Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn and Steve Carlton

In commemoration of Harry Kalas’s death, here’s a description of his response to the death of Kalas’s fellow Hall of Famer and broadcast partner Richie Ashburn from a heart attack on September 9, 1997. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

“My best friend in the world,” he [Kalas] said of his longtime Phillies broadcast partner, Richie Ashburn, who at age 70 died of an apparent heart attack yesterday morning in the team’s midtown New York hotel.

No one was closer to Ashburn than Kalas. They began broadcasting Phillies games together in 1971. So as Kalas sat in his hotel room, talking about the loss he and the Phillies had suffered, he was asked how he could broadcast last night’s game against the Mets at Shea Stadium.

Kalas’ eyes welled with emotion. He paused, then began telling the story of how he had once broadcast a Notre Dame basketball game several hours after learning of his father’s death.

“I called my mom and said, ‘There’s no way I can do this game,’ ” he recalled. “She told me my dad would want me to.”

Kalas told no one about his father’s death that day. He worked the game. When it was over, he broke down on press row and started crying.

“Dad carried me through that game,” the teary-eyed Kalas said yesterday. “Whitey will carry me through this one.”

Kalas learned of his friend’s death just before 6 a.m., in a phone call from Phils trainer Jeff Cooper.

At about 5:30 a.m., Ashburn, in peril, called traveling secretary Eddie Ferenz and said he didn’t feel well. Ferenz immediately summoned security and medical help. Cooper and security rushed to the stricken broadcaster’s room, but it was too late.

In Ashburn’s memory, Kalas insisted that there be an empty chair in the broadcast booth.

Kalas and colleague Chris Wheeler marveled at how symbolic Ashburn’s last broadcast was: He had called Mets pitcher Jason Isringhausen “Jacob” Isringhausen; he had complained about umpire Frank Pulli’s strike zone; and he had gotten to call Kevin Jordan’s 15-pitch at-bat, the kind of at-bat he had loved to have as a player.

Kalas began the broadcast last night with a poem dedicated to his best friend.

Then a guy named Dave Mlicki threw the first pitch to Midre Cummings, and Kalas went to work.

Just like his best friend would have wanted him to.

Also, here’s an anecdote from September 1983, with the New York Times reporting on Kalas’s indirect connection to Steve Carlton’s 300th win:

The Phillies’ ace left-hander, Steve Carlton, has agreed to break a four-year silence and indirectly answer questions from the media after he wins his 300th career victory – a plateau achieved by only 15 other pitchers.

Carlton, who won his 299th game Sunday against the Cardinals at home, will try for his 300th Friday night in St. Louis. Carlton turned from an affable interview subject into a man of silence July 5, 1979, contending that reporters had infringed on his personal life.

But the Phillies’ personnel director, Larry Shenk, said today the team convinced Carlton that the occasion of his 300th victory demanded comment.

Carlton will go on the club’s post- game radio show with the broadcaster Harry Kalas, who will pose questions submitted by reporters and screened by Shenk.

You can read about Jamie Moyer’s response to Kalas’s death here.

Published in: on April 14, 2009 at 3:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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