Ryan Lefebvre is spending March as he typically does, motoring around the Cactus League in the Greater Phoenix area as part of the Royals’ radio broadcast team.
This has been his spring routine since shifting in 2008 to Fox Sports Kansas City as the club’s full-time TV play-by-play voice. Always, Lefebvre wanted to keep a hand in the radio side of the business.
“I was raised by old-school announcers, where you did both,” he said. “When my dad went to (manage) the Mariners, I would go up and sit in the booth with their announcers and, after 4½ innings, the radio guy would go to TV and the TV guy would go to radio.
“Then my dad went to manage the Cubs, and I’d go and sit up in the booth, and Harry Caray and Thom Brennaman would switch every three innings. I guess it was just burned into my psyche that this is what you do.”
So Lefebvre jumped, in the course of his contract talks after last year, at the opportunity to shift his workload back toward radio duties.
“To have a balance between radio and TV, for me, is ideal,” he said. “I guess if I was a player, it would be like getting to play shortstop and center field in the same season – two important positions, but you get to mix it up and get a different perspective.”
The Royals’ new TV arrangement has Lefebvre calling play-by-play in 90 games, while veteran broadcaster Steve Physioc, a newcomer to the Royals’ broadcast team, fills that role for the other 50 TV games.
Rex Hudler is Frank White’s replacement as the club’s primary TV analyst and will work 120 games. Jeff Montgomery will serve as analyst for the remaining 20 TV games.
Denny Matthews, in his 44th year, remains the club’s primary radio voice, while Bob Davis will work 51 games that Matthews takes off. Lefebvre and Physioc will do radio when not on TV.
“A lot of it is based on what Denny has earned,” said Mike Swanson, the club’s vice president for communications and broadcasting. “He has earned the right to not do every game. With that, we’ve got to be able to fill that void.
“My biggest thing is cohesiveness. If, say, Steve Physioc is doing the Friday night game of a series on TV, he’s going to do the Saturday and Sunday games of that series on TV.”
Lefebvre knows it’s easy for friends and even broadcast peers – let alone the public – to suspect he was pushed into his new arrangement against his will. TV remains the star medium and, well, who willingly surrenders that?
“There’s been a concerned tone,” he admitted, “whenever anybody asked me, `How do you feel about the new set-up?’ It was almost as if they were expecting me to say either a company line or that I was really disappointed.”
That perception deepened because the Royals shook up their TV broadcast team after last season by firing White and producer Kevin Shank. Reports linking Lefebvre, whose contract had expired, to the top radio job in Minnesota further fueled speculation.
Lefebvre began his broadcast career by working four years for the Twins before coming to Kansas City in 1999 to replace Fred White as Matthews’ radio partner. To many, it seemed natural that Lefebvre would want to “go home.”
Except Minneapolis isn’t home.
“It seems like every year I have to tell somebody that I’m not from Minnesota,” he said. “I don’t have any family in Minnesota. I have a lot of friends, but I haven’t been back there just to hang out for years.
“I went from Southern California to Minnesota as an 18-year-old (collegian), and it was a huge culture change. It was a huge risk on my part. I could have stayed on the west coast if I’d wanted to, but I felt pulled to Minnesota. I went, and it worked for me.
“I really thrived there in college, as a player, and professionally. I don’t know if I would have gotten the break that I did if I was in any other market as a 24-year-old.”
The Twins did show interest, but it never reached the reported level that characterized Lefebvre as the odds-on favorite to replace friend and mentor John Gordon.
“They asked if we could have some dialogue,” Lefebvre said, “and that was really it. The article that came out and said I was `the guy’…nobody with the Twins ever let on to me that I was their No. 1 candidate.”
Coincidence or not, the Royals called Lefebvre shortly thereafter and, combined with Fox, tendered a two-year offer with a mutual option for a third year that did not require him to take a financial hit.
“He and I met when it was obvious he wasn’t going to Minnesota,” Swanson said. “We had a long talk. I asked him, `If we had an opportunity to get Steve Physioc, would you want to do more radio?’ His eyes opened up wide.
“Then we talked about the money, and it’s not a pay cut. It’s a pay raise. Not only did he not get a cut, he’s got gradual raises over the next three years, and he’s got security, which he’s never had.”
Lefebvre quickly accepted.
“We never negotiated,” he said. “That was the end of it. The offer they gave me was something I was thrilled with, and that was that.”
Lefebvre insists this is precisely what he wants.
“I probably have to get over it,” he said, “but I guess I have this fear of being labeled as just TV guy or a just radio guy – one or the other – at least at this stage of my career. I guess time will tell whether it was a good career move for me or not.”