Flagship: Fox Sports Kansas City
PxP: Steve Physioc (part-time, since 2012)
Ryan Lefebvre (part-time, since 1999)
Color: Rex Hudler (since 2012)
Reviewer: Chuck Hildebrandt
Category: Play by Play
The Royals have two main PxP guys, with Lefebvre working 90 games and Physioc working most of the remaining games, and they have very different styles.
Lefebvre’s descriptive style is steady, although dry and unassuming. His commentary is sparse, and he generally lets the video do the talking. He has a laconic pace that can feel strangely devoid of energy. Even exciting plays are downplayed by him. He seems to barely acknowledge great catches and calls homers with surprisingly little vigor, even those by the Royals. At least he’s appropriately more subdued on opponents’ homers and great plays.
By contrast, Physioc is much more animated. He describes the plays in a steady, consistent and proficient manner, effortlessly sprinkling game notes into his commentary. He is direct and glib, not wasting many words. He appears to solidly internalize his homework, reacting quickly to game action with pertinent facts. Physioc modulates his voice on a much wider scale than does Lefebvre, and is energetic on exciting plays for both teams, although he really ratchets it up for Royals plays.
If you’re half-concentrating on something else during the game, Physioc will definitely draw you back in when something big happens; if it’s Lefebvre who’s on the game, you might miss it.
Category: Color Commentary
Technically, Rex Hudler is a competent color commentator who adequately injects his personal experience and open personality into his game commentary, although “The Wonder Dog” can be a different commentator depending on who his partner for the game is.
Physioc appears to bring out the better in Rex—understandable, since they worked together for over a decade in Anaheim. Rex can be prone to trite and pedestrian commentary lacking in the kind of insights you should expect given his experience. He tends to repeat the same points or ideas throughout a broadcast, but he can also occasionally deliver decent insights on plays as they’re replayed, effectively describing the action as the player is experiencing it. He seems more comfortable doing this with Physioc than with Lefebvre.
While Rex also occasionally seems oddly ill at ease at the mic given his amount of his broadcast experience, he did seem more open, relaxed and smooth with Physioc than with Lefebvre. His digressions from the game at hand are short but mostly baseball-relevant. While Rex acts as a paid fan of the Royals, he seems to have dialed it down some from the famously over-the-top fandom he was known for in Orange County.
Category: Broadcast Team Commentary
Both teams are solidly professional and competent, as they all have something-teen years of experience behind the mic. They stay focused on the game itself, with little off-topic banter between them.
Lefebvre has more historical depth with the Royals than Physioc, easily recounting incidents taking place in Royals history from over a decade ago with first-hand precision. For their part, Physioc and Hudler did a good job of weaving in updates from the June amateur draft that day, sharing information about draftees, and some anecdotes and trivia about prior drafts as well as about the drafting process in general. They did a fine job of moving back and forth from this topic to the game at hand.
Both teams are fair when it comes to “telling it like it is”, more along the lines of recognizing when an opponent makes a good play, but they also missed opportunities to call out their own players for bone-headed mistakes (e.g., not trying to break up double plays on the bases) or inexplicable decisions on the field.
Category: Charisma and Chemistry
As you might suspect, the team of Physioc/Hudler works together much more closely and seamlessly than does the team of Lefebvre/Hudler, although it’s the difference between “sufficiently enjoyable” and “sufficiently listenable”.
Both PxP announcers have classic baseball broadcaster voices, although the life Physioc injects into his descriptions make him much more listenable, and seem personally more likeable, than Lefebvre. While Lefebvre and Hudler play off of each other adequately, the chemistry between Physioc and Hudler is quite good. They banter easily and interact seamlessly, the result of their many years together out west. Rex will call his partner as “Phiz” (that is, when he’s not calling him “Dude”), and for his part “Phiz” does a fine job of drawing insights out of Rex with leading questions. This is when they are at their best. They also interact well with the on-field reporter, Joel Goldberg, and when the three go off on a humorous tangent, it can be a treat. Best joke heard: Physioc complimented Goldberg on the homework he put in for the draft, to which Joel replied that it’s because they think along the same lines, finishing up with, “Phiz, you complete me.” The dry delivery was hilarious. You had to be there.
Lefebvre/Hudler was at their best when Ryan would work with Rex on his occasionally meandering story-telling, leading him back to the game issue at hand. Ryan’s depth of experience with the Royals came in handy in retelling the compelling story of the dramatic Mendy Lopez three-run homer that helped the Royals beat the White Sox on Opening Day 2004. But their lack of chemistry also costs them the opportunity to pull of humor with any aplomb. Because Lefebvre is so dry, he occasionally botches attempts at humor in a way Hudler can’t effectively save.
Neither team is adequately analytical of the action before them, preferring instead to describe the action exactly as it happens, provide broad insights into the team as warranted and, in the case of Physioc/Hudler, enjoy some friendly banter in between pitches. They did a fair job of analyzing pitch detail as they moved through the game, e,g, how a pitcher’s stuff evolved through the game in terms of speed, movement, location, etc., but they did so only in the most basic of ways. Neither team used stats much beyond the basic baseball card variety; Hudler seems especially uncomfortable around numbers, not unusual for players of a certain era and prior. In short, any stats-based discussion was likely limited by what was provided them on their game notes. There did not seem to be much in the way of a scouting analysis unique to the individual players. The general quality of analysis, when provided, ranged from acceptable to dull.
Category: Production Values
The overall production was fairly unremarkable, which is not the same as “no good”. The CF shot at Kauffman Stadium could be tightened up a bit, as the players seemed a bit too small for the shot. Despite a few hiccups here and there, the overall camera work was adequate. There were some good replay moments, especially in the way they strung together a hitter’s prior at bats into a quick montage to show us what he’d done in previous at bats. I’d like to see more of this kind of thing in general, so I can’t ding the Royals for not doing enough of this. Sound quality was adequate, although during one game they allowed what sounded like the clanking of bats to exist as a bed under the announcers, which was quite annoying as it was happening. They fixed it within a few innings, demonstrating responsiveness to the problem.
Category: Commercialism and Cutaways
This is another weak suit for the Royals TV crew. Lefebvre displayed an odd tendency to perk up his voice while doing commercial drop-ins, then dial it back down when returning to the game, and at one point he let the drop-in bleed over the game action. On another occasion the director opted to have the announcers drop in an advertiser announcement in lieu of showing a replay of a really nice Mike Moustakas catch, which I’m sure advertisers like just fine, but gives interested viewers short shrift. Also, the advertiser mentions and drop-ins really accelerated in the second half of each game, to the point where they were doing three or four during some innings. I’m not positive what the strategic value of this is, but it was really quite noticeable and distracting.
While the interaction with sidelines reporter Goldberg was generally good and relevant, on one occasion they allowed Joel to use his segment to talk over the action, leading him to call a good catch by Chris Davis of the Orioles versus Ryan or Rex doing this job.
The difference between an overall 46, and an overall 50, rests pretty much on the difference between Steve Physioc and Ryan Lefebvre and what they bring to the booth both as play-by-play announcers and as partners to Rex Hudler. A Lefebvre/Hudler game is a slightly below average baseball watching experience; substitute Physioc for Lefebvre, and you have an average and occasionally enjoyable TV game experience, based on Physioc’s slightly better announcing proficiency and their chemistry as a team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Chuck Hildebrandt, a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan and SABR member since 1988, is the chair of SABR’s Baseball and the Media Committee. Chuck resides in Chicago where he can see a live major league game nearly every day of the spring and summer, and sometimes during fall.
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.