“So Long” To Harry And Merle

Monday was a tough day at Nationals Park as we were stunned by the death of Harry Kalas.

I’ll add my thoughts to the long list of accolades he is getting this week.

I met Harry in St. Louis as a rookie announcer in 1984, and he was very nice to me.

I remember sharing some time with Harry and his beloved “Whitey,” Richie Ashburn after the game, where I sat and listened to baseball stories by two of the all-time great characters in the game, hoping I would have some tales to tell some day.

Harry’s life and career were a great Philadelphia story, and he meant as much to those passionate Philly fans as the game itself. In the 25 years since, he was always quick with a smile and a handshake; we’d talk baseball, and then he’d want to know where he could go for a smoke.

Thursday, we lost another great voice, as former major league announcer Merle Harmon passed away in Texas. I worked with Merle in the late ’80s with the Texas Rangers, and he might have been the nicest man I’ve ever met in the business.

When my daughter Katie (now 22), was 15 months old, she sat in my lap during a Rangers telecast one afternoon; and Merle sat next to us, acting like she was his grandaughter. I have a special piece of videotape with that sequence that I go back and watch often. Merle was a gentle man with a great voice and I’ll never forget him and his kindness.

These two giants of broadcasting represent an era that is disappearing from baseball. Gone with them are St. Louis’ Jack Buck, Chicago’s Harry Caray, Minnesota’s Herb Corneal, Atlanta’s Skip Caray, the Mets’ Bob Murphy, Pittsburgh’s Bob Prince, Toronto’s Tom Cheek, in addition to Brooklyn’s Red Barber and the Yankees’ Mel Allen well before them.

Still with us, but retired, is Detroit’s Ernie Harwell. Still on the air are Seattle’s Dave Niehaus, Kansas City’s Denny Matthews, Florida’s (and Montreal-ex) Dave Van Horne, Houston’s Milo Hamilton, Milwaukee’s Bob Uecker, San Diego’s Jerry Coleman, Boston’s Joe Castiglione and, of course, the incomparable Dodger Vin Scully.

They are all from an era before the internet, endless statistics, and story lines. Jack Buck once covered up my game notes at Busch Stadium, pointed to the field and said, “Hey kid, the game is down there.” I’ve tried to never forget that.

To these legends, it was about the game between the lines. For Buck and Kalas, it was about dramatic pauses at times of tension, a few words to say a lot, and excitement when needed for that big hit or big pitch.

They left you sad when the game ended, because you wanted to hear more. That’s the mark of a great announcer; when he’s done but you want to hear a few more innings.

So, we raise this baseball cocktail to you, Harry and Merle. And for those Phillies fans who will miss their beloved Harry, they will never forget, “AND THAT BALL IS OUTTA HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERE!”