The tapes were stuffed into a box, ready to be thrown into a dumpster and disappear forever when they were noticed by the TV station’s college intern.
“I guess that was the reporter in me,” said Mike Rodgers, an intern in 1997 at WPHL-TV. “I was curious. ‘What are these tapes?’ ”
Rodgers, then a broadcasting major and baseball player at Temple, grew up a die-hard Phillies fan in Huntingdon Valley. So he was stunned when he lifted those outdated beta tapes from the box and read the labels. Rodgers was holding copies of the first three games of the 1980 World Series and coverage of the championship parade.
“This was history,” Rodgers said. “And it’s just going to be thrown out.”
Rodgers transferred that footage to VHS tapes, preserving the World Series games and the parade that featured Gene Hart and Howard Eskin as reporters. He did not know then in the late 1990s, but Rodgers was planting the seeds of what is now his growing YouTube channel, ClassicPhilliesTV, a collection of nearly 300 Phillies games that spans five decades.
There’s Mike Schmidt and Larry Bowa playing on Monday Night Baseball with Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell in the booth. Tug McGraw striking out Willie Wilson. Tommy Greene throwing a no-hitter. Brad Lidge falling to his knees, and Roy Halladay’s perfect game. And there’s your mid-week game in April 1991 and a nondescript game from 1995. Like a baseball season, not every game in Rodgers’ collection is a classic.
There will not be baseball to watch this season until at least the middle of May, leaving fans without their rite of spring. But that fix can be found on the YouTube channel Rodgers started seven years ago when he uploaded the old tapes he saved from the dumpster.
“I don’t know if I’m even allowed to do it,” Rodgers said. “If they shut it down, at least it was there for a couple years. But who could have ever imagined that we might be having a year without baseball? Something like this comes in handy. I hope the Phillies aren’t upset.”
The Phillies were scheduled to open the regular season on Thursday in Miami with Tom McCarthy welcoming baseball fans to another season. Six weeks of spring training would finally be over. It would be time to see how much the Phillies had improved from last year’s disappointing season. But that will have to wait as the coronavirus pandemic delays the season.
Thanks to Rodgers, there’s a way to fill that void. You can turn the clock back to 1993 and travel to Houston’s Astrodome where Harry Kalas, Richie Ashburn, and Chris Wheeler are standing on the field minutes before first pitch. The Phillies lost 92 games in 1992, but there was still optimism in the air -- just like there would have been on Thursday -- as a new season awaited.
“There’s always an aura of excitement about opening night, opening day, Whitey, and I don’t care how many years you’ve been in the game, the adrenaline flows," Kalas said. “And for the players, I bet they can’t wait for this game to start.”
The Phillies won that game, kick-starting a season-opening sweep of the Astros and beginning a season that felt enchanted until Joe Carter’s … well, you know what happened. Many of the games from that memorable ride in 1993 -- from Mariano Duncan’s grand slam on Mother’s Day, to the marathon doubleheader against the Padres, to the division clincher in Pittsburgh, to Lenny Dykstra’s homer in Game 5 against the Braves, to two nights later when the Phillies won the pennant -- are on Rodgers’ YouTube channel.
His collection started with the tapes he saved from the dumpster, but it was aided by his father, who would tape the PRISM replay of games they attended at the Vet if the Phillies won that night. Rodgers’ father even recorded the radio broadcast of the pennant clincher in 1993, allowing Rodgers to overlay Kalas’ call with the national telecast. He’s connected online with tape collectors and receives contributions from Phillies fans who discover his YouTube collection.
“Last summer, I got a random email from a guy in New Jersey named Todd,” Rodgers said. “I can’t thank him enough. He said, ‘I recorded just about every game from the 1993 season, and you can have them. I don’t know why I recorded these games, but my wife wants to get them out of the garage. I’ll send them 20 at a time, and you can just upload them to the site.’ Little by little, people have been sending me more games to put up. Now I’m kind of stuck with it.”
Rodgers’ internship with WPHL-TV allowed him to sit in the Veterans Stadium broadcast booth and keep stats for the games that aired on Channel 17. He was in the booth that summer as Kalas and Wheeler called the first home games following the death of Ashburn, still remembering how eerie it was to hear a game without the voice of “Whitey.”
Rodgers would spend three years as a reporter and anchor at Comcast SportsNet, allowing the die-hard fan to cover the final game at the Vet and the first game at Citizens Bank Park. Rodgers, now living in Dallas and working in advertising sales, has used the Phillies as a connection home while his career took him to Tennessee and Texas.
But there’s no telling when that connection will begin this season. So Rodgers will show his 4-year-old son, Chase, (yes, there’s a Phillies connection) old games of Pete Rose and Larry Bowa and Lenny Dykstra and Darren Daulton. He’ll compare Halladay to Steve Carlton, remark how underrated Andy Musser was as a broadcaster and re-watch the epic 1980 National League Championship Series.
A month ago, Rodgers’ YouTube channel was a way to dig into the team’s history. Now it’s a way to keep a connection to the game that has been put on hold. Pulling up old games on YouTube may not replace the ups-and-downs of the baseball season, but it could provide a fix until the season finally begins. And that would not have been possible if Rodgers had not looked to see what was headed for the dumpster.
“The coolest part is just reading the comments like, ‘I went to that game with my dad and then he passed away a couple years later,’ or ‘I took my mom to this game and this was the last game we went to. Can’t believe I’m watching it again.’ So many people left comments like, ‘This is the day I proposed to my wife,’ or ‘This is my first game ever,’ ” Rodgers said. “That, to me, made this one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life. It’s amazing.”