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News » Kalas was more than co-worker to Phils' broadcasters


Kalas was more than co-worker to Phils' broadcasters


Kalas was more than co-worker to Phils' broadcasters
It was 1968, long before you could hear the crack of the bat thousands of miles away on satellite radio or catch a Major League Baseball game on your computer.

It was a time when Philadelphia native Chris Wheeler was missing his team.

Wheeler, 23 at the time and in the Army, was stationed in Texas. There were no Phillies games to be seen or heard.

But, still craving the sport he loved, Wheeler tuned into Houston Astros games.

"In the fourth and fifth innings, this guy came on and I'm thinking, "He's good,"' Wheeler recalled Friday night from the press box at Citizens Bank Park.

Less than a decade later, Wheeler became that guy's booth mate and partner in crime for more than 30 years in Philadelphia.

"I knew Harry before I knew Harry," Wheeler said.

Kalas, the Phillies' voice for nearly 40 years, died at the age of 73 on Monday of heart disease.

After leaving the Houston Astros in 1970, Kalas was hired to be part of the Phillies' broadcasting crew for the 1971 season, just months before Wheeler joined the club's public relations staff in July of that same year.

Six years later, Wheeler moved into the broadcasting booth alongside Kalas.

Until Kalas died last week, the two sat side-by-side for thousands of games, made countless road trips together and spent six weeks in spring training every year preparing for the daily grind of a 162-game regular season.

"I learned a lot from him about how to be a professional," Wheeler said.

For years, their relationship extended well beyond the microphone and scorebook. They went out for dinner, had more than a few drinks together and shared lots of entertaining stories.

"We just had so much fun," Wheeler said. "It was a great time."

Much of the focus has been on the fans and their reaction to Kalas' passing, and rightfully so. He loved the fans and they loved him.

But lost in the flood of emotions has been what his cohorts have gone through the last week.

Imagine this: Scott Franzke, the organization's play-by-play radio voice, walked into Nationals Park's broadcast booth just a couple minutes after Phillies broadcast director Rob Brooks found Kalas unconscious and waited there until medical help arrived.

Wheeler saw him being pushed on a gurney while emergency medical technicians worked on him. He later went back into the booth to put his work bag back together.

"I don't know if everyone understands the full depth of what people went through and saw," Franzke said. "I'll never forget that."

As difficult as that moment and so many more have been for Franzke, he's spent lots of time lately thinking about all the qualities that made Kalas so special.

"His attitude coming to the ballpark every day was exceptional," Franzke said. "When people hear what our jobs are, they say, "You have the best job in the world.' Yeah, it's a great job. But it's still a job and there are days you don't want to be here. If Harry felt that, he never showed it. There was no place more that he wanted to be than at the ballpark."

Although Kalas' contract was up after this season, Wheeler had a feeling he wouldn't have voluntarily walked away from his seat in the booth.

"He never wanted to retire," Wheeler said. "And being beside him, I always marveled at how accurate he was."

Tom McCarthy, in his second stint with the club (first was from 2001-05), led the broadcasting crew's telecast on Comcast SportsNet on Monday less than two hours after Kalas' death.

He eloquently told stories, asked guests, such as general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and former player and current announcer Larry Andersen, to reminisce about Kalas, and still managed to call the game.

"It was hard," McCarthy said. "But I think it was good that we did the game. It was cathartic for all of us. And I think it was important that we made sure there was laughter. Not only would Harry have wanted that, but if we didn't do that, it would have brought everyone else down who was watching us."

Phillies fans went through this pain and sadness in 1997, when fellow broadcaster and Hall of Fame center fielder Richie Ashburn died of a heart attack near the end of the season. Jim Jackson, who does the Phillies' pregame and postgame radio shows, said Kalas and Ashburn, the best of friends, surely have re-united with a hug, a cigar and some back-and-forth banter.

"I suppose by now everybody knows the home radio booth [at Citizens Bank Park] is named the Richie Ashburn Broadcast Booth," Jackson said. "When Harry goes in, he touches that plaque every time without fail. I don't think two people could have had more love for one another."

Gary Matthews, who played for the Phillies from 1981-83, started doing color commentary in 2007. While it was clear he knew the game, he did need some tips on broadcasting a game. Kalas always was there to give them.

"Oh my gosh, are you kidding me?" Matthews said. "Every day he would point out things to me. And when you were on the air, he could only make you look good."

amanda.housenick@mcall.com

610-820-6187

FIRE AND ICE IN THE NL East

FIRE

JOHAN SANTANA

New York Mets

The left-hander is in form, for sure. He's 2-1 with a minuscule 0.46 ERA. In 192/3 innings pitched, he's allowed just one earned run. He's walked five, struck out 27 and given up 11 hits. He has yet to surrender a home run, and has walked just one in his last 14 innings pitched.

ICE

JIMMY ROLLINS

Philadelphia Phillies

The switch hitter is in a rut. He's hitting .125 with only one extra-base hit (a double on April 13 against the Nationals), no stolen bases and two walks. He actually has more strikeouts (six) than hits (five). An on-base percentage of .163 isn't going to cut it as a leadoff man.

ON DECK

FRIDAY-SUNDAY

Two of Baseball's most storied franchises meet for the first time next weekend when the New York Yankees travel to Boston to play the Red Sox, who swept Colorado in the 2007 World Series.

The Yankees and Red Sox have combined for 34 batting champions, 33 World Series titles and 30 MVPs.

Next Sunday's game is on ESPN at 8:05 p.m.

NIMBERS GAME

15

The number of consecutive sellouts at Citizens Bank Park. They finished the 2008 regular season with three, had seven in the playoffs and five this year.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

"He had a great life. He didn't want to leave it, but he would have been in awe of this."

PHILS BROADCASTER CHRIS WHEELER

On Saturday's memorial to Harry Kalas


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 21, 2009

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