It was sort of like the scene in Cloverfield where the kids are out in the street, trying to figure out what the hell’s going on after they hear a bunch of loud noises. All of a sudden, the Statue of Liberty’s head flies by the kids, landing on the ground amidst a pile of flames. The kids were shocked–not just because they almost got clobbered by a giant metal head, but because something that’s been a seemingly permanent fixture of their lives, their culture–that’s been there as long as they’ve been there and, in their minds, should always be there–has just displayed its mortality for all to see.
That’s what I felt like today when I found out Harry Kalas had died.
I’m 28 years old. For 28 years, I’ve been a die-hard Phillies fan. For several years out of those 28, I worked in radio. I was always surrounded by broadcasters, and at one time, I was a broadcaster myself. I’ve known and worked beside a lot of good broadcasters–great broadcasters, even. But I can’t think of any other broadcasters whose levels of poise and classiness surpass or even match Kalas’s. Not even close.
Much of my Phillies experience has been narrated by Kalas. His style and catch-phrases just sounded *right*. Over these 28 years, I got so used to his style that I found that hearing anyone else talk about the Phillies on the air just seemed so…unnatural. When I watch Phillies games, I tend to tune out the sportscasters, no matter how good they are, and I have my own running commentary going in my head…and it’s always in Kalas’s voice. Because that’s the voice–the only voice–that sounds right, sounds natural, to be talking about our Fightins. (Yeah, I know Kalas had a partner, but his voice isn’t the voice I remember. Kalas had that “it” factor going for him more than Wheeler does.)
I know it’s gonna hit me hard next time I’m driving through the Philly area, tuning in to a Phillies game, and that familiar voice isn’t coming over my airwaves. I’ll feel like that Statue of Liberty head is hurtling toward my car in a very Something-Just-Isn’t-Right-Here sort of way. I’ll feel shocked, I think, because that’s when it’ll hit me–when there’s someone else talking in his place, and I’m there to hear it. Right now it hasn’t really sunk in, because I can still hear Kalas’s voice in my head, and I haven’t had to hear anyone else’s voice saying the things that Kalas used to say. For 28 years, he was always there, and throughout that time I’ve known only Kalas’s voice as the voice of the Phillies.
Today, despite the fact that people were inevitably talking on the air, broadcasting baseball commentary…there was radio silence from a sports broadcaster who was beloved, talented, and utterly memorable.
In my 28 years, I haven’t really felt a significant impact from the death of any type of celebrity-type figure–until today. Today is the day I’m learning the tough but inevitable lesson that even legends don’t live forever.
Out of both habit and nostalgia, I’m pretty sure that every time Ryan Howard or Chase Utley, and members of generations of future Phillies after them, hits a home run, I’ll always replay “…this ball is outta here!!!” in my head. In Kalas’s voice, of course–the way it sounds best. The way it just seems right.
On a related note:
* Shane Victorino keeps it classy…
* …and so does Deadspin’s AJ Daulerio–also a Phillies fan.
* Click here to listen to Harry Kalas calling the last out of the 2008 World Series as the Phillies become the World Series Champs!