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Former Trib sports writer scores with announcer's bio

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By Les Harvath
Friday, March 26, 2010
 

Jeannette native Randy Miller doesn't mind being No. 2.

The 1982 Jeannette High School grad and Philadephia Phillies beat writer's 332-page biography of legendary announcer Harry Kalas rose to second place on the Amazon.com sports biographies list recently.

The initial 10,000-copy printing of "Harry the K: The Remarkable Life of Harry Kalas," sold out within three days, as did the second printing of 7,500.

The third printing was March 15.

Miller's publisher, Running Press, projects sales will top 100,000 copies, with the paperback version due out later this year or early next year.

Greg Jones, editorial director of Running Press Book Publishers, said Miller contacted him in May, a month after Kalas' death, to discuss ideas for a biography of him.

"As a lifelong Phillies fan myself, I knew the local fan base would strongly support the book," Jones said. "Randy provided an outline of the book, and I began the process of trying to convince my colleagues to go ahead with the idea."

A fellow Phillies beat writer who worked alongside Kalas for 13 years, Miller spoke with Kalas only minutes before he died from a heart attack April 13 in the Washington Nationals press box.

"I grew up in Jeannette admiring Bob Prince and Myron Cope," Miller said, "but Kalas' status in Philadelphia was far greater. I will always be a Pittsburgher at heart, but I have great admiration for Harry Kalas. His popularity in Philadelphia is why the book generated so much interest. Imagine the fan reaction if you could put all the 1970s Steelers in the same room. That's the way it was every day for Harry Kalas."

Miller and Kalas had dined together many times and spent innumerable hours with each other in hotel bars as well as in the press box over the course of their friendship.

"The saddest day of my career was when HK died," Miller said.

Kalas made everyone feel special, Miller noted, adding that "Harry Kalas drank with the fans and was friends with celebrities."

Miller's sports writing career began as a 15-year old covering high school sports for the now defunct Jeannette News Dispatch. Prior to graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 1986, he began a five-year stint at the Tribune-Review.

"My days at the Trib were special to me," Miller said. "That's where I learned to be a better writer. I owe my success to retired Trib sports editor Dave Ailes, who had much to do with my progress as a sports writer. He was tough on me and made me rewrite my stories, but he believed in me."

Miller, who still avidly follows the Jayhawks through the Trib Web site, also credited former Trib sports writers, Bob Labriola, editor of the Steelers Digest, and Jim Yadamec for their encouragement and support. After the Trib, Miller's career moves took him to Johnstown, Uniontown and Jacksonville, Fla. For 13 years, he has been the beat writer for a chain of suburban Philadelphia papers, including the Bucks County Courier Times, Doylestown Intelligencer and Burlington County Times.

Miller's interviewees included noted sportscasters Bob Costas, Joe Buck, Vin Scully and Chip Carey.

Because of the book's success, Miller has been a near regular on Philadelphia sports talk shows.

Miller provided two examples of Kalas' popularity: "Reaction in Philly to Harry's death was like when Princess Di died. It was like a death felt around the world. And there are four stadium seats at his grave, and people show up at his grave to drink. He is buried among Civil War and World War II generals and one signer of the Declaration of Independence."

Kalas is one of only three people known to have had funeral services or viewings at a ball park. The others were St. Louis announcer Jack Buck and Yankees great Babe Ruth.

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