Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Denny Matthews, Royals’ radio voice, keeps it low key

Denny Matthews has been the radio play-by-play voice of the Kansas City Royals since the team’s inception in 1969.
Denny Matthews has been the radio play-by-play voice of the Kansas City Royals since the team’s inception in 1969.

Everybody’s hair is on fire in Kansas City, where the Royals are inciting the kind of euphoria not seen, heard or felt in these parts in nearly three decades.

But the voice of the Royals for 45 years, Denny Matthews, is keeping his head. And making the heads of ecstatic Royals fans explode in the process.

An aside: When I was growing up, I developed a love of the St. Louis Cardinals because of my father, who listened to almost every game they play on the radio. In those days, it was Harry Caray and Jack Buck and they were larger-than-life figures. They were the Cardinals to a young kid like me. I was in awe of them and I wanted to become a baseball broadcaster because of them. It was my main mission in life for several years.

Matthews and Fred White held similar status among Royals fans. Night after night, game after game, season after season, they provided the nuance and description to a team’s season. Listeners hung on their words and their expressions.

Matthews has always been a low-key broadcaster. He describes the action colorfully, but his tone remains consistent. He has great baseball stories and a keen sense of humor, but he doesn’t get caught up in moments.

So as the Royals have embarked on this incredible 2014 journey, first just getting to the postseason for the first time in 29 years and then dispatching of the Oakland A’s (wild card) and Los Angeles Angels (ALDS), Matthews has remained as stoic as ever.

His call of some of the huge moments of the postseason so far have left many Royals fans wanting more. They’re going bonkers while the man who has spoken for them for nearly a half century remains calm and collected.

It doesn’t fit for many Royals fans. They’re not asking for Matthews to scream and shout every time the Royals get a base hit or retire an opposing batter. But when Alex Gordon shoots a three-run double into the gap in the first inning of Game 3 of the ALDS against the Angels or Mike Moustakas homers to give the Royals a lead in Anaheim, they wouldn’t mind hearing their broadcaster raise his voice.

There are Royals fans, probably legions of them, who will defend Matthews. I will receive much criticism for daring to criticize him because he’s a part of the Royals and in the eyes of many he can do no wrong.

And times have changed for radio play-by-play broadcasters. Their audiences are down because of television. But during this postseason, I’m sure lots of Royals fans are tuning to Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre because they want to hear the game from their guys, not national TV broadcasters who haven’t lived through the emptiness of being a Kansas City fan since 1985.

Matthews is catching flak for his lack of emotion during some of the biggest calls of his career. And he should be. I believe it’s a broadcaster’s duty to play to his audience. There’s a balance, for sure. I’m not proposing that Matthews or any other broadcaster become a total shill for the home team, even though that home team is paying his or her salary.

I appreciate a critical broadcaster, one who not only paints an accurate picture of what he’s seeing but also points out a team’s flaws and mistakes and engages in the strategical debates that make baseball so interesting.

Matthews has always been adept at those aspects of broadcasting. He’s not a Ford C. Frick Award winner (2007) for nothing. He’s one of the most outstanding baseball broadcasters of all time.

But his grand reputation has taken a hit the past couple of weeks as he has sounded detached from the amazing things happening on the field for the Royals. He seems to be missing the point as well as the drama of the moments and the ecstasy of the fans who are seeing all of this amazement unfold through his eyes.

It’s a special time for the Royals and their fans. The team is playing great baseball with clutch hitting, outstanding pitching and incredible defense.

Yet the man in the broadcast booth who should be living it up with this fan base, much of which he helped create, seems to be off in his own world, unable to express joy and excitement.