Say It Ain't So; Trouble in the Booth For Phils.

With all of the trading and signing of free agents that the Phillies have done this off-season, they missed one of their own. As 2003 moves nearer and nearer to a finish, the Phillies have yet to sign a key free agent; A Hall of Famer, nonetheless. There is work to be done and some damage control might be necessary as well, since all is not well in the Phillies TV booth.

Sometime before Veterans Stadium becomes a memory, I assume that somebody will remove the plaque outside the Phillies broadcast booth that commemorates that booth in memory of Richie Ashburn. Perhaps, somebody has already taken the plaque off the wall. Let's hope it's not forgotten like another piece of the Phillies broadcasting hierarchy.

Disturbing news came down when news that Harry Kalas was still without a contract to broadcast Phillies games in 2004. That should have been taken care of long ago. There is no excuse for the Hall of Fame broadcaster to not have a contract. David Montgomery himself should have sat Harry down and asked him how long he wanted to continue doing Phillies games and how much money he wanted to do them. He should have asked him one other thing. Who do you want as your broadcast partner?

There has been a long brewing dispute between Kalas and colleague Chris Wheeler. It was whispered about in some circles, but never truly confirmed. The story goes that Wheeler some years ago, tried to force Kalas' great friend Richie Ashburn out of the booth so Wheeler would gain more air time. That's how the story goes, anyway. Take it for what it's worth as to whether that's how it actually played out. Kalas has apparently tired of working with Wheeler and doesn't want to continue sharing the booth with him as the Phillies head into Citizens Bank Park. Fair enough.

If the story of Wheeler trying to push Ashburn out of the booth is true, shame on Chris Wheeler. It's possible that Wheeler was trying to horn in on the time that Ashburn got to do some play-by-play. Let's face it. You won't find a bigger Ashburn fan than me, but his strength wasn't doing play-by-play. He was best when he and Kalas were together in the booth. Maybe, Wheeler should have handled those few innings that Ashburn did play-by-play, but with Ashburn's legacy, he shouldn't have fought to get it changed. That's one of those deals where he should have bit his tongue and waited for him day to come.

It's also a little sad that Kalas talked about his lack of comfort with Wheeler in a public setting. Kalas told Todd Zolecki of the Philadelphia Inquirer that he "I feel more comfortable working with L.A. (Larry Andersen) and Krukker (John Kruk). It is uncomfortable to work with Wheeler." That dirty laundry was likely better washed out and dried in the private laundry room of the Phillies front office than to have been dragged into a laundromat and hung out on the washline, if you know what I mean. That's a sentence that Kalas should have said to Montgomery or general manager Ed Wade and not to Zolecki. Of course, if nobody from the Phillies has bothered to talk to Kalas, maybe he did what he had to do.

Bottom line is that Kalas must be a part of the Phillies broadcast team heading into Citizens Bank Park. Yes, the old grey mare, ain't what it used to be. He's rough around the edges. He's seen better days. Those and many other cliches fit Kalas, but he is Phillies baseball. Sure, at some point, Kalas needs to realize it's over and step aside or at least cut back on his duties, but that day isn't here.

It's easy enough to keep Kalas and Wheeler separated in the booth. It's also easy enough to make this whole thing start to go away. Somebody from the Phillies should have been on the phone today and shouldn't have hung up until Kalas was signed. "I definitely do want to come back," Kalas told the Inquirer. The Phillies should have never let it get to this point. Had they gotten this done, none of this would have come to light.

Part of the problem may be that Kalas has hired a hot shot agent. Ed Hookstratten also represents the likes of Tom Brokaw, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg. Maybe, something got lost in the translation. We all know how agents can be. Previously, Kalas simply had local attorneys handle his contracts for him. He could have and maybe, should have gone the route of an agent years ago, but he's not that kind of guy. It's actually a little surprising that he did so now, at this point in his career.

If the Kalas thing becomes an issue and God forbid, he isn't back doing Phillies baseball, this off-season will have a bit of a stink to it. Worst case scenario would be to have Kalas gone and Wheeler looking like he was responsible, at least in part. If that's the case, Wheeler might just as well pack up and look for other work because his time in Philly will have come to an end. It doesn't have to be that way though. The Phillies can make this go away simply by signing Kalas quickly. Leave no doubt in fans' minds that Kalas will be broadcasting Phillies games for the rest of his career.

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