07/18/2002 9:20 pm ET
Kalas' long road leads to Hall
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- The banner at Veterans Stadium competes for hang time with the likes of player favorites Padilla Flotilla, Burrell's Bunch, The Wolfpack and Duck Pond.
Only this one crafted by the fans isn't for a favorite Phillies player. This one simply says, "We're Just Wild About Harry." It hangs in honor of Harry Kalas, the popular play-by-play announcer who has spent more than three decades with the Phillies.
For a guy who worried he wouldn't last in Philadelphia, Kalas doesn't fret much these days. He's earned the fan recognition. And he's also earned a ticket to Baseball's Hall of Fame.
On July 28, Kalas, 65, will receive the 2002 Ford C. Frick Award for his contributions to baseball broadcasting and be inducted into the broadcasters' wing of the Hall in Cooperstown, N.Y. Kalas describes his emotions of hearing about his induction in a typical play-by-play call.
"Could it be, could it be?" he said as he stepped from the shower to receive the news. "It was! It was the ultimate honor in the game I love so much."
"He is one of those figures that elevated the game to a higher level and inspired people," said Mets catcher Mike Piazza, who grew up listening to Kalas in Norristown, Pa. "I can't imagine listening to a Phillies game without him and I don't even want to think about it."
Like any fully grown kid, Kalas remembers his first baseball game -- a rainy afternoon between the Washington Senators and Boston Red Sox -- when Kalas sat with his father behind the Washington dugout. Ted Williams may have played for the Red Sox, but Kalas left a Senators fan, after meeting new hero Mickey Vernon.
"Because of the rain, there was no batting practice," he said. "Vernon poked his head out of the dugout and saw this kid all wide-eyed at my first Major League game. He took me in the dugout, gave me a baseball and introduced me to his teammates. That began my love of baseball and the Washington Senators. He of course doesn't remember, but to this kid...I probably grew up the only non-Cubs or White Sox fan in Chicago."
As a kid Kalas played "All-Star Baseball," making up teams and serving as play-by-play announcer. Washington would always win those games, he said, though his allegiance declined when the Senators moved to Minneapolis.
Athletically challenged, Kalas played some third base in high school and American Legion. He first thought about broadcasting as a high school senior and got serious when a blind college professor, Dr. Walter Stroemer, encouraged him. At the University of Iowa, Kalas called every sport he could.
His first post-college radio experience came with the Army. Drafted on graduation day and trained as a heavy weapons infantryman in Hawaii, his on-air training quickly got his job description changed to "broadcast specialist." He did hometown interviews and narrated a program called "Pacific report."
When a minor league team from Sacramento relocated to become the Hawaii Islanders, Kalas became their broadcaster. There he recreated road games, which were substantially quicker than home games.
"If I had something to do, everybody would be first-ball swinging and I'd be out of there in an hour and a half," said Kalas.
His eventual near-5,000-mile move east took a six-year detour with the Houston Astros in 1965, where he got his first taste of Major League life. Responsible for one inning and eventually three, Kalas recalls his first Astros game -- against the visiting Phillies -- when Dick Allen hit the first Astrodome home run.
"It wasn't during my inning," said Kalas, who instead called a scoreless inning pitched by Chris Short, though he would later call the 500th home runs by Hall-of-Famers Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews.
Enjoying Houston, Kalas also looked forward to road trips to Philadelphia, remarking in 1976: "Philadelphia is a great sports city. That's why I'm very happy here. The Philadelphia fans are the best in baseball. Sure, they'll boo, but they have great knowledge of the game. They also cheer."
He spurned an offer from the Reds in 1971 to sign with Philadelphia, brought there by Bill Giles, whom he knew with Houston. Kalas nearly regretted his decision when he learned he would be replacing reigning legend Bill Campbell and was greeted by headlines of "Harry Who?" and heckled by fans.
Carried by future Hall-of-Fame broadcaster By Saam and future Hall-of-Fame player and best friend Richie "Whitey" Ashburn, Kalas' trepidation dissipated quickly and he has called Phillies baseball for more than 30 years; 27 spent with Ashburn.
"The first two or three years in Philadelphia, I wasn't sure I was going to make it," he said. "By and Richie carried me through those early years. We just had a chemistry, something you can't work on. It was rare."
Rarer still is finding someone who doesn't recognize the deep, resonating voice, which does so much more than announce Phillies games. Kalas is the voice of NFL Films and Chunky Soup, and for decades called Notre Dame football. He has narrated many highlight films for college and pro teams as well as the tour video at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. He also has provided answering machine messages, wedding party voiceovers and Bar Mitzvah announcements.
"It happens once in a while, and I'm happy to do it," he said. "Usually, they want me to do an out of here thing, and we'll get right back to you. It's a great form of flattery."
Also flattered is manager Larry Bowa, who inadvertently gave Kalas his famous home run call. While watching slugger Greg Luzinski pepper the stands with batting practice homers, Bowa remarked after a particular upper-deck job, "That's way out of here!"
"I said, 'That has a neat ring to it,' so I started using it," said Kalas, who denies sending Bowa residual checks.
To hear Bowa tell the story is like listening to Kalas, as he breaks into a quick impersonation.
"It's something I can look back on," said Bowa. "I got a guy in the Hall of Fame using that saying."
What would Kalas be hollering if not for that batting practice session? Bowa isn't sure. "There goes another one," he said in his best deadpan. "I don't know. I'm glad I gave it to him."
Kalas doesn't remember what call he used before -- perhaps he blocked it out -- though his oldest son, Todd Kalas, thinks his dad used to say 'Aloha' while announcing Islanders games.
"I don't know what he used to say in Houston," said the younger Kalas, who now works for the Devil Rays. "He has five or seven years worth of tapes prior to that batting cage session so there's a tangible answer there."
The players and fans don't care what he said before, choosing to honor the man for what he has brought to their lives. He is revered in Philadelphia in the same manner as other cities love Jack Buck, Vin Scully or Ernie Harwell.
"He is one of the greatest announcers in the history of sports," said former Phillies ace Curt Schilling. "He should have been in the Hall of Fame a long time ago. He has a passion unlike many people in that industry. You can feel it when he talks."
Since leaving Philadelphia in July 2000, Schilling helped lead Arizona to a World Series championship. While he won't give back the shiny ring he earned in 2001, a part of him may be hollow since the voice that said his name for 8 1/2 seasons in Philadelphia wasn't part of it.
"So many of my career highlights he called," said Schilling. "That's one of the things that make them highlights for me. In 1997, the night when I struck out my 300th hitter, hearing him make that call is one of the special moments in my career. He brings people to the game, and I think he's kept people in the game a long time. He's bigger than most things in sports."
Affirming that belief is the game's best hitting catcher, who never wore a Phillies uniform.
"I truly didn't consider myself a Major Leaguer until I heard him do his first call for me," said Piazza. "I remember when I was a kid watching him on TV. That inspired me and was a big key in my desire to want to become a Major Leaguer because Harry was so passionate and did his job so well."
So has Piazza, who still has a tape of his first at-bat called by Kalas -- a home run off Ben Rivera. Poised behind the microphone during this year's All-Star Game, Piazza resembled the man he admires -- if only for a few moments. He recalled many other moments in his childhood, including the first time he met Kalas as a Little Leaguer playing against Kalas' son Brad.
"He went up to the booth and announced a couple hitters," said Piazza, either amazed at Kalas or the fact that a Little League stadium had an announcing booth. "He was so involved and he did stuff like that. I considered him part of the family."
Not far from Piazza's hometown of Norristown, Mets infielder Joe McEwing grew up in Bristol and recalls late nights watching games. His memories meshed with reality before a game at the Vet in 2001. Riding in a crowded elevator with his wife Julia, also from Bristol, they heard a familiar voice engaged in conversation. Though he couldn't see who it was, the voice gave it away.
"My wife knows a little bit about the game and goes, 'I know that voice. Who is that voice?' And I said, 'Honey, you know who that is.' She said, 'I knew it.' She used to hear him when she watched games with her grandfather. He's a big part of this game."
In talking about Kalas, Piazza couldn't help launching into his semi-famous impersonation: "'Here's the 2-2...Swing and a chopper down the line....(Tim) Wallach barehand throw not in time.' Pretty good, huh?"
It actually was -- for an obscure infield hit, but how about an exuberant "Out of here!"
"I don't have the energy for that," he said. "Those are best left for Harry."
For nearly four decades, Kalas has maintained his energy. His career highlight was announcing the Phillies victory over Houston in the 1980 NLCS -- something even pitching coach Vern Ruhle, then a member of the Astros, appreciates. Though it's inevitable, no one can fathom the day when Kalas is "out of here."
"He means everything to Phillies baseball and the fans of Philadelphia," said broadcast partner Larry Andersen. "Superstars retire, but when Harry decides he's done...Somebody's gonna have to replace Harry, and I feel sorry for that person. That's a tall order."
Ken Mandel covers the Phillies for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
"I truly didn't consider myself a Major Leaguer until I heard him do his first call for me."
-- Mike Piazza