWA, Phi Delta Theta, votes annually to give the Lou Gehrig Award, one of Baseball’s highest honors.  The award was started in 1955 by Phi Delta Alum and sportswriter Grantland Rice.  Harry was President of the Iowa Chapter and served for many years after graduating on the committee that did the selecting.

HOF anxiety.  The author refers to 3 or 4 broadcasters and journalists as having been inducted into the HOF.  He refers to the Writers and Broadcasters Wings in Cooperstown.  No such wings exist.  These folks are not inducted.  They receive the Frick and Spink Awards and are recognized for one year in an exhibit called “Scribes & Mikemen” at the Hall.  Much as I revere Pete Gammons & guys like him, calling these talented folks HOF’ers and referring to them as “inducted” is marketing talk.  It’s just wrong.

Speaking of Spink winners, 2011 winner Bill Conlin is widely quoted in this book.  The Hall is now struggling with whether to remove Conlin’s photo from the Scribe & Mikemen display due to the multiple pedophile charges lodged against him.  Only the current winner is displayed and it stays up for one year.  They can leave Conlin up for 6 more months, take it down now, or discontinue the practice for all Spink/Frick winners in the years to come.

HOF’er Richie Ashburn, a.k.a Whitey, or, His Whiteness, was Kalas’ on-air partner for 27 years until his sudden death by heart attack in 1997.  Whitey was the color man.  He got off a million solid gold lines.  Ashburn, who logged a .308 lifetime B.A. & two batting crowns often said, “I never would want my daughter to marry a pitcher.  You can’t trust ‘em.”  He and Ted Williams certainly agreed on that.  J

Reading into things

If you are a Philly phan you’ll likely love every scrap and morsel in this book.  I enjoyed it greatly but struggled with some of the minutiae.  It seems like the author had access to the key people in Harry’s life such as former wife Jasmine and current wife Eileen.  He interviewed an endless cast.  Broadcasters, Players, Journalists, businessmen, friends, highschool and college pals, neighbors, the cop who rode with Harry’s casket on the way from D.C. to Philly.  It is almost too much.  After finishing this book I jumped 100 pages into UPPITY, the autobiography of the outspoken and plain speaking Bill White.  A refreshing change.

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