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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,097

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This is the grave of Harry Kalas.

Born in 1936 in Napierville, Illinois, Kalas had something an interesting background. He was Greek-American, but his father was a Methodist minister. Can’t as say I’ve known a lot of Greek Methodists. Anyway, he graduated from high school in 1954 and then went to the University of Iowa. He did well enough to finish there in 1959. Like most men of that time, he then was drafted and had to spend time in the Army. He spent some time in Hawaii during the military service, so I suppose it wasn’t all bad. In 1961, he was discharged. He decided to stay in Hawaii because he got a job calling minor league baseball games for a team there. He soon found he was very good at this.

Kalas rose quickly in the world of baseball calling. By 1965, he was already in the major leagues, working with the Houston Astros. In fact, he called the first game at the Astrodome. In 1971, Bill Campbell retired from the Phillies and Kalas was hired to replace him. A Philadelphia legend was born.

Campbell was a super popular guy. It was big shoes to fill. Kalas was up to the task. Part of it is that he was a warm and open guy who really loved baseball. He mostly called games in a pretty chill way but that just meant that when he got excited, it was really something for listeners to be excited about. For much of his time there, the Phillies weren’t really that good. They had the worst record in baseball in 1972. But when they were, he was there for it. That was primairly in the late 70s and early 80s. The Phillies won three straight division titles between 76 and 78, but lost the NLCS all three times. However, in 1980, they defeated the Astros and then the Royals in the World Series. Kalas was there for all of it and had a great time doing it. He also liked to sing in the booth.

In 1975, NFL Films, one of the great inventions in the history of sports media, hired Kalas as its voice. After John Facenda died in 1984, Kalas became its prime voice. How many myth-making shows about this amazing sport have we NFL fans watched with Kalas guiding us through. His voice was so perfect for this. He remained the main voice for NFL Films until 2009. Kalas was also the narrator for Inside the NFL, the longtime HBO show that provided real analysis and highlight reels for the games in the era before ESPN had dedicated itself to endless talk programs and hours of NFL analysis every single day, around the calendar, with no break.

Kalas was a great baseball voice and he was amazing on NFL Films, but like most announcers, he worked all over the place. He called the last game Bear Bryant ever coached for Alabama, the 1982 Liberty Bowl. He worked college hoops, he did Notre Dame football for awhile. Of course he made money on the side lending his for commercials, from GMC trucks to Campbell’s Soup. Heck, if you went to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and got the little guide voice thing that you could do for a tour, it was Kalas speaking to you about our money supply. Even better, he was commenter for the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet that aired during the Super Bowl for the first four years of that amusement’s existence.

Kalas worked til the end. He was in Nationals Park in Washington to do the Phillies-Nats game in April 2009 when he collapsed in the press box. He died that day at the age of 73. He had heart issues for awhile before this. His body lay in state at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia before his burial.

Harry Kalas is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This is easily one of the coolest graves I have ever visited. Those seats are from the old Veterans’ Stadium in Philly. Take a seat, remember the old times of great baseball voices.

If you would like this series to visit other great baseball announcers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Harry Caray is in Chicago and Jack Buck is in St. Louis. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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