Philadelphia Inquirer writer Marcus Hayes. Photo via Marcus Hayes.

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Marcus Hayes has seen a lot in three decades of covering sports. There’s never a dull moment.

The Phillies own the best record in the National League. The Eagles are trying to recover from the most stunning collapse in franchise history. Their future Hall of Fame center Jason Kelce just retired and is on his way to becoming a star broadcaster. And currently, the 76ers only have four players under contract for 2024-25.

To help us make sense of it all, we recently caught up with Hayes. He discussed Philadelphia’s frequently dramatic sports environment.

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Awful Announcing: Are the Phillies the best team in baseball?

Marcus Hayes: “One of the things that I’m big on in baseball, I think good teams catch the ball when they need to and make an occasional great play. This infield can do that, and their outfield defense is probably the best I’ve seen since I’ve been in Philadelphia. So, soup to nuts, I think they’re the best team in baseball. Now, they just lost J.T. Realmuto (to injury). He might be the best catcher in baseball and is one reason why their pitching staff, top to bottom, is so good. We’ll have to see what the fallout from Realmuto is.”

How surprised are you by their pitching?

“Ranger Suárez has taken such a big leap forward. Cristopher Sánchez has proven to be a legitimate middle-of-the-rotation pitcher if not more. So, the surprise to me is Suárez and Sánchez in the starting rotation. And the way that Jeff Hoffman has replicated what he did in 2023 in the bullpen, that’s been a surprise. Yeah, I’m a little surprised. Nobody expects any team to be this good with their pitching, both the starters and the relievers, especially when there’s no defined closer.”

How has Bryce Harper played?

“He wasn’t hot early. He didn’t have a great spring but had an absolutely killer May. However, one of the reasons he was so productive the last five weeks or so is Realmuto hitting in front of him in the No.2 spot. It has been cool to watch Bryce be a superstar and step up in big moments as he did in the first game of the two-game series against the Mets in London. But with the absence of Realmuto, a very good hitting catcher, it’ll be interesting to see how Bryce is affected.”

What will be the reason if the Phillies don’t win the World Series?

“The big issue for the Phillies each of the last two years is that when they got to the end of the World Series and when they got to the end of the NLCS, the guys making a billion dollars combined didn’t hit. This is on Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Realmuto, and last year, Turner. I think that will be the biggest obstacle for them. Those guys have to hit consistently.”

How much pressure is on Nick Sirianni after last year’s Eagles’ implosion?

“A lot, and not just because of the collapse last year, and not just because of losing the Super Bowl with a 10-point halftime lead the year before. He’s put himself in a situation where being audacious, being exuberant, and being hard to control on the sidelines makes the team look bad. Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles owner, isn’t super concerned about that as long as there are results.

“I do know that he wasn’t happy with Nick taunting Kansas City Chiefs fans in Kansas City in the tunnel after the game. (Lurie) has a close relationship with the Kansas City Chiefs owners and Andy Reid. So, there was that incident, then the losing. People forget there were a couple of times last season when Nick Sirianni had issues with players on the sidelines. And one of those issues was with Haason Reddick late in the year, and Haason Reddick isn’t here anymore. I think his seat could probably not be hotter.”

How has newly acquired Saquon Barkley looked so far?

“It’s hard to say. I’ve been covering the NFL for 34 years. The two positions you really can’t tell about until the season begins, even with veterans, are linebacker and running back because those are the two positions that have to do the most in space, and they are involved in the most violent collisions. Running backs get old almost instantly. They all of a sudden lose that step. No one can tell whether Saquon Barkley has lost that step. The other thing is, I don’t think they’re going to let us see how they’re going to use Saquon Barkley in these practices or even in training camp. I think the Saquon Barkley question is a very good question. How are they going to use maybe the best running back weapon they’ve had since Ricky Watters or LeSean McCoy? Saquon Barkley is a special player.”

What do you expect from Jason Kelce as a broadcaster?

“I think he will be the best broadcaster since John Madden. I like Troy Aikman, who’s very buttoned-down, very clinical, and very even-handed. But I think Jason’s going to be an interesting blend of Madden’s passion, knowledge, and appreciation of trench play. Most of the smart football players I’ve been around haven’t been necessarily quarterbacks or safeties. It’s been offensive linemen because they kind of need to know how everything works to do their jobs the best. They have the smallest margin for error. If they don’t block the right guy, if they don’t block at the right angle, if they don’t hold their blocks long enough, everything sort of collapses. I think he’s going to be wonderful because he’s knowledgeable and because he knows a lot about every single player in the league, offensive and defensive. He’s just kind of a football nerd that way.”

Where do the 76ers, who were great when Joel Embiid was healthy, go from here?

“I don’t know. I’m sure they’re going to re-sign maybe guys like Nicolas Batum to a one-year deal, maybe Kyle Lowry to a one-year deal. Kelly Oubre Jr., maybe he gets a decent payday. But those aren’t the complementary players you need. If you want a third star, you’re probably going to have to break the bank for somebody who’s sort of a risk. LeBron James is a risk. Paul George is a risk. Brandon Ingram is a risk. So, I don’t know…

“When Joel Embiid is healthy, he’s the most valuable player in the league. But you can argue that he’s never been the most valuable player in the league because he’s never been healthy. And he’s never been healthy in part because of his style of play, which is relatively reckless, and the fact that he carries too much weight. He’s never in the kind of condition he needs to be in to be able to produce in April, May, and June.”

Do Philadelphia fans deserve their reputation for being hostile?

“I’m a transplant here in Philadelphia. One of the least popular things that I say and write is that Philadelphia fans do things and say things that are inappropriate and feed that sort of narrative. A lot of them take pride in that. They relish it. When I hear people say, ‘Hey, it’s not everybody.’ My response generally is, ‘No, it’s not everybody, but you don’t police yourselves. You don’t make sure that the others don’t represent you. You encourage it.’ I think they sort of wear it as a badge of honor sometimes.”

What’s an example of Philadelphia fans going too far?

“This was a long time ago. It was when the Eagles were still at the Vet, and I think it might have been the last play of Michael Irvin’s career. I was there. I was covering the Eagles as the beat writer. Michael Irvin, on a play in the open field, appeared to be speared by an Eagles safety named Tim Hauck, and he lay on the ground., It was one of those moments in an NFL game where everybody’s hushed. When the ambulance came to take him off, Eagles fans cheered the ambulance. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

Does Philadelphia have the two best mascots in sports—the Phillie Phanatic and Gritty?

“The Phanatic is pretty much universally beloved in Philadelphia. Gritty was a fad. I think Philadelphians, especially hardcore Flyers fans, are kind of embarrassed by Gritty now. For a team that wasn’t very good, it made them kind of a punchline. At one point, after they traded Claude Giroux, the most important element of the Flyers franchise was the mascot. It was a weird mascot. The fact that it got so popular, so quickly surprised me. But yeah, Philadelphians certainly take pride in the Phillie Phanatic. I’m not sure Gritty hasn’t jumped the shark to some degree.”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.