PHILADELPHIA -- Big changes continue with the Phillies on TV.
Last week, they signed a 25-year contract with Comcast SportsNet worth a reported $2.5 billion. Then Wednesday, the team announced broadcasters Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews will not return to the TV booth. Multiple sources said Comcast requested the changes during contract negotiations, which Wheeler essentially confirmed in a statement.
"It's been an honor and a privilege to be a part of the Phillies' broadcast team for 37 years," Wheeler said. "I certainly respect the decision that was made and I look forward to my new role in the Phillies' organization."
Both Wheeler, 68, and Matthews, 63, will remain in the organization in some capacity, although specific roles are unclear.
Tom McCarthy, who does play-by-play on TV, has four years remaining on his contract. He will return to the TV booth. Gregg Murphy will return as the TV field reporter. Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen will return to the radio booth.
"That's where I want to be," Franzke said. "I like doing what I'm doing."
Sources said Comcast is looking for one color commentator to replace Wheeler and Matthews. In the past, broadcasters have been team employees, but the new broadcaster will be a Comcast employee.
Comcast also has final say over who it hires, but the Phillies and Comcast just entered a 25-year business partnership, so the Phils will be consulted on the short list. If they strongly object to a candidate, the network will listen.
Comcast is looking at former players, many of them former Phillies who played for the team within the past 20 years. John Kruk, Doug Glanville and Curt Schilling (ESPN) and Dan Plesac and Mitch Williams (MLB Network) work for national networks, but it is unclear if any of them would leave their current jobs and salaries for a regional broadcast.
Ricky Bottalico already works with Comcast on its pregame and postgame broadcasts, although that does not necessarily mean he is the favorite for the job. Other former Phils with broadcast experience either in TV or radio include Jamie Moyer, Brad Lidge, Matt Stairs, Tom Gordon, Chris Coste, Rex Hudler, Paul Byrd and Ron Gant.
More candidates could surface now that word is out about Wheeler and Matthews leaving the booth.
But the news about Wheeler (better known as Wheels) and Matthews (better known as Sarge) stung the remaining broadcasters.
"I'm disappointed," Franzke said. "They are good friends of mine. They're good people. They were fun to work with. We had kind of a lively space in the office we shared before games. They added a lot to that dynamic. From that standpoint, personally I'm going to miss being around them day in and day out. I know they're still going to be with the organization, but we won't have them with us every single day. And they're friends. We know what kind of a business we signed up to be in. It's not always good. Stuff like this hurts."
The broadcasters' workroom at Citizens Bank Park was a lively place before and after games with Matthews regularly bringing in snacks and drinks and treats from wherever he happened to be that day, and everybody joking and poking fun at one another. Wheeler, who was always copiously prepared for that day's broadcast, was the dean of the broadcast team. He began his career with the Phillies in 1971 as assistant director of publicity and publication relations before he joined the broadcast crew in 1977.
"The room that we had, that office was always filled with life and energy," McCarthy said. "It was because of both of those guys, as well as everybody else's personalities. I'm disappointed for Wheels that his TV career is coming to a close in this capacity. I thought that he had gave so much to the organization and the TV and radio audience over the years. He's always been a huge asset for all of us, just because of his knowledge of the organization and sheer love of the organization and the city itself. And Sarge, you'll be hard pressed to laugh any more than with him. That's the part I'm going to miss on the air, just having the sheer entertainment value of his personality."
Matthews finished his seventh season with Philadelphia. He played for the Phils from 1981-83.
The Phillies issued a statement that said, "As the longest-tenured member of the Phillies' broadcasting team, Chris Wheeler will return to his club roots after stepping down from his role as a Phillies broadcaster. With 37 years of broadcasting experience, combined with his front-office background where he began his Phillies career, 'Wheels' will take on a new role allowing the organization to continue to benefit from his knowledge, experience and dedication to the game. Additionally, Gary Matthews will continue to work with the Phillies bringing his exceptional background as a Major League ballplayer, broadcaster and commentator to new roles at the Phillies."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com.