In the ever-changing Eagles universe, there is one constant — the thrilling voice of Merrill Reese. His distinctive baritone has described every play for 36 years now, in a style that perfectly mirrors the raw emotions of the fans.
Training camp opened Monday, and there is no doubt about who hungers most for the new season. No, it’s not new coach Chip Kelly, or the three starting quarterback candidates, or the rookies, or the veterans, or the towel boys. It is Merrill Reese. It will always be Merrill Reese.
Even by his own hyperactive standards, this is an extraordinary time for the voice of the Eagles. Last week, he hilariously re-enacted DeSean Jackson’s new rap song on live TV, and Wednesday night he will appear with the Philadelphia Orchestra to honor the city’s greatest sports moments in a special concert at the Mann Music Center.
His voice sounds ageless, but he is not. He is 70 years old. With his usual self-deprecation, he likes to say he has been doing Eagles games “for 106 seasons.” The truth is, Reese is in the absolute prime of his legendary career, a must-listen in good times and bad.
Despite his unprecedented success, Reese has not been immune to criticism over the years. A generation ago, his bosses at WIP told him he sounded old-fashioned and urged him to update his act. Of course, there’s a big difference between a dated style and a classic one, and Reese’s popularity today clearly shows where he ranks in that debate.
Even more extraordinary is Reese’s development over the years as a commentator for the Eagles, something his partner, Mike Quick, also does brilliantly. The Eagles were awful last year, and the team’s broadcasters hid none of the flaws, often screaming in protest just like the fans after a bad turnover or a stupid coaching decision. With Merrill Reese, you don’t just get a melodious voice; you get the truth.
During an interview last week, Reese confessed that he still battles nerves before every game, still demands perfection not just on every broadcast, but on every play. Above all, he loves his job as few people do. He provides a vitality to each game that makes us all care even more about the Eagles.
Philadelphia has been blessed with some of the greatest broadcasters in sports history — Harry Kalas, Richie Ashburn, Bill Campbell, Gene Hart, By Saam, Tom Brookshier, John Facenda — and we never miss a chance to savor the memories provided by those extraordinary people.
Well, one of our biggest legends is still working, dazzling us with his familiar voice and his infectious enthusiasm. As a new season dawns, it’s a good time for all of us to acknowledge the amazing work of Merrill Reese.
Phils must trade Chooch, Young
As the debate rages on about what Ruben Amaro, Jr. should do at the trade deadline, here’s a suggestion that makes the most sense for the Phillies GM. Why not buy and sell?
Yes, it’s possible to do both before July 31, and the Phillies are ideally suited for this middle ground. If Amaro is thinking logically, he will place on the market today — this minute — third baseman Michael Young and catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Young is a great trade chip because he is wanted, at last count, by a dozen teams plotting a late run for the playoffs. Young will not be a Phillie next year, his experience in pennant races is appealing, and — this is the biggest factor — he is replaceable. How much, if anything, will the Phils lose by replacing Young with Kevin Frandsen or top prospect Cody Asche? How much will they be gaining by pitting the suitors against each other for a good prospect or a center fielder to replace Ben Revere?
Ruiz has a deeper emotional connection to Philadelphia, but he will be a free agent in a couple of months. This is definitely the end of Ruiz’ tenure with the Phillies. Erik Kratz, just back on the active roster after a knee injury, has become a bigger power threat than the declining Ruiz, and maybe a better defensive option now, too. Why not offer a seasoned catcher with a World Series ring to the highest bidder? Why not get something in return before Ruiz leaves?
The bottom line is, Amaro needs to start thinking less in extremes and more in investments. The Phils are still a long shot to make the playoffs, but they will have a much better chance next year, and beyond, if the GM finds a middle ground in his trade strategy right now.
Fans not sour on Sixers strategy
In my 23-plus years of doing morning sports radio in Philadelphia, we have rarely (if ever) had as angry a dispute as the one that broke out last Friday.
It was remarkable for many reasons. First, it involved the Sixers. Second, I strenuously supported the fans, but they were not on my side. And third, the catalyst for the argument was named Eskin, but it was not Howard. It was his far more likeable son.
Spike Eskin posted a story on CBSPhilly.com last week arguing that the only people upset by the secretiveness of the Sixers were the media. He also suggested that fans care only about wins and losses, not the accessibility of their teams. My co-host Rhea Hughes and I flipped out at these claims because, well, we happen to work in a medium that relies on people talking as much as on the games themselves.
The ironic part of this story is that the very fans Rhea and I were defending actually backed Spike, 65-35 percent, in an internet poll. I wasn’t shocked by that outcome. Somehow, although we represent them, the fans align themselves with their teams first, even when those teams are treating them badly.
My best argument about accessibility is simple. Season-ticket sales are down a staggering 50 percent so far this offseason. More fans would feel involved in their team if new GM Sam Hinkie included them in his coaching search. The Eagles, who need attention far less than the Sixers, identified and made available every candidate in their own recent coaching search. Fans need more than games to connect to their teams.
This incident has a final weird twist. We had planned to bring Howard onto the show at the end of the discussion to rip his own son, but dad screwed up the time. Imagine how badly we would have lost if Howard Eskin were on our side.
Idle thoughts from Cataldi
» The Eagles have already distributed 200,000 tickets for their five public practices this summer, almost double the attendance for training camp at Lehigh last year. Interest in the team hasn’t been this high in years, thanks to the presence of Chip Kelly — and, even more so, the absence of Andy Reid.
» The Phillies are down over 5,000 per game in attendance this season. Hey, maybe if they replace tired, old Charlie Manuel with new, younger Ryne Sandberg, fans will respond with a revived interest, too. It can’t hurt, right?
» MLB commissioner Bud Selig proudly announced recently that he has never sent an email. What a surprise. He’s always seemed so modern, so current.
» Former Phillie Brett Myers tweeted his anger last week at the selection of Mariano Riviera as All-Star MVP. Now that takes chutzpah. Myers is on the disabled list with a bum elbow, an 8.02 ERA and an 0-3 record, and he actually thinks his opinion is relevant?
» Somebody has actually offered $35 on Craigslist for a 5- to 10-minute video of Ryan Howard’s strikeouts. The requester said it was for his “personal entertainment.” Now there’s a guy who really needs a new hobby.