Wednesday, January 8, 2014
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Longtime Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler is out after nearly four decades in the booth and Gary Matthews isn't returning as color analyst.
The team recently signed a new television contract with NBCUniversal and Comcast SportsNet that's reportedly worth $2.5 billion over 25 years. The decision to replace Wheeler and Matthews came from the network, multiple sources told The Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because it hadn't commented on the matter.
Wheeler and Matthews will continue to work with the organization in other roles, the team said.
The 68-year-old Wheeler started with the Phillies in 1971 and was the longest-tenured member of the broadcast team. "Wheels" did play-by-play and color analysis on television and radio, and for years was teamed with Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas.
Wheeler's breezy, easygoing personality and familiar voice were a staple for generations of Phillies fans, many of whom immediately expressed their sadness over the move through social media, talk radio and other outlets.
"It's been an honor and a privilege to be a part of the Phillies broadcast team for 37 years," Wheeler said in a statement. "I certainly respect the decision that was made and I look forward to my new role in the Phillies organization."
The 63-year-old Matthews was a television color analyst the past seven seasons and also worked on radio. "Sarge" played 16 seasons in the majors and was the 1973 NL Rookie of the Year with San Francisco and 1983 NLCS MVP with Philadelphia, helping the Phillies reach the World Series.
"As the longest-tenured member of the Phillies broadcasting team, Chris Wheeler will return to his club roots after stepping down from his role as a Phillies broadcaster," the team said in a statement.
"With 37 years of broadcasting experience, combined with his front office background where he began his Phillies career, 'Wheels' will take on a new role allowing the organization to continue to benefit from his knowledge, experience and dedication to the game," the statement said. "Additionally, Gary Matthews will continue to work with the Phillies bringing his exceptional background as a major league ballplayer, broadcaster and commentator to new roles at the Phillies."
Matthews told the AP he's still interested in pursuing his broadcasting career, but is excited to stay with the team. Matthews, known for wearing stylish hats, was respected by players and popular among many fans.
"I enjoy working for the Phillies and want to retire as a Phillie," Matthews said in a phone conversation. "This is a great opportunity for me to remain in the area and also do my charity work."
Matthews works with MANNA, a Philadelphia charity organization that provides meals for people with critical illnesses.
Among those thought be potential replacements are former Phillies closer Brad Lidge, who was 48-for48 in save situations during the 2008 World Series championship season, Chris Coste, a backup catcher on that team, and former All-Star closer Ricky Bottalico, who currently serves as a postgame analyst.