In the final analysis, there was really only one remarkable thing about the broadcasting career of Chris Wheeler. He survived 37 years in the Phillies broadcast booth without ever worrying about the truth. Day after day, year after year, he sold his own version of reality to a city that demands brutal honesty.
His run finally ended last week when Comcast, just days after agreeing to a new $2.5-billion TV deal, dumped both Wheeler and Gary Matthews. Neither commentator was popular, but Wheeler was alone in the contempt he elicited from fans. In fact, an Internet poll conducted at WIP radio right after the move showed that 75 percent were happy to see him go. Other surveys bore similar results.
The reason for Philadelphia’s deep dislike of Wheeler is no mystery. Although he knows baseball, he always placed the interests of the Phillies – and himself – above the truth. In Wheeler’s world, Jimmy Rollins has run hard on every pop-up. Cole Hamels hung a change-up? Must be the residue from that thunderstorm this afternoon. Ryan Howard stinks against left-handed pitching? The slugger is just “fighting it a little up there right now.”
As someone who talks to fans every day on WIP, I know how essential it is not to insult the intelligence of people who are so passionate about every game, every play. Wheeler never cared about that. He came into the Phillies organization as a PR man, and he is leaving the same way.
The obvious question is, how did he last so long? The answer is president Dave Montgomery. If the broadcaster was good at anything, it was ingratiating himself with the people who matter most. He was a great friend – if you could help him. Montgomery always stood by him, blind to his many shortcomings.
For example, Wheeler even managed to survive a long, ugly feud with one of his broadcast partners, Harry Kalas, near the end of the Hall of Famer’s career. Kalas was one of the most likeable people in Philadelphia sports history, and he loathed working with Wheeler. Is there a more damning indictment than that?
When Kalas died in 2009, he was honored with a deluge of glowing tributes for his amazing service to the fans. Wheeler will be remembered fondly for only one fleeting moment in his 37 years behind the mike. It came just a few months before Kalas’ death, when the Phillies won the World Series. As Kalas boomed out, “The Philadelphia Phillies are the 2008 world champions of baseball,” Wheeler was seated next to him, waving his arms in joy but making not a sound to ruin the brilliant call of his partner.
Imagine that. The finest moment of Chris Wheeler’s broadcasting career was the one time he knew enough to shut up.
Foles is de facto franchise quarterback
What is it going to take? How many more precise passes does Nick Foles have to throw before he receives the title of Eagles franchise quarterback? If winning seven out of the last eight regular-season games wasn’t enough, if leading the NFL in quarterback rating is insufficient, what is?
The first week after the Birds were ousted from the playoffs had to be a sobering time for Foles, who left the field against New Orleans after putting his team ahead, 24-23, with five minutes remaining. Even though special teams and the defense failed to hold the lead, Foles remains the No. 1 target of skeptics both inside and outside of Philadelphia.
Just last week, coach Chip Kelly forced out two consecutive “yups” when asked if Foles had earned the starting job. Twenty-seven touchdown passes and two interceptions deserved more than two “yups.” Fox commentator Brian Billick said he would still keep his options open at quarterback if he were coaching the Eagles. Huh?
And yes, I expressed my own serious doubts right on these pages after Foles choked in the first game against the Cowboys. His performance that day was so abysmal, I temporarily lost faith in a second-year quarterback with no running ability and no bazooka attached to his right shoulder. I fell into the same trap.
But I know better now, and it’s time for the rest of the naysayers to join the Nick Foles Fan Club. All anybody with an open mind needed to do was watch superstar Russell Wilson face the Saints defense a week after Foles did. The Eagles QB outplayed Wilson in every category. Passing yards: 195-103; touchdown passes: 2-0; and points: 24-23.
The time for questions about Nick Foles is over. He is a great young quarterback destined to take the Eagles to a place they have never been before, a Super Bowl victory. Bet on it.
Sixers ownership worthy of skepticism
Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil said last week that his team “won’t leave Philadelphia – ever.” This promise would have been far more effective, of course, if he didn’t make it in northern New Jersey, roughly 100 miles from here, while promoting a venture involving online poker. If ever there was a time not to trust the Sixers ownership, it is now.
In the recent history of Philadelphia sports, no owner has ever been more worthy of our skepticism than Joshua Harris, who bought the club strictly as an investment, never apologized after Andrew Bynum robbed millions from the fans, hired the most fan-unfriendly GM in sports, and then bought the New Jersey Devils.
The dual ownership of the Sixers and Devils is an explosion that has yet to be detonated. The very notion of a partnership between the rival sports markets of New York and Philadelphia is insane, and Harris’ favoritism of the former will eventually alienate him even further here. It is inevitable. We hate New York. New York hates us. Pick a side.
The news conference announcing the affiliation of the two teams with a poker website was wrong in many ways – not the least of which is a direct connection now between the NBA, NHL and gambling – but the biggest story was where it was held, in New Jersey. Harris is in a New York state of mind, and he always will be. The Sixers are not the top priority of their owner. They are playing second fiddle.
Harris and O’Neil keep insisting the Sixers will never move. OK, maybe. But how do we know that isn’t just their poker faces?
Idle thoughts . . . .
- DeSean Jackson had a rough week. First, the Eagles wide receiver claimed that his public appeal for a new contract was misinterpreted, and then $200,000 in cash was stolen from his South Philadelphia home. Just one question: If he has $200,000 just sitting around, why does he need more?
- After stealing money in Philadelphia and Cleveland, Andrew Bynum is weighing overtures from as many as eight NBA teams right now. And then we wonder why lackadaisical bozos like Bynum act the way they do. It’s pretty simple, isn’t it? They keep getting paid.
- The Flyers had an amazing run over the past few weeks (6-1), and then blew back-to-back games this weekend against the Lightning and the Rangers. They have won 23 games this season and lost 23 games (including overtime). There’s a word for that – mediocre.
- Alex Rodriguez isn’t just banned from baseball for 2014; he will never play in the big leagues again. If no team would sign a far more productive Barry Bonds five years ago, why would they ever bring A-Rod in? The Yankees will pay him off, and he’ll be done. Pay heed, potential steroid cheats of the future.
- New Orleans kicker Shayne Graham calmly ends the Eagles season with a last-second field goal, then botches both attempts the next week against Seattle. Is it asking too much for opponents to choke in big games against our teams, and not the following week?