|Wednesday, June 18
Updated: June 19, 9:13 AM ET
Kalas' unique, smooth sound unmistakable
By Mark Simon
Special to ESPN.com
It was a blind speech professor at Cornell College in Iowa that prophesied the future for then-freshman Harry Kalas.
"You have the kind of voice that could make it in radio,'' Kalas was told by Walter Stroemer, not knowing his words would be so prophetic.
The golden voice of the 67-year-old Kalas will grace ESPN during Wednesday night's Braves-Phillies game as part of the Living Legends series. Kalas received baseball broadcasting's highest honor last year -- the Ford Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame. He has been a voice of the Phillies since the team moved to Veterans Stadium in 1971.
Kalas inherited that unmistakable deep sound from his father, a minister, whose son became a diehard baseball fan when Washington Senators outfielder Mickey Vernon took him on a tour of the dugout during Kalas' first visit to Comiskey Park.
It came in handy after Kalas graduated from the University of Iowa (to which he transferred after his freshman year) in 1959 and went straight into the military. He was sent to Hawaii as a heavy weapons infantryman and worked in a battle group for only two days before he was sent to another department.
"The captain pulled me down when he saw I had broadcasting experience,'' said Kalas, who had worked for the school radio station. "They had me do interviews with the troops that were sent back to the hometown stations."
The experience in Hawaii was good enough to keep him there even after his military stint ended. He broadcast minor-league baseball for the Hawaii Islanders from 1961-1964, work that included recreating the road games from a studio.
It was during a baseball management convention that Kalas found his way to the majors. He met someone from Houston, whose team was moving into a new ballpark and wanted a new broadcaster to go with it. Kalas landed the job and stayed with the struggling Astros from 1965 to 1970, calling a handful of innings a game. One noteworthy moment was a no-hitter by Don Wilson on May 1, 1969, a day after the Astros were no-hit by Cincinnati's Jim Maloney.
"He pitched the entire game with a scowl on his face,'' Kalas said. "He was angry (about Maloney's no-hitter). A no-hitter is a cause for celebration, right? Well, he was still scowling at the players in the Reds dugout after the game was over.''
When Bill Giles left the Astros to work for the Phillies, he brought Kalas with him. The City of Brotherly Love and Kalas proved to be a perfect match. One of Kalas' primary boothmates was Richie Ashburn, who had a good sense of humor and a terrific knowledge of baseball. They would kid around from time to time (Ashburn used to order pizza delivered to the press box), but always kept the interests of Phillies' fan foremost. Kalas described his style as one of striving for accuracy and the ability to rise to the moment.
"Whitey was as good a friend as I ever had," Kalas said of Ashburn, who died in 1997. "To share the booth with him for 27 years was wonderful. He brought an expertise and a sense of humor to the booth. I think of him every day with warmth in his heart and a smile on his face.''
Ashburn was passionate about the Phillies and Kalas has been known to show emotion with his calls as well. When Mike Piazza hit a walk-off home run to beat the Phillies during the 2001 season, Kalas expressed the frustration of all Philadelphia fans when he heard the crack of the bat by simply saying "Oh brother ..." To celebrate a game-winning extra-inning hit by Phillies reliever Mitch Williams during the 1993 season (due to multiple rain delays, the game ended in the wee morning hours), Kalas exclaimed that "The Phillies win on a base hit by Mitchy-pooh!"
"I don't remember how I came up with that,'' Kalas said with a laugh. "It was 4:41 a.m.''
He does know how he came up with his signature home-run call "It's outta here." He borrowed the phrase from current Phillies manager Larry Bowa after the two watched Greg Luzinski launch a long home run during batting practice.
Highlights of Kalas' tenure include calling the 548 home runs of Mike Schmidt and the prime years of Steve Carlton's career. He didn't get to broadcast the 1980 World Series due to network restrictions that didn't permit local radio broadcasts, but he was a significant part of that season, as well as the pennant winning 1983 and 1993 seasons. Most Phillies fans and players remember the signature moments of their career by how he called them.
"Harry embodies everything that is good about sports, both on and off the field,'' said Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling, who after throwing a two-hit shutout against the Phillies on May 14, stayed up in his hotel until 4:30 a.m. to watch the re-broadcast and hear Kalas. "He's one of the few people who can create lifelong memories with his voice.''
Trying to describe the sound doesn't do it justice, but it is as identifiable with the Phillies as James Earl Jones is with Star Wars. The voice has inspired both imitators and admirers for its beautiful and one-of-a-kind quality.
"It's like a Barry Bonds swing,'' Schilling said, explaining his admiration in baseball terms. "There's only one.''
Mark Simon is a researcher for ESPN's Major League Baseball broadcasts. He can be contacted at Mark.A.Simon@espn.com