COMMENTARY | Chris Wheeler loves the Philadelphia Phillies. I mean we're talking heart and soul, till death do him part. He's been part of the Phillies organization for 42 years now, the last 37 as a broadcaster. No one is more dedicated to this baseball team.
And despite all that love, you may be hard-pressed to find a fan of the Phillies who is a fan of Chris Wheeler. At least that's my perception. If you listen to Philadelphia sports talk radio, or even have a casual conversation with a Phillies fan about Wheeler, you may get the reaction I seem to get often -- one that doesn't just border on contempt but crosses that border and stomps all over it.
It makes no sense, really. If you really like baseball, you should like Chris Wheeler's description of it. National broadcaster Tim McCarver, who started out in television in the Phillies' TV booth, wrote the foreward to Wheeler's book "View From The Booth," saying Wheels is as knowledgeable as they come and can paint word pictures like few in the game can. Personally, I agree with McCarver in that Wheeler is generally spot on with his assessments.
Now, Wheeler isn't silky smooth by any stretch. His voice doesn't vary a great deal in modulation, and he doesn't often convey much emotion. Sometimes he can come off a bit like a street kid who thinks he knows more than you do. You'd think that attitude would resonate in Philadelphia, but it seems to do the opposite.
Again, that's a perception. But there's a good reason to perceive it.
Wheeler broke in with beloved Phillies broadcasting legend, the late Harry Kalas. He was close with Kalas and Hall of Fame player and fellow broadcaster Richie Ashburn for years. At some point, Wheeler apparently had some sort of falling out with both of them. Just how significant it was is debatable, but it was publicized to some extent. Any true Philadelphian wanting to take sides in that rift was not going to pick Wheeler's, whether he was in the right or not.
But if you take the time to surf the web read what colleagues say about him, Wheeler apparently is well-liked. He will never have the style or charisma of Kalas or Vin Scully or even McCarver, all of whom are in the broadcasting wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I don't know what kind of shot Wheeler has at being nominated for the Ford Frick Award for induction, but he's been doing this stuff consistently well for almost four decades now, which should get him some consideration.
For the haters of Chris Wheeler, hate him while you still can. He'll turn 68 next month and probably won't be in the booth for many more years. He may turn out to be someone those haters appreciate a lot more after he's gone.
There's an indelible image of Chris Wheeler than can be easily found on YouTube. It's a video of Harry Kalas in the booth announcing the final out of the Phillies' 2008 World Series championship on radio. In the background is Chris Wheeler celebrating the final strike, pumping his fists excitedly like the kid on Christmas who just got the best toy ever.
What Wheeler exhibited was exactly what every Phillies fan in the world was feeling at that moment. He bleeds red just like they do. It seems like there are a lot of people I've come across who overlook that.
At least that's my perception.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Phillies follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards. He covered the 1980 World Series, the first championship in Phillies history.
- Sports & Recreation
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Chris Wheeler
- Harry Kalas