Monday, April 13, 2009

Harry Kalas, R.I.P.

When I was a kid, there was a clock radio that I kept next to my bed. It was set to KYW, the station that broadcast Phillies games. The rest of the time, it was all-news, all the time, but that didn't matter. It was only on for Phillies games.

That clock radio fit under my pillow. I know this, because there were many, many summer nights when that's where it went, stuffed underneath with the volume up just enough that I could hear it, turned down low enough that my parents wouldn't hear me listening. And I'd listen to Richie Ashburn and Chris Wheeler and Andy Musser, and most of all, to Harry Kalas calling the games, all summer long. They were my lullaby. I'd stay up late to listen to them, fall asleep hearing the description of that three-two pitch, struggle to keep my eyes open long enough to get some of those late games at San Diego or LA.

There were good years, Schmidt and Carlton and Garry Maddox out in centerfield. There were the dirtball miracles of '83 and '93, and the horrible teams of the Chris James/Glenn Wilson/Steve Jeltz years. There was John Denny, and there was Floyd Youmans. There was Steve "Bedrock" Bedrosian, and there was Joe "The Saver" Boever. And Harry called them all, always fair but always a fan, always the voice that meant "Phillies".

Some of the words will resonate longer than others. "Outta here", of course, and that deliberate, affectionate "Michael Jack Schmidt." If you're a fan, you'll remember "Swing...and a long drive" or "It's gotta chance!" or that deliberate, looping "Swing and a miss, he struck 'em out", which looks like nothing on the page but meant everything on the ear. We'll probably be hearing a lot of that last World Series call over the next couple of days, a lot of Mike Schmidt's 500th home run and that home run call in general. And that's fine, and wonderful, and a great way to remember him.

But I'll remember listening to Bruce Ruffin dismember the Padres in a nothing game, right after he was called up and everyone thought he might be the second coming of Carlton. I'll remember that magical 1980 season, and hearing about balls clanking off Charlie Hayes' glove. And I'll remember these last couple of years, when the internet let me pick up the Phillies' home radio feed, and I could hear that voice again, and felt, for an inning or two, like I was still that kid hugging a clock radio under his pillow.

So goodbye, Harry the K, and thank you. You gave us something wonderful, and even us Phillies fans - rough, tough, cranky, nasty Phillies fans - loved you for it. Godspeed, and here's hoping that wherever you are, there's baseball.