As a young child, Kalas' love for the game grew in leaps and bounds when he attended a Washington Senators game on a rainy day. The weather delayed the game, but Kalas braved the weather to work his way toward the Senators' dugout in hopes of autographs or even a glimpse of a few players. What he got was something much more. Mickey Vernon of the Senators noticed Kalas and brought him into the dugout to meet some of his teammates and to get him a collection of autographs from his fellow players. A young Kalas was in awe and his love, in fact, his passion for the game of baseball had been born.
Kalas played some baseball, but never had the talent to go very far in the game. He was blessed with a voice that was meant for the world to hear and before long, he was headed down a road to a career in broadcasting. KGU offered him the opportunity to do a variety of sports.
The jump to the majors came with Houston . There, Kalas was part of a crowded broadcast booth that had three play-by-play guys and no real color analysts. Kalas recalls that the three would just sort of split up the games and add what analysis they could to help each other along. Before long, Kalas wanted to play a larger role in the booth and looked for opportunities. The Royals interviewed Kalas and the Reds went so far as to have offered the young broadcaster a contract before Bill Giles made a call to Kalas that shifted him to Philadelphia.
"I had known Bill (Giles) from the days in Houston and liked him. I liked what I had seen of Philadelphia on trips there and knew it was a great sports town, so I signed on," recalled Kalas. Originally, Kalas was going to be an addition to the broadcast team, but plans changed and legendary announcer Bill Campbell was let go, making it seem like Kalas was the one taking his job. "It was pretty uneasy, but the fans accepted me and ironically, Bill and I have become pretty good friends over the years," said Kalas.
The Phillies were enamored with Kalas and handed him the job of emceeing the opening day festivities on the field when Veteran's Stadium opened in April of 1971. Kalas handled the ceremony with class, but with one little problem. "I forgot to introduce Chub Feeney (the president of the National League). When I realized the mistake I had made, I apologized and luckily, Chub was gracious about the mix-up."
Almost from the start, the mix of Kalas with former Phillie turned broadcaster Richie Ashburn was something special. The two became great partners in the booth and great friends away from the game. That friendship was apparent and came across to radio listeners and TV viewers alike. "Whitey was always a pleasure to be around," recalls Kalas. "There wasn't any one thing that bonded our friendship, but we just came to like and respect each other. I have never worked with someone that I truly enjoyed being around as much as I did Richie and probably never will." Phillies fans could never possibly imagine the two being separated until a day in September, 1997 when Phillies fans received the worst of all possible news. Richie Ashburn had passed away.
"The game that night was the hardest I have ever done," remembers Kalas. "The Phillies had told me that I didn't have to do the game, but I know that Richie wouldn't have wanted that. He would have expected me to carry on, so I did. We kept a chair in the booth for Richie and nobody dared to sit in it. Actually, it felt as though my buddy was right there beside me through that one. I'll never forget it." Two days after Ashburn's death, the Phillies returned home and Kalas read a poem that he had written about his broadcast mate and friend. Kalas repeated the sentiments as he delivered Ashburn's eulogy at his funeral in front of family, friends and players both past and present. When Ashburn entered the Hall of Fame, he recalled his great friend in his induction speech and at ceremonies honoring Kalas' election to the Hall, he talked longingly about times he spent with Ashburn both in the booth and their private moments away from the booth.
"I think Philadelphians remember Whitey not only as a great player and a great broadcaster. They know him and remember him as a great man. He was one of a kind, that's for sure." Explained Kalas. While Kalas and Ashburn missed going into the Hall of Fame together, Kalas was on hand in 1995 when Ashburn and another former Phillie Mike Schmidt entered the Hall. "That was a special day. Not just because they were two great players and great friends, but because they're both special people. Whitey should have gone in years before, but it was kind of special for him and Schmidty to go in together."
Phillies fans have all dabbled in impersonating Kalas' classic "outta here…" homerun call. Like Kalas, the call wasn't contrived or part of a brain-storming scheme on how to call a homerun. It started very naturally as Kalas was standing around a batting cage. In fact, it was Larry Bowa who put the phrase in Kalas' head. "Greg Luzinski was taking BP and hit one a mile and Bowa simply said ‘that one's outta here' and next thing I knew, I was saying it," said Kalas.
As the Phillies went to the World Series in 1980, fans were disappointed to hear that Kalas wouldn't be doing the games on radio. In fact though, that fiasco led to a change in policy in major league baseball. "The networks had contracts with baseball to have exclusive coverage of the World Series, so we were basically shut down. When the fans realized it, they actually called the commissioner's office and wrote letters to the commissioner and they did change the rule a year or two later. That's how we were able to do the games in '83 and '93." Recalls Kalas. Still, you have to believe that fans missed a great opportunity to hear Harry and Richie proclaim the Phillies World Champions. Kalas lists the lack of local radio coverage as the biggest disappointment in his career.
Historic homeruns, there have been many. Perhaps the most famous is the call of Mike Schmidt's 500th homerun in Pittsburgh. Kalas also got to call the 500th career homerun of the great Eddie Mathews. While Mathews is known and enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a Brave, he finished his career in Houston while Kalas was part of the broadcast team there. "I happened to have the booth for Mathews 500th in Candlestick Park and I'll never forget it. That was the first historic homerun that I ever got to call." Remembers Kalas.
Eventually, Kalas will leave the booth. Phillies fans hate to think of that day and odds are that it is at least a few years away, but it will eventually come. As for advice for those who follow in Kalas' footsteps; "Just love this game and love this town. The fans are the best in baseball and this town loves this great game of baseball."