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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

An interview with new Cubs telecaster Len Kasper

Len Kasper has picked one of the plum jobs in broadcasting at the relatively tender age of 34. After three years of televising Florida Marlins games—and receiving a World Series ring for the 2003 season—Kasper was hired in December 2004 to replace the departing Chip Caray. Kasper will team with new analyst Bob Brenly (who replaced Steve Stone) to televise around 150 Cubs games on WGN and Comcast SportsNet.

Kasper was kind enough to spare a few minutes of his crammed calendar at the 2005 Cubs fan convention to speak about his new job, ideas about his successor in Florida, and some of the nuts and bolts of his work.

You’ve reached the Holy Grail of Broadcasting.

LK: That’s a good way to put it, the Holy Grail of Broadcasting. I think it’s the best play-by-play job in baseball, and I would have to say it’s the best play-by-play job in sports, when you think about the reach of WGN, you think about the Cubs’ following, you think about how knowledgeable the fans are, what a great city Chicago is, and the history of this franchise. And who has sat in the television play-by-play chair in Wrigley Field…you add that all up, and I don’t think you could ask for a better situation for a play-by-play person like me.

Have you felt that any expectations have been put on your shoulders?

LK: I know that this job is different than a lot of jobs. I know the position carries with it prestige that in a lot of other places…you can go about your daily life and people aren’t going to recognize you as much even though you’re on television. That’s not the case in Chicago. I didn’t get into the business for that reason at all, but it’s certainly something that I’ve dealt with here this week.

But I enjoy it. Who wouldn’t want to talk baseball with Cubs fans that know everything there is to know about the team?

So that part of it I understand. As far as the work pressure, I probably put more pressure on myself than anyone could ever put on me externally, because I’m driven to do the best job I can and to work as hard as I can and be the best broadcaster I can be. The key is to not overthink that part of it, not think about Harry Caray, Jack Brickhouse, or Chip Caray—who I have a lot of respect for—who have been in this chair. I just need to do the job the best way I can and let the rest fall into place.

Have you found that doing play-by-play in different cities means that your level of game prep has changed over the years?

LK: I think every year I’ve done it, I’ve streamlined it a little bit. You get more efficient in how you prepare. The more you know the league, the more you study the players—everything you do to learn about player—that’s less work you have to do later. In that sense, I think I do less, in terms of time, than I used to. But the quality of my prep is better than it’s ever been, because now I know what to look for on a daily basis. I know what things I see that I can then say, “Okay, I can use this.”

I tended to look at things and think, “oh, that’s important” maybe five or six years ago, but in reality it was something that I’d never use. But I just felt like, “I need to know this.” You just kind of streamline a little bit. A lot of stuff you can tuck away in the back of your head about a player or a team that you don’t have to really write down. I like to write down everything I can; when I do that, I usually remember it. There are a lot of things that I’ve learned that I don’t have to write down, and that’s been very helpful.

When you travel with a team, you tend to collect a lot of “deep background” info that you can’t really use. Where do you draw the line?

LK: Sometimes I will ask a player, manager, or coach—for air—“tell me about this.” I don’t do that all the time. If it’s about a hitting position, or something that’s not sensitive, I’ll use it. There are occasions where things are sensitive, and I’ll say, “Look, I know you can’t say much, but when I go on the air tonight, and I need to talk about this situation (for instance, about a manager), what can I say that you said about it?” That’s usually a good way to handle it.

If I’m ever concerned that something said to me that I think was really interesting, but that if it gets on the air that the person might not have wanted it on the air, I’ll go to that person and say, “The thing you told me about x, is it okay if I use that?” I’ve had a couple of players say to me, “No, I’d prefer that you don’t,” and I’ll say, “Okay, that’s fine.”

I think just that it’s good to be as open as possible about it…sure, there are times that things get on the air that maybe weren’t supposed to, but nobody says a word about it. I’m sure that happens. I try to be as diligent as I possibly can as far as on- and off-the-record comments, or things about certain players.

You and Bob Brenly are replacing two telecasters who spent last season fending off some squabbles with the ballclub. Is there an approach you plan to take to defuse such controversy?

LK: Nothing I’m going to do and nothing I have done since I got this job has been done to defuse anything or change anyone’s mind. Chip and Stoney were terrific on the air together. I didn’t watch every inning of every game they did, but because the Marlins played a lot of night games and the Cubs played a lot of day games, I had a chance to watch a lot of their work. And I thought they were great. I’m just going to be—as corny as this sounds—the best Len Kasper I can be. And Bob Brenly is going to be the best Bob Brenly he can be. I think you take the simplest approach and just try to do your job the best way you know how. You can’t really worry about all the other stuff that’s around it. Anyone in this position, I think, would say the same thing.

Someone said to me something today about Harry Caray. I said to them, it’s unfair to expect me, or any other broadcaster, to be Harry Caray. There’s only one Harry Caray. So I’ll just do the best job I know how to do.

Some Cubs fans tend to see the Cubs as almost an extension of their own family. Did you find the same depth of feeling in Florida?

LK: I did, on a somewhat smaller scale since the team has only been around since 1993. But in 2003, look at the playoff run. In the post-season, they drew over 60,000 for pretty much every game. The fans went crazy for their team. There are a lot of very good Marlins fans. Having won a couple of World Championships has helped the franchise. I think it’s going to take a little time for it to build into something bigger than it is right now.

The fans were unbelievably great to me, and to my family; the ballclub was as good as it could get, the way they treated us. I got a World Series ring—an “A” ring—which was beyond generous. All I was was a passenger along for the ride, and I ended up getting the same ring that the players got. I’ll never forget that, ever.

I was very happy in Florida, but this [Cubs] opportunity was too good to pass up.

Do you feel good about the chances of the Marlins getting a new stadium?

LK: I do. They have worked a lot behind the scenes, and are getting to the point where they are now a step or two away at most from getting it finalized. It sounds like if they get their ballpark it’ll be near the Orange Bowl, it’ll be closer to downtown Miami, and it’ll have a retractable roof. I think that’s a very important piece of the puzzle in South Florida with the weather being what it is.

Were you asked for any input on your successor in Florida?

LK: I was asked for a few people for my opinion. I told them my opinion. It’s someone who’s already working with the Marlins. Basically, Jon Sciambi was my choice. He’s been there for a long time doing radio. If it’s something he wants to do, I think it’d be great. They’ll make the right decision—it’s their decision—and I’ll definitely be paying attention, and watching, because I will still follow the Marlins, and Tommy Hutton is still one of my best friends. [Note: On Tuesday, January 25, it was announced that Jon Sciambi has left the Marlins and taken a deal to do 20-30 regional baseball games for ESPN.]

Have you done any test broadcasts yet with Bob Brenly?

LK: No, we haven’t. We’re just gonna jump in and do it. When you do a national game—and I know Bob has done this before—you’re teamed with someone you’ve never worked before. I worked a Fox game as a fill in, the #2 game, and it went to the entire southeast part of the country, in 2003, with Joe Magrane. I had known Joe a little bit from running into him when the Marlins played the Devil Rays, but we had never worked together. We just jumped in and we did the game, had a lot of fun, had good chemistry. Play-by-play announcers know their role, and color analysts know their role, and the key is that you just jump in there and you do your thing. We’ll have six spring training games, and I don’t think it’ll take very long at all. We’ll hit the ground running.

Is this the coolest job in the world?

Yeah. Yes! I’m speechless. When people ask questions like that, I have a million things that run through my head. But emphatically—with a capital Y—Yes.


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