BY PAUL MANCANO – A season mired in such embarrassing failures as those endured by the 2014 Phillies has few bright spots. With the exceptions of Ken Giles, Cody Asche, and Chase Utley (because, well, he’s Chase Utley), just about every person in the Phillies’ organization can take some portion of the blame for the collapse of the Glory Core. Ruben Amaro Jr. is the primary target (DUH), closely followed by Ryan Howard and Dom Brown. There’s also been some Jimmy Rollins, Antonio Bastardo, Ben Revere, and Kyle Kendrick floating around hate out there, which is good to see. Throw in a general distaste for new manager Ryne Sandberg and an utter loathing for Jonathan Papelbon, and we’ve just about covered all the bases. I’m glad Phils fans are really spreading the wealth.
However, Phillies fans can take solace in the fact that there’s one area of the organization that’s anchored by people who are actually good at their jobs. That area would be the broadcasting booth, which is home to new TV color analyst team of Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs.
I’ll be honest, I had pretty low expectations for the both of them. After all, they’re two completely inexperienced announcers who were given the jobs because they played on the ’08 team. (You’d think the organization would want to distance itself from any additional members of that championship team, considering what a bad taste the rest of ’08ers are currently leaving us with. But I digress…) Surprisingly, I’ve been impressed. Very impressed. Hell, at this point, I’d venture to say they’re much better than Gary Matthews Sr. and Chris Wheeler. Which doesn’t say much, but still.
What stands out the most about Stairs and Moyer is their clear understanding of the game. It’s well documented that as a player, Moyer lacked the physical gifts that most would think necessary for his position. His pitches lacked zip. His fastball topped out at around 84 mph on a good day. In order to compensate, Moyer developed an arsenal of pitches and studied his opponents with intense scrutiny. He knew what pitches to throw when, and to which hitters. During his 27-year career, he created detailed mental files on players from all around the league. He also used his slow, deliberate approach during a game to disrupt a hitter’s rhythm and timing. He was a smart player.
Stairs did even more sightseeing than Moyer in his day. He played for 12 different franchises—the most of any position player in baseball history. He’s been around the block. He’s intelligent and he’s got a unique perspective of the game and the league.
Age and travel has made these two wise, and it certainly comes across during game broadcasts. Whenever Tom McCarthy turns to them for a factoid on a player or a WWJOMD (What Would Jamie Or Matt Do) proposition, they seemingly always respond with an insightful tidbit.
In addition, Moyer and Stairs’ attitude towards the team is refreshing. There were times last year and the year before when Sarge and Wheels would seem totally oblivious to the Phillies’ frustrating plight. They were happy-go-lucky at the worst times. Sarge would stumble over some minor positive note while the Phils were being shutout in front of him. Wheels would bring up some dumb comparison to a shutout performance in 1968, as if that made us feel any better. Even McCarthy seems too upbeat at times.
Fans are not blind. We can see that the team sucks. When the team sucks, I don’t want to hear something to try to cheer me up. I want to hear about just how much this team sucks. Screw ratings and silver linings, be honest.
As for the radio team, Scott Franzke and Larry Anderson are on the opposite side of the spectrum. It seems like during every long pause the two of them take, they turn off their mics and say, “Yeah, f*** this s***y team, am I right?” then turn them back on. Franzke’s voice often drips with sarcasm and frustration. L.A. just sits back and laughs at the dumpheap of a team embarrassing themselves in front of him.
Most times, it’s a pretty entertaining experience. But sometimes, it can be a real turn-off—literally!!!! (God, I’m so funny. I’m so glad I have this platform so I can share my hilariousness with the entire world. You’re welcome, internet.)
Moyer and Stairs strike a good balance between irrational optimism and bitter pessimism. They tell it like it is, but they don’t make snarky comments.
But perhaps most importantly, the new duo connects to fans on a much better level. Matthews was always too kooky and laughable to take seriously, and Wheels came off as too much of a boring history nerd to be entertaining. Moyer and Stairs were well liked as players, and their on-air style is intelligent and engaging.
The boys on the field are struggling, but the ones hovering above them in the broadcast booths are not. The new pair, along with the radio team of Franzke and L.A., make watching and listening to games at home somewhat bearable. Just another reason not to go to the ballpark to see a game this year.