Sunday, April 04, 2004

Airing it Out | Phillies fans are simultaneously blessed and cursed when it comes to the guys calling the action in the team's broadcast booth. Harry Kalas, one of baseball's all-time finest play-by-play men, owns a rightful place in the Hall of Fame, while Chris Wheeler, the ultimate company man, cannot help but lace every inning he does with a healthy splash of sycophancy. The two had a very public rift in the offseason, with Kalas seeking to have his new contract include a provision that he and Wheeler not work together. Well, Harry the K signed on the dotted line, but the team retained the right to pair up whomever it wished in the booth.

So there they were yesterday on Comcast SportsNet's inaugural broadcast from Citizens Bank Park. I didn't watch the whole game on TV or listen to it on the radio, so I don't know whether Kalas and Wheeler were ever on the air together. But I did see them throw pregame bits to one another, and it seemed as genial as always. One hopes that whatever personal gripes each has about the other, they can keep their on-air relationship professional.

That might be more difficult for Kalas, given Wheeler's maddeningly apologetic style. Yesterday, before the season even was officially underway, Wheels attached his lips to Bobby Abreu's rear end, noting that the Phillies rightfielder has become a bit of a "whipping boy" for fans because his style of play appears "effortless." I shook my head at that; I mean, come on. The reason fans got on Abreu last year was that at times his play was effortless. Bobby is a gifted ballplayer, and when the game is on the line he busts it as hard as anyone, but all too often he floats around right field as if he's soaking up the sun on an inflatable raft in his backyard pool. Philadelphia fans have always come down hard on guys who mail it in, and Wheeler should know that. We may be tough, but we're smart, too, and we know when someone's trying to whitewash the truth. Wheels should put his paintbrush away and stick to calling games instead of trying to issue on-air press releases.


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