Phillies Broadcasters Get Mixed Grades
By Matt Veasey
As the play on the field has deteriorated over the last few seasons, the performance coming from the Philadelphia Phillies TV broadcast booth also deteriorated. Long gone were the glorious days when fans were able to enjoy the sounds of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn during the majority of the Phils’ TV and radio broadcast innings. Tom McCarthy, Chris Wheeler, and Gary Matthews made listening to TV less than enjoyable for many.
Despite changing some of the personnel on the TV broadcasts this season, the performance has remained uneven at best. Radio, on the other hand, has emerged with an incredibly enjoyable team. This all makes for an overall mixed bag. Here is a look at some of the key broadcasters, with a grade on their performance:
TOM MCCARTHY: ‘C’ – McCarthy only even gets this high of a grade for one reason, and that is his obvious love of the team. I don’t want my broadcasters being a downer, and I can’t stand the negativity that often comes from local sports talk radio. But McCarthy is way too far on the other end of the spectrum. He is not just a “glass half full” kind of guy, he is a Pollyanna. His jokes are not funny, and he tries to put a positive spin on almost everything, often when criticism of a player or the team is what is warranted. He seems like a really nice guy, and my gut tells me there is no way that decision makers will make a change. But as the lead man on TV broadcasts, he is a problem the longer he is kept. The Phillies would do well to find a better day-to-day baseball voice.
MATT STAIRS: ‘D’ – I will always have a warm and fuzzy place for Stairs in my fan’s heart for two reasons. First and most obvious is the homerun. You know which one. The 2-run moonshot crushed deep into the California night off Jonathan Broxton that gave the Fightins a 2-run lead in the 8th inning of Game #4 of the 2008 NLCS vs. the Dodgers. You may not remember the second though. I was driving home from the Jersey shore in early April of 2009 when Stairs crushed a homer at the end of a road game in Colorado. It would be the final homerun call in the career and life of Harry Kalas, who would pass away the following day. Stairs does not come across as personable on the air, and though he has the anecdotal stories required of an ex-player in the booth, he does not have the story-telling ability to relate them well enough. At this point, he looks like a mistake hire for the job, ala Gary Matthews, and we had to put up with Sarge for years.
JAMIE MOYER: ‘C’ – I preface this by saying that I love Jamie Moyer. He is a Philly guy, born and raised. He graduated from my Saint Joe’s alma mater. He helped pitch the team to a World Series victory. He was the last player my age to play for the Phillies. He does tremendous charity work, loves the organization, and is a likeable guy in so many ways. But on the air he seems to be forcing it. I think that over time, and with the right professional broadcasting partner in the booth, Moyer could be a longterm gem. For now, he gets the midling ‘C’ grade. But I believe there is more here. Because of who he is overall, I am much more willing to give him the chance to prove that than I am with Stairs.
Jamie Moyer joined the TV broadcast team this season. (Image courtesy of 1.bp.blogspot.com)
MIKE SCHMIDT: ‘A’ – The greatest position player in the history of the franchise was brought in this season to provide a player’s perspective for Sunday home games. For the most part, Schmitty has been excellent. He has great stories to tell from glory days of my youth. He is a fantastic conversationalist. He does a nice job of analyzing what a player or pitcher may be trying to do at a certain point in a game. At times he takes over the broadcast too much. My guess is that’s a natural outcome of the limited home-game Sunday opportunities he gets. If he were a regular, working every game, my bet is that he would be not just good, but great. I doubt the Phillies could get him to give up his life in Florida to do the traveling it would take to be a regular broadcaster. Shame.
RICKY BOTTALICO: ‘B+’ – Ricky Bo is not the greatest studio analyst and commentator in the history of pre and post-game shows. Not by a long shot. He can be too animated at times, and at times he just comes off as a buffoon. But I still like him. Why? Because Ricky Bo is one of the few associated with broadcasting this team who isn’t reluctant to call a spade a spade. He is not intimidated by bad circumstances, and doesn’t get carried away with good. He gives his opinion, usually strongly. I like that, even if he lacks polish. He needs to stay around in-studio.
BEN DAVIS: ‘A’ – Does it get any more handsome and chiseled than this guy? But let’s put aside his movie star good looks. The man was a baseball player, one from our area, born and raised a Phillies fan. And he does a really nice job on-air of expressing his opinion. Another one who is, like Ricky Bo, not afraid to hand out criticism when warranted. He comes off a bit ‘stiff’ at times, but he does the job with just a bit more polish than Ricky. Another one who needs to stick around in-studio.
JIM JACKSON: ‘B+’ – It’s so hard for me to listen to Jim Jackson and hear a Phillies game coming out of that voice, after hearing him broadcast so many Flyers games on the radio over the years. The guy is an excellent broadcaster, that isn’t the problem. He just doesn’t, for me anyway, have what I am looking for in an everyday baseball voice. As a Flyers broadcaster, I would give him an ‘A’ grade. Nice backup guy and post-game show guy, which is usually his role anyway. He is worlds better than Chris Wheeler or Gary Matthews, so that’s also a plus.
SCOTT FRANTZKE: ‘A+’ – The simple fact is that Frantzke is a great baseball radio broadcaster. The further fact is that his personable, natural chemistry with regular radio partner Larry Anderson is as tremendous as it is rare. Whether delivering the play-by-play, where his voice is perfect for the job, or commenting on issues surrounding the team on-field and off, or in bantering with Anderson, he is personable and professional. He also has a tremendous, understated humor. I didn’t think it would be possible to ever again experience a Kalas-Ashburn type enjoyable performance. With Frantzke and LA, it may not be quite at that legendary level – yet – but it is much closer than I ever thought I could hope to enjoy again. The team must keep him on board.
LARRY ANDERSON: ‘A’ – His work with Frantzke is the stuff that legends are ultimately made of in a baseball broadcasting team. Together they enjoy an on-air chemistry that is impossible to force. Their timing and humor together is impeccable. LA brings the former player perspective, and continues to display passion of the game and the team. I only gave Frantzke the slightly higher ‘+’ designation because of Scott’s play-by-play abilities. But when Frantzke and LA are together it’s magic. As I already said, they are as close to Kalas-Ashburn as I ever had a right to hope to expect to enjoy again in my lifetime. The powers-that-be need to be sure to commit to this team as long as possible. Wouldn’t it be awesome to get them on TV for at least a few innings each game as well? If Harry and Whitey could do it, why not Scott and LA?
The Phillies get other regular contributions from Comcast folks such as Gregg Murphy, Neil Hartman and Leslie Gudel. All three of them do a tremendous job of hosting, interviewing, analyzing, and commenting on the team. I refrain from giving them grades simply because they are neither former players, nor everyday game broadcasters. But all are professional, personable, and do a nice job in whatever role they are asked during any particular broadcast.
Overall, the Phillies broadcast team would get a ‘B’ grade, with an ‘A’ for the radio guys and a ‘C’ for the TV broadcasters. Replacing McCarthy with a better everyday baseball play-by-play voice would vastly improve that TV end. Maybe figure out a way to have that new TV guy and Moyer switch off a few innings each game with Frantzke/LA in the radio booth, ala with the old days of Kalas/Ashburn. Those would be my main suggestions for improvement going forward.