It’s the start of week two of my look at the playing careers of the men who bring us the game today from the broadcast booth.
43. Rex Hudler. Kansas City Royals. WAR: 6.3
Hudler was a first-round draft pick by the Yankees out of high school in California in 1978, turning down a chance to play football and baseball at Notre Dame. He struggled to hit in the minor leagues and didn’t make the majors until September 1984. The Yankees traded him to the Orioles and the Orioles let him leave as a free agent and he didn’t stick in the majors until 1987 with the Expos.
Nicknamed “The Wonder Dog,” Hudler was an old-school, hard-nosed utility player with a screw loose. During his 13-year major league career, he played every defensive position except pitcher and catcher and the defensive stats say he was a decent but not great defender. On offense, he offered some batting average and some good speed, but he lacked power on the ability to take a walk. (Hudler simply couldn’t stay still in the box long enough to take four balls.)
Off the field. Hudler became a fan favorite for being a character. In St. Louis in 1990, he ate a June bug in the dugout during a game on a dare (and for $600). He was always getting his uniform dirty with hard-nosed slides, whether they were necessary or not. He was a bundle of energy that got on the case (and quite possibly the nerves) of any other player who wasn’t playing as hard as he was.
In 1993, Hudler left MLB to play for the Yakult Swallows in Japan. Hudler had a great season in Japan, hitting .300/.358/.480 with 14 home runs that year as Yakult and Hudler won the Japan Series. That was the only postseason experience Hudler has ever had as a player.
Hudler returned to MLB to join the Angels in 1994 and he had some of the best three seasons of his career in Anaheim. The Phillies signed him to a two-year deal as 36-year-old free agent in 1997, but whatever ability to hit that he learned in Japan and Anaheim was gone. The Phillies released him midway through the 1998 season. The Indians gave him 11 games in the minor leagues after that, but after hitting .194 in Triple-A, he was released and his playing career was over.
Hudler hit .261/.296/.422 in 774 games over 13 seasons and six teams.
Hudler’s frenetic personality and insane optimistic outlook made him a natural for TV and he was getting postseason broadcasting assignments even before he retired. He joined the Angels broadcast booth in 1999. His time with the Angels was interrupted twice — first by a brain aneurysm that nearly killed him in 2001 and the second time after a marijuana arrest in 2003. The Angels let Hudler go after the 2009 season. He had a radio show in LA until 2012 when the Royals hired him and teamed him back up with his old partner in Anaheim, Steve Physioc.
Hudler is a broadcaster unlike anyone else. First off, he’s frenetic and mangles the English language regularly. There’s an entire video of Hudler being an idiot, and that just covers his time in KC. (Hudler talks about eating the bug in that video.) He’s also insanely positive while at the same time being old-school and talking about the unwritten rules. A common Hudler statement would be for him to call out a young player for flipping a bat, but then following it up with something like “But that’s OK. His teammates will straighten him out and he’ll learn. He’s a great young kid and he’s going to do the right thing going forward.” Every mistake on the field, real or imagined, is just a learning opportunity and a chance to do better next time. Hudler praises every player on the field, both for the Royals and the other team. My wife calls him the perfect Little League coach.
42. Todd Hollandsworth. Miami Marlins. WAR: 6.4
Hollandsworth was an oft-injured left-handed hitting left fielder from 1995 to 2006.
Hollandsworth was a third-round pick of the Dodgers out of high school in Washington in 1991. When the strike ended in early 1995 and play resumed in late April of 1995, Hollandsworth found himself on the Dodgers Opening Day roster as a left-handed hitting corner outfielder and pinch hitter.
Hollandsworth spent almost the entire 1995 season in Los Angeles, but a broken hand injury in May cost him two months and a broken thumb in August cost him another month. Between the two injuries and the shortened 1995 season, Hollandsworth was five plate appearances short of losing his rookie status for 1996. That was fortunate for him because he was the Dodgers starting left fielder throughout the 1996 season and he won the Rookie of the Year Award with a line of .291/.348/.437 with 12 home runs and 21 steals. He was the fifth straight Dodger to win the Rookie of the Year Award.
(In truth, 1996 wasn’t a great year for National League rookies. You can make an argument that Edgar Renteria should have won the award, but Hollandworth was not an undeserving choice.)
That was the last year Hollandsworth was an everyday player. He struggled badly in 1997, hitting just .247/.286/.368 with only four home runs. He even got a mid-season trip to Triple-A.
Hollandsworth was better in 1998, but a leg injury ended his season in May.
At this point in his career, Hollandworth was a fourth outfielder and platoon option. He never hit left handers well and as he aged, he rarely got to face one.
Hollandsworth was traded to the Rockies in July of 2000 and was traded to the Rangers in 2002. He signed as a free agent with the Marlins in 2003 where he served as the starting left fielder until a rookie named Miguel Cabrera was called up tot the majors in June. After that, Hollandsworth was a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter. He got nine pinch-hitting opportunities in the post-season that year as the Marlins won their second World Series title.
After that year, Hollandworth signed with the Cubs for the 2004 season. Once again, his season ended early with an injury in June. He was traded to the Braves in 2005 and had short stints with the Indians and Reds in 2006 before retiring.
Hollandsworth’s career line was .273/.328/.439 in 1118 games over 12 seasons.
Hollandsworth joined CSN Chicago as an analyst in 2008 and he became a co-host of the Cubs pre- and post-game shows in 2009. He stayed in that role until the Marlins hired him as their regular TV color broadcaster for the 2017 season.
41. F.P. Santangelo. Washington Nationals. WAR: 6.7
Santangelo was a switch-hitting shortstop from the University of Miami when the Expos took him in the 20th round of the 1989 draft. In the minors, he was a good on-base hitter with good speed and little power. However, it became clear that he was stretched defensively at a middle infield position and he was moved into the outfield, where he was good throughout defensively throughout most of his career. Santangelo became a utility player who played all three outfield positions and second and third base in the majors.
As a 20th-round pick, Santagelo was never a top prospect and he didn’t make the majors until 1995 when he was already 27 years old. He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year balloting in 1996 (behind winner Todd Hollandsworth) with a line of .277/.369/.407 with 7 home runs over 152 games.
Santangelo spent the 1997 and 1998 seasons as a regular left fielder/utility man for the Expos. He signed as a free agent with the Giants as a utility player for the 1999 season. The California native spent the 2000 season with the Dodgers and the 2001 season with the Athletics and didn’t hit in either place. He spent the 2002 season in the minors with the A’s and the Yankees before retiring.
His career line was .245/.364/.351 in 665 games over seven seasons.
Santangelo had a sports radio show in his native Sacramento from 2006 to 2008. He was hired by a sports talk stadium in San Francisco in 2010, where he filled in on TV from time to time. The Nationals hired him as their color broadcaster for the 2011 as he returned to the franchise where he spent most of his career, albeit when the Nationals were the Montreal Expos.
In DC, Santangelo’s signature call is to always say “There goes the no-hitter” whenever the Nats get their first hit. He also recently got in a Twitter spat with a mattress company. The Nationals broadcasters finished dead last in the most recent Awful Announcing rankings. A World Series win can make up for that.