Wheeler: 'I did the last nine games knowing I was a lame duck'

FILE PHOTO Chris Wheeler will still have a role with the Phillies, but not as a broadcaster.
FILE PHOTO Chris Wheeler will still have a role with the Phillies, but not as a broadcaster.
Posted: February 26, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - It was at the tail end of an uninspiring season, when most baseball people begin walking through the motions, when Chris Wheeler showed up at Citizens Bank Park with his dutifully kept notebooks and his well-worn scorebook.

He was prepared for the last weekend of the 2013 regular season at Citizens Bank Park. It was a Saturday. Tyler Cloyd was scheduled to pitch against Dillon Gee of the New York Mets.

Phillies team president David Montgomery found Wheeler before the game.

"[He] told me on Sept. 21 that I wasn't going to be back to do the games," Wheeler said. "I did the last nine games knowing I was a lame duck. And that was a little difficult . . . Leaving the booth that Sunday, I caught myself looking around as I walked to the bus."

The Phillies played the final seven games of the season in Miami and Atlanta. At one point during the trip, play-by-play man Tom McCarthy had to go home to attend to personal matters.

"I wound up doing play-by-play for two or three games," Wheeler said. "Just me and Sarge [Gary Matthews], two lame ducks sitting there. So that was a little bit difficult."

Wheeler, 68, has been with the Phillies organization since 1971 and in the broadcast booth since 1977. In his first extensive comments since he was officially fired from his job 7 weeks ago, Wheeler seemed at peace yesterday with Comcast SportsNet's decision to remove him from the television broadcast.

He is disappointed his broadcasting career didn't end on his own terms. But Wheeler was also grateful that Montgomery notified him of Comcast's decision when it was made, when the organization and the cable giant were finalizing their new local TV rights deal.

Montgomery didn't want Wheeler to hear it from anyone else, and everyone managed to keep quiet for the next 3 1/2 months until the new, multi-billion-dollar contract became finalized.

"[David] wanted me to know as soon as possible because he felt he owed me that," Wheeler said, "because of our relationship for so many years and because I deserved that."

Wheeler is back in Clearwater this spring, going about his business as if nothing has changed. Although he won't appear on Comcast's broadcasts, he will continue to be around the team in a still-to-be-determined role.

He will be a team ambassador, of sorts.

"One of the things they want me to do is go around the ballpark and play the role of Chris Wheeler," he said. "Whatever the hell that is. Just show up at stuff. Anybody who has something in the organization that they may want me to do, like play golf with a sponsor, go into a suite, maybe talk at one of the sponsor's dinners, offseason speaking engagements."

When the Phillies play their first exhibition game in Clearwater tomorrow, Matt Stairs and Jamie Moyer will sit in the chairs previously held by Wheeler and Matthews as color commentators. Wheeler will do some public-address work at Bright House Field, so his voice won't be completely gone from the game.

But after making every single road trip with the Phillies for the last 37 years, Wheeler won't be breaking camp with the team and heading to Arlington, Texas, and Chicago for the beginning of the regular season.

"I think it'll probably get me a little bit when they leave here," Wheeler said. "I'm going to drive home on the first of April . . . I'll probably find a place to watch Opening Day down here on the 31st."

Although Wheeler knew of his fate months ago, the news caught many offguard, including his broadcasting colleagues.

He was highly respected in the industry for his friendliness, preparation and attention to detail. Although he was never as popular with fans as Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn, Wheeler brought a familiar voice to the booth year after year, and more people reached out to him than he would have ever expected.

"It was a little overwhelming to be honest with you," Wheeler said. "It took me a long time to sit down, answer all the calls, get back to everybody, answer all my emails, answer all my texts. [A Phillies media relations official] told me it was going to happen and I thought, 'Come on, who gives a crap that I'm going to be gone?' He said, 'It's going to be a bigger story than you think.' And I swear to God I did not envision it turning into what it turned in to. The attention was unbelievable. It was very nice, very flattering and if my legacy can be to have been a decent human being and a professional, I'm good with that. Somebody who just loved the game."

In an informal chat with several writers in Clearwater, Wheeler said he had "moved on" and "turned the page" with Comcast's decision. He had never been fired before, and he felt almost proud to be able to say that at age 68, since most people are dismissed from a job at one point or another in their lives.

Yesterday, Wheeler was through talking and out on the golf course with a large contingent of Phillies players, coaches and broadcasters. As always, he organized the club's annual spring outing.

"It's what I love," Wheeler said. "I love being around the game, you guys all know that. I love talking baseball. So I can keep doing that? Fine. The [Phillies] offered me that opportunity to do that, and here I am."

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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