Wednesday, August 20, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Philadelphia Phillies

Game: Cincinnati Reds at Philadelphia Phillies
Date: June 5
Network: Comcast SportsNet

Play-by-Play: Harry Kalas (1-3, 7-9 innings) Tom McCarthy (4-6 innings)
Color Commentators: Gary Matthews, Chris "Wheels" Wheeler

[TBG Note: The following post was written in August 2008, several months before the death of long-time Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas.]

The 1994 strike effectively ensured that there'd never be another team like the 1993 Phillies – a mulleted collection of trailer park trash, pot-bellies, neck beards and Kim Batiste. When baseball returned in 1995, the game had irrevocably changed. Simply put, a lot of the fun had been sucked out of the industry as the mainstream media demanded fans accept the self-servingly robotic Cal Ripken, Jr. as our "savior". From there, baseball sat through the boring corporate championship reigns of the Braves and Yankees, with a bought-n-paid for Marlins run mixed in for kicks. So, a toast to you, Mickey Morandini, Larry Andersen and Dave Hollins. And, f*** you, Curt Schilling.

Chemistry: OK, try'n follow along. Immediately after the Comcast intro, Harry Kalas and Gary Matthews (rockin' a pretentious Panama Hat) welcomed viewers to the game. Sometime between these three minutes and the first pitch, Matthews was gone and Chris Wheeler assumed the color commentary role without any mention of what Comcast had done with Matthews. Later in the first inning, Tom McCarthy joined us on camera from the stands with a mic in hand…only to pop up in the booth with Matthews (who'd actually joined Kalas in the top of the 3rd inning, with Wheeler leaving) at the start of the 4th inning. Jesus, people. The only satisfaction I took from this car wreck was a quick jot in my notes that read, "Kalas and Wheeler don't seem to like each other." Then, while researching this segment, I discovered I was right. Every time Kalas spoke, Wheeler would jump right in with a tone that hinted, "Well, fans, here's what the old man MEANT to say…" Grade: 1/10

Knowledge: We must find a way to get Gary Matthews his own urban '70s sitcom. Here were the first words out of his mouth when he got around to joining us in the 3rd, "I've always said good pitching stops good hitting." Really? That was you, Gary? Someone should trademark those never-before-heard words, immediately. Other jive-time Gary gems, "That's altogether a lot different."; "The Griffeys are the only dad/father combination to go back-to-back."; "My first pro team was in Decatur, Illi-noise." Kalas has obviously seen a lot of baseball in his 200 years, but he adds nothing beyond several oddly-placed birthday wishes. McCarthy is actually very good and was the first to suspect that Phillies SS Jimmy Rollins had been removed from this game for lack of hustle. Grade: 3/10

Enthusiasm: Maybe someone from Philadelphia can clue me in on why Comcast just doesn't go with a McCarthy/Wheeler booth. In a town that gets off on describing itself as the most passionate collection of sports fans on earth, these two do the best job of capturing the city's doughy, triple-chinned posturing. Kalas' 21-year-old great-great grandson sang the National Anthem for this game and, afterwards, there was a palpable pride in his voice. Sadly, that was as jazzed as he'd be all day. M'man Matthews needs to quit mimicking ESPN's Emmitt Smiff – shouting isn't the same as "excited". Grade: 3/10

Bar Stool Q: As much fun as Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman seemed to be having in Weekend at Bernie's (timely!) I can't say I'd enjoy an evening out with the Honorable Harry Kalas. As for Wheeler, everyone called him "Wheels" during the broadcast, which leads me to believe he gave himself that lazy nickname and insists that's what he be called on the air. Matthews doesn't have much going for him, either: his son plays for the hated Angels, he's a terrible broadcaster, but, he was the featured guest on an episode of The Baseball Bunch back in the day. Nope, can't do it. I'm sure his "steppin' out" threads include several faux gold ropes, tight seersucker slacks and white patent leather shoes – all of which have been observed on my recently-divorced dad. Grade: 1/10

Camera/Production: Things were perfectly acceptable from the production truck. In fact, this game featured several moments where immediate highlights from previous games between the Reds and Phillies were needed for reference. They came right up whenever a point needed to be made, such as the difficulty with tracking fly balls in the outfield at Citizens Bank Park or a minor defensive adjustment for Phillies C Carlos Ruiz since his last start. Grade: 6/10

Homerism: Kalas is famously deadpan whenever the Phillies' opponent scores a run or makes a great play. It's been a part of his schtick since the beginning of time, so I'll give him a partial pass. Matthews seems to moisten at the mere mention of Jimmy Rollins, but saved my favorite hyperbole for 3B Pedro Feliz, whom he dubbed "vacuum cleaner". Oh, yeah…Brooks Robinson…Pedro F'n Feliz. Good to see the links in that Hall of Fame chain continue. Grade: -7

Commerciality: The makers of Herr's Potato Chips embrace the greasy, messy quality of their product. Those old Pringles commercials that made oily potato chips seem repulsive can kiss my Black ass. Mitch Williams(!) is apparently a part of the Phillies postgame show, but he stars in an unfunny rip-off of that Bud Light "dude" campaign – which I happened to like, believe it or not.

Dodge Stump the Fans: "What year was baseball's first amateur draft?" (My answer: 1965; Correct answer: same) Didn't I tell you how often derivatives of this question were asked…? 7.5 8 for 15

Final Grade: 7


mikey mejor said...

At the risk of feeding your already enormous fucking ego, this was an awesome read, AJC. I really hope there’s a broadcast group you hate MORE than these guys just so you can write another one of these.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for not being afraid to mention the elephant in the room. Kalas actually is OK on radio, when he can serve more as background noise on a Sunday drive or during weeknight gridlock, but on TV he seems to be five seconds behind the action.

Anonymous said...

I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or serious in the opening paragraph but FWIW I agree with you 1000% percent. That ’93 Phillies team was the template for your Giambi/Stairs A’s teams that brought Oakland back to baseball relevance. It’s a shame that the strike in ’94, age and injuries killed the Phils before they could make another run.

tom said...

My only experience with Philly broadcasting was via XM Radio. The exchange was something along the lines of.

PBP: I've heard rumors that David likes salad.
CC: Really? What kind?
PBP: All kinds but he prefers it tossed.
CC: ......

I was torn between being outraged, baffled that a 107-year old gentlemen knew that reference, happy that David Wright had "arrived" enough to enter the "famous NYC ballplayer is gay" phase of his career, and laughing hysterically.

That Bootleg Guy said...

Wow. To that end, I would like to apologize to Mr. Kalas for his low rating. This story would be even better if he *didn't* get the reference and some 18 year old intern fed him the line.