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Commentary: Recalling Harry Kalas

BY BRENDAN STILES | APRIL 14, 2009 7:30 AM

I am not a Philadelphia Phillies fan.

But when I heard the news Monday that their play-by-play voice Harry Kalas had died, I nearly broke into tears.

In 2006, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kalas for a story I had done focusing on him, as well as Houston Astros’ broadcaster Milo Hamilton, as both of these Baseball Hall of Fame broadcasting icons were alumni of the UI.

I still remember the day I conducted my interview with Kalas. It was during spring training. A few days earlier, I had contacted the Phillies’ media-relations department to see if it would be possible to get an interview with Kalas. The people there were kind enough to pass my number to him, and as I left my General Chemistry discussion section the day I ended up talking with him, I received a voice mail from a number with a Philadelphia area code.

Sure enough, it was Kalas, saying he would be delighted to have me interview him. I called back, got out a notebook, and began writing away as he spoke.

To give you all a basic background, Kalas attended the UI during the 1950s, and he earned his degree in 1959. While he was in Iowa City, Kalas worked at WSUI and was the president of his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta.

Although he was most widely recognized in Philadelphia as the voice of the Phillies, his role as the voice of NFL Films that made him a national icon. If you have ever watched any NFL Films footage, you’ve heard his voice. If you remember the Edge Pro Gel commercials from the 1990s with the “lose your foam, save your skin” line at the end, that was Kalas saying those words. He had also done commercials for Campbell’s Chunky Soup and GMC among other companies.

But make no mistake. It was his voice in the baseball world that made him who he was. His major-league career began in 1965 calling games for the Houston Astros for six seasons. He then became the Phillies’ voice in 1971, a title he would hold onto for the rest of his life.

Among the highlights of his broadcasting career was calling the 500th career home run of Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, and, just six months ago, he was behind the mike when the Phillies defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 World Series.

In 2002, Kalas was elected to the broadcasters’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., a moment he told me put him on “Cloud Nine.”

When I look back on the opportunity I got to interview Kalas three years ago, there is one moment I will never forget (besides his voice mail, of course). After answering one of the many questions I asked him during this phone interview I did outside our newsroom in the Adler Journalism Building, he paused for a second, and then began to talk about how Willie Mays was the best baseball player he had ever seen.

To illustrate his point, Kalas referenced a game between Mays’ Giants and the Astros from his days as Houston’s broadcaster. He described about how in the ninth inning, Mays scored the eventual game-winning run from first base on a routine single to left field because the Astros’ left fielder at the time, Don “Briefcase” Simpson, as Kalas jokingly called him, lollygagged the throw to third base.

I never used that in the story I ended up writing about him and Hamilton, but it was also something I knew I was never going to forget.

By the end of the interview, 45 minutes had passed. I had about six pages worth of notes and quotations because he took the time to answer every single question I presented him that morning.

One question I did ask Kalas though was how long he planned to remain in broadcasting. He said as long as he could do it. Given that he was found in the press box of the Washington Nationals’ stadium where the Phillies were playing Monday, Kalas was a man of his word.

To this day, that interview with Kalas is one of the select few I am most proud of having done while working at the DI.


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