Harry Kalas, the longtime voice of the Philadelphia Phillies, died yesterday, collapasing before the start of the Phillies game against the Washington Nationals. I’m not sure I ever heard Kalas call a baseball game, although I was familiar with his work with NFL films. No matter. I was thinking this morning while running how strong an emotional tie a sports broadcaster can have with a community. And this is particularly true with baseball — and with radio.
As most who read these daily musings know, I grew up in Pittsburgh. And I spent a considerable part of my youth (circa 1950s) going to Pittsburgh Pirate games at Forbes Field (now defunct). Or listening to Bob Prince describe the games via the airwaves of radio station KDKA. Prince was an oral poet — and as you listened to him describe the game, you could almost smell the cigar smoke waffling through the small stadium.
Prince was in the tradition of Vin Scully, Harry Carey, Red Barber, Mel Allen, Herb Score and many, many others — Harry Kalas included — who grew up with radio and learned the craft of creating word pictures before the intrusion of TV. And I know this is generational, but I liked baseball more then.
Maybe that’s why I’m rooting for GM these days. You know. Mom, apple pie, Chevy and baseball.
Baseball was not designed for television — or for today’s circus-like stadium venues. (Don’t get me started about the shameful Citi Field. Arrgh.) It really is a simple game, one that encourged people to get out of their houses and spend time together in what was generally pleasant weather. (That’s before the season extended from April to the end of October. I digress.) It was designed as a leisurely game, one that lent itself to conversation both in person and later via the radio airwaves. (First radio broadcast of a baseball game: August 5, 1921, KDKA, Pittsburgh. Pirates 9 – Phillies 0) And it encouraged the broadcasters to be poets; I liked that.
Football. Basketball. Hockey. TV sports all of them. Fast, aggressive and in your face. Just like Dancing With The Stars and American Idol.
But baseball. Nah. Head out to the porch or patio some warm spring, summer or fall day. Crack open a couple bottles of brew.
And listen to the poetry of someone following in the footsteps of a Harry Kalas or a Bob Prince.