Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas died 11 years ago today

Harry Kalas
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Longtime Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas wasn’t just the voice of a generation. He was the voice that bridged generations of Phillies fans together. Kalas got his start in broadcasting in 1965 with the Astros, but became the Phillies’ play-by-play man in 1971, joining Byrum Saam. When Saam retired, Kalas was part of a memorable team with Andy Musser and Richie Ashburn.

Kalas became close with Ashburn and it was evident with the chemistry the two had broadcasting games. Kalas also came into his own as a broadcaster after a mixed reception upon joining the Phillies’ broadcast team — he was replacing Bill Campbell, a universally beloved figure. It took the city of Philadelphia a bit of time to warm up to the new guy. Kalas, though, had some memorable calls, particularly on home runs, typically going with, “Swing and a long drive!” before cheering, “That ball is outta here!”

The call that stuck out in the memories of most Phillies fans was his call of Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt’s 500th career home run, occurring on April 18, 1987 against the Pirates:

For unlikely or well-timed home runs, Kalas would join in the uncertainty with the rest of us, saying, “Could it be? Could it be?” as the ball traveled in the air towards the outfield fence.

On the pitching side, Kalas was known for saying, “Swing and a miss, struck him out!” He used the signature call for the final out of the 2008 World Series when Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to give the Phillies their first championship in 28 years. Due to broadcasting rules, Kalas wasn’t actually allowed to call the 1980 World Series live on-air, so this was the first Phillies championship in which he was able to do so.

Though there were some great Phillies moments throughout the decades, the Phillies were mostly bad, sometimes awful during Kalas’ tenure. That was especially true in the 1990’s, after the Phillies lost the ’93 World Series to the Blue Jays, when I was in my formative years. Reasons to actively tune in and root for the Phillies were few and far between, but Kalas was one of them. He loved baseball even when it was bad, and that omnipresent love of baseball was infectious. Because of Kalas, I have indelible memories involving the likes of Mickey Morandini, Desi Relaford, Robert Person, and many more.

Kalas was unmistakably rooting for the Phillies. Announcers brazenly rooting for the teams they called wasn’t anything unique, but Kalas did it in a way that was genuine and at the same time showed respect for the Phillies’ opponents. The example I remember best was when the Braves were in town playing the Phillies at some point in the early 2000’s, perhaps even 1999. [Perhaps a reader can help out with the specific date.] Batting with the bases loaded and two outs with the Phillies leading 3-1, Marlon Anderson hit a line drive into the gap in right-center field. Center fielder Andruw Jones, an eventual 10-time Gold Glove Award winner, gave chase. He dove onto the hard Veteran’s Stadium Astroturf and the concrete that lay beneath it, making the catch to end the inning. Kalas, making the call, said, “Hit to deep right-center field. Andruw Jones — oh, good night! What a great, great — that’s why that man’s a Gold Glover. I mean, that saved three runs. What a tremendous play by Andruw Jones. You’re not going to see any other center fielder in baseball make that play. Look at this. Good night. Wow.” The highlight in question can be seen at the 1:37 mark of this video:

Lesser commentators might have remarked about the greatness of the catch, but framed it solely as a detriment to their team. While everyone wants their favorite team to win, we want to do so against the best teams with the most talent. Over the span of four decades, Kalas showed Phillies fans how to respect good baseball, even when it came from the other side. When a player on an opposing team did something great — or, conversely, when a Phillies player made a mistake — Kalas was ready to call it out.

Kalas was responsible for the nicknames of at least two Phillies players: Mitch Williams and Chase Utley. Kalas called Williams “Mitchie-poo” after the closer delivered a walk-off double against the Padres at 4:41 AM. Kalas dubbed Utley “The Man” when Utley scored from second base on a ground out by Ryan Howard. Those nicknames were as memorable as his enunciation of [Mickey] “Morandini” and [Bobby] “Abreu.”

Kalas, deservingly, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002, earning the Ford C. Frick Award. He died in the broadcast booth on this day in 2009 in Washington, D.C. before a Phillies-Nationals game. His final memorable call occurred the previous day, when Matt Stairs hit a pinch-hit, tie-breaking two-run home run off of Rockies closer Huston Street in the top of the ninth inning. Brad Lidge closed out the game in the bottom half for the 7-5 win. The Phillies posthumously inducted him onto the organization’s Wall of Fame. He is the only non-player broadcaster on the Wall of Fame and the only other broadcasters of any stripe on there are Ashburn and John Kruk.

Even more than a decade after his death, Kalas lives on. Known for his love of the Frank Sinatra song, “High Hopes,” the Phillies play a video of Kalas singing the first verse after every home win. The Phillies also play an audio recording of Kalas saying, “This ball is outta here!” after every home run.