Sorry, Harry. Public punching bag Chris Wheeler has brought more to the table than any Phillies broadcaster this season.
After a night of listening to Joe Morgan pull analysis directly out of his rear end, there was no bigger contrast than listening to Chris Wheeler’s insights during last night’s broadcast.
Talk about not knowing how good you have it until it’s gone. Beerleaguer has criticized Wheeler in the past for failing to understand that in baseball, sometimes silence is golden. But after suffering through a night of Morgan, it occurred to me that my beliefs have changed.
Subtlety is a nice touch. It’s the primary reason Harry Kalas is in the Hall of Fame. But storytelling is what it’s all about. Suddenly, it’s clear: Wheeler gets it. He doesn’t need to be funny. He doesn’t even need to shut his trap. He understands that in baseball, small narratives occur every moment, and the color man must be on the lookout. Once you identify the moment, you assemble the parts: premise; conflict; resolution.
Last night was one of his finest games yet. His shining moment happened in the 5th inning. Shane Victorino singled to right center. He and pitcher Tim Hudson engaged in a game of chess at first base. Hudson was convinced he was going, but with one out and Chase Utley at the plate, a stolen base would have closed the hole on the right side. Wheeler had his doubts.
Hudson threw over about five times. Meanwhile, Utley worked the count full, zinging about five pitches past first base coach Mark Bombard. Eventually, Hudson wore down Utley and got him to chase a fastball high and away. The encounter lasted about 8 minutes.
In the stands, it would have been a great time to hit the head. Sitting at home, it unfolded like a one-act play, all because Wheels scooped the story and brought it to fruition. All it needed was an ending, and the players always provide that. Next batter, Victorino got his base with two outs. The end.
Wheeler is like a clutch broadcaster. Big games and grueling series bring out his best. "Atlanta must feel like they've been held hostage in Philadelphia. They've been here since Wednesday."
He's also the only Phils broadcaster who seems unafraid to step outside the company bubble and set foot in reality. "David Dellucci reads his name in the headlines; he's aware of what's happening and wants a chance to play ..." Then, he reinforces this new topic by fleshing out Dellucci the person. "Since day one, he said he doesn’t accept not being an every day player, but he accepts this role."
To compare, Larry Andersen doesn’t do color analysis this way. His strengths are dry humor and pitching. As for Harry, he does not provide the necessary mechanisms to get these narratives started. He used to, but does it much less than his days with Richie Ashburn. Scott Graham makes for the better teammate. He sets the premise in motion: "You wouldn’t think he’d go in this situation, would you?"
If I may be frank, Kalas has brought little to the table this season, and in truth, he's only distracted from the outstanding job Wheeler has done in the later innings. Last night, mid-rally, Kalas updated the Mets score right in the middle of Utley’s next at bat. At the moment, Wheeler was in mid-narritive, building toward the climax.
As a viewer, the illusion was broken.