Wheels Lived His Dream

Yesterday we learned another chapter in Phillies broadcasting history closed with the announcement that Chris Wheeler and Gary—Sarge—Matthews would not return on the team’s telecasts starting this season. The new 25-year agreement with Comcast SportsNet includes the right for the cable company to make a change in the booth.

“Wheels” has been on the air for the Phillies since 1977, a total of 37 seasons.

He’s right in the middle of two Phillies broadcasting legends, friends with whom he shared booth time, Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn. Harry was on the air for 38+ seasons, Whitey, 34. By Saam broadcast baseball in Philadelphia for 38 seasons, but some of them were with the Philadelphia Athletics. Harry, Whitey and Wheels stand alone for lengthy careers with the Phillies. That’s pretty impressive.

As ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark pointed out, the last time the Phillies had a game without Whitey, Harry or Wheels in the booth was 1962.

I figured—actually a calculator did the math—that Wheels was on the air for over 6,000 games, counting the postseason and spring training. That’s a lot of ballgames.

Throughout his career, Wheels has been blessed with good health. Aside from being off the air because of FOX or ESPN national telecasts, Wheels guesses he missed about 10 games in 37 seasons. Iron Man legend Cal Ripken Jr. missed more.

In case you aren’t aware, Wheels started his Phillies career on July 5, 1971, in the PR department. He and I were teammates. With his broadcasting background he was a perfect fit for dealing with radio and TV. With my print background, I was more a-tuned to newspapers. Since neither of us tweets, I don’t know where we stand in today’s social media.

How did he land the booth? Glad you asked.

September 26, 1976, the Phillies were in Montreal’s Jarry Parc on a cold, damp Sunday afternoon for a doubleheader. One win and we are the Eastern Division champions, finally erasing the bitter pill from 1964. Wheels was with the team as the traveling PR rep. We clinched with a first-game win. In the fifth inning of the second game, Wheels walked into the booth. Whitey left, saying “You always wanted to do this, so go ahead.” A new career was launched.

Wheels never played pro baseball but was a student of the game. On charter flights he’d sit with Bobby Wine, Larry Bowa and John Vukovich, coaches who knew the game inside-out. He was constantly picking their brain. He’d get to spring training early every year and not miss a workout, observing and learning. For years, he did a pre-game radio show with the manager. In other words, he was the benefactor of a lot of baseball professors.

Wheels is also a talented writer. But he had no feel for punctuation. When writing copy for radio or TV, there is no need for commas, hyphens or quotation marks. Or, capital and lower case letters.

He did author a terrific book recently, View From The Booth (Camino Books). Here’s a secret, someone else did the punctuation. Otherwise, it would have been a 219-page sentence. If you haven’t read it (the book, not the sentence), add it to your bucket list.

A kid from Marple-Newtown High School and Penn State wound up living his dream, broadcasting Phillies games.

Spring Training Tickets
Sale starts today. Easiest method is http://www.phillies.com/spring.

Once again, Wheels will be the PA announcer at Bright House Field, something he started years ago at Jack Russell Stadium. As Whitey once said, “Wheels, they keep moving you around until they find something you can do.”

Sarge will also be in Clearwater and both will be around in new roles with the Phillies.

Happy Birthday
This week, we can sing “Happy Birthday” to the following Phillies Alumni:

6—Marlon Anderson (40), Ruben Amaro Sr. (78), Jose DeJesus (49).

7—Jim Lefebvre (72), Ray Semproch (83), Al Dark (92).

8—Shane Turner (51), Randy Ready (54).

9—Ivan DeJesus (61).

10—Jim Lindeman (52).

11—Ben Rivera (46), Donn Pall (52).

And, a very special Happy Birthday to Lester John Shenk, my dad and “Gramps” to his six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. Dad turned 98 on the 7th.

Single Game Leaders
Who holds the Phillies record for most triples in a game? The number is 3. The answer can be found on http://www.phillies.com/alumni. Wonder if Wheels knows the answer.

1 Comment

I remember the story that was printed in a Phillies Magazine (game program) that Wheels had applied for a job with the Phillies in the Winter of 1971, still early in his career, a few years removed from his college graduation, Wheeler attended the first-ever game played in Veterans Stadium in April ’71, strictly as an admission-paying fan. It was only a matter of weeks later that the Phillies called to re-interview him and by May of that year Chris began living his dream as a member of the Phillies Public Relations staff. 2014 will be his 44th season with the Phillies in Public Relations or Broadcasting capacities. – That’s Quite an impressive career!

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