Harry Kalas statue is missing something

The newly unveiled statue of Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas is displayed before a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Arizona Diamondbacks Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The newly unveiled statue of Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas is displayed before a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Arizona Diamondbacks Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (AP)
Posted: August 17, 2011

THEY'RE NOT done. No sooner was the spectacular statue of Harry Kalas finally unveiled last night than its grass-roots organizers and sculptor were dreaming up the next step, channeling Harry as they spoke.

"Obviously, Harry can stand on his own," Lawrence J. Nowlan, the sculptor, said afterward, as the throng of fans who surrounded the unveiling ceremony took turns touching and admiring the statue placed in the plaza below Harry the K's in the leftfield corner of Citizens Bank Park. "But if you put a mike on Harry right now, he'd be saying, 'I think Richie should be next to me.' That's why I have him leaning on Whitey's Louisville slugger."

So gather up your loose change, people. And if you're a local corporation with a little extra cash in these dire times, give Nowlan a call. Because while the cast is far from set, the image of Richie Ashburn standing next to his old partner in Section 141, arms folded, already is ingrained inside the mind of the Philadelphia sculptor who bronzed Harry the K.

"In fact, the original structure was going to be him seated at a broadcast table and maybe that could leave a chair for Whitey," said Todd Palmer, one of organizers of the fan-based campaign to raise the $80,000 for the statue. Not until the statue was cast did the group bring it to the Phillies' ownership, looking for a home in the park. "There was a Plan B and a Plan C," Palmer said, without divulging what they were.

The bat to his side was Nowlan's idea. He also slipped a 2008 world championship ring on the statue's finger, a little poetic license that initially received resistance from the sons and family of the popular Phillies announcer, who died in the broadcast booth in April 2009, a week short of receiving his ring.

"At first, they were pretty adamant not to, because '93 was his favorite year," Nowlan said.

Indeed, Kalas hardly went anywhere without the 1993 National League championship ring on his finger. He loved the team because of what they did, because of who they were, because the living, breathing partner he set up like Lou Costello's straight man was so much a part of that run.

That was Kalas' art and over 38 seasons, it acted like a summer wind to listeners. Two summers later, "Outta here" and "Struck . . . him . . . Owwwt" are as much part of fan celebrations as they were when he was alive.

"He proved himself to be more powerful than Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski and Ryan Howard combined," Nowlan said when he spoke at the unveiling. "He was slicker than Willie Montanez and he was deeper than L.A. Harry had a more potent delivery than Lefty, he was more graceful than Garry, he was wilder than the Wild Thing, and just as thirsty as Wall of Famer John Kruk. Harry was more focused than Chase, called a better game than Dutch, Booney or Chooch. He was just as stylish as J-Roll, he was finer than Doc. And when Whitey thought he had him talked into a corner, he found that Harry was even quicker than the Flyin' Hawaiian."

Not surprisingly, many from that 1993 group make their living these days the way Harry did for his entire adult life. Larry Andersen, the comic of the current dynamic Phillies radio team, represented them at the unveiling. Mitch Williams - "Mitchy-Poo" Kalas bellowed when he ended the latest game in National League history that year with a 10th-inning single - was in the park in his current role as analyst for Major League Baseball.

Bill Giles, the team president who hired Kalas away from Houston 40 years ago, was also in attendance, as was Dallas Green. Garry Maddox, Greg Luzinski, Larry Christenson were there. Steve Carlton and current Phillie Jimmy Rollins were given the honor of unveiling the statue.

There would have been more had the weather cooperated Sunday, when the statue was supposed to be unveiled as the final event of alumni weekend. Perhaps the most disappointed of those alums was Kruk, the latest addition to the Phillies Wall of Fame and another of that 1993 team to become a broadcaster.

Kruk was a Kalas all-time favorite. To cover, to commiserate with - and to curse at.

"Whenever we played New York, Harry would always rent a limousine," Kruk said over the weekend. "We'd have our drinks and whatever else we did in that car. It was a 2 1/2-hour trip up to New York talking, arguing, wanting to fight each other about baseball. He and I had more vehement arguments over players than I have ever had in 8 years with ESPN. We would argue about everything.

"I just loved being around Harry. Maybe because I knew I could say anything to him and he could say anything to me and at the end of the day it was going to be forgiven and forgotten. If I had that conversation with others, especially within the Phillies organization . . . we would never speak to each other again. It was cursing each other, calling each other names. I mean it was the whole deal. And as soon as we pulled up to the hotel it was 'Love ya, see ya tomorrow.' "

That short-term memory served him well. Each game, each season sounded as if it were his first. Suzanne Norris, whose endless enthusiasm pushed the project through several stalls, mused that Kalas "unified us. He unified the fans and the players in Philadelphia in a way that was truly unique to Philadelphia."

It's probably not a coincidence that Ashburn was described in almost identical manner upon his sudden death in 1997. It has been said that Kalas never got over Whitey's passing, that he grieved his partner until he too died suddenly while preparing to broadcast a game in Washington.

It's why it's hard to talk about one without talking about the other. It's why, as fans gathered around Nolan's beautiful and poignant semblance last night, the cast was already being set for what might come next, even though there is already a statue of Ashburn the player.

"What do you think the Phillies would say to another statue?" Nowlan was asked.

"I'm sure the Phillies might say 'Calm down,' " was his response.


For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.

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