A midseason check-in with the Phillies' new TV announcers

Posted: July 14, 2014

IT SPEAKS VOLUMES about this all-over-but-the-retching Phillies season that the biggest news the team generated during the winter had absolutely nothing to do with what happens on the field. Instead, the buzz was generated by the out-of-the-blue sacking of Phillies TV analysts Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews and their replacement by three former players, Jamie Moyer, Matt Stairs and Mike Schmidt.

"Wheels," who had provided color commentary for the Fightin's since 1977, and "Sarge," a member of the 1983 Wheeze Kids squad that won the National League pennant, were victims of the blockbuster 25-year, $2.5 billion deal the team cut with Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia right after New Year's. Both remain on the Phils' payroll, working in marketing and public relations. (The team declined a request to make them available for this story).

In February, Moyer, Stairs and Schmidt were introduced as play-by-play man Tom McCarthy's new on-air partners.

Moyer, 51, and Stairs, 46, are now fixtures on most telecasts. During many Monday-to-Saturday home games, both join McCarthy in the booth. They switch off on road trips. Schmidt, 64, appears on every Sunday home-game telecast with McCarthy and either Stairs or Moyer.

All three former Phils have some prior TV experience: Schmidt retired from baseball in 1989, and subsequently spent about a year-and-a-half as an in-game analyst on PRISM, the forerunner of Comcast SportsNet. Stairs had spent the previous two seasons providing analysis of Boston Red Sox games on the regional NESN cable channel. Moyer worked briefly during the 2011 season on ESPN's "Baseball Tonight."

Not that you'd necessarily glean this from their work on Phils broadcasts to date. In barrooms, online and on sports talk radio, fans and talk jocks alike have torn into the new guys, particularly Stairs and Moyer. Overall, Schmidt's reviews have been more positive.

The main beef with Stairs: god-awful enunciation.

As Kyle Scott, the editor of CrossingBroad.com, put it, "He's gotten better, but it's still sometimes difficult to understand what he's saying. Sometimes it seems he skips words. He's hard to understand. He doesn't have a particularly big vocabulary."

The rap on Moyer: esoteric commentary and a somnolent vocal delivery.

"He really knows the game and really knows pitching," said Scott, who thinks both guys are slowly improving. "But sometimes he just wants to . . . tell you how much he knows about pitching. He's saying smart things, and his rapport with [McCarthy] isn't half-bad, but he has that monotone."

With the season approaching its traditional midway point - Tuesday's All-Star game in Minneapolis - we reached out to ask the rookie trio about their trial by fire in the broadcast booth and their plans for improvement going forward.

Stairs, on Stairs

Canadian-born Stairs, whose name was indelibly etched in local legend when he hit a pinch-hit, go-ahead, two-run homer in Game 4 of the 2008 National League Championship series against the Dodgers, is taking the criticism in stride.

"People have the right to say what they want," he said. "I was judged when I played baseball. And if people are gonna judge me when I'm in the broadcast booth, they have the right to."

Early on, he was vexed by when to speak and when to be silent, he said. "Are you talkin' too much? Are you not giving enough information? That was the main concern."

He feels that his delivery has improved since those rocky first days on the job. "When I finish my sentences, I usually come to a lower tone. Now the volume's up," he explained. "I'm more vocal, and I think I've become clearer and have slowed down."

Caught like a deer in the headlights for his first (inexplicably live) broadcast "open" - the segments that begin every telecast - he still finds them challenging.

"Why? I do not know, because it's taped, and if you make a mistake, you just do it over. But I think because [McCarthy] does such a great job on the opens, and very, very, very rarely makes a mistake, I don't wanna make a mistake and have to do it over again."

Moyer, on Moyer

Moyer, a Souderton native and lifelong Phanatic, grew up listening to revered Phillies announcers like Byrum Saam, Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn. Introspective and self-critical, he's aware that for all of his accomplishments on the field - member of the World Champion 2008 squad, record-holder for the oldest pitcher ever to win a major-league game - his broadcast career is definitely a work in progress.

"I don't find myself being uncomfortable or afraid to talk. But this is a learning process," he said. Often after a game, he's thought: "I could have said that differently, or I could have expanded on it a lot more."

"I know that I have to get more out of myself vocabularywise and experiencewise. But I think that will come," he said.

"It's a learning process," he continued. "There's always room for improvement. Besides, I don't want an 'A' [now] because there's nowhere else to go" from there.

Moyer said he doesn't listen to talk radio, which may be a wise move at this point.

Down-home Schmidt

First-ballot Hall of Famer Schmidt, whose many team records include 548 career home runs, initially declined CSN's offer for what was to be a full-time analyst's gig.

His lifestyle, which includes spending time with his two granddaughters at his summer home in Rhode Island, is "too nice to now start getting on a chartered plane and flying all over the country and working full time," he said.

On top of that, his work on PRISM - as what he called a "typical" color commentator - had left him with a sour taste. "I was a little bit uncomfortable with the whole idea of TV and the parameters they tried to teach me - 'short bursts and emotion,' " he said. "Some guys can pull it off, but you have to be talkin' all the time."

Instead, Schmidt and his new TV bosses agreed he could be more folksy and off-the-cuff, "more of a sittin' in Mike's living room watchin' the game with him atmosphere," as he described the feel of his "Sundays with Schmidt."

"This thing here on Sundays has afforded me the opportunity to sit back in my easy chair and watch the game, and whatever comes through my brain comes out my mouth if it feels like it, and the guys on each side of me have had fun with it," he said.

As an example, Schmidt referred to a recent broadcast during which "Matt and I were staring at the monitor watchin' two swings Ryan Howard had taken during different years, and Tom was at the microphone talkin' away - 'Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak.'

"I didn't know what he was talkin' about, and I said to him, 'You talkin' to us? Don't bother us, we're studying Ryan Howard.' "

"I think that's fun for people to listen to."

Schmidt said he'd rate the new broadcast "in the B, B-plus' range."

"By the end of the year I'd like to give myself an A, A-plus, so I've got some more work to do."

Midterm report

Shawn Oleksiak, vice president and executive producer of live events at CSN Philly, said he was impressed by his newbies' work ethic and convinced that they're on the right track.

"There's nothing they're not open to discussing, nothing you can't approach them about," he said. "They all realize the importance of going back and looking at their work, and watching it and trying to do better next time."

He declined to talk about the trio's future, citing privacy concerns related to their current contracts.

McCarthy said his colleagues sometimes backslide after off days. "There is a challenge [for them] to get acclimated again when they've been off for a couple weeks and then come back."

But, he said, "We're all works-in-progress in this business.

"They continue to get better each passing day. I love their passion. I love their interest. They want to be good at this," he said. "They all work their tails off, and have tried from Day One to become better."

Still, you have to wonder: Is "getting better" good enough for a fan base spoiled by the for-the-ages tandem of Kalas and Ashburn?

Certainly not in the eyes of WIP (94.1-FM) scold Angelo Cataldi, who started slamming Moyer and Stairs after roughly the first pitch of the first preseason broadcast in February - and who remains unimpressed. Praising McCarthy in a June 30 blog post, Cataldi gave him props for "trying to keep people awake as Moyer drones on or Stairs mumbles."

His morning-drive sidekick, Al Morganti, is among those who counsel patience. "It's hard to judge anybody the first year," said Morganti, who singled out Stairs as being "funny" and possessing "energy."

"It's almost like a rookie year for a player. I've worked with enough ex-athletes to know that it takes a little while," he said.

"They deserve more time to become part of what you're used to," Morganti said. "They're still becoming personalities instead of baseball players, and that's a tough thing."

Email: darrowc@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-313-3134

On Twitter: @chuckdarrow

Blog: philly.com/Casinotes

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