Chris Wheeler, as always, helped organize the Phillies annual golf tournament, which is being held this afternoon in Clearwater.
Although he was dismissed from his job as the lead color commentator last month, Wheeler remains with the Phillies organization as an ambassador of sorts (he doesn’t have an official title yet). He’s back in Clearwater, as if nothing changed.
But things will be different for Wheeler, who was in the Phillies broadcast booth for every season since the start of 1977. He reflected on his career, and his dismissal, in a sit down with Phils beat writers.
Q: It’s said baseball is a game of adjustments…
Wheeler: Nothing’s really changed that much right now because I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done. … 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: What will you be doing this season?
Wheeler: One of the things they want me to do is go around the ballpark and play the role of Chris Wheeler. Whatever the hell that is. 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. [Wheeler said he will do some P.A. work during games this spring].
Q: Is it going to be strange, the three to four hours the game is actually going on?
Wheeler: 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 the broadcasts, you know?
Wheeler: 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: You’ve always had a lot of respect for the organization. How did they break the news to you?
Wheeler: First of all, (team president) 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. We went to Miami and Atlanta, so I did the games down there. (Tom McCarthy had to go home for personal reasons) and 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: But you had to be pretty disappointed you’re not going out on your own terms, right?
Wheeler: 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: You really made every single road trip since ’77?
Wheeler: (I didn’t miss) a single road trip starting in 1977. That’s a lot of baseball. … I think it’ll probably get me a little bit when they leave here and I don’t go. I’m going to drive home on the first of April. I’m going to run my lease out to the end. I’m going to kind of skip all that stuff, the weekend at home, them leaving here, then going home and then leaving to go to Texas. I’ll probably find a place to watch Opening Day down here on the 31st.
Q: You’ve heard a lot of well wishes in the last two months - does anything stick out?
Wheeler: 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. [A Phillies media relations official) 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.