Most Controversial Aspect of the Phillies Broadcast: Chris Wheeler

This was the full post that FBJ submitted to BBA alumni One Strike Away... Twice!  in reply to the question, "What is the most annoying/controversial aspect of your local broadcast?"

The topic that draws the most ire in Philadelphia in reference to the broadcast crew is Chris Wheeler. Wheels, as he is affectionately referred to by his peers, has been with the Phillies organization as a color commentator/broadcaster since 1977. His lengthy tenure would seem to suggest to outsiders that he is a fan favorite but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Wheels' many detractors will talk about his over-analytical style (he's a know-it-all despite not playing professional baseball), his less-than-booming voice and his quirky nature... he's a nerd, he might be wearing a bad hair piece and he didn't play baseball beyond high school (unless you count DelCo PA semi-pro baseball). There's a classic parody twitter account out there that serves as a playful, yet raunchy, 'tribute' to Wheeler (@PhilliesWheeler).

But what probably irks people the most is that Wheels is the guy that was dealt the unfortunate hand of replacing Whitey AND Harry (Kalas) in the broadcast booth.

Richie Ashburn (aka Whitey) is without a doubt one of the most beloved figures in Philadelphia sports history. He spent most of his Hall of Fame career manning center field for the Phillies and then spent 34 more years as a Philliles color commentator and broadcaster. The center field concourse at Citizen's Bank Park is named Ashburn Alley and the radio broadcast booth behind home plate is named the "Richie 'Whitey' Ashburn Broadcast Booth". I can't think of many players that can say that they have two sections of a professional ballpark named after them. When Whitey died, Wheels was one of the guys that had to take on the dubious task of replacing his spot on-air and in the booth. Simply put, you can't replace a legend.

Harry Kalas and Wheels worked alongside each other for years without incident but the relationship was not so fruitful and became a bit shaky in Harry's later years. Harry made it known that he preferred to work with Larry Anderson (over Wheels) but later in HK's career, the Phillies sort of forced Harry aside, asking him to spend less time on air and transitioned to Wheeler. A worse sting, perhaps, is that HK's time on air was spent with Wheels NOT Anderson. The fact that the Phillies would do that to Kalas bothered a lot of fans that grew to love HK. The fans knew that Harry's days were winding down (he wasn't as crisp in his final years) but they wanted to see their hero go out on his terms - as comfortably as possible. The Phillies almost certainly knew that they had to do something to figure out what the post-HK broadcast team would look like so the move was sort of out of necessity but the fans didn't want to accept that and so they placed a lot of their frustration on the shoulders of Wheeler.

Kalas, like Wheeler, had to endure rough years early in his career but HK won the hearts of Phillies fans with his majestic voice and irreplicable style. Replacing Kalas' predecessor, Bill Campbell, was no easy task for Harry and things certainly weren't always rosy early on but he endured the challenge and created a tight bond that centered on his relationship with Ashburn. Whitey was the playful one in the booth while Kalas kept it professional. They complimented each other well and the audience grew to love them, as a team, and when Whitey passed on, Harry was the guy that everyone connected with. HK's reverence was so strong that the fans paid to have a statue erected in his likeness - the statue stands in foul territory beyond the third-base line. Wheels doesn't have that confidant in the booth, nor does he have the majestic voice... fair or not, I'm not sure if the fans will ever get over the fact that Wheels is not HK/Whitey.

One of the things that Richie was known for was asking on-air in the later innings if anyone from Celebre's Pizza, a nearby pizzeria in South Philly, was listening to the broadcast... before the game was over, a pizza would show up in the booth. The quip continued for quite some time before the Phillies nixed the tradition (Celebre's Pizza was not a paying advertiser). Whitey got around the restriction by sending out a special birthday wish to the Celebre Twins - Plain and Pepperoni.


  1. Great story. Whitey was known for his dry sense of humor and there are millions of on air stories over the years. I love that Whitey, usually by the 5th inning, would have the other teams signs all figured out.

    Wheeler has never been a favorite of mine, mostly because he used to argue with Whitey about what players were doing. You don't argue with a hall of famer on how to play the game.

  2. The only reason Wheeler has been here for so long is because of his relationship with part owner Dave Montgomery. Whitey, as well as HK, felt that towards the end of their great careers in the booth, Wheels was working behind the scenes with Monty to push them out. You also left out the entirely classless & un-professional comments Wheels made to the press criticizing HK's infidelity, which rocked HK's long marriage. Wheeler is a scum bag of the highest order.


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