Phils announcer Harry Kalas dies

Posted: April 13, 2009

WASHINGTON - Just before noon today, Harry Kalas got off the Phillies team bus and walked into the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park. As always, Kalas said something nice to everyone he encountered, then stopped, pulled out a pen and wrote down the lineup which had been posted on the wall.

Lineup in hand, the Hall of Fame broadcaster rode the elevator to the press level and began preparing for a 3 p.m. game between the Phillies and Washington Nationals.

He never got to call the game.

Kalas, in his 39th season as narrator of all things Phillies, collapsed in the broadcast booth around 12:20 p.m. and died after being rushed to a nearby hospital. He was 73.

Phillies players and personnel were informed of the news by club president David Montgomery in a somber pre-game meeting.

"Sadly, I must confirm that we lost Harry," Montgomery, fighting back tears in a hallway outside the visiting clubhouse, told a large group of reporters who had assembled after hearing that Kalas had been sticken.

"We lost our voice today," Montgomery added. "Harry loved our game and made a tremendous contribution to our sport, and certainly to our organization."

The Phillies had been scheduled to visit the White House tomorrow, but Montgomery said the visit had been postponed indefinitely.

Players were not available for comment before the game.

"They're stunned," Montgomery said. "When you have a presence like Harry Kalas, anybody that played for us, it's an immediate point of connection with our club because Harry is the Phillies."

The Nationals organization, hosting its home opener, honored Kalas' memory with a moment of silence before the first pitch.

"He was the heart and soul of the Phillies organization," the stadium public address announcer told the crowd.

As Kalas' picture flashed on the video board above rightfield in the hushed stadium, a fan shouted: "We love you, Harry."

Chris Wheeler, a longtime broadcaster partner of Kalas, wondered if the Phillies could have played if the game weren't on the road.

"It would have been hard to play if this had been a home game," Wheeler said.

The team did not say how the broadcast team will be affected by Kalas' absence.

Wheeler recalled that he joined the Phillies in 1971, the same year as Kalas.

"He helped me when I went into the broadcast booth," Wheeler said. "He taught me a lot about how to be a professional and do the job. We spent a lot of time together."

Wheeler recalled joining Blue Bell Country Club in 1994. His first foursome included Kalas, Richie Ashburn and Kalas son, Todd. Harry Kalas and Ashburn, of course, were a broadcast tandem beloved by Phillies fans. Ashburn died after calling a game in Sept. 1997 at Shea Stadium.

"Harry was a great friend on and off the field for many years," Wheeler said.

Known for his classic "Outta heeeeere!" home run call, Kalas won the Ford C. Frick Award and was honored by Baseball Hall of Fame at its 2002 induction ceremony.

Despite his fame, he was always approachable and down to earth.

"It was a real inspiration to watch the way he connected with our fans," said Scott Franzke, who joined the broadcast crew in 2006. "He never said no to an autograph or a photo with somebody. He never turned down being somebody's outgoing voice mail message when they asked him to. And he didn't have to do any of that at this stage. He was already Harry the K.

"It was a real lesson to remember why we do what we do - and it's for the fans. We love the game. We make a very good living at it. It's a fun job to do. But we do it for the fans."

Franzke fought back tears.

"The players come and go, but 'Outta here' lasts forever," he said. "Harry was always first class in the way he treated people. He was a genuinely nice guy."

Broadcaster Larry Andersen recalled his friendship with Kalas, which started during his playing days. Kalas was always one of the boys, sitting on the back of charter airplane flights, sharing a cold one with the players.

"No matter who the player was, there was always a silver lining," Andersen said. "He never got on a player. He never bad-mouthed a player. He always looked for the positives, no matter who it was. The players appreciated that. He found the good in everybody and especially the players. He loved the players. He loved being around them."

Andersen said Kalas did not ride in the back of the plane en route to Denver and then to Washington on this roadtrip.

"It was like, 'It's not right,' " Andersen said. "It was almost like an omen. He was always in the back row. He wasn't feeling well. You could see it. You could tell."

Kalas had heart surgery - stents were put in - in February, but was able to make it to spring training by mid-March. However, he appeared thinner than normal, even weak.

After he collapsed today, Kalas was found on the floor of the broadcast booth by Rob Brooks, the team's director of broadcasting. Emergency medical technicians treated Kalas on the scene and rushed him to George Washington University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1:20 p.m. Cause of death was not immediately known.

Andersen said his favorite memory of Kalas came after the Phillies won the NL East title in Pittsburgh in 1993.

"Him leading us in High Hopes," said Andersen, crying. "I don't ever want to hear that song again."

Bob Boone, the catcher on the Phillies glory years teams that culminated with the 1980 World Series championship and now an executive in the Washington front office, said he saddened by Kalas' death.

"Harry was part of that whole Phillies growing-up period in the 1970s," Boone said. "He was one of us when we won the World Series in 1980. To lose him is shocking."


Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.

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