The Philadelphia Phillies announced recently that Chris Wheeler would no longer be a part of their television broadcast team.
When word broke that the Phillies had sold their broadcast rights to Comcast SportsNet, it put even long-term employees like Wheeler in the cross-hairs. Old employees and new bosses rarely mix, and Wheeler's 37 years of service did not save him an ungainly end.
Wheeler's tendency to inspire either sincere respect and admiration, or genuine aggravation and disgust in his audience members probably did not help him when the corporate masters started to sharpen the ax.
Wheeler's sins in the booth were legion, but some of the prevalent ones (to this writer) were:
- consistently overstating the obvious, like how a ground out to the shortstop with a man on second and nobody out is a bad baseball play
- attesting that all hitters want is for the umpire to call a consistent strike zone, even if it means that some “balls” will be strikes and vice versa that night (which is a ridiculous argument by the way—if an umpire calls a pitch three inches off the outside corner a strike forty times in a given game, he made forty mistakes in that game, not one or none)
- asserting that the relief pitcher who just came into a two-on, two-out jam in a tie game “needs to throw strikes"
- breathlessly intoning after a Major League Baseball player made a just-above-average play look easy that, “man, these guys are just so good"
Wheeler had so many of these verbal tics and crutches that a dozen or so were beautifully memorialized on a bingo card that is the epitome of excellence in so many ways.
Even after his firing, the indignities keep being heaped on Wheeler.
94 WIP radio host Angelo Cataldi recently remarked that Wheeler's greatest moment as a Phillies broadcaster was the last out of the 2008 World Series because Wheeler pumped his fists quietly and stayed out of Harry Kalas' way.
And based on the fact that former Phillies closer Brad Lidge (who got that last out Kalas described) has already turned the job down according to Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, it appears that Wheeler was fired without a replacement ready to go.
You know things are bad when ESPN's Keith Olbermann is the one who rides to your defense.
Olbermann's biggest gaffe in chiding the Phillies for firing Wheeler was referring to him as "the link to the glory days of Rich Ashburn and Harry Kalas." Speaking Wheeler's name in the same breath with Kalas and Ashburn is sacrilege. As Wheeler proved, being around greatness a lot does not make it rub off.
Despite all this, it is sad to see Wheeler dumped so unceremoniously. Did he occasionally make the Phillies broadcast his baseball pulpit? Yes he did. Was he sometimes annoying? Also yes.
But the names being tossed around as Wheeler's possible replacement, occasional broadcasters like former Phillies, Ricky Bottalico and Chris Coste per Brian Howard of Philadelphia Magazine, really are just guys who used to play baseball.
There may be some initial expressions of relief and satisfaction from seeing Wheeler's run in the booth end.
It will be interesting, though, to see whether those same Phillies fans still feel that way next spring as a new voice tries to find his way, while the team tries to wring one more season from an aging core.
The same "one more season" Wheeler will never get.
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