Philadelphia Sports and the Media: A Love-Hate Relationship at Its Finest
2008 saw the city of Philadelphia bring home its first major sports championship in 25 years. 100 seasons of disappointment.
At times, they were close--the 1993 Phillies, the 1996-97 Flyers, the 2000-01 Sixers, the 2004 Eagles--but never could they seal the deal.
These struggles have caused Philadelphia's fans--arguably the most passionate and intense in the nation, but definitely one of the top sports cities in the world--to become quite restless.
But aside from the boos at the stadiums, Eagles chants at Phillies games--and eventually Phillies chants at Eagles games--it's been in the media, where these frustrations have become the most noticeable.
The 2008 World Series Championship helped to ease these frustrations, but Philly fans will always be intense, passionate, and emotional fans. Their highs are high, their lows are low, and these are the people that keep Philadelphia the most well-informed sports city in the world.
I fought on this one for a while before deciding that I didn't actually have to make a choice. One candidate does TV broadcasts. The other, radio.
Jim Jackson came to the Flyers in 1993 as the team's new radio announcer, and two seasons later took over on TV for Gene Hart.
Jackson is a native of Upstate New York, and began his career in hockey broadcasting with the minor league affiliate of the rival New Jersey Devils.
As the Flyers play-by-play announcer, Jackson is sure to make sure the fans know exactly what is going on. Never afraid to show emotion, Jackson's voice makes your heart race each and every night.
Professional, tactful, yet as excited as the fans themselves, Jackson is the perfect fit for a sport like hockey, a team like the Flyers, and a city like Philadelphia.
On the flip-side, Merrill Reese has been the voice of the Eagles since 1977. His voice IS Eagles football.
In a sport where teams don't have their own television broadcasts, many fans opt for the radio, where they can listen to a consistent voice familiar with their team.
That's Reese. He shares that same mix of professional and fan that is evident in Jackson's broadcasts, and does so effortlessly.
Reese not only calls the games, but also writes for philadelphiaeagles.com and provides live commentary for the site from important Eagles-related events.
Both Jackson and Reese are firmly entrenched in their respective roles until they so choose otherwise. And that's exactly what happens when you find a good play-by-play announcer.
Best Color Commentator
This topic also caused a lot of debate between me, myself, and I. Not only does Philadelphia have some great color commentators, but some teams have two or three.
For example, if you watch the Phillies you get to hear both Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews. Then on the radio, you'll get Larry Andersen. All three have their own strong points.
Wheeler is a student of the game, and is great for any young fan learning the game. Matthews can dissect a struggling hitter's problems better than anyone.
And LA can do the same with a pitcher, all the while adding in his great sense of humor.
And then in hockey, Flyers fans get Steve Coates, and either Bill Clement or Keith Jones on TV, and Chris Therien on the radio.
Clement, Jones, and Therien are all former Flyers, and Coates has a coaches point of view. All can make you laugh, and all understand Flyers hockey.
The two most important things for a color commentator are that they stimulate the fans' minds and that they provide the lighter side of the broadcast. All of these commentators excel at this.
(Photo courtesy of csnphilly.com)
This was a harder decision, only because there isn't a large group of worthwhile candidates.
But Leslie Guidel always seems to do excellent work when covering the Phillies, and as such, she takes the cake--for now.
John Boruk has grown into his role as Flyers beat reporter, and could probably take this award next time around. But for now, it's Guidel.
Guidel has been with Comcast SportsNet since its creation, and has worn many hats for the station--most notably anchor and Phillies reporter.
Best Sports Anchor
(Photo courtesy of 6abc.com)
This one, to me, was a no-brainer. Gary Papa has been Mr. Sports in Philadelphia since 1981 when he joined 6ABC.
Papa is always present at the major Philadelphia sporting events, and when he's not, he's bringing sports to the dinner tables of fans all across the Delaware Valley.
Fun fact about Papa: he possesses a law degree from University of Buffalo.
Unfortunately, Papa has not been present as often as usual of late. He is currently undergoing his third battle with prostate cancer. Well wishes and prayers to Papa as he battles this ever-treacherous disease.
Did I mention he's one of the nicest men alive? Despite his illness, Papa is still passionate about what he does, and friendly to all of his fans.
This one is completely impossible to select. First of all, many of the color commentators also serve as analysts after the game.
Some of my personal favorites are Bill Clement and Mitch Williams, but you could pick from a dozen or so analysts as to who your favorites are.
One of my all time favorites was the late John Marzano. I know Marz is very missed by the city of Philadelphia.
Ray Didinger is one of Philadelphia's all-time great journalists. And he does it all.
Didinger, an NFL Hall-of-Famer for his work as a journalist, has not only graced the city with his writing, but also serves as a post-game analyst for the Eagles Post Game Live, and often makes appearances on Daily News Live as well.
Didinger also hosts a radio show on 610WIP, and has written a number of books on Philadelphia sports, mostly focused on the Eagles.
Up and Comer
(Photo courtesy of phillies.com)
Scott Franzke has all of the skills, intelligence, and professionalism to step in to the role opened by the sudden, saddening loss of Harry Kalas.
Slowly, Franzke has grown into larger roles with the Phillies, having become the voice of the Phillies on the radio.
Franzke has a unique style of calling games, which is characteristic of the great announcers of all time. Just like Harry the K, Franzke has that perfect meld of professionalism and fandom.
Not afraid to show emotion, Franzke can speak right to the hearts of Phillies fans.
Look for Franzke to get the opportunity to take over the Phillies television broadcasts real soon.
Most Controversial Personality
(Photo courtesy of 610wip.com)
Without a doubt, this goes to Howard Eskin.
"Wolfman" has never been afraid to speak his mind, serving as a kind of Howard Stern for Philadelphia sports.
Most prevalent on 610WIP, Eskin's PM radio show receives tons of call-ins, with many fans across the Delaware Valley tuning in. Eskin can also be seen on NBC 10 providing commentary as well.
Eskin's controversy comes from his practice of speaking his mind, which often times includes calling out players, coaches, and management.
Whether he's right or he's wrong, a lot of people want to hear what he has to say. And for that, he's become quite successful.
Native Son Award
(Photo courtesy of phillies.com)
Jayson Stark, former journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, now writes for ESPN.com and serves as one of their baseball experts.
Stark's storytelling abilities are impeccable. Whether he's writing about his hometown Phillies or any other team, Stark can always find the words to describe the situation even when it seems words won't do.
Stark's latest contribution to Philadelphia sports is his book titled "Worth the Wait" that tells of the 2008 World Champion Phillies.
In Memoriam: Harry Kalas
"Today we lost our voice."
Those words, spoken by Phillies president David Montgomery, will always stick in my mind.
That's all that needed to be said, and that's what will be most remembered when we look back on this horrible loss.
Harry the K was Phillies baseball. More than Michael Jack. Even more than "The Pope." When Harry and Whitey called a game, it was magical. It's no wonder I grew up a baseball fan.
It's very weird without Harry, the Ford C. Frick Award winner and Hall of Famer. As I write this, I'm watching the Phillies-Mets game, and it's just not the same.
His passion, his raspy voice, the way he'd sometimes mistake a 200-foot fly ball for a home run because he'd had a few glasses of scotch throughout the game.
When Harry called the final out of the 2008 World Championship I began to choke up. It will now be almost impossible to hear that call again without crying.
And I'm not ashamed to say it. Harry was like a grandfather to many of us...a father to others...and a friend to so many more.
I lost one of my best friends to cancer in February--a huge Phillies fan. And now, he's got the best broadcast team of all time to call the game for him.
I know he's up there, tossing back a scotch with Whitey and Harry and listening to many stories about baseball, life, and friendship.
Craig, I miss you buddy. Harry, we miss you as well, and thank you for all you've done for us. You will forever be a part of us.
We loved you more than anyone should love someone they've never actually met before. And I'm perfectly okay with that.
This article, along with the rest of my articles in 2009, are dedicated to the memory of my good friend and Philadelphia Phan, Craig Anderson, who passed away on Feb. 3, 2009, from complications due to cancer. To donate to a great cause, visit www.cancer.org.