Clumsy handoff in Phils' broadcast booth

No time for Sergeants: Gary Matthews got the hook. YONG KIM / Staff
No time for Sergeants: Gary Matthews got the hook. YONG KIM / Staff
Posted: February 26, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - It wasn't as important as the signing of A.J. Burnett or the news that Cole Hamels would be a little bit behind in this spring-training camp because of shoulder tendinitis. Make no mistake, however, people do care about who is going to be in the broadcast booth through the course of a 162-game baseball season.

They care so much that the Phillies broadcast duo of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn became known simply as Harry and Whitey, legendary voices that had an impeccable rapport, a perfect sense of timing, and an even better sense of humor. Before their passing, those two were every bit as popular as the World Series winning double play combinations of Trillo and Bowa, and Utley and Rollins.

Gary Matthews and Chris Wheeler, the recently ousted duo of broadcasters, who are here in spring training trying to find a new niche within the organization, never enjoyed the popularity of Harry and Whitey.

Sarge, a former star player with a passion for the game, spent seven seasons as a color analyst and had a quirky delivery that was embraced by a lot fans over time. Wheels, on the other hand, was a lightning rod for criticism during a broadcasting career that spanned 37 years. He knows the game as well as anyone who ever played it, but some people thought he was too willing to show off that knowledge. If you listened, you were going to learn something.

Exactly why Comcast SportsNet decided those two had to go remains a mystery to everyone except the people who made the decision, and they'd rather not talk about it.

"Anything regarding Sarge and Wheels I'd refer to the Phillies," Comcast SportsNet president Brian Monihan said Monday. "They are Phillies employees."

Both men deserve a better public explanation than that.

Sources within the Phillies organization said earlier this winter that the decision to replace the two belonged to Comcast, which had just paid the club $2.5 billion for its broadcast rights through the 2040 season. The deal also gives the Phillies 25 percent ownership of Comcast SportsNet starting in 2016. All the Phillies would say Monday was that this is the time to focus on Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs, the two members of the 2008 World Series team chosen to replace Wheeler and Matthews.

Money can't buy everything, but it sure can close mouths.

Moyer and Stairs arrived at Bright House Field on Monday and will begin their own spring training when the Phillies play their Grapefruit League opener Wednesday against Toronto.

The duo spoke in the same room where 24 hours earlier the 68-year-old Wheeler made his first public comments about being removed from the booth. He was classy, but those who know him understand the sting involved.

"You know what's going to be really strange is when I don't see a game," Wheeler said. "The last time I didn't go on the road was 1976. I've been on every road trip from '77 on, which basically means that I've pretty much seen every game."

He also said he was told about his situation Sept. 21 and had to keep quiet about it for 31/2 months while the big deal between the team and Comcast was being consummated.

Not surprisingly, Monihan was more than willing to talk about why Comcast opted for Moyer and Stairs, who will work 30 games together with play-by-play man Tom McCarthy and roughly 108 each as the solo color analyst.

"The way Jamie pitched was very cerebral," Monihan said. "He had a long career and it ties in well with Matt's exuberance. I think you'll get great insights from the plate and the mound. I hope these guys have very long careers and are successful together."

Moyer, 51, and Stairs, 45, both stretched their playing careers as long as they could. Moyer didn't throw his last big-league pitch until two seasons ago with Colorado at the age of 49. Stairs took his last swing with Washington in 2011 at the age of 43.

Even now, Moyer doesn't want to say he is retired. He is dedicated to this new job.

"I've signed a two-year contract," he said. "I'm going to give it my best for two years and become the best broadcaster I can be. But I can't really say what's going to happen. You guys have been around me long enough as media people. I lived in that day. I didn't really try to live two days down the road or three."

Moyer talked about making mistakes and learning from them. Both he and Stairs made a mistake Monday by failing to tip their caps to Wheels and Sarge.

Stairs seems destined to be the more comical member of Comcast's new team. It's hard to be the straight man when you've already been caught on camera doing the double-fisted beer guzzle maneuver at the Wing Bowl. Stairs didn't seem quite sure whether the Comcast interview was a stop on the way to the Wing Bowl or if the Wing Bowl was a stop on the way to the Comcast interview.

The former lefthanded slugger showed a good sense of comedic timing when asked how he and Moyer split up the road trips.

"I go to Cincinnati because of Broxton," Stairs said, a reference to Jonathan Broxton, the reliever who was with the Los Angeles Dodgers when the Phillies' new broadcaster launched one of the most memorable home runs in franchise history.

Stairs also had a good take on how people should view the 2014 Phillies.

"I hear they're going to win 60 games this year," Stairs said. ". . . How can you judge a team before they even start? To not give these guys a fair chance from Day 1, I can't accept that."

Similarly, the new broadcast trio of Moyer, Stairs, and McCarthy deserves a chance to prove what they can do. It's just too bad the transition from one team to the other was so clumsily handled.


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