Chris Wheeler is the Philadelphia Phillies. "Wheels" grew up in the Philadelphia area, joined the organization in 1971, began his broadcast career in 1977, and is now entering his 34th season as a Phillies broadcaster. You will not find a bigger Chris Wheeler fan than myself. I love the fact that Wheels grow up a Phillies fan and he not only analyzes, but teachers the game of baseball. But I will try my best to give an objective look at Chris Wheeler in his role as color commentator for the Phillies.
Therefore, before discussing what I think makes Wheels a terrific announcer, let's take a look at some of his challenges as a broadcaster. Let's face it, Wheels does not exactly have the deep "Harry Kalas" voice we expect to hear from a broadcaster in Philadelphia. Some fans may have trouble overlooking this point. But that is what makes his story remarkable, because he has over 30 years without a broadcaster's voice.
Chris Wheeler also can not avoid the fact that he never played professional baseball. He played Little League Baseball in the in Newtown-Edgmont Little League, high school ball at Marple Newtown High School, and later played for Marple in the Delco League (semipro) under future Police Chief Charley Kress. Although I would argue that Wheels has a better understanding of the game of baseball than just about anyone out there, he does not have the pedigree of being out on the professional ball field. Therefore, Wheels lacks the credibility that someone like Gary Matthews or Larry Anderson brings to the table.
Chris Wheeler is quick to point out these inadequacies himself. "I have to work a little harder than the average guy because I do not have a big, booming announcer's voice, nor the instant credibility of having played in the major leagues," he told the News of Delaware County.
Finally, he has strong views of the right way to play baseball, and when players make mistakes, especially mental mistakes, Wheels is quick to point it out. He tries to offer disclaimers that "it is easier said than done," but some people will not accept that from someone who has never faced a major league curveball. He can not change his lack of playing experience, but that does not mean he is not allowed to point out mistakes. That is his job.
His biggest challenge came when a story was leaked to the media during his contract negotiation several years ago that Harry Kalas stated a preference of working with Larry Anderson rather than Chris Wheeler. The two kept things completely professional in an uncomfortable situation and found a way to make things work. The relationship between Harry and Richie Ashburn was well documented, and perhaps his biggest obstacle is that he is simply not "Whitey."
Chris Wheeler more than makes up for any inadequacies he may have with his knowledge and love of the game, keen insight, and infectious enthusasm. Now we will turn to the reasons why I feel Chris Wheeler is one of the premier color commentators in the game today.
Wheels has a tremendous knowledge of the game of baseball and an amazing talent for describing the action during the game. Sometimes the best teachers are those who had to work the hardest to succeed, and for that he certainly fits the bill. Chris Wheeler sees himself as a bit of a baseball teacher, and it is a role he takes very seriously. Yes he never played the game, but in some ways that makes it easier for those of us sitting on the couch to relate to him.
They call baseball the thinking man's game because of its slow pace and decisions that take place between the plays on the field. Wheels is the thinking man's broadcaster, as he provides some insight into what goes on in the heads of players. They may seem like little things, but these little things are what make baseball such a wonderful game. He fills baseball's void of dead air time with tidbits of the minority nuances of the game. Wheels is the master of baseball's many nuances.
For any Chris Wheeler detractors out there, I challenge you to listen intensely to his comments during a game. You might be surprised at how much you learn. Here is an example. In tonight's game, Jimmy Rollins was on third base with one out and Wheels quickly pointed out that the Giants played their infield in. He then said, "The fact that the Giants are unwilling to give up the tying run in the third inning is an indication of how much they are struggling offensively." Wheels is terrific at pointing out the approaches taken in at-bats, defensive alignments, managerial decisions, baserunning decisions, and the "right way" to play baseball. Wheels gives the impression of being a hitting and pitching coach as he describes the subtleties of a pitcher's delivery and a batter's hitting style. He is a student of the game and does his homework on each and every player.
For example, earlier this season Ryan Howard hit a home run into the right field stands. The casual fan would just think that was a typical homer, but Wheels pointed out, "That pitch was tailing in on Howard, so look at how he pulls his hands in to get the barrel on the ball. Guys who can hit a pitch like that as far as he did. That takes some super human strength to do that. No, he does not have a deep announcer's voice. And no, he did not play in the major leagues. But it is Chris Wheeler's insight that helps make Phillies fans the best and most knowledgeable in the game.
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E Scott Butler