The Baritone & The Bird

Sparks Of Insanity By Vinny "Bond" Marini Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Remember to get over and visit TRAVIS of "Trav's Thoughts", find out who is still around, check out the encores and generally just twirl the dance floor with Travis and his recap.

On Monday, Major League Baseball was hit with a double-play when two of the games true characters were both traded to God's Squad.

They were "The Baritone" & "The Bird" and both are missed today.

Harold Norbert "Harry" Kalas (March 26, 1936 - April 13, 2009)

Let's begin with the Baritone...Radio and TV broadcaster Harry Kalas, whose baritone delivery and signature "Outta here!" home run calls provided the soundtrack to Philadelphia baseball for nearly four decades, died Monday after collapsing in the broadcast booth before the Phillies' game against the Washington Nationals. He was 73. Today it was confirmed that Kalas suffered a massive heart attack due to heart disease

Growing up in the NY area, I did have the opportunity to hear Mr. Kalas call Phillies games on occasion. He was a special voice for his team.

A recipient of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award for his contributions to the game, Kalas was one of the last longtime announcers closely associated with one city. As Vin Scully is the voice of the Dodgers and Harry Carey was voice of the Cubs and Phil Rizzuto was the voice of the Yankees (I could continue, but I believe I made my point), Mr. Kalas was truly the voice of the Phillies.

Mr. Kalas called every one of Mike Schmidt's 548 home runs. When Schmidt hit his 500th on April 18, 1987, Mr. Kalas' call was perfect...“Swing and a long drive, there it is, number 500! The career 500th home run for Michael Jack Schmidt!"

Along with being the Phillies voice for the last 38 years, Mr. Kalas was also the voice of NFL Films. Kalas joined NFL Films as a narrator in 1975. He became its primary voice following the passing of John Facenda in 1984. He provided the narration to the highlights on Inside the NFL from its inception in 1977 through the 2008 season.

Phillies players and personnel were informed of the news by club president David Montgomery in a somber pre-game meeting.

"Sadly, I must confirm that we lost Harry," Montgomery, fighting back tears in a hallway outside the visiting clubhouse, told a large group of reporters who had assembled after hearing that Kalas had been stricken.

"We lost our voice today," Montgomery added. "Harry loved our game and made a tremendous contribution to our sport, and certainly to our organization."

Though the Phillies were scheduled to visit the White House yesterday to celebrate their 2008 world championship, the day was set aside to remember Kalas.

I found this short clip on youtube...2008, Philadelphia Phillies, World Series Champions...Mr. Harry Kalas:

Throwing out the first pitch on Wednesday, April 8, 2009 (AP Photo)

Mark Steven "The Bird" Fidrych (August 14, 1954 – April 13, 2009)

On the other side of the 'character' scale was a young man who came into the major leagues in 1976. Now, I was just graduating from college that year. I watched with wild joy whenever this pitcher took the mound. I was not alone...millions were right there with me.

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was the same age as I, and his antics were amazing and he captured a nation for a summer. The guy was not only a baseball player he was a 'rock star'. A bright light that burned hot and fast...his career lasted less than five years, but in that time he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice and Rolling Stone Magazine once.

How is this for a start? Fidrych made the Tigers as a non-roster invitee out of the 1976 spring training, not making his major-league debut until April 20, and not making his first start until mid-May. He only made that start because the scheduled starting pitcher had the flu. Fidrych responded by throwing seven no-hit innings, ending the game with a 2-1 victory in which he gave up only two hits.

He went on to win 19 games, led the league in ERA (2.34) and complete games (24), was the starting pitcher in that year's All-Star Game, won the American League Rookie of the Year Award, and finished second in voting for the Cy Young Award.

In the process Fidrych also captured the imagination of fans with his antics on the field. He would crouch down on the pitcher's mound and fix cleat marks, what became known as "manicuring the mound", talk to himself, talk to the ball, aim the ball like a dart, strut around the mound after every out, and throw back balls that "had hits in them," insisting they be removed from the game.

Fidrych also drew attention for the simple, bachelor lifestyle he led in spite of his fame, driving a green subcompact car, living in a small Detroit apartment, wondering aloud if he could afford to answer all of his fan mail on his league-minimum $16,500 salary, and telling people that if he hadn't been a pitcher, he'd work pumping gas in Northborough. He fascinated everyone, most especially young girls, with his frizzy blond curls, blue jeans, and devil-may-care manner.

At the end of his rookie season, the Tigers gave him a $25,000 bonus and signed him to a three-year contract worth $255,000. Economists estimated that the extra attendance Fidrych generated around the league in 1976 was worth more than $1 million. Fidrych also did an Aqua Velva television commercial after the 1976 season.

Fidrych tore the cartilage in his knee fooling around in the outfield during spring training in 1977. He picked up where he left off after his return from the injury, but about six weeks after his return, during a game against Baltimore, he felt his arm just, in his words, "go dead." It was a torn rotator cuff, but it would not be diagnosed until 1985.

Fidrych managed to finish the season 6-4 with a 2.89 ERA and was again invited to the All-Star Game, but he declined the invitation due to injury. He pitched only three games in 1978, winning two. On August 12, 1980, 48,361 fans showed up at Tiger Stadium to see what turned out to be his last attempt at a comeback. Fidrych pitched his last MLB game on October 1, 1980 in Toronto, going five innings and giving up four earned runs, while picking up the win in a 11-7 Tigers victory which was televised in Detroit.

At the end of the 1981 season, Detroit gave Fidrych his outright release and he signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox, playing for one of their minor league teams. However, his torn rotator cuff, still undiagnosed and untreated, never healed. At age 29, he was forced to retire.

The Worcester District Attorney's office said Fidrych was found by a family friend beneath his 10 wheel dump truck at his Northborough home around 2:30 p.m. He appeared to have been working on the truck at the time of the accident.

Three quotes by Mr. Fidrych, that give you a sense of who he was:
* "When you're a winner you're always happy, but if you're happy as a loser you'll always be a loser."
* "Sometimes I get lazy and let the dishes stack up, but they don't stack too high. I've only got four dishes."
* "That ball has a hit in it, so I want it to get back in the ball bag and goof around with the other balls in there. Maybe it'll learn some sense and come out as a pop-up next time."


14 Of Your Sparks

  1. DrillerAA Says:
  2. Like I said when Travis posted this sad news, I don't know if there are many truly likable characters like Mark Fidrych in baseball any more. I think the game is a little worse for the loss of these unique personalities. They bring some of the innocence and joy back to the game, and serve to remind us that it is, in fact, just a game.

  3. Matt-Man Says:
  4. Here's to Harry and The Bird. Cheers Vinny!!

  5. ...the world is a better place having had The Bird in it...thanks, Vincenzo...

  6. Harry dying while preparing to do the thing he loved was fitting. Shame about Mark. Way too young and a dumb accident... Well done.

  7. Bond Says:
  8. DRILLER: Excellent Sir

    MATT-MAN: cheers Matty

    PHFRANKIE: It is, he was special

  9. Travis Says:
  10. It was a tough day to get this particular double play. Baseball is a little worse for it.

    The grand thing about this game is that it renews itself. While there will never be another voice like Mr Kalas or another Bird like Fidrych, baseball will fill the void they left with something fresh.

  11. Bond Says:
  12. TRAVIS: So very true. Though I am not sure anyone will every come along with the child-like excitement of Mr. Fidrych.

  13. Jay Says:
  14. One of the things that has always made baseball great is the characters that played AND called the games. Players like Fidrych who brought personality to baseball are part of the fun. Players today are too concerned whit their image for marketing purposes and are boring.

    As for the announcers, they were for a long time the voice of the game. People found comfort in Mel Allen, Harry Kalis, Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Skip Caray and the list goes on and on.

    It's part of what makes sports different from other entertainment fields. I think all sports fans can tell stories about growing up listening to *insert announcer's name here* calling *insert your team here*'s games with their family and friends. For me it was listening to Jack Buck call Cardinal's games and Paul Eels calling Arkansas games with my dad. Those were pretty special times. And I hope that that doesn't go away too.

  15. Bond Says:
  16. JAY: Perfectly stated.... Phil Rizzuto and Mel Allen...NY Yankees...

    The local announcers make the game more enjoyable...I hate Tim McCarver and Joe Morgan and turn the sound off when watching a game they are broadcasting. When in NY, I would put the radio on and listen to the radio call while watching the TV.

  17. Tug Says:
  18. Well done always have so much research involved it's nice to read, thank you.

  19. Starrlight Says:
  20. Those were some great quotes. I have far too many dishes, it would seem!

  21. What a great post about two men who left their marks on our national pasttime.

    Harry Kalas and Mark Fidrych were outstanding for the sport of baseball and society in general.

    They will both be missed.

  22. Travis Says:
  23. You know, it pains me that I can't listen to Vin Scully anymore. His time is getting short too. The day he leaves the broadcast booth will truly be the end of the "voice of the game" era.

    There are some good pronouncers around these days. But they just aren't the voices that made the game so special for so long.

  24. Dana Says:
  25. Fidrych is one of the first baseball "characters" that I remember from my childhood. Great, solid, honorable man!


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