02/15/12 7:00 AM EST
Hudler 'humbled' to take over TV broadcasts
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
"I rode the pines. I was a journeyman," Hudler said.
The broadcaster Chris Berman, famous for bestowing nicknames, decided that Hudler was "Wonder Dog." There was a simple explanation.
"I'm a dog, and they wondered about me," Hudler said, his ruddy face breaking into a smile.
Now, coming in as a new analyst on the Royals' FOX Sports TV broadcasts, he knows that viewers are going to be comparing him with his predecessors, the dismissed Frank White and the late Paul Splittorff. Both had the credentials of being Royals Hall of Fame members and hometown heroes. So longtime fans might well wonder if Hudler will be a dog on the air.
"Sure, absolutely," he said. "That's part of the territory, and that is a fabric of society and a fabric of baseball. Whenever I played I dealt with that. Whenever I made a 25-man roster, there were skeptics and doubters -- 'What? You took that guy? He can't play a position. He's too scattery. He can't hit, he can't field. He can run but that's all he can do.' So I'm used to that."
Hudler, at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday with the other broadcast newcomer, Steve Physioc, dealt with the question delicately.
"First of all, I'm humbled that I could fill in for both of those guys. I don't look at that as a replacement at all, because you can't replace that, it's impossible," Hudler said. "I loved Splitt as everyone else did, as an opposing broadcaster coming in here all the time. I would see him and laugh, and I'd see Frank. I loved Frank. I was a second baseman and so was he. I respected him greatly. I still do. I'll never replace either one of those guys."
Hudler will be the analyst for 120 of the 140 regular-season TV games, with Jeff Montgomery handling the other 20. Physioc will do the play-by-play on 50 TV games (Ryan Lefebvre will do the other 90) and will also join a revolving cast on radio.
Physioc, originally from Kansas City, recalled that he helped encourage Hudler to begin a broadcasting career.
"In 1996 I had a chance to broadcast his games when he played. He was called the 'Wonder Dog,' and he was one of the most energetic players around," Physioc said. "The [Angels] team that year wasn't very good -- they lost over 90 games -- and whenever I absolutely needed a quality interview, I could go to this guy, and he'd give me his time. And I thought, 'This guy could be special on television,' and I told him that."
After Hudler retired as a player -- 1998, with the Phillies, was his final year -- he was paired with Physioc on Angels TV games for 11 years until both were dismissed after the 2009 season.
Hudler is known for his enthusiastic approach to calling games. What does he consider his strength as a broadcaster?
"I think my love of the participants of the game -- the players and the fans. The two go hand in hand. Having done it my whole life, I understand the dynamics of the game, and I'm still learning it every day, too," he said. "Being a player, I love the fans and now, being a fan, I love the players."
During his 13 years as an infielder-outfielder and a rider of the pines, he got into just 744 games -- an average of about 57 a year -- and finished his career with a .261 average, not many errors (26) and quite a few steals (107).
One of his greatest highlights came on July 28, 1994, even though he went 0-for-3 for the Angels in a 4-0 loss at Texas.
"No question, it had nothing to do with me at all," he said. "Being in the perfect game that Kenny Rogers threw at Arlington Stadium, the year of their new ballpark. I'm leading off the ninth inning, looking at the crowd and saying, 'I'm going to break up his no-hitter, his perfect game.' Working the people -- I always loved the fans when I played. They were having fun with me. I hit a line drive that was sinking in front of Rusty Greer, and he caught it. Two more outs were made, and he had his perfect game, but I almost broke it up."
He also remembers being the Angels' starting second baseman on Sept. 6, 1995, at Baltimore, when Orioles iron man Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's record by playing in his 2,131st game.
"I went hitless in both games [I played]. It had nothing to do with me. Matter of fact, those pitchers loved to see me in the lineup," he said. "To me, to be part of baseball history is all that needs to happen. Nothing about me."
Hudler promises to bring energy and a positive attitude into the Royals' TV booth.
"There's never been a bad day at a baseball game for me -- as a player or as a broadcaster," he said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.