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 working his 33rd season as a Phillies broadcaster.
Phillies fans will not hide there feelings when it comes to their opinions on Chris Wheeler. Most fans tend to either love him or hate him. Let's take a moment to look at the positives and negatives of Chris Wheeler in his role as a color commentator for the Phillies.
First, there are several reasons for certain fans' distaste of Chris Wheeler. The first and most obvious is that he does not exactly have the deep voice we expect to hear from a broadcaster. In fact, it could even be described as nagging and somewhat whiny. When listening to Wheels for an extended period of time, I will admit it can be tiring.
Chris Wheeler is also heavily criticized for having never played professional baseball. He played Little League Baseball in the in the 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 the 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 don't 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.
Many people also mention that Wheels talks too much and overanalyzes the game. Chris Wheeler certainly does talk more than some other color analysts and it is his style to point out all of the little details in a game. Baseball moves at more of a leisurely pace, and he tries to fill that void of dead air time with tidbits on the nuances of the game. Like it or not, those of us fanatical fans are likely to hear many of the same terms over and over again. That's just the nature of the beast.
Finally, Wheels can at times put out a negative vibe. 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 these criticisms and negativity rub some people the wrong way from a guy who has never faced a major league fastball.
The number of Chris Wheeler detractors grew incrementally 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. The two did not have a good on air chemistry and they oftentimes would speak over each other. The relationship between Harry and Richie Ashburn was well documented, and I feel a great deal of the resentment directed at Wheels is because he is simply not "Whitey."
There are some clear and evident inadequacies to Chris Wheeler, but he more than makes up for them with his knowledge and love of the game, keen insight, and infectious enthusiasm. 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 in somewhat of a teaching role, and it is a role he takes very seriously. He cannot hide from the fact that 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 the slow pace of the game and decisions that take place before and 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. Wheels is the master of the many nuances in the game.
For those Chris Wheeler "haters" out there, I challenge you to listen intensely to his comments during a game. You might be surprised at what you learn. Here is an example. In tonight's game, Jimmy Rollins was on third base with nobody out and Wheels quickly pointed out that the Giants played their infielders back. After a strikeout, he pointed out that the Giants brought their infield. "The fact that the Giants are unwilling to give up the tying run in the third inning is an indication at 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 subtle nuances 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. There are not a lot of guys who can hit a pitch like that as far as he did. That takes some super human strength to do that. Wow."
People may not like the sound of his voice, or the path he took to get here, but is that type of insight that makes Phillies fans the best and most knowledgeable in the game.
All of the Phillies talk these days surrounds one question: What will we do with the starting rotation? With the arrival of Cliff Lee and with Pedro Martinez ready to pitch, the Phillies have six potential starting pitchers and have a decision to make about who goes where.
It seems clear to me that the answer is to keep Happ as a starter and move Pedro to the bullpen. Although he was good in the bullpen it makes no sense to move Happ to the pen. I don't care if he is a rookie and it would be nice to add another left-hander to the pen; He might be the best starter on the team!
Almost everyone is in agreement that Jamie Moyer is not suited for the bullpen because it just too much for a 46 year old to continuously get up and get down in the bullpen. If you don't keep Moyer in the rotation, you need to put him on the disabled list, put him on waivers, or outright release him. Given his salary and the potential need for him with injuries, getting rid of Moyer is just not a good option.
The other option is to move Pedro Martinez into the rotation and move Happ. I realize that Pedro is a first ballot hall of famer and he wants to be a starter. TOUGH. Pedro has not proven anything at this point, so who knows what we will get from him. If he pitches well out of the bullpen, maybe we can consider him later. But at this point, there is no reason to replace one of your best pitchers with an unproven pitcher who can probably only give you six innings at best.
The final option is to go to a six man rotation. I don't think that helps anybody. That will just give you six guys complaining rather than one. Besides, wouldn't you rather have Cliff Lee pitching as many games as possible?
Seems pretty simple to me.
The Phi go with a six man rotation, put Happ in the bullpen, put Pedro Martinez in the bullpen, do "something" with Jamie Moyer.
Phils' crafty left-hander JA Happ continues to dominate major league hitters time and time again, yet nobody will come out and say that he is the real deal. I don't even think that it is certainty that Happ will even be one of the four starters if the Phillies make the playoffs.
The answer to that question does not lie in the numbers. Happ is 9-2 this season with a 2.66 ERA and 2 complete game shutouts in 16 starts. Happ has averaged 6.6 innings per start in his 16 starts this season. Beginning with his complete game shutout of the Blue Jays, he has averaged 7.12 innings per start. That's ridiculous.
I think the reason why people don't want to give Happ a Cy Young award yet is because of the Kyle Kendrick syndrome. When Kendrick was here, everyone loved his demeanor and ability to get out of trouble despite average stuff. We know how that story ended. It is a similar story with Happ, who does not have crazy stuff like Cliff Lee does. Most people attribute his success to his deceptive delivery and ability to work his way out of jams.
I don't know what to think about it. The fact that he is continually able to work deep into ballgames even without his best stuff this far in the season, you have to think that teams have had their chances to figure him out. On the other hand, a couple of bad breaks here and there and it could be a much different story.
Unfortunately for Happ, people are not likely to make up their minds until his second season when teams have seen him two, three, and four times. He may not get all of the respect, but I would feel comfortable handing the ball to JA Happ in the postseason.