Monday, December 22, 2003

Chris Wheeler is a Tool

It appears that the Phillies' biggest contract issue this off-season won't involve Kevin Millwood but Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas. The Inquirer's Todd Zolecki reports that Kalas has hired a serious, West Coast agent to get the ball rolling on a new deal. Kalas's agent reportedly calls Harry underpaid, but by far the most interesting aspect of the story involves his fellow on-air talent:

. . . Kalas . . . wants to change his broadcast partners because he said his relationship has soured with longtime booth mate Chris Wheeler. His current contract expires at the end of this month.

"I definitely do want to come back," he said. "I'm excited about the new ballpark and the 2004 Fightin's. I think it's going to be a very exciting year. . . . I'm sure something will get done. It might take some time, but it's going to be up to the agent and the Phillies."

. . . Sources have said that [his agent] believes Kalas, the 2002 Ford C. Frick Award winner, has been underpaid and is due for a raise. Kalas also said he prefers to work with Larry Andersen, John Kruk and Scott Graham, but not Wheeler.

"I feel more comfortable working with L.A. and Kruker," Kalas said. "It is uncomfortable to work with [Wheeler]."

Attempts to reach Wheeler last night were unsuccessful.

Kalas joined the Phillies in 1971 and shared the broadcast booth with Richie Ashburn for 26 seasons before Ashburn died.

"When Whitey died, I was under the impression that L.A. would take Whitey's place," he said. "It would be a me-and-L.A. sort of thing."

Finally, someone whose opinion counts for something has stated the obvious. Over the years Wheels has gone from being an annoying presence on the air to an all-out tool, unable to mount even the most gentle of criticisms when the Phils deserve it. (And over the last couple of decades, who can argue they haven't deserved it?) It's not as if he offers probing baseball insights to overcome his rampant sycophancy. Wheeler never played professionally; he has been nothing but a public relations hanger-on, sucking up as often as necessary to maintain his spot in the booth. Bravo to Harry the K. for calling him on it -- even if it was only in so many words. To call Kalas beloved in Philadelphia is an understatement of biblical proportions. His words carry weight, and I have no doubt that Wheeler will be locked in a basement somewhere deep within Citizens Bank Park when Kalas is on the air next season.


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