From the field to the booth
Players who have become broadcasters find the reversal rewarding
Rick Horton hadn't been a baseball broadcaster for very long when he went into the Angels clubhouse to say hello to their manager, Mike Scioscia.
Scioscia, an old friend and a Dodgers teammate from Horton's days as a Major League pitcher, had always been good at blocking the plate. This time, however, he put up a barrier Horton hadn't seen.
"Mike looked at me in a half-smiling but half-serious way and said, 'So, Rick, I see you went over to the dark side,'" recalls Horton, who has been providing color commentary and analysis for St. Louis Cardinals broadcasts for more than 10 years.
"And that's when I realized how different this job really is."
For ballplayers who become broadcasters, the first step toward a career change at the ballpark often begins awkwardly. Relationships with media-shy former teammates sometimes sour, because the guy who used to wear the same home whites and road grays now saunters into the locker room in a jacket and tie looking for an angle.
"It took me four years to adjust to that," says Rex Hudler, the former super-utility player who has parlayed his boundless energy into 11 years as an Angels TV and radio man.
"Four years to get used to the fact that I was not welcome in the clubhouse any more, except for the times when the media's allowed. And I have to admit that it was very tough for me. It took me a while to realize that it wasn't my place any more.
"When I saw guys I played with, guys like Garret [Anderson], [Darin] Erstad, [Troy] Percival and [Tim] Salmon, and they're treating me almost like the enemy all of a sudden, that's when it really hit home."
But while the uniforms change and the office space moves up a few stories from the pressure-packed field to the wired booth in the mezzanine, the familiar mentality of a player eventually returns.
Just ask Bert Blyleven.
The longtime big-league pitcher, who had 287 lifetime wins and ranks fifth all-time with 3,701 strikeouts and ninth all-time with 60 shutouts, has rekindled the flames of his 22-season Major League career by becoming an indispensable member of the Minnesota Twins' broadcast team.
"For me, that 'dark side' doesn't exist," says Blyleven, who's been in the booth since 1996. "It's beneficial. To me, now I pitch every night instead of every four or five nights. I never could hit anyway, but now I'm a better hitter. I just have fun with it all."
Former big league starter and longtime San Francisco Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow agrees, saying that he still gets the same pregame shot of adrenaline when he arrives at the stadium every afternoon.
"You can be dog-tired, coming off a 10-day road trip, with no sleep, you get to the yard, and once you get to the clubhouse or walk on that field, you're energized," Krukow says. "I'm lucky. It's a great job."
That job has evolved over the years as technology has grown and the Internet has opened lines of communication and created a 24-hour news-fever pitch. But some old ballplayers will always be ballplayers, even when they're just talking about it for a living.
Hudler, for example, has taken it upon himself to bring his own "clubhouse mentality" into his current gig.
"I'm a little off-center at times, but one thing I won't give up is being myself," Hudler says. "Like me or not, I'm not going to change my style, and part of that style is that of a guy who spent 21 years in a dugout and a clubhouse full of pranks."
Hudler quickly rattles off a story about a particularly elaborate goof on Angels radio play-by-play man Terry Smith, who was showing off a laser-beam toy for his dog in the booth one night.
"I told him I didn't think those things were legal," Hudler says. "And then later that day, I found a few policemen and had them come up to the booth and pretend they were arresting him for it.
"He was petrified, and they caught the whole thing on video. Stuff like that helps break up the monotony a little bit."
The broadcasting industry also is a great way for players to not only stay in baseball after their aging bodies can't handle the grind but to continually learn about the esoteric elements of this fascinating game of strategy.
"Being a pitcher, I always thought of pitching," Krukow says. "I didn't think about hitting or playing second base. It wasn't what I was responsible for. But with a microphone, you learn a lot more about the game than you ever knew. That's intriguing and exhilarating.
"It all gets back to one thing: How much do you love what you're doing? If you love the game, I think it enhances your love of the game being behind the microphone."
For fans, the luxury of an articulate, well-liked former player with a personality and passion for the pastime makes the watching and listening experience that much more enjoyable.
They enjoy Horton's perspective as a man who played in two World Series, coached in the Minor Leagues and then learned the broadcasting game from the legendary Jack Buck and his son, Joe.
Maybe they don't like it, but they understand when Krukow points out that sometimes "you have to be able to appreciate and compliment your opponent."
They smile when Hudler says a "bat died a hero" when it breaks while delivering an important, run-scoring "knock."
They crack up when the Twins' TV cameras scour the Metrodome crowd and Blyleven artfully applies his telestrator in his nightly "Circle Me, Bert" routine.
And they can be sure that the men behind the microphones with all the Major League memories are loving it, too.
"You do your homework, you do your research, you get prepared and then it's just fun," Blyleven says. "I mean, come on. This isn't brain surgery.
"It's a game."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.