Sunday, December 28, 2014

HARRY THE GREAT

Hard to believe, Harry, is what his best friend would have said.

HARRY THE GREAT

Hard to believe, Harry, is what his best friend would have said.

And isn't it impossible to believe that the golden voice of the Phillies and NFL Films has left us forever?

I just got off the telephone with Ron Jaworski, who was heartbroken when he heard the news of Kalas' death today in Washington D.C.

"My knees are buckling a little bit," said Jaworski, who developed a close relationship working with Kalas at NFL Films. "Tragic. Tragic. I'm trying to get my mind right. He'd come in on Wednesdays to do his voiceovers and I'd see him in the hallway and we'd immediately start talking about the Phillies."

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I knew the pain Jaworski was feeling because I felt it, too. It was searing. I have only one autograph hanging in my home office. It's a program from a May 28, 1998, game between the Phillies and Cubs at Wrigley Field. Harry the K. sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" that day as a pinch-hitter for Harry Caray, who had died during the offseason.

Like everybody in this region, I knew Harry Kalas before I knew him. His voice was in my head from the moment I started listening to Phillies baseball. Harry arrived here when I was eight and when you're an eight-year-old boy, there are few things in this world better than baseball.

For the next decade, I spent every summer with Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn as they described the game of baseball with an equal amount of detail and levity. Only later would I be privvy to some of the inside stories that still bring belly laughter even though I've heard them all 100 times.

My first encounter with Harry the K. came about 25 years ago when I attended a Philadelphia Sportswriters dinner in Cherry Hill. Harry was the emcee and, in those days, there would be hotel-room parties after the dinner. Having already had a few, I knocked on a door where I heard there was a party. Harry answered.

"I'm Bob," I said, extending my hand to the man I so admired.

"Hi, I'm Harry, come on in," Kalas said.

It was the first time I shared a drink with Harry Kalas. It wouldn't be the last.

Five years later, at the age of 25, I was the Phillies' beat writer for the Camden Courier-Post. Harry was in his 17th year as the team's play-by-play announcer and it was obvious to anyone breathing he loved his job.

Even in cyberspace there is not enough room to tell all the wonderful Harry the K. stories I was fortunate to see and hear during my 15 years of covering baseball. I'm simultaneously laughing and crying as I think of them.

I once saw him bark at some pit bulls in Queens. The pit bulls, of course, were caged behind a 20-foot fence, so Harry was ready for them. That same road trip he lamented that a Manhattan man had slit his wrists "in the middle of one of my best renditions ever of High Hopes."

My most personal memory is one that I think is an excellent portrayal of the man. Twelve years ago, I invited Harry to my wedding. Knowing he's a busy man, I wasn't sure if he'd be able to attend. About a week before the wedding, my phone rang and it was Harry. He was ecstatic because he had just learned that he was broadcasting a game for Westwood One at Giants Stadium the following week, which meant he could attend my wedding.

My wife and I were no longer the headliners at our own wedding, but that was OK. Harry was gracious enough to introduce Mr. and Mrs. Brookover at the reception. "Brookie, you're bachelorhood is outta here!" he screamed into the microphone.

Afterward, he signed autographs and sang, "Thank heavens for little girls," to my niece.

I was lucky enough a few years later to be in Cooperstown when Harry Kalas was inducted into the broadcasting wing of the Hall of Fame. The photo with Harry standing between my wife and I is one of the priceless items in our home.

Since moving to football, Harry and I had kept in touch. I'd show up at a baseball game a couple times a year and he'd show up to announce some Eagles games for Westwood One. The last time I saw him was at the Eagles' game against the Ravens down in Baltimore. He told me about the special ride the Phillies took him on last season.

Since then, I had heard Harry's voice in my head a few more times and his voice on the air many times, most recently Sunday as I watched the final out of the Phillies' game against the Colorado Rockies.

Hard to believe Harry is gone. Hard to imagine he'll be forgotten in my lifetime.

About this blog
Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

Jeff McLane Inquirer Staff Writer
Zach Berman Inquirer Staff Writer
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