Radio: Tampa Bay Rays

Flagship: WDAE 620

PxP: Dave Wills (ninth season with Rays)
Andy Freed (ninth season with Rays)

Color: Same (split duties)

Reviewer: R. J. Lesch

Category: Play by Play
Grade: 55

Wills and Freed alternate the play-by-play responsibilities every two innings. Both are professional broadcasters, neither having professional playing or managing experience. Both have deep, sonorous voices, reasonably pleasant and relaxed, but not immediately distinguishable from each other. Even after listening to them several times, one might still have difficulty telling the two apart. Wills is a little more conversational in the play-by-play role, and a little more likely to throw in an “um” or an “er”. Freed a little more formal, and almost never uses linguistic fillers when doing play by play.

Both do well describing events on the field, making them vivid for the listener. One memorable moment involved a catcher throwing to first to retire the runner on a dropped third strike, and the first baseman having to move from the fair side of first base to the foul side to take the throw. Wills had the call and delivered it smoothly and vividly, and the listener had no trouble picturing the action. Each broadcaster had similar difficult chances and handled them smoothly.

Both can be monotonous when there isn’t much going on, but both pick up the pitch and pace as appropriate to the action on the field. Both also tend to start the game in a low-energy fashion and pick up the energy level as the game progresses.

Category: Color Commentary
Grade: 45

When Wills has play-by-play duties, Freed takes the color commentary, and vice-versa. Freed says a little less in this role than does Wills, and Wills employs more vocal variety than Freed in this role as well. Both do well describing player positioning and mannerisms, which is critical to a good radio baseball experience.

Both men sound more natural and relaxed when wearing the color commentary cap than they do in the play-by-play role, though again, their voices are similar enough that it is sometimes hard to tell who is in which role at times.

In a typical broadcast team, a play-by-play announcer might feed set-up lines to the color commentator, along the lines of “when you played, did you ever see anything like what’s going on here?” Wills and Freed don’t do that (in part because neither of them played pro ball), at least not in the same way. Both know the game, but neither seems to be more expert or more of an insider than the other, and it is harder to identify any specific examples of excellence or error.

Category: Broadcast Team Commentary
Grade: 55

Wills and Freed do a good job focusing on the ballgame in front of them. Neither is likely to get sarcastic or to inject himself into the story.

Both are ardent in their defense of the organization, the players, and particularly the manager. The most passionate either Wills or Freed got while I was listening was when responding to some criticism of Maddon’s strategy of looking for matchups, rather than playing the same players every day. The source to which they were responding wasn’t clear, but both men (Wills one day, Freed a few days later) became more animated on these occasions than just about anywhere else in the broadcasts, except when people were actually running around the bases. Both sounded sincere in this, it should be noted; it did not come off as simple organizational shilling.

Both men are also willing to criticize poor play as events warrant (pitch selection to an opposing batter, for example, or baserunning decisions), but as with anything else, neither is likely to get too animated about it.

Category: Charisma and Chemistry
Grade: 55

Wills and Freed are balanced to the point of being indistinguishable from each other. Neither is going to outshine the other, but neither is one going to disappear behind the other. The two trade the mike smoothly, as one might expect from a team that has worked together for so long. Their attempts to joke and banter are not always smooth, in part because neither seems to be a natural comedian, but then neither is forcing the comedy, either.

In contrast to other broadcast teams, Wills and Freed rarely disagree on anything, or even play devil’s advocate for each other on some point – at least, this was the case during the games I reviewed. Both men are likely to say something like “we really like this player” or “we’ve noticed this thing” – “we” rather than “I”. This is another feature that makes the two men hard to tell apart, of course.

A lot of this probably stems from neither Wills nor Freed being an ex-major-leaguer. Often, one member of the broadcast team will defer to the other on some point – say, the play-by-play guy will defer to the ex-jock because, “hey, he played the game and I didn’t.” Wills and Freed don’t have that dynamic, and both have worked together long enough that they probably have converged on a similar view of the game, so that they can speak for each other without much fear of contradiction.

The combination might not make for high drama, but it is refreshing in its way.

Category: Analysis
Grade: 55

As in many aspects of their work, this team’s analysis of game situations is solid and reliable, if orthodox. They know the game well, they have the numbers at their fingertips, and they will take the time to look something up and get things right (or, some silent member of their staff will do so). In one game, Wills actually reversed himself on some point about a pitcher’s record when he got the numbers in front of him, and again, this is refreshing; some broadcasters, once having voiced an opinion, are reluctant to back off from that opinion, even over something as mundane as the facts.

Category: Production Values
Grade: 60

The Rays radio broadcasts are well-produced. The mikes are balanced for the two broadcasters, and both voices come through clear and strong. The background game sounds are audible but not obtrusive. I’ve never been in the Rays’ ballpark, so I don’t know whether the noise levels are as bad for spectators there as they are in other domed parks, but I would imagine it is a tricky act for a sound engineer. This crew lets us hear the game sounds and crowd noise without having to listen to the incidental stadium music that is probably blasting the eardrums of folks in attendance.

Category: Commercialism and Cutaways
Grade: 50

Transitions to commercials and cutaways to features are neither jarring nor awkward. Neither are they memorable. Wills and Freed deliver those messages in the same steady manner as they do everything else. This is probably fine with listeners, but a paying advertiser might want the commercial announcements to stand out a little bit more than they do.

Category: Overall
Grade: 53

Wills and Freed are an atypical broadcast team, though not a unique one. Instead of Voice and Ex-Jock, we have two reporters, almost throwbacks in a way, delivering an account of the ballgame in front of them, and putting that game in front of their listeners in turn. It is baseball game broadcasting at its most professional: solid, perhaps not remarkable in itself, but effective.

 

About the author:

R. J. Lesch is a business analyst and fencing coach.

 

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this evaluation are solely those of the author.  As such, the views expressed by the author should not be interpreted as representing the opinions of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), its board, or anyone otherwise affiliated with SABR.  Likewise, the conclusions included in these evaluations are not to be viewed or interpreted as official endorsements (or lack thereof) by SABR, or of anyone affiliated with SABR, of any particular broadcasters or broadcast organizations.

 

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