Chris Wheeler (as told to Hal Gullan)
I’ve heard Chris Wheeler speak every summer of my life. He’s not Harry, he’s not Whitey; he’s Wheels, the guy you can tell has a goofy grin on his face just by the sound of his voice. I assume a book written by him would be an extension of the same demeanor.
I can picture him bent over a thick notebook (I for some reason doubt he owns a computer) with a quill pen, chuckling over the anecdote with which he’s currently filling a page. Except someone else wrote it, while he talked in their ear. Which is what I should have guessed, probably.
But he’s part of the Phillies tradition, so his quirks are signature of the team we all love, even if some are meandering stories and wrong answers to trivia questions.
Oh god. Tim McCarver wrote the forward? I’m not reading this.
“If I believed in reincarnation,” Tim begins, as I hurl the book into a display stand of greeting cards. He goes on to remind you how difficult it is to be a baseball broadcaster, which, even if it is (It is), I don’t want Tim McCarver to tell me. Wait, Wheels trained McCarver to be an announcer? Did you guys know that? Why didn’t I know that?!
McCarver then describes his ex-boss as a man who “… has never allowed his being a Phillies ‘Phanatic’ interfere with his calling every play of every game with accuracy and professionalism. And of course, wit. Those same traits can be found in this book.“
So… Wheels hasn’t let his love of the Phillies “interfere” with this book? THE PHANATIC IS ON THE COVER. STANDING NEXT TO CHRIS WHEELER.
Fortunately, things take a positive turn as soon as Tim McCarver stops writing.
Wheels opens with some incredibly personal subject matter: Stories about someone else (Whitey). Then he moves onto former umpire Eric Gregg, ex-Phils GM and manager Paul Owens, a string of retired or deceased Phillies coaches… and you’re like, is this a biography or not?
No, it isn’t, I slowly realized. Wheels sums up his entire life in a few pages. He had an ideal childhood, his parents were great, and his career was triumphant, the end. Which I kind of resented him for, until I had this epiphany that that’s exactly who Wheels is. He’s a cheery guy who loves the Phillies and, despite not being a player, wanted to be a part of them. He succeeded, and in his success has been around long enough to soak up the last few decades of Phillies history.
He’s stood next to most of the celebrities we only dream or have nightmares about. and even talked to most of them. He’s received stern glares from John Vukovich. He’s jumped in front of a media bullet-storm for Larry Bowa. He’s watched Terry Francona burst into tears on camera. He’s been verbally abused by Richie Ashburn so many times I couldn’t stop laughing through the whole first chapter.
You probably noticed I was becoming soiled with the barrage of Phillies books I had chosen the past two weeks. You can only read the same stories from different sports writers so long before switching gears, so I thought Wheels would be a nice change of scenery.
That’s what he is, though. And I don’t mean in book form. Wheels is a guy whose job it is to provide insight and commentary after things have happened. He has spent an entire career being turned to by play-by-play announcers and wordlessly asked for his opinion. You could be a deaf fly on the wall and still have a book full of stories to tell after hanging out with the Phillies for 40 years. But fortunately, Wheels, whose friendly assault on a microphone can be groan-inducing, has the ability to be engaging and responsible enough to be found charming by a lot of Phillies icons.
And in exchange for his demeanor, they provided him with the at times hilarious, sometimes uninteresting memoirs of a guy who has seen, heard, and received a lot.