What's wrong with everybody? We're less than a week into the new Major League Baseball season, and already there is controversy and criticism surrounding the Kansas City Royals. Only this time, the critical commentary isn't being directed to the team on the field, but rather the team up in the broadcast booth calling the play by play.
Apparently Royals' fans are not taking well to the addition of Rex Hudler as the new color analyst on Royals' TV broadcasts. The social media has been abuzz, according to Kansas City Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger, with vitriolic voices highly critical of Hudler's debut as the newest Royals' TV personality. Frankly, I was a bit taken back to hear this, at least this soon in the season and with the criticism apparently as widespread as Mellinger reports it to be.
As someone who has been a practicing journalist all his life and grew up at one time aspiring to be a sports broadcaster and actually worked in the broadcasting profession, I'm not sure what all the reprehension toward Hudler is about. From what I can gather, it appears to be more about the circumstances he is in than his ability and skill as a broadcaster.
If my hypothesis is correct, then all of the negativism toward Hudler is sadly and savagely being misdirected, in my opinion. The new Kansas City broadcaster is teamed with another newcomer in the booth, Steve Physioc, for 50 of the TV games and with incumbent Ryan Lefebvre for 90 games, according to the plan revealed in February by the Royals. Unfortunately, Hudler is in a no-win situation, at least at the outset.
If you ask me, the fan reaction is more the result of the dismissal of Frank White, a highly popular former player and Royals' Hall of Famer, from the role previously and the subsequent team move to bring in an "outsider" with no previous association with the team to replace White. It's the age-old rebuff of "not invented here" and, therefore, not readily accepted by those directly impacted by the decision - in this case, the fans.
I'm not suggesting that this is a fair response to the situation, either, but I can understand why Royals' fans may feel that way and why they are taking it out on the new guy in the role. Let's be clear, though. Hudler knows the game of baseball (he played for 14 seasons for six major league teams) and he does a good job in the booth as one of the modern-day player-turned-broadcaster professionals.
Any criticism of this situation should be directed at the parties involved in the decision to remove White and replace him with Hudler. And that would be Jack Donovan, General Manager of Fox Sports Kansas City, and the Royals' front office, namely President Dan Glass, Kevin Uhlich, senior vice president of business operations, and Michael Swanson, vice president of communications and broadcasting.
After his playing days had ended, in 1998, Hudler became a color analyst on Los Angeles Angels games, a team he played for three seasons from 1994-96. He served in that role for 11 seasons (1999-2009), so he must have been doing something right.
Hudler is being rejoined with his former Angels broadcast partner, Physioc, who served as the lead play-by-play announcer on the Angels' local TV games for 13 seasons (1997-2009). Physioc, who graduated from Kansas State has been a baseball announcer for over 25 years, is likely to receive a more favorable local reception than Hudler for the simple reason that he has a local connection.
Hudler is painfully aware of the fans' negative feelings and unfavorable response to his Kansas City broadcast debut and he is bothered by it. "Believe me, I'm aware of the critics," he said in an interview with The Star's Mellinger. "It's not an easy situation to come into.
"I'm human. I understand. I'm very sensitive to them (the fans)," Hudler said. "The last thing I want is for the fans to not be happy."
When Hudler was hired in February, General Manager Jack Donovan of Fox Sports Kansas City, the network that carries the Royals' television broadcasts, said: "Rex brings tremendous energy and enthusiasm for baseball to the booth." It is ironic that it is this very exuberance, in large part, for which he is drawing the fans' wrath in the early going.
"When you're an outsider, getting inside is hard," Mellinger writes. "Hudler wants to make the broadcasts about the team, but that becomes difficult when he's taking so much heat."
Hudler has had to work harder than most for everything he has achieved in the game and in his baseball after-life. He entered the major leagues with high promise as a player (with the New York Yankees) but ended up as an average performer with no single position he could designate as his own. He ended his 21 years in professional baseball (14 at the major-league level) as a utility player for the Philadelphia Phillies.
That's not unlike the situation Hudler now finds himself in with the Royals. "I'll improve," he says. "I told the Royals, ‘I'm like a piece of clay. You can mold me. I'll listen.
"I'd just like to tell fans, I know where I am," Hudler says. "I know where I'm coming from. I know who's been there. I'm very aware of that. Very respectful of that."
It's OK for the Kansas City fans to want Hudler (and even Physioc) to prove himself worthy of their affection, but while allowing him that opportunity, we should also respect him as a professional who is passionate about what he does and wants to do well serving the fans.
One of Royals' founder Ewing Kauffman's guiding principles was "Treat others as you would want to be treated." We owe the new Royals' broadcaster that much.
The fans have spoken, and the message apparently has been received. Rather than pronounce Hudler DOA, we need to give him the chance to adapt his ways, while also toning down the public rebukes.
Keep up to date on all the Royals' news and game reports throughout the 2012 season.