Houston Astros TV announcer Todd Kalas might have been the only person who enjoyed all three games of the 2022 World Series in Philadelphia.
Game four, of course, was the historic combined no-hitter of the Phillies by Cristian Javier and three relievers, a 5–0 win. And game five’s thriller, highlighted by Chas McCormick’s ninth-inning heroics in center field, set the stage for Houston to win its second championship (finally!) back at Minute Maid Park on Saturday.
But game three’s beating by the Phillies? The one in which home runs by Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins gave Philadelphia a 7–0 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning? At that point, Kalas knew the Astros probably weren’t coming back. But having resigned himself to that, he also knew that the 45,712 fans at Citizens Bank Park would soon be celebrating the home team with his late father, Hall of Fame announcer Harry Kalas. And that Todd would join them.
Harry Kalas, who began his Major League Baseball broadcast career with the Astros before taking over as the Phillies’ play-by-play announcer from 1971 until 2009, is as big a presence in the Phillies’ stadium as anybody this side of Bryce Harper or the Phillie Phanatic. There’s an oversized statue of Kalas just beyond left field, as well as an outdoor bar and restaurant—“Harry the K’s”—named after him at the ballpark; after Kalas suffered a heart attack before a Phillies game against the Washington Nationals in April 2009, his body lay in state at home plate on the Phillies diamond.
Since then, he lives on after every Phillies win on the video scoreboard, via his rendition of the Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen song “High Hopes” (made famous by Frank Sinatra), which Kalas first sang in tribute to the 1993 Phillies (another surprise World Series team that ultimately lost). Among the photos in the video is one of Harry with his three sons—Todd, Kane, and Brad—in Cooperstown, New York, in 2002, the year Harry received the Ford C. Frick Award and went into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I kind of got emotional at the very end of it,” Todd Kalas says of the Phillies victory video. “I hadn’t seen it in a while. The fact that the Phillies continue to play that video in 2022, thirteen years after he passed, it’s an amazing tribute. Dad and the city and the team have always had a special relationship beyond most announcer-and-city relationships. The way Philly has carried his memory forward is truly amazing. I’m glad the tradition continues.”
But Todd Kalas was also glad to see it limited to just one game.
Sure, had the Astros lost the World Series to his hometown team, it would have stung a little less for Kalas than losing to the Braves, the Red Sox, or the Nationals. Instead, Kalas and McCormick—a native of West Chester, Pennsylvania—both got to enjoy the satisfying frisson of Astros joy mixed with Phillies sadness. “They’re still the team I grew up with,” Kalas says. “The Phillies will always be a big part of the Kalas family.”
But so are the Astros. Todd was born in Houston in December 31, 1965; on April 9 of that same year, his father called what was both the first-ever Astros game (the team having spent its first three years as the Colt .45s) and the first game at the Astrodome, as a then-brand-new addition to the broadcast team of Gene Elston and Loel Passe.
As James Anderson of Astros Daily noted when Harry died, he was also on the mic for César Cedeño’s first home run, in 1970, and Eddie Mathews’s 500th (in 1967, the Hall of Famer’s only season in Houston). Harry’s signature home-run call was “That ball is in Astro orbit!“ These days, if the Astros happen to be playing a spring training game on his dad’s birthday, March 26, Kalas will break that out as a one-off homage. Otherwise, he treads his own path as an announcer. “People do hear a couple of similarities in the way we do games,” he says. “Just kind of in the inflections and intonation.”
At some point in this 2022 season, Kalas also realized it was numerologically significant: the moment when “the first six years of Astros baseball and the last six years of Astros baseball have been called by a Kalas,” he says. “Crazy, right?”
Alas, Kalas had to take in the World Series from outside the broadcast booth: as the local TV announcer for AT&T SportsNet Southwest, he is basically out of a job once the playoffs move to national networks. Kalas’s Philadelphia counterpart, Tom McCarthy, who succeeded Harry in 2009, picked up a few innings on Phillies radio, but Kalas and analyst Geoff Blum stayed out of Robert Ford and Steve Sparks’ pictureless domain. Coincidentally, MLB fans actually have Kalas’s father to thank for the fact that we can hear local radio announcers calling the World Series in the first place—it’s something the league began allowing after 1980, when Phillies fans were outraged that they couldn’t hear Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn call Philadelphia’s World Series win over the Kansas City Royals.
“You kind of know [that you don’t get to call postseason games] going in, but it still doesn’t make it any less frustrating,” Kalas says. “To go along for the ride all the way and then as soon as the playoffs hit, kind of drop off the cliff. But we get to be fans, and we get to hang out with our families and watch games.”
And Joe Davis and John Smoltz, who called the Series for Fox, didn’t get to see this Houston team become what it became. For the Astros, after four trips to the World Series (and six to the ALCS) over the last six seasons, nothing less than another championship would have felt like success. But as they well know after so many recent near misses, a ring was never guaranteed. To Kalas, the turning point of the 2022 season was a nine-game stretch against the two New York teams in late June, including two against the Mets and four against the Yankees on the road. Houston went 7–2, with the both losses coming in the Bronx on walk-off home runs. During that stretch, the team also banked a Cristian Javier–led combined no-hitter—a harbinger of things to come.
“I thought that was a run where they showed against the best teams in baseball that they’re not only going to be able to compete with them, but really dominate,” says Kalas. “That stretch took me from ‘this is a nice team that’s probably going to win the AL West’ to ‘this is a team that could probably or possibly win the World Series.’ ”
That the Phillies seemed to have the upper hand over the Astros early on, with Series leads of 1–0 and 2–1, now seems like a blip in Houston’s start-to-finish excellence: 106 regular-season wins, an 11–2 record in the playoffs (including sweeps in both the ALDS and ALCS), and three straight displays of dominance to close out the World Series. They were the better team, and Houston’s best players—from Framber Valdez, Javier, and World Series MVP Jeremy Peña to José Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Álvarez, and Ryan Pressly—far outshone their Philly counterparts.
This second championship was also the best possible way to shut up all the people outside Houston still complaining about the circumstances of the last one. As Kalas has often said, after news of the Astros’ cheating scandal broke in 2019, Houston replaced the Yankees as the most-hated team in baseball. But hate them or hate them, it’s been a remarkable six-year run. As the Athletic’s Jayson Stark wrote on Sunday, even if you throw out 2017, the Astros have still had the best record in the American League over the past five seasons—as well as the past four seasons, three seasons, two seasons, and now this one. That is all the more amazing given the amount of roster turnover the Astros have endured—only five players on the 2022 team were on the 2017 squad—as well as the replacement of both the manager and the general manager in response to the controversy, and the fact that the franchise’s year-after-year success also meant less rest and shorter off-seasons.
“They’ve basically been playing to Halloween or beyond every year now for the last six years,” Kalas says. “An incredible run, and one we might not see ever again.
“And it’s different guys,” he continues. “You lose a Carlos Correa, you lose Gerrit Cole, you lose George Springer—they just keep finding guys to plug in and get to the highest level of baseball in the postseason. Rookies and players that come from other organizations just follow suit and fall in line. It’s a very easy team to acclimate to. You see a lot of guys come over here and have really good years. Or rookies come in, and they’re not afraid—like Jeremy Peña, or even Chas McCormick in his second year. There’s not a real hierarchy. If you can help us win games, we’ll treat you the same way as if you’ve been here for the last five or ten years.”
Of course, there is one other thing those Astros teams have in common: Todd Kalas, who called his first regular-season game for the franchise on opening day, 2017. (He started his TV career with a brief stint in Philly, followed by almost twenty years as a Tampa Bay Rays announcer, before he jumped to Houston.) “I’ve been blessed to have an incredible product to call,” he says. “I probably parachuted into the best possible scenario for any broadcaster in MLB history.”
In this day and age, for both Major League Baseball and televised (or rather, streaming) sports, there’s no telling if Todd Kalas will be able to achieve the kind of longevity and immortality in Houston that his father did in Philadelphia. But he’s certainly off to one heck of a start. Maybe he’s even a good luck charm.
“Could be,” Kalas agrees, tongue in cheek. “We’ll have to mention that in contract negotiations.”