Wheels’ New Life
Comcast SportsNet fired Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews as part of its recently negotiated 25-year contract with the Phillies. He spoke with reporters yesterday about that, his future with the Phillies and more.
Q: So, Wheels, they say baseball is a game of adjustments …
A: Well, that’s good. I guess it is. Nothing’s really changed that much right now because I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done. Which as (Frank) Coppenbarger says is nothing. I put the golf tournament together, which is tomorrow. I walk around and I talk to the manager and the players and the coaches. I talk to you guys. Just talk baseball. So the change will be Wednesday when we do the first telecast and I’m not on it. Then I don’t know what it will feel like, to be honest with you. It will be a little different.
Q: The Phillies haven’t announced your new title yet.
A: One of the things they want me to do is go around the ballpark and play the role of Chris Wheeler. Just show up at stuff. Anybody who has something in the organization that they may want me to do, like play golf with a sponsor – that will be a hardship – go into a suite, maybe talk to one of the sponsors dinners, offseason speaking engagements, which I’ve always done a ton of. I guess that’s it. They say I’m going to have a new role. Everybody ask me what it’s going to be. It’s undefined. Because right now nothing’s going to change down here. I’m going to be back doing the PA, which I did for 30-some years.
Q: Is it going to be strange, the three to four hours the game is actually going on?
A: You know what’s going to be really strange is when I don’t see a game. The last time I didn’t go on the road was 1976. I’ve been on every road trip from ’77 on. Which basically means that I’ve pretty much seen every game. Because even when we got better as a team and we wouldn’t do a Fox game or an ESPN game or something, I would still watch the game. I can’t help it. I love baseball. I love watching the games. So I think that’s what’s really going to feel different. What will really feel different is when I wake up and I don’t know if a base hit was a line drive or a blooper anymore. Because I didn’t see it. I’m 68 years old now. I’ll fall asleep during West Coast games. I won’t be up watching. I’ll be like a lot of people. So I’ll be up reading your stuff in the morning and watching the videos and all that to find out what happened. So that will be a little different.
Q: You could DVR it.
A: I could do that, too. Trust me, there will be a lot of that. What I’m trying not to say, I guess, is that I’m going to watch every minute of every game. Because I don’t think that’s going to happen anymore. But knowing me, who used to go home at night and watch West Coast games because I liked to or because we were going to play somebody coming up so I’d go home and scout and see who the pitchers were that I hadn’t seen. I’d watch games. And I probably still will.
Q: Talk about how the organization has been for you since that announcement.
A: First of all, Dave Montgomery told me on September 21 that I wasn’t going to be back to do the games. I did the last nine games knowing I was a lame duck. And that was a little difficult. It was difficult leaving that Sunday, the second game that I did. That Saturday night, it rained with the Mets? He told me before that game. So leaving the booth that Sunday, I caught myself looking around as I walked to the bus. Tom’s wife got sick at the time, if you’ll remember, so I wound up doing play-by-play for two or three games. Just me and Sarge, two lame ducks sitting there. So that was a little bit difficult. But David and I started together in 1971. He said to me it was a very difficult thing for him to have to tell me but there were extenuating circumstances. You all know. It was Comcast’s decision. And he wanted me to know as soon as possible because he felt he owed me that because of our relationship for so many years and because I deserved that. Since that time, I could not have been treated better. I had to wait. We had to sit on it for four months. They really thought the deal would come down a lot sooner than it did. It’s a big deal. So it took a long time for the deal to come down. When it did, you guys all found out about it. We had had some preliminary things. Did I want to stay in the organization? How we wanted to handle it, all that sort of stuff. And the door was wide open. We want you here. We think you have skills that other people don’t have. We’d like to use your skills. And my first reaction was, ‘Sure. What am I going to do without baseball.’ Will I be sitting here three or four years from now? I don’t know. I’ll be in my 70s.
Q: Are you going to do things you’ve never done before?
A: Sure. The first thing I thought is my golf game is either going to get better or worse because I’m going to play a lot more. I haven’t been on an airplane without the Phillies in I can’t remember the last time. I don’t go anywhere when the season ends, for better or worse. I’m tired of traveling so I don’t go anywhere. Yeah, it’s entered my mind. I’ve always wanted to go to Normandy, I’m a big World War II buff, I’m a big Civil War history buff. You know, those kind of things. I’ve thought about, yeah, maybe I’ll go to Normandy, finally stand on those cliffs or something.
A: Disappointment. Yeah, sure. But you know what? I’m disappointed but that’s basically over now. The decision was made and I certainly understand Comcast’s decision. I’ve never been fired before. You know, you get to my age, you’re 68 and you’ve never been fired. Almost everybody’s been fired. So, it was a little bit of a different feeling that somebody didn’t want you but you just move on from that. And I have. I’ve turned the page, I’m down here, it’s what I love. I love being around the game, you guys all know that. I love talking baseball so I can keep doing that? Fine. Then they offered me that opportunity to do that and here I am. Disappointment’s the word.
Q: Respectfully, some colleagues have died on this job.
A: Oh, I’ve thought about that. Whitey said, ‘Boys, they’re not going to find me in some hotel room.’ He used to say that! And when it happened, I’ll never forget Harry and I kind of looked at each other and were like, Geeze, is that going to happen to us? And then you all know what happened to Harry, right in the booth. So yeah, I will not go to my dubious reward as a broadcaster. That’s true. Look I lost all three of my guys. Andy Musser died a few years ago. He just fell asleep on the couch one day watching a football game with his son Allan. He just went to sleep and what more can you ask for? Allan looked over at him and ‘Dad, did you see that play?’ or something. He went over and he had passed away. Those three guys were very important to me. We all worked together for so many years. Yeah, they’re all gone. And basically, I’m not gone, but somebody wrote that. It’ll be the first time since ’62 that one of the four of us won’t be on the air this year. That’s a long time for four guys to have whatever legacy we all had. To me I was just the fourth guy in there. You know me, I just didn’t want attention. How many time have we talked about that? Just let me do my job, leave me alone. It doesn’t work that way, I know that, but I never had any aspirations to be a star. I just love baseball and all I ever did was sit there and just want to talk about that game, what I saw and share it. Some people liked it, some people didn’t and after a while I really didn’t care.
Q: What’s the most touching thing you’ve been told?
A: I don’t have one thing, I think the respect that I have from so many people in the industry means a lot. You know some people don’t like you and I always felt that I just tried to be the best person I could be and treat people the right way. And you can’t worry about it. I’ve had a lot of people in the industry take the time, I don’t want to start throwing names out because I’ll forget somebody but colleagues, people I’ve worked with for a long time, front office people, print people. It was a little overwhelming to be honest with you. It took me a long time to sit down, answer all the calls, get back to everybody, answer all my emails, answer all my texts. [Greg Casterioto] told me it was going to happen and I thought come ‘on, who gives a crap that I’m going to be gone? He says ‘it’s going to be a bigger story than you think,’ and I swear to God I did not envision it turning into what it turned in to. The attention was unbelievable. It was very nice, very flattering and if my legacy can be to have been a decent human being and a professional, I’m good with that. Somebody who just loved the game.