For us Phillies fans who have a few days on our hands to ponder the great gift of being associated with repeating National League champions, there is nothing better than heading to our local book store and purchasing a read to fill in the void. As an avid fan and reader, I have read many baseball books, especially anything closely related to the history of the Phillies. In the past year, the book publishers have turned out books to reap in our enthusiasm for the team. One book I have recently read and don’t recommend is
Remembering Harry Kalas - Wonderful Stories From Friends Celebrating a Great Life by Rich Wolfe.
Not to dour a jubilant situation, nor dissuade anyone from reading, but there must be some objectivity as a paying public. The Harry Kalas book I should have loved. He was someone I admired and appreciated my whole life. I waited for his voice to fill up the summer evenings, and when I picked up this eulogy, I thought it would be a great way to remember him and celebrate his influence. But it wasn’t. The very fact that Wawa, who didn’t invent the four dollar coffee, but who is making a fortune off the $1.50 coffee was selling a book two months after the death of one of the greatest icons in Philadelphia history, should have been a sign. Why would a convenient store sell a book for $25.00 dollars? (Now it is only $9.99, you wonder why I’m writing this!)
Rich Wolfe is famous for exploiting huge fan bases in baseball and college football with his books such as For Notre Fans Only and For Cubs Fans Only and a litany of more. They is nothing substantial in his books that if you were a fan already, you wouldn’t know. His formula is to get as many people associated with his book’s subject to say something nice or remotely connected with the topic. He fills in the two hundred pages with unconnected stories and no plot line or suspense, writes a quick introduction about how important the topic is to saving sports and making world peace, and walks away to attack the next biggest sport’s market.
The sad part about this book is the exploitation of a fan base that was mourning its voice and using a convenient store we trust to do it. The stories in the book have all been told on the radio or in the papers. The book focuses mostly on his relationship with Whitey with only four or five short one page pieces on Harry’s background. The first part of the book is filled with recent players, some like Raul Ibanez who had been here for only three months. They kept repeating how great he was and the one or two instances they ran into him at the ball park. The announcers, who were the closest to him, were emotional but contained little substance. There is value in the last forty pages because it contains local and national sports’ writers. But even these writers fail to make the book worth reading because they never get beyond the superficial analysis that a reader desires. It is a book without a writer and without research.
The worst part of the book is that it makes Harry Kalas out to be drunk. It also makes the people interviewed out to be conceited sports members and players who never stopped to think of what Harry was to the organization: its face and voice. The final feeling is that most of the people thought that Harry was some old guy who loved the Phillies, was good at what he did, but stayed far away from deep relationships with humor and alcohol. If I had to hear about how much he smoked on one more page, I would have thrown it out. (But I would have kept the cover – I did pay $25.00)
Because of the lack of preparation, layout, and perhaps the superficial entity of professional sports, the book should have never been published. The writing is mundane. The stories repeat themselves. And the saddest part after you are done with this book, the reader is left with the realization that Harry Kalas, my boyhood Phillies idol, was not much more than a lucky guy, who drank too much, who had defense mechanisms to keep people close but never too close, who smoked Parliments, and who spent most of his life and joy in a small booth.
I hope you wait for the biography and I surely hope Rich Wolfe doesn’t do it. I hope it is written by a writer who loves the Phillies, but also has an ear for building character and suspense through first hand reports and analysis. Rich Wolfe should have interviewed the fans for the book. It would have been ernest and unique, and not filled with stories like Ryan Howard talking about the old announcer of St. Louis when he was growing up or Wheels talking about how pissed he was when Harry got lost attending his Christmas party and brought the guys to the party who helped him to find his house.
Beware: Rich Wolfe is not done with us. At the end of this book, though I still don’t know why he gets the credit for writing it, he tells the readers that he is creating For Phillies Fans Only and For Eagles Fans Only. Unless he puts in all my 2008 Phillies poems, I am not enough fan to stomach two more books by him.