He comes into your living room on game day, welcomed in by your open invitation, given a seat at the dinner table, established as a family member who is there for you from the opening moment of the game to the very end. He is The Voice, the one who expresses the passion and the privilege you feel as a fan. He is the one who sees the game and who draws you in with his enthusiasm and insight.
The Voice of the Phillies passed away on Monday. Harry Kalas passed at the age of 73, although anyone who listened to him recently knew he still had many innings remaining in that baritone of his. It was shocking news that saddened all of the sports world, for Kalas was more than a baseball guy; he spent many weekends in the NFL broadcast booth and his voice was heard throughout the league at many levels.
"Harry Kalas is a great icon and is one of the great voices of baseball who will go down in the annals with the likes of Harry Carey and Vin Scully -- who still does the Dodgers games -- and Mel Allen and Red Barber and Jack Brickhouse and Bob Prince ... all of these great names who were great icons, bigger-than-life figures," said Merrill Reese later on Monday night. "When you heard Harry's voice, you knew baseball season was here and that meant it was springtime and summer. It was Phillies baseball. The reaction is shocking to me. When it happens, you feel and see the great public sorrow."
Anyone who followed the Phillies counts himself fortunate to have heard Kalas for so many years, even after the death of his best friend and booth partner Richie Ashburn, who died in 1997. And anyone who is an Eagles fan takes a pause right here and right now to give thanks to have Reese, to cherish him for 30 more seasons and to appreciate how lucky we are to have Reese in our lives.
More than any player leaving a team, a broadcaster is the daily liasion to the fan. He is the one who translates the energy and the excitement of the game, and in the cases of Kalas, of Reese and of the late Gene Hart, Philadelphia has had more than its fair share of broadcast legends.
"You don't think about having that responsibility, or having that impact on fans," said Reese. "You think about how much you love your job and how fortunate you are to be in that position. I know that is how Harry felt. It is how I feel every day. The job is to communicate your enthusiasm and your passion about the game to people who love the team as much as you do. That's what Harry Kalas was able to do so successfully.
"It is a sad, sad day. I've known Harry for a long time, obviously, and had the rare treat -- and it was one I didn't realize was going to be the final opportunity -- to spend some great time with Harry recently. After the Eagles' 2008 season ended, instead of bemoaning the loss, I decided to embark on a project to write a book about sportscasting and turning your passion into a profession. I did a chapter on football broadcasting and then decided to visit the other broadcasters to learn about their side of the business.
"On Tuesday, February 4 on a snowy afternoon, I sat in a restaurant in Newtown Square with Harry Kalas for two or three hours and talked about his career and about his passion for the game and his philosophy of broadcasting. It was more of a visit with Harry in those three hours than I had in the previous 30 years. It was a remarkable gift that I received, to be in the presence of this great man for that amount of time."
Reese's book is tentatively titled, "Sportscasting: Turning Your Passion Into A Profession," and it promises to be one that captures the deep love that broadcasting legends like Reese and Kalas have for the game, for the job, for the fans and for the teams they follow every day.
Reese wants to broadcast Eagles football for as long as he is living, as long as he is healthy and for as long as he is "doing the job with the professionalism and love that people have fortunately have come to expect."
On this day, and for the days to come, we mourn the loss of Harry Kalas. At the same time, we should feel so very fortunate to have the incomparable Reese to enjoy again and again and again for the seasons to follow. He is the Voice of the Eagles, the wakeup call on game day and the one you invite into your homes every Sunday.
And he is special. Remember that even more in times like this.
NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT
- Tune in later when the 2009 Eagles schedule is official. We will have it first for you at 7 p.m. Where will the Eagles open the season? I'm guessing a road game against the Giants.
- Anything new with the Eagles? Seriously, the team is in lockdown mode on information. Tom Heckert will be made available for some comments on Tuesday, but he isn't going to say a whole lot. We'll be there to cover him, of course. Nothing formal, but some chit-chat with the beat reporters.
- How much would it take to move into the Top 10 of the draft? Good question. I don't know the draft value, but I read that the Jags want to get out of the eighth spot and that seems really, really interesting to me. The Eagles bounced up 15 spots in recent years by trading first- and second-round picks, so would the 21st pick and a second-round pick do the trick here?
- Then again, who would the Eagles trade up to get?
- How many receivers do the Eagles intend to carry in 2009? I don't necessarily know the answer, but it sure is going to play into the approach on draft weekend. I still think that both DeSean Jackson and Quintin Demps could be starters this season, which means that they may not have the job as return men. Getting a receiver or a cornerback who can return kicks could be something to think about, then.