Number twenty-two in a series.
Broadcast: Philadelphia Phillies on Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia, Phillies at Washington, 7/30/08; Announcers: Harry Kalas (play-by-play), Tom McCarthy (play-by-play/reporter), Chris Wheeler (analyst), Gary Matthews (analyst).
In April 1971 the Phillies played their first game at Veterans Stadium, their brand new, state-of-the-art facility. (Really. It wasn’t always a dump.) The master of ceremonies for the opening was Harry Kalas. Kalas was about to start his first season with the Phillies, having replaced Bill Campbell in the booth. It was a move that, I’ve read (because I didn’t start paying attention to sports until the following year), was not very popular at the time.
The Vet is long gone, but Harry Kalas remains, now as beloved by Phillies fans as anyone (on or off the field) in franchise history. At age 72, he’s certainly not at his peak. There’s the occasional verbal stumble. Now and then he loses track of a deep fly ball, though that seems to happen less than it did a few years ago. But his calls, particularly of exciting moments such as walk-off hits, still give me goosebumps. It’s impossible to imagine a Phillies broadcast without Harry Kalas.
It’s unfortunate that the Phillies haven’t built a better broadcast around him.
Kalas still does one inning per game on radio, unlike most teams whose play-by-play men work the entire telecast. So this makes some shuffling necessary. In the past Chris Wheeler did play-by-play for the middle 3 innings with Larry Andersen on color, and Wheeler and Andersen split the analyst’s role the rest of the game. Last year, Andersen was banished to radio full-time and replaced by Gary Matthews, who worked the entire game, bringing us 6 innings each night of the dreaded three-in-a-booth setup.
In this past off-season the Phillies rehired Tom McCarthy. McCarthy used to do some radio here, mostly hosting pre- and post-game shows, before leaving for the Mets’ radio booth. McCarthy now does the middle-innings play-by-play instead of Wheeler, which makes me wonder if he’s now the heir apparent to Kalas, and the shuffle has become a merry-go-round. Kalas and Wheeler take the first two innings, Matthews replaces Wheeler in the 3rd, McCarthy replaces Kalas in the 4th, Wheeler takes over for Matthews in the 6th, and Kalas returns in place of McCarthy in the 7th.
McCarthy is never really gone, though. When he’s not in the booth he serves as the reporter, although unless there’s an injury his reports are mainly about some conversation he had with a particular player. There’s nothing in these reports he couldn’t say in his 3 innings in the booth -- or perhaps they're things he can't fit into those innings, since he pretty much talks non-stop. And the two innings he works with Matthews are excruciating. McCarthy is constantly goofing around -- particularly with Matthews, whether about some reminiscence of Matthews’ career or the hats he wears or, on this night, an analysis of the Presidents’ race at Nationals Park.
Matthews as an analyst is master of the obvious. He often repeats clichés. One of his favorites the last two seasons is “That’s what separates the men from the boys.” So many things separate the men from the boys according to Mattnews that I can’t figure out what doesn’t separate them. His logic is sometimes off. There was an excellent example of something he said last season, where he gave his view of a play, then changed his opinion a moment later, but I can’t remember what it was. I thought I might have posted about it on the discussion board but my search failed to find it. So let’s settle for this odd comment about Washington shortstop Cristian Guzman: “If healthy, he’s one of the better shortstops in both leagues. He’s a very adequate shortstop.” So if one of the better shortstops is adequate what does that make the best shortstops, pretty good?
Chris Wheeler is the rare analyst who isn’t a former player. His first job with the Phillies was in the public relations department, and he joined their broadcast crew in 1977. He does know the game, but a lot of fans around here just don’t like him. Although he comes off as a know-it-all, lecturing and over-explaining, I don’t dislike him as much as others.
Part of the fan dislike may stem from his much-publicized feud with Harry Kalas a few years ago. (Here’s a link to a blog that picked up the story from Philadelphia magazine.) In an April interview the Allentown Morning Call asked Wheeler about this situation, and he said, “It was a personal thing that was really no one's concern. Someone said some things and decided to call someone in the media and told some lies. Unfortunately, the media ran with it without getting my side of the story. I'm not allowed to talk about it, but it was something between the two of us and it didn't need [publicity]. It has never affected anything on the air. We work fine together.”
It’s odd that he says the media didn’t get his side of the story. He says he’s “not allowed” to talk about it. Who’s stopping him? Anyway, there are a few times each game where Wheeler begins to talk while Kalas is still talking. However, this year I’ve noticed Kalas and Wheeler joking with each other more than in recent years, so perhaps time has healed some wounds after all.
A couple of puzzling technical notes. For some reason the “keys to the game” graphic featured exclamation points: Solve Tim Redding! Jamie Moyer continues his fine pitching! Also, a ball hit down the right-field line somehow eluded Geoff Jenkins, allowing the batter to go all the way to third. I say “somehow” because the view from the high camera behind home plate at Nationals Park (which I mentioned in my writeup of the Nats broadcast) caused an obstructed view of the right-field line, and no replay from a different camera was provided to show how Jenkins failed to stop the ball. Grade: C-plus. -- Joe Guckin