Copyright 2004 Metro Corp. All Rights Reserved Philadelphia Magazine
April, 2004: Welcome to Feud-adelphia!
BYLINE: Edited by Benjamin WallaceHIGHLIGHT:IN THE CITY THAT STABS YOUR BACK, NO GRIPE IS TOO PETTY, NO TACTIC TOO CHILDISH, FOR THESE CITIZENS DEFINED AS MUCH BY THEIR ENEMIES AS BY THEIR FRIENDS
BODY:Reporting by JASON FAGONE, VICTOR FIORILLO, VICKI GLEMBOCKI, ROBERT HUBER, SASHA ISSENBERG, ROXANNE PATEL, RICHARD RYS AND MAUREEN TKACIK
Harry Kalas vs. Chris Wheeler
The skinny: Fear and loathing in a cramped Phillies broadcast booth.
In a nutshell: Just before Christmas, Phillies broadcaster Kalas, revealing that he'd hired a big-time L.A. attorney to play hardball with the team in contract negotiations, dropped a surprising personal nugget as well: His relationship with longtime boothmate Wheeler had become "uncomfortable," and he didn't want to work with him anymore. Kalas and Wheeler both joined the team in 1971 (Wheeler in PR, becoming a broadcaster in '77). They were once fast friends, hanging out on the road together. But now it's much worse than uncomfortable: Kalas and Wheeler don't speak outside the booth, and their banter on the air, where Harry refers to Wheeler as "Chris" instead of the preferred "Wheels," is chilly. That's because Harry the K and Wheels can't stand each other.
The start: Rich "Whitey" Ashburn had been Kalas's broadcast "color man," and their droll repartee was very popular. But heading into 1997, Ashburn was nervous. David Montgomery had replaced the retired Bill Giles in running the team, and Wheeler and Montgomery, Ashburn believed, were "joined at the hip." Ashburn warned Kalas not to trust Wheeler any longer and vented to a friend that spring: "I think I might be in trouble when Montgomery officially takes over. You know, Wheels is Monty's boy. Maybe I'll just retire after this season--I've done this too long to get lowbridged by the likes of Wheeler." Wheeler did replace him as Kalas's late-inning color man that year, and Ashburn, Kalas's best friend, died of a heart attack in a New York hotel room that September, during a Mets series.
The wife: Harry Kalas went to his wife one day in '98 with a confession: He had been seeing other women on the road. "Chris took a lot of calls from women who wanted to talk to Harry," Eileen Kalas says. "When Harry told me what he was doing, that caused a problem. The party was over." The Kalases went into counseling, Harry quit drinking, and now, Eileen says, "All our problems are resolved."
But in fairness: "The girls didn't just call Chris," Eileen calls back to add. "Harry would call the girls also."
Why Harry went public: "We talked about it in counseling," Eileen Kalas says. "It comes from me, to say something and stand up for himself. He never does.
"Wheeler says: Nothing except a statement the Phillies have told him to stick with: "I consider it a privilege and an honor to be part of the Phillies broadcast team. Who I work with and what innings I work are not my decision."
In Wheeler's corner: "Chris Wheeler is one of the finest guys I've ever met," Tim McCarver, a former Phillies catcher and broadcaster, told the Daily News in December, after Kalas complained publicly. "To have his name sullied in this way upsets me."
But Harry has Eileen: "What Chris does on the air is very subliminal--explaining the game to Harry and interrupting him," Eileen says. "Harry put in a complaint to the Phillies about Chris last year and this year." ... "Chris used Whitey in life and uses him in death [by mentioning him on the air]."