Cataldi: Phillies fans deserve better than Wheeler in the booth

That's unbiased broadcaster Chris Wheeler on assignment. That’s unbiased broadcaster Chris Wheeler on assignment.

Chris Wheeler just began his 37th season in the Phillies broadcast booth. That’s 37 years of gushing propaganda delivered to a city that demands basic honesty. How is this possible? How has a shameless PR agent survived so long masquerading as an objective voice?

Those questions were especially relevant in the past few days, as yet another season of nauseating misinformation bellowed from the speakers of our televisions. It is no secret that Wheeler is both a close friend to Phils president Dave Montgomery and a master office politician, but still, there must be a statute of limitations on this kind of fan abuse, isn’t there?

And make no mistake. This opinion represents a majority of fans who have endured Wheeler’s insulting game analysis for decades – 78 percent, according to a poll conducted at WIP radio yesterday. The complaints are all too familiar by now. He overanalyzes the action, he twists the truth and – above all – he is a lapdog for the organization.

Already, there have been countless examples in the new season’s first week of all these issues, particularly his annoying knack for excusing all wrongs. In Wheeler’s world, there is always a reasonable explanation for every Phillies’ mistake. No one ever just blows it. No one ever feels his wrath. Not one time, in 37 years.

When John Mayberry Jr. rolled a ball in from right field last Wednesday night while trying to throw out a runner at the plate, Wheeler blamed the rain: “It’s like a bar of soap out there.” When Domonic Brown flailed at two pitches in the dirt with the bases loaded in the ninth inning Saturday night, he just “got impatient.”

What makes Wheeler’s sugar-coated style even more maddening is its contrast to the work of his radio counterpart, Larry Anderson. Philadelphia has never had a color commentator more honest and open with his opinions than Anderson, who rips the umpires at every opportunity and generously spews venom at Phillies players when they fail. Anderson proves there is no policy against the truth in the Phillies broadcast booth. He proves it is Wheeler’s decision alone to deceive the viewers.

Thirty-seven years is a long time. Many Phillies fans can no longer remember – or, in some cases, never even heard – what it was like when Richie Ashburn was the primary TV analyst, offering a nightly banquet of witty asides and concise criticism next to his silver-tongued partner, Harry Kalas.

Isn’t it time we all got a reprieve from the daily insult to our intelligence that Wheeler provides? Isn’t it finally time for Chris Wheeler to say goodbye?

Snider past his prime, if he ever had one
Ed Snider, a master at deception in his near half-century running the Flyers, outdid himself last week. Asked whose idea it was to sign chronic underachiever Ilya Bryzgalov and if he was satisfied with the quirky goaltender, the chairman said it was GM Paul Holmgren’s decision and, yes, he was satisfied.

That’s two lies for the price of one from Snider, who has failed to win a Stanley Cup since 1975 and has no intention of changing anything now. That’s why he unveiled yet another tribute to the two championship teams he did produce outside Xfinity Live last week. Some men live in the past. Ed Snider is the past.

At 80, he presides over a dysfunctional organization headed by a GM, Paul Holmgren, who represents the dark side of loyalty. After foolishly complying with Snider’s demand to sign Bryzgalov last season, Holmgren failed one more time to improve his team before the trade deadline last week, watching many of the Flyers’ conference rivals improve themselves with players his team desperately needed.

Ironically, the one move Holmgren did make was for a goaltender, Steve Mason. With Bryzgalov’s huge contract threatening to drain the Flyers salary cap for years to come, is it possible the GM is planning to use an amnesty exemption on the Russian enigma? And if so, how dumb will Snider look after his vote of confidence last week?

Those are both silly questions, of course. Yes, the Flyers will use the exemption on Bryzgalov – if not this year, certainly by the end of the 2014-15 season. They are not at all satisfied with the overpriced goaltender. And ultimately Snider will look no dumber than he has for most of the last four decades. He is Ed Snider. As far as he’s concerned, it’s still 1975, and he’s the king of hockey.

Two Rutgers bullies rightfully get smacked around
Mike Rice got punched in the face last week, the only effective response to an out-of-control bully. Tim Pernetti saw his career unravel, the best possible outcome for a gutless bureaucrat. In other words, it was a very good week for Rutgers University – if you happen to be a fan of justice.

When the videos of Rice finally surfaced, the public reaction was swift and decisive. No coach should ever be permitted to use vile, hateful language, or to shove, kick, or throw basketballs at his players. Any one of those acts demands immediate dismissal, let alone all of them. Rice abused his power, recklessly and shamelessly.

Pernetti saw the video six months ago and – instead of revulsion – began plotting a way to make the whole ugly mess go away. The only thing this athletic director was actually directing was his own career salvation. Remember, he had defended Rice’s insane behavior on the sidelines for years, even while the coach was frothing at the mouth.

The public humiliation of these two fools last week should serve as a loud message to countless other college coaches and their bosses about just how little tolerance there is for their disgusting behavior. Just because they have created their own sports fiefdoms at major universities doesn’t mean they can violate the basic rules of society. The public won’t allow it.

In the end, Rice sobbed, not for his many misdeeds, but because he got caught. That’s what bullies do when they get punched in the face. They cry. And Pernetti tried to blame lawyers, as gutless bureaucrats are known to do.

They both got exactly what they deserved.

Idle thoughts from Cataldi·
» The biggest phony in the Mike Rice-Rutgers fiasco last week was the all-time king of sports bullies, Bobby Knight. Even though he is employed by ESPN to analyze college basketball, he refused to comment on Rice’s Knight-like actions. This cowardly decision should secure for Knight the same irrelevance in broadcasting that he has already achieved in coaching.

» Ten days after agreeing to a new 10-year deal at New Mexico and declaring “There is no other place I’d rather coach,” Steve Alford took the coaching job at UCLA. Now his players are supposed to believe him when he preaches the virtues of commitment and loyalty? Really?

» Andrew Bynum’s agent actually said last week that “the ball is in the Sixers’ court” when it comes to a new contract for the soon-to-be free-agent center. The Sixers’ court has not had Bynum on it all season – and they would be wise to keep it that way in the future.

» The real question the Eagles have to consider before the draft is whether Geno Smith has the potential to someday be a better franchise quarterback than Nick Foles. And given new coach Chip Kelly’s demand for football acumen, the answer is no. One more time: The Birds will regret it if they use the fourth pick on Smith.

» The NFL hopes to attract more fans to games by offering the home team’s halftime activities, including the coach’s speech, on TV monitors inside stadiums – something that will not be available to viewers at home. In Kansas City, this means fans will actually have to pay to hear Andy Reid say he’s got to do a better job.

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