Call of 500th home run links Kalas and Schmidt

Posted: April 18, 2009

They forever will be linked in the annals of Philadelphia sports history.

One because of his exploits on the field, the other because of how he described those feats.

One call, in particular, will always raise the hairs on the back of a Philadelphian's neck.

"Swing and a long drive, there it is, number 500! The career 500th home run for Michael Jack Schmidt!"

To this day, Schmidt can't explain why Harry Kalas, who died Monday, chose to include the former Phillies' middle name in recounting his home runs. But somehow it stuck, and it became a nickname of sorts. And that's just fine with the Hall of Fame third baseman.

"I was never called Michael Jack by my parents, ever," said Schmidt, who was at Citizens Bank Park last night as the Phils, home for the first time since Kalas' passing, honored the broadcaster. "In fact, my middle name was never used. So Harry Kalas labeled me that."

Kalas, in fact, called every one of Schmidt's 548 career homers. Of course, he also described 1,883 strikeouts over Schmidt's 17-year career. But, according to the 59-year-old, one of the reasons Kalas was so beloved by the players was because he depicted both successes and failures in a similar light.

"Even after a guy just struck out four times in a row . . . he could make you look good," Schmidt said. "I remember a night I did that. I quite honestly hit the 13th pitch for a home run, and I think Harry had his audience ready for that."

Of course, after nearly 40 years in Philadelphia, the audience hung on Kalas' every word. It is why there's been a weeklong public mourning that carried over into last night's game and certainly today's public viewing. Even Schmidt, perhaps the greatest Phillie ever, admitted there was no bigger sports figure in this town.

"A guy working in the booth describing the game to the fans . . . has now established himself as even being bigger than the players that played the game," Schmidt said. "I'm a pretty big name over the years in Philadelphia sports history, as are a few of the other Phillies, and other teams had great players. I can't imagine a guy that could be bigger than Harry Kalas."

Schmidt went one step further.

"Harry Kalas, if you can look past Ben Franklin and William Penn, may have been the greatest person to grace Philadelphia in the history of the city," he said.

Schmidt said that he and Kalas had a close relationship over the years, but that it had lessened some since he left the game. "I probably took him for granted," said Schmidt, whose wife, Donna, did a pregame television show with Kalas in the 1970s.

Still, the two Hall of Famers will always be associated by Kalas' call of Schmidt's landmark home run. It was certainly one reason fans chose to decorate Schmidt's statue outside the third- base gate this week with bouquets and signs.

"I'm honored by that," Schmidt said.

Catcher call-up

It may be a little earlier than the Phillies hoped to call up Lou Marson, but with Carlos Ruiz suffering a strained right oblique, the rookie catcher is giving the brass an up-close look at whether he's major-league ready.

"I think it's a good chance for him," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's young. . . . He's playing right now. That's the way he should look at it."

Marson earned his first career start on Thursday, an 8-2 loss for the Phils. He caught a solid game, according to Manuel, and went 2 for 3 at the plate. Manuel said the 22-year-old called most of the game. Chris Coste got the start last night.

More on Harry

During Monday's game in Washington, the Phillies taped a picture of Kalas in the visitors' dugout and kept it there until they left Thursday.

The Marlins, the next team to play at Nationals Stadium, have decided to keep the impromptu memorial on the wall until they finish their series, manager Fredi Gonzalez said yesterday.

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.

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