I have mentioned in the past how legendary Kansas City Royals second baseman Frank White was replaced in the broadcast booth by the abomination that is Rex Hudler before the start of the 2012 season. At that time I mentioned that although Hudler had a tough task in replacing the popular White, the fact that he failed had nothing to do with who he replaced and everything to do with his own massive shortcomings as a TV analyst.
But it isn’t fair to forget that White himself was very good. White has since written a book about his time with the Royals and had an the following description of his own commentary style:
I just talked about the game, I would get my information from the coaches, from the players, and I always tried to talk from a player or coach or manager’s perspective. And I think our fans liked that. And on replays, I tried to tell the fans what to look for — I tried to coach them. I was doing my best to teach them something every inning of every game. What I wanted to do in the replay was point out a detail that would make the person at home go, ‘Wow, okay now I understand,’ whether it just be coaching points or an attention to detail. I really thought that was what made me popular with the fans because I was teaching them something every game.
That is, in short, exactly what an analyst is supposed to do and it is the single best argument for having former players be analysts. (The counter-argument is Tim McCarver.) He always came off an very knowledgeable and if Hudler had followed that lead he would have been quickly accepted. But instead Hudler went with a style best described as ‘loud, enthusiastic and stupid’. The explanation that White was sacked for being ‘too negative’ may be true, but it is incredibly short-sighted on the part of those who made the decision. Anyone actually watching the game supplies their own emotion and they do not need it from the commentary box. And beyond that it also takes absolutely no skill to be mindlessly enthusiastic no matter what is happening.
But true analysis, thoughtful and even-handed explanation of the events on the field that White provided, is rare and rare because it requires actual talent. One must be both knowledgeable and articulate and White was both. Hudler is neither and whilst White would always have been missed Hudler has ensured that he is missed more than ever.