Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Alava Shalom, Harry Kalas

TigerBlog spent the summer of 1983 working as a vendor at Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia. It was a pretty good job for a college student. You'd have to get to the stadium (can't really call it a ballpark) around 4-4:30 or so for a night game and put your vendor number on a list (TB's number was 098).

The first number on the list would be given the first choice of what to sell and and at which stadium location and so on down until the last one in. Once the limit of, say, hot dog vendors behind home plate was reached, then the next vendor had to choose something else. You'd then go in, get your vendor uniform, and go off to your assignment for the night. The way it worked was that you'd buy a quantity of what you were going to sell and then sell it; when you were done, you'd make a certain profit per tray/order/etc. Beer was by far the best item to sell, as back then it went for $1.80/cup and everyone let you keep the extra 20 cents. That turned into an additional $4 per tray and made a big difference. On a good night, you could make $100 through the seventh inning. Soda was $1.25/cup, and nobody let you keep the three quarters. TigerBlog does have awful memories of spilling soda or beer through the tops of the cups down into his socks as he walked up the huge ramps of the old stadium.

For those who don't rememeber, the 1983 Phillies actually made it to the World Series, so it was a good summer to be there every night.

Anyway, TigerBlog could tell you vendor stories all day, including the time that Phillies pitcher Charlie Hudson got us out of watching a David Bowie concert or the time Tug McGraw spent an inning as a vendor or the nightmare that was cotton candy, but none of that is really the point.

Today's point has to do with what happened between the time you'd sign in and the time about an hour later that they'd start calling numbers. The vendor gate was located under the stadium, near where the players and media parked and where the visiting team bus dropped off the other team. Okay, TB will tell one more story - Mario Soto was the Cincinnati Reds' ace and the favorite player of Evan Weiss, then a vendor who used to drive TigerBlog from West Philadelphia to the stadium every day in his VW and today a doctor in Philadelphia. All season, Weiss waited for the Reds to arrive so he could get Soto's autograph, and then finally the day was there. Weiss waited for Soto to get off the bus and went up to him and asked for his autograph, only to have Soto walk by without stopping. Talk about being crushed.

Anyway, every day, Harry Kalas would pull in, get out of his car and walk past the vendors into the stadium. And every day, every single day without fail, he'd stop and chat for a few moments, always laughing, always in a good mood, always talking about how the Phils were going to win that night.

Harry Kalas, who passed away Monday at the age of 73, was obviously the long-time voice of the Phils, and he was also known for his work with NFL Films. TigerBlog remembers three Princeton events that Kalas did, one football game and two basketball games. He seemed to know Pete Carril from earlier games, before TB's time.

In dealing with Kalas on those limited occasions, TigerBlog had the image of all those summer nights in the Veterans' Stadium parking lot confirmed. Kalas was a man of humor, of charm, of professionalism. He was all the things you've read about him today from those who knew him much, much better than TB.

TigerBlog's last dealing with Kalas came in the Citizens' Bank Stadium press box, when TB stopped in to thank Tom McCarthy for leaving tickets for the game. It was just after the final out, and TB walked in to the press box with TigerBlog Jr., whom McCarthy quickly grabbed and introduced to Kalas. "Hello," Kalas said in that distinct voice, shaking TB Jr.'s hand, "it's nice to meet you."

Oh, one more vending story. Each vendor was given a red hat with the company logo on it. The first time Kalas came by, TigerBlog asked him for an autograph. With nothing else to give him, TB gave him the red hat, which Kalas signed happily.

To this day, Harry Kalas remains the only person TigerBlog has ever asked for an autograph.


Anonymous said...

Losing Harry Kalas marks the sad end of an era. Although I'm a middle-aged man, it's like my childhood officially ended yesterday.

Jon Solomon said...

Great post. What were the two basketball games Kalas called?

Princeton OAC said...

He did a regular-season game against La Salle (not sure why) at the Philadelphia Civic Center, which is no longer there, and he did one of the NCAA games.