30 baseball books in 30 days of ’10: Day 13 — Harry Kalas, a year later


The book: “Harry The K: The Remarkable Life of Harry Kalas”

The author: Randy Miller

The vital stats: Running Press, 332 pages, $24.95

Find it: It’s on Amazon.com (linked here)

The pitch: On this date one year ago, Philadelphia lost Kalas.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark wrote (linked here): “He was so much more than the voice of the Phillies. Harry Kalas was the Phillies. … So here is what people like me, people who have lived most of our lives in Philadelphia, are wondering on this sad and tragic day: How are we going to do this?”

Knowing there will be a day when we don’t have Vin Scully, it’s a little unnerving to read this. We enjoyed this tribute, which doesn’t get too far from home. But we don’t feel worthy to give a review of it.

Maybe it’s best you hear it, again, from a Philly person — retired Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Bill Lyon (linked here):

“Miller’s dogged reportorial skills are considerable and are on impressive display in a book that is unvarnished and unsparing, but also straightforward and balanced.

“The subject himself, like the rest of us, had his flaws, and succumbed to assorted temptations – the staggeringly excessive imbibing (he was regarded as something of a medical marvel for his apparent immunity to a hangover), infidelity, smoking, and gambling among them, all of which are examined, though not salaciously. There is no trace of mean-spiritedness in Miller’s writing.

“But if the devil was perching on one shoulder, the angel was roosting on the other. For all of his fame, Harry the K was without discernible ego; he was the softest of soft touches, generous with his money and even more so with his time. He was genuinely grateful to the fans, and accommodated them all.

“The son of a preacher man, Harry Kalas was, we are told, something of a wild child early in life, and never really changed. Miller’s meticulous and richly detailed research confirms that, and if there is a nit to pick with his work, it is the avalanche of repetitions, the re-re-re-introductions.

“But Miller has gone to great lengths to unearth the sort of minutiae that provide credibility. By his count, he interviewed more than 160 people, going all the way back to Harry the K’s high school days. He tracked down the woman Harry took as a date to a drive-in movie and then spent the evening announcing imaginary play-by-play of an imaginary baseball game.

“Both of Harry’s wives granted Miller repeated interviews and access to information and memorabilia. Indeed, you are struck by the unflinching manner in which virtually all those the author talked to responded. What comes through in almost every interview is the great regard in which Harry the K was held.

“Harry the K was not a journalist, not at least in the truest sense, for he owed his allegiance to his beloved Fightin’s, who in turn came to realize that The Voice was better known than many of them. It also did not escape their notice that he didn’t criticize them on the air.

“If you want to call him a homer, fine,” says Larry Bowa, “but he genuinely wanted everyone on that team to do well.”

“For generations, The Voice was the connector, the umbilical between a baseball team and its narrator. Toward the end, The Voice began to slip. His health deteriorated. He died exactly where he said he would – in the booth, preparing for another game.

“It was, he writes, a labor of love. That comes through.”

How it goes down in the scorebook: Philly fans will eat it up like a steak sandwich. Which is what you can get if you ever get to Citizen’s Bank Park, visit Harry The K’s Broadcast Bar & Grille (linked here) below the left-field scoreboard.

Also: A story about the author Miller (linked here)

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