Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Wheels in Motion?

The Harry Kalas/Chris Wheeler feud just won't die. Kalas, you'll recall, is the Phillies' bourbon-smooth play-by-play guy, a Hall of Fame broadcaster without a contract, who's hired a heavy-hitting West Coast agent to represent him. Word got out recently that Harry the K. no longer wanted to do games alongside suck-up team P.R. guy Wheeler, whose limited baseball insight is lost amidst a whiny demeanor and hopeless sycophancy. Writing on the Commentary page in today's Inquirer, local sports observer B.G. Kelley argues that Kalas's status as a local institution should give him all the leverage he needs:

As harsh as it may seem to say so, Kalas deserves to get what he wants, even if it means separating him and Wheeler in the booth. Kalas has been a loyal ambassador for both the Phillies and baseball. Wheeler will do fine without Kalas; he and [Larry] Andersen enjoy a healthy chemistry and camaraderie in the booth.

But a Phillies broadcast without Harry Kalas? Without that gravelly delight, the slow, rich comfort he is able to establish with his pace and rhythm? No way. Give him what he wants. Sign him immediately. No Phillies fan wants the new Citizen's Bank Park to be christened April 12 without the easy and familiar voice of Harry Kalas.

Kelley really soft-pedals it, calling Wheeler a "good guy" who's "gabby, conversational, a tale-teller" and adding unhelpfully, "I think that grates on Kalas." Actually, it grates on all of us. If Kelley's half the fan that I think he is, he's cutting Wheeler way too much slack. Regardless, only in Philadelphia, perhaps, could a broadcaster's contract dispute invoke this many column-inches. You'd think the Phillies had finally done enough on the field to focus sufficient attention there.

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