July 16, 1999
The Voice of Summer


"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 suburbs.

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 Terry Francona.

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 love it."

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 1971."

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 it go."

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 ballpark."

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 years.

"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.