Kalas' son fondly recalls his father
Back in Philadelphia, Todd visits ballpark, broadcast booth
PHILADELPHIA -- Todd Kalas arrived in Philadelphia on Monday night, and one of the first places he went was Citizens Bank Park.
It just made sense to him.
"This was dad's second home and the Phillies are a family, and they always have been," Kalas said Tuesday afternoon, a little more than 24 hours after his father, legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, died from what an autopsy showed to be heart disease in Washington, D.C. "This is part of dad's family, and I just needed to be part of that."
Todd Kalas walked past the makeshift shrine for his father at the Mike Schmidt statue on the corner of Pattison Avenue and Citizens Bank Way. There were hats, T-shirts, jerseys, baseballs, flowers, candles and cans and bottles of beer.
"That was tough," Kalas said. "I kind of lost it. I couldn't look at it ... because of his special relationship with the fans."
Kalas spent time in the broadcast booth, too.
"That was tough," he said. "The emotions came a lot of times when I saw individuals who loved dad as much as they did. The booth was tough, but not quite like seeing the individuals who have been a part of his Phillies family for all these years."
Kalas has been part of the Tampa Bay Rays' broadcast team for 12 seasons. Before Todd joined the Rays, he worked with the New York Mets (1992-93) and Phillies (1994-96).
Kalas certainly understood the impact his father had in Philadelphia.
"He had an incredible, incredible life," Kalas said. "There are very few people who can do what they want to do their entire life, and he did."
Harry Kalas, 73, had entered the final year of a three-year contract with the Phillies. He missed the beginning of Spring Training after he had a medical procedure, which was undisclosed at the time. Former Phillies broadcaster Bill Campbell told KYW 1060-AM that Kalas had leg circulation problems and had a heart procedure to address those issues.
But Kalas told MLB.com in February that he had no plans to retire, although he appeared noticeably thinner and weaker than when he called the final out in Game 5 of the World Series in October, which gave the Phillies their second World Series championship in 126 years.
"The Phillies have graciously said it's my call when I want to hang it up," Kalas said. "And I still really enjoy it. I still love to go to the ballpark and call the games. There is no timetable, really."
Kalas was found unconscious in the Phillies' broadcast booth at Nationals Park on Monday afternoon. He died less than an hour later at 1:20 p.m.
Todd Kalas acknowledged concern for his father's health.
Harry Kalas loved going to Derby Lane, the dog track in St. Petersburg while in Florida for Spring Training. About five days before the Phillies returned to Philadelphia after a long Grapefruit League schedule, Harry and Todd went to Derby Lane, but stayed only until about the sixth or seventh race when Harry said he was tired and going home.
"We'll go get them another night," Todd told his father.
"No, I think this is last time I come out to Derby Lane," Harry replied.
"That's not dad," Todd recalled. "If he's not there every two or three days, something's wrong. That was my first sign. I just assumed it was him kind of slowly recovering from the minor surgery that kept him from being there the whole Spring Training. I knew he started to slow down a little bit, but when we said good-bye at Bright House Field [on April 2], I never thought that was the last time I would see him."
Some found it poetic that Harry Kalas died while preparing for a game.
His son did, too.
"He didn't want to retire," Todd Kalas said. "He would have been kicking and fighting his way out of that broadcast booth. He loved baseball. He loved his family. And he loved the Phillies. If he was going to leave two of those three and retire, I don't think he would have enjoyed his retirement years as much. He wasn't sure how it was going to work out at the end. It wasn't going to be like he was going to start travelling to Europe and see the Louvre and all that. He wasn't one of those guys. He was a baseball guy. He would have probably scripted it pretty much the way it happened, where he was working right up until the last day."
Harry, inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 2002 as the Ford C. Frick Award winner, had an unforgettable partnership in the broadcast booth with Richie Ashburn, who died in 1997. Todd said his father never forgot Ashburn.
Finally, Todd said, they are reunited.
"There's no doubt in my mind they are hanging out up there," Kalas said, "and Richie's knowledge of how dad lived his life he's probably thinking, 'Harry, what took you so long?' ... He had an incredible life. He had one of the greatest lives of any person I've met, whether I was related to him or not. To be able to call that World Series after all the years waiting and for that to be his final season was a great way to go out."
And to be able to leave such an impact on people was even greater. Harry made an impact every day because he treated everybody like a friend, whether he knew them or not.
Todd has tried to follow his father in that regard.
"During my first year with the Mets, he was most impressed that the security guards who worked the elevator came up and told him that they really thought I was a good guy," Todd said. "He always stressed, whether you're a part-time employee selling peanuts or you're the team president, you treat everybody the same way. And he did."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.