The Phillies are a family and it doesn’t matter if you are a popcorn vendor or a fixture like Vince, who handled dugout security, or Jimmy Rollins, the reigning MVP — you all might as well be wearing the uniform.
—Doug Glanville, New York Times, November 1, 2008
Doug Glanville’s loyalty and eloquence notwithstanding, there’s not much to like about the Phillies from a Met perspective. A few things to admire in terms of recent accomplishment and approach to the game, but you could have said the same thing about the Braves back in the day. And we couldn’t stand the Braves either. At least Atlanta had the decency to remain many hundreds of miles away — in Atlanta.
But there was one thing the Phillies had going for them that I out and out liked for many years, and that was the presence of Harry Kalas in their broadcast booth. Now and then if the Mets weren’t playing or if the Phillies were playing a game that impacted the Mets’ standing, I’d tune into staticky 1210 AM — WCAU before its call letters changed every five minutes — and listen to Harry and his colleagues bring me baseball from somewhere else. I felt like I was beating the system, tapping into a source that was outside my official jurisdiction. Phillies baseball, like any baseball that was essentially foreign to me, sounded very different from what I was used to. No Murph. No Kiner. No Thorne. No Cohen. It wasn’t better, it wasn’t necessarily worse. It was different. The radio is the great unequalizer. No two broadcast styles, if done well, sound alike.
Harry Kalas sounded substantial. When he passed away early this season, the word you heard was “baritone,” and as little as I know about vocal classification, that sounded right. It was rich, it was deep, it was Harry Kalas. It was familiar from the NFL and commercials (and later the adorable Puppy Bowl), but it was mostly baseball from somewhere else. That made it both exotic and assuring. Harry Kalas made it well done.
On a November evening in 1996, I talked several coworkers into joining me at the Museum of Television and Radio on 52nd Street for a seminar on baseball announcing. The main attraction for me was Gary Cohen, but the entire panel was a draw: Joe Castiglione from the Red Sox; Bob Wolff from the 1950s Senators, the 1970s Knicks and News 12 Long Island; Curt Smith the author/historian; John Sterling the blowhard; and Harry Kalas of Philadelphia. There was a lively discussion, there was a chance to pester Gary afterwards and then there was something of a bonus track.
I went to the men’s room, which on the auditorium level of MTR included a pay phone. I walked in and two men surrounded that phone: an attendee and a panelist — Harry Kalas. The attendee, all anxious, hands Harry the phone and tells him, “go ahead, go ahead!” Harry, who no doubt missed few producers’ cues, was on.
Hi, you’ve reached Tom and Mary. They’re not home right now…
Holy Mickey Morandini! This guy had the nerve to ask Harry Kalas to leave the outgoing message on his home answering machine! And Harry Kalas is doing it!
Just like that, Tom from the Delaware Valley, or whatever his name was, had a dream OGM come true and Harry Kalas, all-time announcer en route to Ford Frick honors, just made one person he never met extraordinarily happy. With a pay phone. In a men’s room.
The guy thanked him profusely. Harry said no problem. I smiled and shook my head at Kalas after his fan left, told him that was incredible and echoed what someone else in the audience testified earlier: “I love tuning through the static and listening to you on ‘CAU or whatever it’s called now.” Harry smiled, thanked me, washed and dried his hands and left.
The Phillies uniform and those who wear it are, as those things that represent archrivals tend to be, rather nauseating to me. I’m sure they’ll be tonight. But that little HK patch they’re wearing to honor the late, great Harry Kalas? HK will always be OK.