Here are some other things on my mind after the first week of what is going to be a highly entertaining season:

Twenty-four hours ago, that was something of a throwaway sentiment. Now, it’s a plea. We need baseball to be entertaining, need it to be great, need it to rise up and remind us why we get so very invested in a game. We need baseball to show us something, because right now, all it’s doing is breaking hearts.

In the span of five days, this extended family of ours has lost a promising young pitcher, a legend of the broadcast booth, and one of its all-time most entertaining stars. It’s the kind of week that makes you hesitate to check your Blackberry, answer the phone, or download e-mail, because every time you do you get kicked in the teeth. Load a scoreboard page, as I did yesterday afternoon, and a line at the top tells you that it’s time to be sad again, time to mourn, time to tell your friends the bad news.

I didn’t know Harry Kalas except by his voice and his reputation, both of which were deep, rich, and unassailable. My one specific memory of him was created on July 3, 1993, when up late listening to Jody McDonald on WFAN, I was fascinated by the idea that the Phillies and Padres were still playing baseball at 4:00 a.m. With meticulous turning of the dial on my stereo, I managed to locate the Phillies’ broadcast, and listened to the last few innings of a legendary doubleheader, one that ended not long before the sun came up over Veterans Stadium. I don’t remember the specifics of Kalas’ call, and I was certainly more focused on the game and the strangeness of it all, but the man’s voice, its unique timbre, stood out as memorable. Even though 22 years old at the time, I really didn’t know who Kalas was, and it would be a while before I connected the legend with the voice that came into my bedroom in Inwood that night, but thinking back on it yesterday, I can still remember the game, still remember the thrill of hearing baseball at four in the morning, and it’s Harry Kalas who narrates that memory for me.

Broadcasters, in many ways, are more real to us than the players are. They’re not athletic specimens blessed by gods to do amazing things, but more like you and I, often a little too short or a little too round or a step too slow to make a life on the field, channeling that passion for the game into a microphone instead. As kids, we set our days by theirs, often falling asleep not to a lullaby or a bedtime story, but to a single to right field or a double play turned, inspiration for our own baseball dreams. As much as we imitate our uniformed heroes in our actions, we ape the descriptions of their acts with our voices. Think about how many times you peppered your baseball as a kid with an ad hoc play-by-play… “Sheehan rocks and deals the 2-1… it’s in there for a strike!” In St. Louis, those kids sound like Jack Buck. In LA, Vin Scully. In Kansas City, Denny Matthews.

And in Philadelphia, when a nine-year-old whacks a Wiffle ball over a fence, he cries, “That’s outta here!” because those words, Harry Kalas’ words, are baseball to him.

For Yankee fans, what Phil Rizzuto did on the field for the dynasty of the 1950s mattered, but it was during his broadcast career that we came to know Scooter, came to love him, came to think of him as one of our own, our family. For Eric Seidman or Jeff Gambino or Jeff Hildebrand, yesterday was hard, and I feel for them, because I remember how it felt when Rizzuto died. He was well out of the broadcast booth by then, years removed from wishing pop-ups into homers or missing plays or devouring cannoli in the press box or listening to the ninth inning on the George Washington Bridge. But he was a part of my youth, part of my baseball-loving life, and a piece of that died the day Scooter did. Two generations of Phillies fans feel that pain today, and my heart goes out to them all.

My memories of Mark Fidrych are even more limited. Just five years old in the summer of 1976, I would have ranked him the second-most notable Bird on that famous Sports Illustrated cover; I loved me some Sesame Street. Catching the last few innings of a game on MLB Network last month, I was struck by how little I remembered of that season, of even my hometown Yankees. Carlos May was on that team? Jim Mason? Fidrych, of course, mowed down the Yankees on that nationally televised Monday night in Detroit, striking out nine and walking none against a lineup that would go on to win the AL pennant.

The box score doesn’t do Fidrych justice, as the broadcast was The Bird’s introduction to a national audience, his close-up in a time when those came less often and meant more. After that night, Fidrych was baseball in 1976, more than the Big Red Machine, more than the resurgent Yankees in their redesigned park. A nation turning 200 years old focused its attentions on a quirky, enthusiastic, wildly talented boy just 21, and was rewarded with as much fun as the game would ever allow.

In retrospect, we can cringe at 24 complete games and 249 1/3 innings in 141 days for a 21-year-old arm. We can wince at the four “11.0s” in his game log. We can see 97 strikeouts in 250 1/3 innings total and realize this was destined to be a short ride, paralleling the rise and fall of the Starland Vocal Band that same summer. We can tut-tut over Ralph Houk‘s treatment of the kid, who would pitch more between mid-May and October of ’76 than he would the entire rest of his career. We can wonder what might have happened had Fidrych come along just a little later, had his torn rotator cuff been diagnosed just a little sooner, had he gotten just a slightly better draw.

Like Kalas, though, The Bird made memories. He made our world, the one with the red laces and the commissioner’s signature and that particular smell of leather and dirt, that much better. That the two would pass on the same day had a symmetry to it. Kalas was the steady, self-effacing voice talking about other people, shifting the focus away from him over a long career, slowly becoming a part of everyone’s day, everyone’s season. Fidrych came on like a shot, a legend before anyone even had the spelling of his name down, and he was off the scene just as quickly. When he pitched, you had to watch, and when he spoke, you had to listen, and all the better that you did because the show wasn’t going to go on for very long.

We can only hope that the season gets better from here.

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You're absolutely right, Joe. So far this season has been a sucker-punch to the gut. People die every year and life and the game go on, but rarely do we see such tragedies all come in one week. Adenhart is a guy I watched pitch in the minors. If you go to a lot of minor league games, especially the low minors, you take a certain pride in "I saw them then" and you follow the careers of guys who impressed you. I was nine when Fidrych burst onto the scene--his goofiness on the mound was something that made baseball magical to a young kid, even if I wasn't a Tigers fan. I wasn't a Phillies fan either so I don't have any childhood memories of Kalas, but his was a voice that you remembered from commercials, NFL films and the national radio games of the week. I certainly appreciated him as one of the last of the old school greats. We lost a link to our past when we lost Kalas and Fidrych and a link to the future when we lost Adenhart. It's been a tough week. The year will get better.
Rob Neyer linked to this awesome video of Mark Fidrych: Being born after his career was over, I never heard of him, but that video is very enlightening.
Nice article, Joe. I loved watching the Bird talk to the baseball. Trivia: Who is the only player to have his birthday (month and day) on the back of his uniform? Hint: he's mentioned in the article.
My guess is Carlos May.
Right, May 17
And the player with his hometown on the back of his uniform?
Bill Voiselle, who grew up in Ninety Six, South Carolina and wore the number "96" for at least part of his career.
Y'all are making me feel old, in 1976 I graduated college and started law school, which meant a short summer. I did a road trip with a friend, and we stopped in Kingman, AZ one mid-morning after driving all night when neither of us could keep driving. A Tigers game was on Game of the Week (there's another article -- remember when we often got to see only one game per weekend, no home games of the local team ever?) and Fidrych pitched. Wasn't all that effective (though his ERA was still under 2 when the game finished), but it was early in the "Fidrych-mania" of that summer. As another tall, curly-headed kid I identified with him (there were some risque stories about him even then, which only added to his appeal). Sad to see him go, not least because we're the same age . . .
I have a strong memory of Harry Kalas filling in for Harry Caray when WGN brought in famous pinch-hitters to handle the games. Jaime Moyer pitched against the Phillies on April 13, 1987-- the day Kalas filled in for Caray. Kalas referred to him throughout the game as "Young Jamie Moyer" with a vocal resonance that only Kalas could. Moyer took a no-hitter into the 9th inning before Juan Samuel broke it up. Kalas' call made the game even more memorable.
Interesting all the more, because as a local Phillies fan, Moyer must have grown up listening to Kalas. I felt for him yesterday, having to start the game just two hours after the news came down.
I grew up listening to Skip Caray's nasally dry wit balanced with Kalas' hypnotizing baritone (when the Braves were playing the Phillies and the TBS broadcast was blacked out for me in NJ). To lose them both in the space of less than a year is tough. And with Bob Murphy's death in 2004, that's three voices of the NL East and of my youth gone in a pretty short amount of time. I love how all three worked right up till they couldn't anymore; they really did enjoy the game as much as the fans did.
When our family moved from Long Island to Clearwater, Florida in 1976, it was tough on the teen baseball fan I was back then. I went from cable TV to no cable TV (Clearwater didn't get wired until 1981) and from having 2 MLB teams in the area with extensive local TV coverage to none. Other than getting to go to spring training games and a handful of Braves games on a local affiliate, it was something of a baseball wasteland*. With the Phillies training in Clearwater, a local AM station decided to join their radio network, and suddenly I had baseball to listen to every day. It was the voices of Harry Kalas, Richie Ashburn (RIP also) and Chris Wheeler that provided an oasis for me and kept my interest in MLB going. Even though I was a Yankees fan, I almost never missed a Phillies broadcast in those late 70s days. *OK, we did have the FSL, and I'll always remember seeing the loaded Dunedin Blue Jays outfield of Lloyd Moseby, Jesse Barfield - and Dave Stieb, who played CF in his first pro season before a successful conversion to the mound.
I was 6 years old when I first watched a baseball game with My Grandmother, as she told me about this guy named Mark Nicknamed "The Bird" like Big Bird, and was hooked by his infectious enthusiasm for the game. I was very sad when he fell apart, but it hooked me long enough that the Tigers became a big part of my life from then on, watching game after game narrated by George Kell (who we just recently lost as well) and Al Kaline, learning more and more about the game every year, and by the Time Fidrych flamed out I latched on to a new core of players I grew up with Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, etc. Growing up with them and celebrating with them my Freshman year when they won a World Series together, watching my heart break with them in '87 falling just short. Sitting in the Stands on my 21st birthday and watching Travis Fryman hit his first home run, getting the game winning RBI, right up until bittersweet World Series loss of '06. I can't imagine my life without Tiger baseball, and the end of the guy that started it all for me is sad beyond words.
I am a Cardinals fan who lives near St. Louis. I have no special feelings one way or the other for the Phillies. Yet I would tune into Phillies games on my XM radio just to listen to Kalas. His descriptions of the action in his rich baritone voice were a joy beamed down from the heavens. I share the sadness I am sure that Phillies fans are experiencing, and I will miss him. .... Our sadness can be tempered by a couple of silver linings. The Phillies won the World Series last year, so Kalas left this world as the broadcaster for the World Champs, a status he richly deserves. And he got to spend the last minutes of his life at the ballpark. .... RIP, Harry. We'll miss you.
Jody Mac, do me a favor: bring back Harry Kalas. Swing, and a long drive. RIP.
I grew up in the Chicago area listening to Jack Brickhouse, Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau doing Cubs games in the 70's. I still think back to all the days I spent after school tuned in to Jack on WGN (my Dad had a big Zenith console with a TELEPHONE built in!). We'd get home usually around the 7th inning or so - just in time to watch them blow another one. But Jack was always there with his "back, Back, BACK... HEY HEY!". Like Joe said about Scooter, Jack Brickhouse "...was a part of my youth, part of my baseball-loving life" and I think I grew up a bit when Jack passed away. We feel your loss, Phillies fans. Rest in peace, Mr. Kalas - you are missed!
Being a Phils fan for over 4 decades, I'll miss Harry and his classic voice. IMO he was even better at NFL films. He could make a meeting between perennial doormats sound like the game of the ages.
Joe, the specifics of that Kalas game were real doozies ... a 10 inning nightcap of a rain-necessitated and further rain delayed doubleheader (Game 2 didn't start until close to 1:30 AM local time), won on an RBI single by, per Harry the K's call, "MIT-CHIE POO WILLIAMS!" That game really summed up the wild ride that was 1993 in Philadelphia, and that Kalas call has been broadcast over and over again on local channels the last couple of days more than just about any other, save the 2008 Series-closer.
We live in an age of visual bombardment and technological innovation, and baseball is the most visual of games.The pictures painted on the radio far outshine what the cameras bring when they are brought to you by people like Harry Kalas. As a young fan in fifties Philly is was the soothing interpretive voices of Byrum Saam, Gene Kelly and Claude Haring that first mesmerized me. Through their voices I could see Ganny Hamner inching towards the bag to take a pick-off throw, Richie Ashburn charging to take a blooped ball off the grass and try to use his not-so-strong arm tyo prevent a run. I left Philadelphia long before Kalas began his career, but would catch him intermittantly, and the pictures remained the same. Thank you, By, Gene, Richie, Harry. Thank you Ernie Harwell and Jimmy Dudley. Thank you Bob Elson. Thank you all. I miss your voices and your pictures and your unsurmountable love of the game.