It's a good thing Harry Kalas listened to his blind professor.at Cornell College nearly a half-century ago.
If he had ignored Dr. Walter Stroemer's advice, Kalas might not be going into baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday.
Maybe you watched Tuesday's Philadelphia Phillies-Chicago Cubs game on TV from Wrigley Field. If so, you likely saw and heard Kalas sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame'' during the seventh-inning stretch.
Kalas, 66, handled the job better than most of those who sometimes butcher the song at the Cubs' park.
"In my travels, I like to frequent piano bars around the U.S.,'' Kalas, a native of Chicago, said with a laugh after I complimented him on how well he handled "Take Me Out to the Ballgame.''
But singing isn't Kalas' line of work. Announcing is how he earns his money.
He's been the Phillies' radio announcer for 31 years, worked for the Houston Astros before that and also is known for his announcing on the Inside the NFL show on HBO during the football season.
Kalas has a distinctive voice. It's a booming, bass voice.
That's what got Stroemer's attention when Kalas was a freshman at Cornell, a small college in Mt. Vernon.
"Broadcasting was certainly in the back of my mind when I went to Cornell, and I was encouraged by Dr. Stroemer, my speech professor, after he listened to me make speeches and do things on the small campus radio station,'' Kalas explained.
He said, ‘You have the kind of voice that would let you make a good living in radio and television,''' Kalas said.
"I wanted to call baseball games, so that was all the encouragement I needed, and I transferred to the University of Iowa the following year and majored in radio and TV. I was at Iowa from 1956 through 1959.
"I was sports director at WSUI (the campus radio station) in my senior year, and did Hawkeye football, basketball, baseball, swimming, track, wrestling, We had a microphone at every event they had. It was great experience."
Kalas said Randy Duncan, then Iowa's quarterback and now a Des Moines attorney, helped him understand more about football when he was at WSUI.
"Randy was my roommate at Iowa,'' Kalas explained. "I pledged Phi Delta Theta, and Randy was the upperclassman. I was kind of his pledge. I got to know him really well.
"In fact, he helped me in a project I had to do in one of my television courses. I had some Hawkeye game film, and Randy was kind enough to come over to the studio and dissect the plays for me. I'd say, ‘OK, Randy, it's third down-and-eight. What would you do here?'
"He'd say what they might be do on that play. I got an ‘A' on the project, thanks to Randy Duncan.''
Kalas said the NCAA wrestling meet was held during the time he was at WSUI, and he did the hold-by-hold announcing at that.
"It was a challenge doing wrestling,'' Kalas said. "I think we made fools of ourselves a lot, but it was tremendous experience.''
While attending Iowa, Kalas said he also did weekend work in the Quad Cities, announcing Bettendorf, Moline and Rock Island high school basketball games.
On the day Kalas got his degree from Iowa, he went to his fraternity house to say goodbye.
"While I was there, I happened to check my mail slot,'' he said. "What was there but a welcome from Uncle Sam. But that worked out perfectly. I was drafted and the Army sent me to Hawaii. I was fortunate enough to still be in Honolulu when the Sacramento franchise in the Pacific Coast League was moved there.
"So I started doing Triple-A baseball for the Hawaii Islanders.''
Kalas' first major league job was with the Astros in 1965, and that was a big year in Houston.
"The Astrodome opened,'' he explained. "I worked with Gene Elston then. I moved to Philadelphia in 1971, the first year of Veterans Stadium. So I opened two new ballparks. There will be another new park in Philadelphia in 2004, so maybe I'll get the chance to open a third ballpark.''
Kalas said he gives no thought to retirement.
"I'm still enjoying what I do,'' he said. "I think I'll be the first one to know if I'm slipping, making mistakes, not seeing the field, not calling things the way they should be called. Then I'll hang ‘em up. But right now I have no plans to retire.''
Kalas said his son, Scott, is also a baseball announcer."He does pregame TV work for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays,'' Kalas said.
Kalas regards it as a great honor to go into the announcers' wing of the Hall of Fame. Others joining the Hall on Sunday will be Ozzie Smith, whose big years were with the St. Louis Cardinals, and Joe Falls, a columnist for the Detroit News.
Kalas said his preparations for the Hall of Fame induction will go right down to the deadline.
"I've written, rewritten and revised my acceptance speech,'' he said. "I'm agonizing over it. There are so many people to thank, but not enough time to do it. I'm sure I'll still be working on the speech Sunday.''
But don't expect Kalas to be at a loss for words when the time comes, even though it will be an emotional experience.
"I've never missed a baseball game because of laryngitis or any other illness in all the years I've been doing games,'' he said. "As we speak, I'm knocking on wood that it never happens.''
One thing that bothers Kalas is that Richie Ashburn, a former Phillies player who later went on to be Kalas' broadcast partner for 27 years, won't be able to be with him at Cooperstown.
Ashburn, a Hall of Famer himself, died five years ago of a heart attack.
Vol. 2, No. 40
July 26, 2002
[Ron Maly's e-mail address is email@example.com ]