The 2005 season was certainly filled with frustrations and dashed hopes, as evidenced by the Cubs’ 79-83 record and fourth-place finish in the NL Central. As always, there will be days, weeks and months to analyze what went wrong, but what won’t need analyzing is the pleasant commentary of first-year play-by-play broadcaster Len Kasper.
The Michigan native and former Florida Marlins and Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster took over the Cubs’ television play-by-play duties in November of last year and seemingly eased straight into the booth in a flawless manner.
We caught up with Len during the Cubs’ final series of the year in Houston and got his thoughts on everything from broadcast duties to John Tesh music.
Inside The Ivy: Len, congratulations on a fine first year in the Cubs’ booth. Was it everything you expected?
Len Kasper: Well, it really exceeded my expectations. When I got the job, I told everyone I thought it was the best play-by-play job in all of sports. The way the fans and the Cubs organization, WGN and Comcast all treated me, everyone just made me feel welcome and very much a part of the Cubs family from day one. I’ve just had a permanent smile on my face for the last 10 months or so. Everybody wants to see the Cubs win and play better, so it was a frustrating year in that regard. But from a broadcast standpoint, our job is to do the best we can. Working with Bob Brenly was a treat. He’s a wonderful guy and one of the smartest baseball guys around.
Inside The Ivy: Describe the experience of sitting in the bleachers and anchoring the broadcast during the final home game. We know Harry would have been proud.
Len Kasper: Oh, it was great. It rained late, but that made it even more fun--knowing we were in the elements trying to stay dry and see the game. Everyone else was out there and I’d never watched a game from the bleachers. The people were so nice because we were kind of invading their space. It was of course the final game with the bleachers’ current construction. I definitely appreciate how we were treated by the fans. Everyone was very, very nice and they were telling us about all the cheers and chants, and all the different traditions that go on.
Inside The Ivy: What was the best moment in the booth all year?
Len Kasper: I think Opening Day at Wrigley is the one that stands out. I’d done many games at Wrigley when I was with the Marlins, but never from the home TV booth. Just being able to host the “Leadoff Man” show that I’d watched as a kid with Harry and Stoney was very special. From a broadcast standpoint, I think we took it to another level at Yankee Stadium on the Friday night game there in June. It felt like a World Series atmosphere because it was the first time the Cubs had been there since 1938. The week before when the Red Sox were in town also had that same feeling.
Inside The Ivy: How about the most embarrassing moment?
Len Kasper: [laughing] Well, I do have a funny one from Colorado. Bob was talking on-air about seeing Tom Petty at Red Rocks there. The only thing I could think of was the John Tesh CD that he did at Red Rocks. So I just thought it would be a funny thing to say--the John Tesh thing. Then I saw it on a blog where someone said I was a complete geek because I liked John Tesh. It made me laugh. Now, nothing against John or his music, but not my cup of tea.
Inside The Ivy: What would be your musical preferences?
Len Kasper: Most of what I like is not the kind of stuff that many people have even heard of. I’m into Tommy Keene, the Romantics, and Matthew Sweet. I also love the Redwalls, an up and coming Chicago band. I would say I’m into power pop. A lot of the bands I like aren’t necessarily the biggest in the world, but I do like the Rolling Stones and U2.
Inside The Ivy: How different has it been working in the Cubs’ booth as opposed to the Marlins?
Len Kasper: To me, the experience of doing day baseball is unmatched. You have 37,000 people in the park every day no matter what the Cubs’ record or the weather is. No matter the opponent, you always can expect a full house. A day game with no other games going on, whether it’s Tuesday, Monday or Friday, it just feels like a huge event. To me, that’s the best there is in baseball. On the other hand, I’ve been in the National League because of my work with the Marlins, so knowing the players and teams fairly well has made the transition a bit smoother.
Inside The Ivy: What area do the Cubs need the most improvement on in the off-season, in your opinion?
Len Kasper: That’s a tough question. Several areas: health, which you can’t always count on. Some of it’s luck, but keeping Kerry Wood and Mark Prior healthy would be at or near the top. The bullpen will have a year under their belt. With Ryan Dempster, you know you’ll have a closer and that was a question mark going into this year. I think offensively, they just need to either get guys who get on base more or hope the guys they currently have will improve their on base percentages. I know people want to see more bunting and small ball, and I’m kind of out of the “Moneyball” school, which says if you get on base and slug, you can have a very good offense. We’ll see what they do. Maybe they’ll get some guys who get on base more. They certainly need to improve defensively because they didn’t help the pitching staff in a lot of instances.
Inside The Ivy: Walk us through your normal routine on game day to get prepared for a broadcast. Does it change from WGN to Comcast?
Len Kasper: It doesn’t really change. We’ll have the “Leadoff Man” or “Cubs on Deck” prior to each game, so we’ll discuss how we want to handle that. For the most part, I’m online two hours a day on the road at the hotel or at my home. I try to prepare so that if I had to just show up and go straight on the air, I could do it. I do a lot of research before each game. I’ll get to the park three and a half to four hours before game time. It takes a good hour to fill out my scorecard. Then, I’ll spend an hour talking to players and so on.
Inside The Ivy: Congratulations again on a marvelous first year in the Cubs’ booth. I know I speak for a lot of people when I say that I hope it’s only the first of many to come.
Len Kasper: Well, thank you! I’d love to finish my career here!