Harry Kalas passed away three years ago today. This story was written on that day and published in the April 14, 2009 Inquirer.
Every time you heard that distinctive baritone, deepened by a million smokes and marinated like fine bourbon aging in oak casks, you felt something soothing and reassuring.
God's in His heaven, Harry the K's in the booth, and all's right with the world.
He was, for generations of Phillies fans, The Voice. If Harry said it, it must be so.
That voice was stilled today. Harry Kalas, one of the true troubadors of baseball, died. He collapsed in a press box in Washington not long before the Phillies were to play the Nationals, and that site and circumstance seemed altogether fitting - if he could pick his exit, you know it would have been in a booth, readying for another game.
He was 73, and in those 73 years achieved the status of legend, a word that is tossed about far too frivolously but which, in his case, fit like a batting glove.
In his twilight, not every game, nor every inning, was as seamless and flawless as it once had been, but his body of work is absolutely staggering. The Voice is in the Hall of Fame on richly deserved merit.
His signature line, mimicked by a million imitators over the years, will live on long after. For we all know the lyrics by heart. Cue the chorus, children:
"Long drive. Watch that baby. Outta here. Home run. Michael Jack Schmidt.
Close your eyes, and it's a muggy summer evening, and on the TV in your den and on the radio in your car, and you've just tuned into the Fightin's, and all you need hear is The Voice and from the sound of it, without knowing the score, you can tell instantly whether they're winning or losing.
"I always felt it was a privilege," he said. "It was like the people were inviting me into their homes. That's quite an honor."
And so it is, and so it was that he treated it that way, with respect and reverence. Harry the K did play-by-play, and he not only did it uncommonly well, he spared us the histrionics and the shrieking and the rudeness that pollutes far too many airways these days.
Harry the K was an oasis of calm in a roiling sea of nastiness and raging negativity.
He was, of course, the property of the Phillies, but he never played the role of fawning company shill. It was the Fightin's he wanted to win, but he credited the opponent when it was deserved.
He started with the Phillies in 1971, which means he put in some long years of hard time, having to describe many more losses than victories. But there was never the sense that he had been discouraged. Indeed, for many fans Harry the K was the face of the franchise.
"I just always tried to give 'em my best," he said. "I was hard on myself. If I stunk it out, I took that home with me."
Our last talk was in October, the time of the magic carpet ride, and invariably, as it always does, the conversation turned to absent friends. Most especially the man Harry called Whitey.
Theirs was a pairing for the ages. Harry Kalas and Rich Ashburn were, well, you struggle to get it just right. By turns hilarious, wry, dry, irreverent, informative, and unfailingly entertaining, all of it seasoned just right by an exquisite sense of timing.
Whitey would, from time to time, drift off course, confident that Harry would reel him back in before he floundered in deep water, and then Whitey would launch into another musing, punctuating it with his own signature line.
Hard to believe, Harry became as mimicked as Outta here.
They're both gone now, and we are all the poorer for their passing.
The stories will linger, and one Harry loved to relate was the night when Tim McCarver, a rather loquacious sort, as you know, was on the air with Harry and Whitey regaling them about pieces of ash that had been formed by the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens.
Harry, take it away:
"Tim was prattling on about those pieces of ash and how some were rough while there were others that were smooth, and Whitey, you know, got that twinkle in his eye, the one where you know something's coming, and he took his pipe out of his mouth and he said: 'You know, Tim, I always thought if you've seen one piece of ash, you've seen them all.' "
And Harry the K laughed in that familiar resonant baritone, the one that you can now imagine doing the play-by-play in some Elysium field.
Maybe the best part of Harry was his ego. It was virtually nonexistent. He was a gentleman and a gentle man, most approachable, and utterly without airs.