Pulse: Chatter: The Trouble With Harry

He’s been the voice of the Phillies for almost four decades. But should Harry Kalas say he’s outta here?

It’s the bottom of the fourth, two outs and a man on first, with the Phillies losing to the San Francisco Giants on a rain-soaked afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. Crack! The ball sails to center field, and if it’s possible to enjoy listening to a home run more than seeing one, that’s because the man with the call is Harry Kalas. “Home run Ryan Howard!” he yells with those raspy, resonant pipes. The Phils take the lead. It’s a perfect moment, save for one detail — Howard struck out earlier that inning. Aaron Rowand hit the dinger.
Kalas quickly recovered. But this season, such gaffes have become harder to ignore, as blown calls, forgotten names and pauses on close plays have led to whispers among local sports-media types that it may be time for Kalas to hit the showers. “If you’re hearing things are slipping,” says a local broadcaster, “you’re right.” One sports analyst puts it a bit more bluntly: “Harry’s a shell of himself.”

Naturally, no one wants to tell a legend it’s time to go. (Just ask Penn State.) Such reluctance speaks to Kalas’s status as a sports god here, as big as or bigger than most of the athletes he’s covered in his 36-year career. It’s also a result of his public falling-out with on-air sidekick Chris Wheeler in 2004. The upshot: Wheeler was branded as a schemer gunning for Kalas’s job. Unfair as that was, Wheeler’s popularity plummeted, and a lesson was learned: Players and managers may come and go, but Harry is untouchable.

Kalas, 71, says he isn’t considering retirement. “I feel good,” he says. “If it becomes a grind, then maybe I’ll think about it. But that hasn’t happened, knock on wood.” While he has plenty of post-baseball options — an NFL Films insider describes him as “still at the top of his game” as the voice of Inside the NFL — there’s no pressure coming from the Phillies. “Harry leaves when Harry’s ready,” declares Rob Brooks, the team’s broadcasting manager. “He’s still having a great time, and we’re happy to have him.”

Somehow, that’s reassuring. But there’s a lesson to be learned from beloved New York Mets play-caller Ralph Kiner, 84, now afflicted with Bell’s palsy. The fuzzy nostalgia of hearing his voice is tempered by the pathos of his slurred speech. Kalas appears to be in great health. But the day may come sooner rather than later when he’ll have to make the toughest call of his career.

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