So Phillies manager Gabe Kapler and talk-show host Angelo Cataldi had a fascinating exchange on WIP 94.1 FM on Wednesday morning. It wasn't the thrilling rhetorical battle that some claimed it was, but it was an instructive look into both the new-school/old-school tension in Major League Baseball and the three-pronged relationship that links Philadelphia's sports franchises, sports media, and sports fans. There were accuracies and inaccuracies and flourishes and overstatements. Fun stuff, fun enough that it was worth a review to see some of what Kapler and Cataldi got right and what they didn't.
Now, full-disclosure time: I don't have a dog in the fight here. I'm a frequent guest on Cataldi's show, but since Kapler's hiring last year, I've generally been supportive of the Phillies' attempts to modernize their philosophy and approach. I come in good faith.
Kapler was on Cataldi's show weekly throughout this season. This time, he had a bone to pick. In a column on PhillyVoice.com, Cataldi wrote that Phillies general manager Matt Klentak was "incompetent" and that "the young double-talker has survived three years of bungling because he has hidden, effectively, behind the new wave of analytics." Put aside the question of whether Kapler, unprompted during the interview, should launch a defense of Klentak when Klentak is perfectly capable of coming on the show and doing so himself. Let's get to the validity and context of Kapler's and Cataldi's assertions.
Kapler: "I thought that your article was disrespectful to a man who gives everything he has to bring a World Series championship to Philly."
Unless there's some provision in Cataldi's contract that, because WIP is the Phillies' flagship radio station, he must offer only kind words about the team, he is under no obligation to be respectful to Klentak. He can call him a double-talker. He can call him incompetent. I think he's wrong on both counts, but that doesn't mean he can't say what he said or write what he wrote.
Kapler: "Generating anger for the sake of anger means that you end up flat-out wrong, like you were in that piece. And that's not what the Phillies need. You've been angry about this team year in and year out, and yes, a team that got worse every single year since 2011. You were angry about it. Now it's getting better, but you're still doing the same thing."
1. Kapler is on target about anger for anger's sake. According to Rhea Hughes, one of the show's cohosts, WIP's ratings improve when the city's teams are playing well, which makes for an easy defense against the perception that the station is relentlessly negative: It's not like we don't want the teams to win. When they do better, we do better. The problem with that argument is that the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, and Sixers have combined for two championships in 34 years. So if the teams aren't winning, what do you do to keep ratings up?
2. Despite what Kapler might think, WIP's primary function isn't to provide "what the Phillies need." It's to entertain its listeners. Again, Cataldi doesn't work for the team. Yes, his criticisms would have more credibility if he hadn't been screaming just as loudly about the Phillies' previous six seasons. Or about the Eagles being 2-2. Or about the Sixers' losing to the Celtics. But a measured perspective isn't necessarily what his audience is seeking.
Cataldi: "Some of you guys were nowhere near this city when I was talking to these fans. These fans are completely detached from your organization right now. They proved it during a pennant race, when they didn't turn out to support the team."
1. Every sports-talk station bills itself as "the voice of the fans." But a relatively small (if passionate) sample of people — those who call a sports-talk radio show — isn't always an accurate representation of what an entire fan base thinks or doesn't think. (See PROCESS, THE.)
2. "Detached" is a good word to describe many Phillies fans' connection to the franchise, but this isn't the first time that the team made a surprising push toward the playoffs and didn't see a huge uptick in fan interest. In 2001, the Phils went 86-76 and finished second in the NL East, but their home attendance increased by just 10.5 percent from 2000, when they went 65-97. From last year, when they were 66-96, to this year, when they were 80-82, their home attendance rose by 13.2 percent. This detachment isn't new, and there's evidence it isn't as pronounced as it was 17 years ago.
Cataldi: "Matt Klentak, in the three years he's been here, has put two people on the roster who are true building blocks, and those are Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola. All the rest of them are interchangeable parts. … When I write what I write, it's represented by hundreds of people who are thinking the way I am."
1. Maybe Cataldi will turn out to be right that Hoskins and Nola were the only building-block players on this year's roster. But it's still too early to write off Scott Kingery, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez — none of whom has turned 27 yet — as surefire lost causes.
2. Klentak didn't add Nola to the roster. Ruben Amaro Jr. did. Amaro also drafted Hoskins.
3. Just because hundreds of people think the way Cataldi does doesn't mean he or those hundreds of people are right. Ask Charlie Manuel. Or Doug Pederson.
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