scholars and rogues

"Outta here!"—Baseball loses one of its finest voices

kalasHarry Kalas, the long-time broadcast announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies and the voice of NFL Films, passed away today. Kalas died in the booth prior to today’s game between the Phillies and the Nationals. The cause of death was not immediately known.

“We lost our voice today,” said Phillies team president David Montgomery.

In fact, baseball and football fans alike were struck dumb by the news. Harry Kalas, known for his exuberant home run catch-phrase “It’s outta here!” was gone, his great voice silent. MLB responded with silence of its own, honoring Kalas with a moment of quiet in his memory before its games Monday.

Few football fans might know Kalas’s name, but they nearly all recognize the voice. Kalas had been working for NFL Films since 1975, and he’d narrated Inside the NFL since 1977. While many announcers today have turned highlight film voiceovers into an artform, Kalas remained the calm, cool professional against whom all others were measured. Others might’ve been flashier, but every fan recognized Kalas as the voice.

But in Philadelphia, where Kalas had been calling Phillies games since 1971, the man was an icon. He was a treasure. 

In 2002, Kalas was inducted in the broadcasters wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, but Phillies fans better appreciated the place he had in their living rooms, their kitchens, their cars—wherever they were when they tuned in to listen to Kalas call the game.

For me, Kalas’s voice provided one of the indelible voices of my childhood. Growing up in Hershey, Pennsylvania, my brother and I could pick up Channel 29 out of Philadelphia on our family’s little black and white TV. I tuned in mostly for Creature Double feature on Saturdays, but my brother would tune in to Phillies games. Those were golden years for the Phils—in my brother’s eyes if not necessarily for the franchise—and Kalas offered the play-by-play.

While the Phillies were the doorway into baseball for my brother, my Uncle John was a longtime Phillies fan who was about as rabid as they came, and he always had the game on, whether on television or radio. Kalas’s smooth baritone resonated throughout my aunt and uncle’s house and became as much a part of the decor as the upright piano in the living room or the sports memorabilia in the basement.

Later, when I got into radio as a professional, I took great enjoyment from listening to great voices (something I still get great enjoyment from)—and I always came back to Kalas as the best of the best. I never failed to hear his voice without thinking, “That is one fantastic set of pipes. That is everything a great voice should be.”

Now imagine a voice that perfect, amplified a thousand times. That might be how I’ll remember Kalas’s voice most vividly. At the Football Hall of Fame, a shrine to America’s toughest game, the most powerful thing on display was Kalas’s voice, gloriously booming in surround sound in the hall’s revolving movie theater.

There are far more fans who have a far greater claim on Kalas’s memory than I do. For many of them, he was a beloved daily companion for decades.

But I will always hear Kalas’s voice, resonating across the years from my childhood, and I’ll remember him as the best.

Harry Kalas was 73.