Q: You’ve always had a lot of respect for the organization. How did they break the news to you?
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.
Wheeler was with the team for almost 40 years and had to broadcast the last nine games knowing that he was fired without being able to mention it? Sounds familiar.
I don’t want to fall into the trap of shredding the Phillies for everything they do, but it’s hard not to shake your head at this. How do they not let Wheeler address the audience before signing off one last time? Obviously David Montgomery did what he felt was right – telling Wheels before the season was over – and I understand that the deal with Comcast wasn’t completed yet and couldn’t be mentioned, but there’s a way to let your longtime company man give a final signoff without hinting at a new TV deal. Do you think they would’ve let Harry or Whitey go out that way had they not passed before their careers were over? No way. Wheels deserved better. He deserved a chance to do what Tim McCarver did after the World Series.
Lawrence thinks I’m overreacting, and maybe I am. But I don’t even like Wheels (more like a passionate dislike) and I still feel like there was a better way to handle this. An all-too-familiar pattern is forming with regard to how the Phillies go about their business– Charlie manages final game knowing he’s done, Wheels and Sarge broadcast final games knowing they’re done, and a college kid is ratted out to the NCAA. These are all business decisions, sure, but there’s a way to go about these things while allowing others to preserve some shred of dignity. Would it have been so difficult for the Phillies’ cognitively challenged PR team to concoct a story as to why Wheels was leaving the booth without hinting at a new TV deal? I’d think so. And so what if people speculate. Obviously an agreement was already reached and they were just waiting on the paperwork to be finalized. Something just feels gross about this.