It was a sad day in sports today as two of my all-time favorite sports personalities and two important links to my childhood passed away within hours of each other. Harry Kalas, who was a broadcaster for 43 years - the last 38 with the Phillies, died today shortly after collapsing in the broadcast booth. Mark Fidrych, the Tigers 1976 rookie sensation, died at age 54 shortly afterwards while working under his truck at his home in Northboro, MA.
Kalas is one of my earliest baseball memories. I spent many nights as a youngster listening to Cardinals games on the radio with my father. I remember the Phillies games the best because the Philadelphia signal was always strong and Kalas's voice was so powerful and distinctive. Whenever I heard his voice in later years , I immediately went back to my childhood. Other than Ernie Harwell, there is no other announcer that defines summer nights and baseball for me as Kalas did.
I've been following the Tigers since 1968 and Mark Fidrych's 1976 season was the single most thrilling individual season of my lifetime. Whenever I see that game against the Yankees that they show on ESPN or the MLB channel from time to time, I immediately go back 33 years to that night and remember how I felt watching the same game on television. It's difficult to explain the Mark Fidrych experience to those who were not there to see it. I did my best to recapture it in my summer long tribute back in 2006:
It's appropriate that Kalas died in the broadcast booth. It's equally appropriate that the down to earth Bird died while fixing his pick-up truck. I mean that in a good way, of course. It's who they were and there will never be anyone else like them. It's a sad day in baseball today.