July 16, 1999
The Voice of Summer
By TOM WILLIAMS
"Watch this baby...it's outta here!!"
Now, who does that bring to mind? If you are a baseball fan, especially
one in the Delaware Valley, it has to make you think of Harry Kalas.
For nearly 30 years, Kalas has been delivering play-by-play of the
Phillies to listeners and viewers in South Jersey, Philadelphia and the
Kalas has described the action during the Frank Lucchesi years, the
contending years under Danny Ozark, the championship years under Dallas
Green and Pat Corrales, the struggles under John Felske, Lee Elia and
Nick Leyva, the Jim Fergosi championship and the rebuilding efforts of
Twelve managers (if you count the brief tenures of Paul Owens and John
Vukovich) have directed the Phillies while Kalas has been behind the
mike. And he has enjoyed almost every minute of it.
"It's a great job," he said. "I can't think of a better way to make a
living than what we do. We see ballgames and get paid for it. I just
Like nearly all of us, in almost every line of work, however, there are
good days and bad days. "You don't really think about how you're gonna
make a call or how you should have made a call," Kalas said. "Its more
spontaneous than anything. But I think you do walk away from the
ballpark sometimes thinking you were really on top of a game and feel
good about it. Or you may feel disappointed because you didn't
concentrate as well."
Of course, the guys you work with can make it even more enjoyable.
Kalas has a longtime working relationship with Andy Musser, who won an
ARCO contest when he was a teenager that allowed him to describe the
play-by-play of part of a game.
"Andy and I have been together since 1976," he said. "He is a true
professional. Larry Andersen is a joy to work with, just fun to be
around. Chris Wheeler started in the public relations department,
became a very knowledgeable baseball man and worked himself into a good
broadcaster. And Scott Graham really does a good job. He does his
homework. And I look for him to make a name in football, as well."
These guys don't just show up in the radio or TV booth and talk about
what they see. "We try to get to the park about three hours before the
game. The Phillies lineup will always be ready then and, most of the
time, the other team's lineup, as well. We'll start working on notes
and stats, talk to the ballplayers, talk to the other broadcasters and
just get ready for the game. It's important when you sit down to do the
game, that you know you've done everything you could to get ready for
it. Preparation is about 65 percent of this job."
In fact, Harry's son enjoyed his exposure to major league baseball so
much that he decided to join his father in the booth. "Todd's down with
the Tampa Bay Devilrays," Kalas said, "and he really enjoys it. I never
pushed anything on him but I think he saw how much I love doing my job.
He started with us organizing out-of-town scores when he was in high
school. He just got used to being in the booth and really liked it. I'm
just gratified he found something that he really loves to do."
It all started for Harry Kalas in college.
"I majored in communications at the University of Iowa," he said, "and
was sports director of the campus radio station. I did all of Iowa's
sports. We were probably making fools of ourselves most of the time but
it was great experience. Then I got drafted and the Army sent me to
Hawaii. I applied for the Triple-A play-by-play job there and got that,
along with some high school and college football and basketball."
Next came the step to the majors in Houston.
"I joined the Astros in 1965, the first year of the Astrodome. I was
honored to see Mickey Mantle hit the first home run ever in the dome
during an exhibition series. In fact, the Phillies opened the Astrodome
and Chris Short won the first game. So, I've had the pleasure of
opening two ballparks - the Astrodome in 1965 and Veteran's Stadium in
This week, another historic ballpark is in the spotlight, Fenway Park
in Boston. The All Star Game was played there on Tuesday and the
Phillies are in town to start the weekend against the Red Sox. "Fenway
Park is a great ballpark," Kalas said. "We will be in there right after
the All Star Game and I'm looking forward to that. I'll be sorry to see
Will he also be sorry to see the Astrodome go? "Not necessarily," he
said. "I can see why they want a downtown ballpark and a more intimate
Just like what Kalas hopes is ahead for Phillies fans.
"I would hope the new Phillies ballpark would be along the lines of
Camden Yards and Jacobs Field," he said. "New but with an old-time
atmosphere. My feeling is that, due to access, it would be better
building where Veteran's Stadium is. But that's not the Phillies' line,
they want a downtown ballpark. Maybe I'm a little short-sighted, I
don't know. I just think the South Philadelphia location is so much
closer to the major highways."
In addition to his Phillies play-by-play, Kalas does NFL play-by-play
for Westwood One radio and is known around the country as the primary
voice of NFL Films, where he succeeded the late John Facenda.
"I started at NFL Films doing a few things when John was still doing
the major work," he remembered. "I got to know John very well. He was
one of the best who ever lived. We were at the Super Bowl in New
Orleans together, when the Eagles played the Raiders. We walked back to
the hotel after the game and John was swamped by Eagles fans. He
couldn't have been more gracious. I learned an awful lot from him."
Now, about that home run call.
"It really came about in the mid to late 70s," he said. "I was standing
around the batting cage and Greg Luzinski was hitting some bolts. One
of them went into the upper deck and Larry Bowa said, 'Wow, that ball
is way outta here'. I remember thinking that it had a nice ring to it."
Since then, people like Roy Firestone of ESPN have been offering their
Harry Kalas imitations. "It truly is a form of flattery," Harry says.
"Keith Olbermann is good and Jon Miller does me, too. Probably the best,
to my ear, is Joe Conklin. But it really flatters me, to be that
recognizable that people would imitate you."
It is, of course, impossible to talk about Kalas' broadcasting career
without talking about Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, who died suddenly
during the 1997 season after working at Kalas' side for more than 25
"Almost every day something will happen," he said, "either on the field
or in the booth, that reminds me of His Whiteness. Memories of him are
always with me, bringing a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. He
was as good a friend as a man could have. We had something that was
just so special, a chemistry that you don't even think about - it's
just there. I really miss him."
Harry Kalas has spent the last three decades taking Phillies fans
through the ups and downs of major league baseball. He has become more
than just a broadcaster.
He is the voice of summer.
Be sure to read The Sandpaper in the Ocean City
area and The Beachcomber in the Wildwood area throughout the summer
months for similar features.