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Mike Schmidt: Harry Kalas in a class with Benjamin Franklin, William Penn

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harry-kalas-mike-schmidt.JPGThe Philadelphia Phillies paid tribute to broadcasting legend Harry Kalas before and during tonight's game against the San Diego Padres, and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt had lofty praise for the longtime voice of Philadelphia sports.

"If you can look past Ben Franklin and William Penn, he may have been the greatest person to grace Philadelphia in the history of the city, when you think about it," Schmidt said. "As many lives as he affected over the time that he lived in Philadelphia, who would have had a bigger impact on the city? Who would have? If anybody can think of somebody, I'm willing to hear it, but I don't know."
Just being mentioned in the same sentence as these men puts what Kalas meant to the city in perspective. Moments ago, one of our veteran copy editors read Schmidt's quote aloud with a surprised tone.

But, after some reflection, the slugging third baseman's statement seems to have merit. You see, institutions like Kalas -- announcers who stay with a city for decades and become part of the team's aura -- are becoming increasingly rare.
Harry Caray. Vin Scully. Ernie Harwell. Jack Brickhouse. Jack Buck.

These guys transcend the game in the sense that they were a constant in an ever-changing landscape. While salaries have ballooned, ballparks have become more like shopping malls than ballfields and scandals have besmirched so many, these guys delivered or have delivered the games in their same trademark fashions.

And, it means a lot.

They've been the soundtrack to late-season collapses, playoff successes and so many lazy 9-1 blowouts. Kalas and the rest have done it with class and dignity -- something that never goes out of style.

I was born loving baseball, but Harwell taught me to see a deeper beauty in the game. The subtle thrill of hanging on his next update is something that can't be replaced by television -- or even being at the game. The day he stepped away from his normal place at the microphone was a very sad and sobering one. A simple childhood pleasure would be no more.

In Kalas' case, he's tied generations of Philadephia fans together. A stabilizing force that bound college students to senior citizens, fathers to sons. And, it's a shame to see it go away.

We live in a world where there are so many mediums in which to follow our teams. The market becomes so segmented that there's rarely that unifying voice. Kalas was one of the last true examples of this, in my humble opinion.

So, while his name may seem a little out of place next to those of Franklin and Penn, his unique role puts him in a rare company of men that served the city of Philadelphia in a special way. 

For that, among many other reasons, he'll be missed.

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This page contains a single entry by Kyle Koster published on April 17, 2009 8:41 PM.

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