On Wednesday, the Phillies finished their 10-game road trip with a .500 record after roughing up the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-2. Cole Hamels dominated through eight innings and helped his cause at the plate with a two-run single. The game’s wildest moment came in the second, when Carlos Ruiz tried to score from first on a wild pitch and was tagged out by Arizona’s third baseman. Placido Polanco went 3-3 with two walks, and Hunter Pence batted .400. A fan was thwarted while trying to climb the wall in right field, perhaps to take a dip in the Chase Field swimming pool. The game ended at 6:21 p.m. EST. I didn’t watch it, but I knew all of this minutes later, thanks to the radio, websites, a fantasy baseball stat-tracker and Twitter (and I don’t even have a smartphone).
Having grown up in the area, local television news was always on in my house. If you’re from Philadelphia, TV news is like soda or laundry detergent brands—your family picks one and sticks with it. For us, it was Action News, and I can’t think about the Phillies in powder-blue uniforms or the Eagles at the Vet without Gary Papa. I grew up in a time when folks still watched the evening news after (or if my parents were in a generous mood, during) dinner. We’d tune in again at 11 o’clock—my mom for the top stories, my dad for weather and me for the locker room interviews and game recaps. Along with names like Schmidt, Reggie, Hextall, and Charles, there was Big Al, Tolley, Ukee (remember when he was a sports guy?) and, of course, Gary. If you couldn’t wait for the next day’s newspaper, these guys were the source for your sports fix.
How things have changed. By the time the late news airs now, anyone who cares about who the Flyers and Sixers will face in the playoffs already knows, thanks to the 24-hour sports news machine that grinds away on every platform—cable TV, internet, iPads and android phones. So who is waiting until 11:30 p.m. to hear Jeff Skversky or Beasley Reece tell them that the Phillies won? And could the job that made Papa a local legend be nearing extinction?
In the May issue of Philadelphia magazine, I explore the ever-shrinking role of local TV sports broadcasters, along with the somewhat inexplicable celebrity that still follows them in this town. Along the way, I hang with NBC 10’s John Clark—who’s probably as famous for his Bruce Springsteen sing-along on YouTube as he is for sports reporting—and with Marshall Harris, Comcast SportsNet’s do-it-all reporter/host, who left local TV news behind and never looked back.
I caught Action News on Wednesday night after the Phillies beat the D-Backs. At 11:28 p.m., Keith Russell showed 35 seconds of highlights from the game. None of it offered a new perspective on what happened. There wasn’t even a post-game interview with Hamels. Before that, Russell’s most insightful moment came when he recounted a debate he’d had with viewers about ex-Eagle Asante Samuel—hours earlier, on Twitter.